It’s not a surprise, really, that “X” is back. One of the two real hits from the old “Dark Horse Heroes” line, there’s something that’s always going to appeal to a comics audience about a masked killer going after the corrupt figures within a city. Duane Swierczynski and Eric Nguyen are the creative team behind the new “X” #1, and it feels to me like they’ve kept the same basic format intact as they update the comic to the present day.
Already published was a three-part story in “Dark Horse Presents,” which was then collected and reprinted as “X” #0 last month. That issue followed X and the three corrupt businessmen that he’d targeted, as one-by-one they fell prey to X. “X” #1 begins by flipping the viewpoint around to the rest of the city of Arcadia, as an innocent bystander, the police, and a blogger all come upon the carnage left in X’s wake. It’s a good way to kick off this series; it lets us see just how X is viewed within Arcadia and specifically who’s afraid versus intrigued by the killer.
Most of the focus this month is on Leigh Ferguson, the blogger who rapidly comes upon all sorts of evidence proving the existence of X. I’ll admit that at first I was a tiny bit skeptical of the character — with colored hair and a slightly aloof tone to her writing she seemed a little too much of a stereotype — but by the end of the issue I’d warmed to her presence. She’s our viewpoint character, since we never get inside X’s head (nor should we), and Swierczynski builds up a nice appeal to her. Watching her investigate makes her feel more believable and less of a stereotype, and her reaction when she is no longer on the sidelines is nice because it’s so lacking in the bluster and false bravado that you might otherwise expect.
X himself is still an enigma, although that’s a wise choice. “X” feels like it’s more about the damage and reaction to X than the actual character, and doing so helps keep him a mystery. Swierczynski definitely paints the picture of a dangerous person in the character of X, and you never get any sort of warm fuzzy feelings about him. I appreciate that; “X” might be named after the character, but I appreciate that in many ways he’s not our lead character.
On the whole I like Nguyen’s art; it’s very angular and harsh, but that fits the scripts for “X” in a way that a softer, more rounded style wouldn’t have worked. Nguyen’s able to draw the truly gruesome moments (like the aftermath of a nail bomb) in a way that doesn’t skim on the awful nature of what X has done to the bad guys. I’ll admit, it’s a little hard to look at in places, but at the same time it doesn’t ever present itself as cool or fun. “X” is a title that understands the nature of violence and presents it in an unflinching, dispassionate, factual manner. In doing so, Nguyen makes it much more hard-hitting than it would have otherwise, and that’s the right tactic for this title.
“X” #1 is almost certainly not for those who want something tame. Instead, this feels like a mash-up between “Punisher MAX” and “The Question,” with an eye towards violence set alongside a fight against corruption. If you’re ready to take a bit of gore, definitely take a look.