X Volume One Review

X Big BadDark Horse’s focus on bringing a few more superheroes in to their line as of late makes sense. They are not normally associated with brightly clad cape wearers, but apart from Marvel and DC Comics no publisher is really.

X is a character who debuted in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, and his solo series ran from 1994 until 1996. That was the time I was becoming fully engorged on comics, and I do recall X at the time, although I never picked up any of the character’s tales. It was also a good time for the publisher, with the success of Mask, Barb Wire and Sin City getting attention, and they’ve only eclipsed that success in the years since.

Of course, comics readers are a nostalgic bunch, so bringing back X makes sense, plus there’s already some familiarity with the hard core character.

This Trade Paperback, entitled Big Bad, collects the relaunch which began in April 2013, in particular issues #0-4, plus a few sketchbook pages of character designs. Written by Duane Swierczynski (Cable and X-Force, Punisher, for Marvel), with art by Eric Nguyen (Batman: Arkham Unhinged, based on the Arkham series of videogames), this is a good (re) introduction to X and the nasty city he inhabits.

Unfortunately there is no origin in these pages which seems a bit odd as the start of a new series, especially as his origin is awesome. Regardless, it just adds to the mystery of X and who really is behind the mask, and what he’s capable of, much in the same way the citizens of Arcadia view the anti-hero.

It begins when three prominent, corrupt businessmen go missing, and as internet journalist Leigh Ferguson discovers – it’s all X’s doing. He detests their criminal behaviour and won’t stand for it. X is the strong, silent type, so it’s mainly through Leigh’s narration, via her blog The Last Muckraker, that we learn the plot. She’s a tough, young woman who isn’t scared out of her principles and her and X eventually meet and make for a good, although reluctant team.

The scare tactics that X employs are great, and offer fair warning to his victims.  Low-lifes in Arcadia receive a warning– a photo of their face with a single red x on it. If they don’t change their ways, they get a second one, which means death. There are a lot of deaths here, as corrupt figures always have plenty of henchmen, bodyguards and corrupt cops to go through the meat grinder. X is no superhuman, in that he takes many beatings and proves that he’s not indestructible, but the action and pacing is of a high class Hollywood action film quality, only with more of the red stuff. It never quite goes over the top in to the laughable category, but there’s enough smart, thought out frenetic scenes of violence here to make the reader wince.

Nguyen really takes Swierczynski’s mature script and has a ball with it. As I turned certain, hardcore pages I couldn’t help but think of Nguyen at his drawing board with a cheeky grin on his face, making this stuff come to such vivid life. It’s not clean, pretty and attractive. Well, it is. I mean, undoubtedly Nguyen is a talented artist, but this is not a series of gleaming towers and glorious sunsets. This is a world of bruises, of weeds growing through the sidewalk, of mysterious stains on hobo’s clothes, of broken bones, sliced faces and bullet ridden limbs, and Nguyen makes it all look so sickeningly good.

I’ve read a lot of comics. A lot. And this is certainly the most brutal piece of sequential art I’ve seen. Shootings, stabbings, and more – it all adds up to the visceral feel adding to these pages. It could only be more intense if it was printed on sandpaper.

X is like The Punisher in the way in which he bloodily metes out justice. He’s like Batman in the way he uses theatrics and he’s like Judge Dredd in that we never see his face. He also works alone if he can help it and has a dingy lair in Arcadia, which is already a dingy city filled with thugs and street crime. The obese Mr Berkshire is the main bad guy, although a vermin like crew known as The Rat Squad give Leigh a few frights, although again, their appearance is never explained. Are they mutants?

There’s also a great sequence involving an over confident villain in a panic room, and a doctor’s grisly solution to one of X’s disfigured victims.

This was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting this level of action and memorable characterization, and X’s costume is fantastic and really sells his low-tech, no-nonsense approach to crime fighting.  A padlock, duct tape and tattered red cape just look superb. I’d love to see some cosplayers take on X’s costume at an upcoming convention!

X’s adventures continue every month, and the next volume following this one (collecting issues 5-8) will be released in April.

X Big Bad 1

X Big Bad 2

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