Last month’s issue of “X” was almost the definition of a game-changer story. Duane Swierczynski and Eric Nguyen had X captured, unmasked and blinded; his assistant Leigh was brainwashed and addicted to drugs until she betrayed X to the media, and X’s entire network collapsed. So with “X” #13, there’s a lot to follow up. While it would be hard to hit the heights of issue #12, “X” #13 doesn’t quite hit the same level… but the reason is a little surprising.
Swierczynski’s story actually hits all of the notes that it needs to. We find out more about X’s vision, the pit that he’s being held captive in, and get to see how everything that X has created is crumbling around him. Likewise, Leigh’s new position as an informant is followed up; she’s still very much brainwashed and broken down, believing all of the lies that she was fed during the weeks she was in captivity. And of course, what happens next in the relationship between X and Leigh is exactly what you should see coming… even as it’s painful to read about. Swierczynski has done a good job of crafting his two main characters; even with one of them (X) being a bit of an enigma, we’ve learned enough about both to care about them and to recognize when something is a little off.
So with that in mind, we get to the guest art from Robert Atkins and Andy Owens, who I think would have been a great addition to almost any other title at Dark Horse than “X.” Atkins and Owens have turned out some nice, clean, somewhat realistic art for “X” #13. X’s unmasked face is easier than ever to look at, and Arcadia in general comes across clean and almost spacious. The problem is, the art doesn’t match the tone of “X” #13’s script, or the series in general.
This isn’t a fault of Atkins or Owens; they’re doing their normal thing, and for a book like “Blackout” or “Brain Boy” from Dark Horse’s line, I think this would be a welcome art team. But in the case of “X,” it’s a book with such a very specific, rough, gritty mood that’s somewhat ill-suited to Atkins and Owens’ style. Nguyen’s art for “X” is part of what makes the book work so well, because it’s as beaten up and rough-edged as the rest of the city. Having a smooth-faced X just doesn’t feel right, unfortunately. So while the art would be perfectly fine on most other titles, here it’s ultimately fighting against the script, making a cheerier vision of Arcadia and “X” that just doesn’t sit right.
Even with an unfortunate mismatch between script and art, though, “X” #13 is a good enough issue. Swierczynski’s follow-through from the previous issue has made things exciting, and whatever we have next, I’m looking forward to it. But hopefully, once Nguyen returns to the title with “X” #15, he’ll stick around for a while.