Saturday, January 21, 2012


 "He covers Arcadia like a shroud.  He could be anywhere.  He seems to be everywhere."

As I mentioned in my post about comic book writer/artist Jim Starlin, winter is a great time to stay inside and delve into your comics library.

Actually just about any time is a great time for me to do that, the wintry weather just somehow adds to the ambiance.   In going through my stacks, I came across a series that I had all but forgotten about but enjoyed much back in the day.

The name of the book was X.  The series and its eponymous character were part of Dark Horse Comics' somewhat abortive "Comics Greatest World" attempt at establishing a new universe in the arena of comic books.  There were four main locations in this new world and each location had about four titles assigned to it.  Each title would have a short, introductory issue printed on high quality paper and selling at the cheap.  I can remember reading the intro to X on a hot summer day, sitting in the passenger seat of Chris Helton's car on the way back from the comic book store.

The storyline took place in a city called Arcadia.  I don't think that Dark Horse was ever specific but I believed that Arcadia was located somewhere on the East Coast like New Jersey, similar in geographic approximation to Gotham City.  And that's not where the Gotham comparisons ended.  Arcadia was a dark, dirty, and very corrupt city.  Political officials shared power behind the scenes with mafia families.  You could get along just fine in Arcadia...provided you had the cash to pay up.  The police department truly served and protected...provided you were on the "to protect" list.

Then the "X killer" showed up.  I remember the first panel that showed him.  Everything was drawn with a film noir sensibility.  The people, the interiors, the city.  This panel was of an official's office.  It had a classic noir shot of ambient light coming through a window, casting prison bars over the characters.  X came crashing through that window.  He was a big man, wearing a costume of black leather, a mask with only one eye, a cape that was in tatters, and what looked like a wrestler's boots and belt.  He was out for justice, committed to ending the corruption and the mob.  Might sound a little like Batman.  That, however, is where the analogy stops.

X killed the public official in that office.  There was no clear-cut morality to X, no way to tell whose side he was really on other than his own.  If you crossed X, he left one mark across your face as a warning.  The second time would mean death, completing the "x."  Like so many of the other "dark hero" vigilantes of the 1990s, X had no compunctions over killing.  The first few issues saw the body count soar with corrupt politicians, lawyers, and corporate leaders.  Gee, do you think X was a forerunner of Occupy Wall Street?  There would be no remora to his reclaiming the city of Arcadia.  He would set organized crime families strategically against one another so that he would be there to take over when no one was left standing.  Being a comic book, X also had to contend with his share of super-powered criminals.

On the whole, you might wonder what was so special about this book.  Sounds like a Batman ripoff with hints of The Shadow mixed in and the oh so blase gun-totin' vigilante meme that as I said, was everywhere in the 90s.  I don't know.  X just had a certain style to him that set him apart from the herd.  He was unique and mysterious in addition to being uncompromising and more than a bit sinister.  While I've read only a few issues in comparison to the full run, I still don't know who he was, where he came from, or what motivated him to do what he did.  You might call that poor character development when it comes to writing.  Maybe.  For me, it just added to the mystery and made him far more interesting than the others of his ilk at the time. 

If you like film noir or crime-centered comics with street-level heroes, check out X.  I don't believe you'll be disappointed.

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