Formerly the product of Dark Horse’s ill-fated but critically acclaimed 1990s superhero initiative, Comics’ Greatest World, X returns with a vengeance this week, thanks to Duane Swierczynski and Eric Nguyen. Set against a backdrop of crime and corruption in the dying metropolis of Arcadia, X at first appears to be a fusion of notorious vigilantes Batman and the Punisher.
What sets X apart from his illustrious comic book forebears and his previous incarnation is a sense of vulnerability injected into his character by Swierczynski. While he may have a similar mission to Messrs. Wayne and Castle, there’s a true sense, especially by issue’s end, that he may actually fail in his mission to clean up the mean streets of Arcadia.
Swierczynski’s script not only updates the character with realistic weaknesses and flaws but also provides the reader with a vehicle transporting them into X’s strange, violent underworld, in the person of Leigh Ferguson, blogging muckraker extraordinaire. Tapping into the digital age’s trend towards self-published blogs masquerading as journalism, Ferguson is an intriguing character in her own right, with hints of a sordid past partying with low-level mobsters and an insatiable curiosity that led to her dismissal from a more reputable publication. Left with nothing but her own tenacity and resourcefulness, Ferguson latches onto the urban myth of X with the ferocity of a pit bull, only to find herself suddenly thrust into the action of her latest story.
Eric Nguyen’s scratchy line work and atmospheric settings are a great match for Swiercynski’s pulp-influenced, hard-boiled script. His work evokes the sharp-edged stylings of veteran fan-favorite artists such as Denys Cowan on The Question or Klaus Janson on the original Punisher ongoing. His work is gritty yet clear, with sleek, fluid layouts that only service the story with natural transitions and a distinct visual tone; positioning Nguyen, a relative unknown in the grand scheme of things, as an artist to watch in the months and years ahead.
Less another Nineties nostalgia relaunch and more of a strategic updating of a solid comics property that was an unfortunate casualty of the notorious speculators’ implosion that rocked the decade of its birth, X is a welcome addition to the superhero genre thanks to an intelligent script, gritty artwork, and a modern, relevant setting. Whether or not it truly has the legs to make an impact on an audience hooked on line-wide reboots and event-based maxi-series remains to be seen. Until then, X is a strong alternative to the retread superhero stories offered by the Big Two and comes highly recommended.
Duane Swierczynski (W), Eric Nguyen (A), Michelle Madsen (C) • Dark Horse Comics, $2.99, March 8th, 2013.