Written by Charles Meier
As I’ve said in the past, I am less than enthusiastic about Dark Horse’s currently-ongoing revival of their Comics’ Greatest World imprint. Representing an attempt by The House Richardson Built to create their own superhero-comic universe, a la the MU and DCU, the line proved short-lived for several good reasons. Chief among these, I think, is that the time for this sort of thing is pretty much passed. Both when DC (then National) adopted the idea in the early Thirties, and when Marvel put their own spin on it in the mid-Sixties, the idea was one whose time had come. While both those continuities are still around, with varying degrees of success, they’re sort of coasting along on inertia at this point, which is not to denigrate the efforts of the many talented creators who contribute to them. Hoping for lightning to strike again is anything but the way forward for American comics; rather, its salvation lies within the constant striving for new ideas and innovation, and to their credit Dark Horse does plenty of that.
The other main reason I oppose the CGW reboot is that, while I haven’t read anything close to all of the original comics, what I have seen of them has proved unimpressive to say the least. While few were outright irritating–with the exception of Barb Wire, which somehow managed to be even worse than the movie–they were mostly just dull, consisting as they did of somewhat more literate and artistically-inclined iterations of the standard Nineties trash.
I will admit, however, that if Dark Horse has to do this (which they don’t), they’re at least doing it right. Much like Valiant did last year, Dark Horse has hired some very talented people to provide their own spins on the properties. So far we’ve seen a reboot of Ghost by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto, of which I’ve read the miniseries that appeared in Dark Horse Presents. While that wasn’t really up my alley, I’ll acknowledge it was a damn sight better than past Ghost comics I’ve read. With a creative team like that, it can’t not be.
This week sees the next salvo, with a reboot of X, written by Duane Swierczynski (who also writes the Bloodshot revival for Valiant, making him an old hand at this sort of thing) and drawn by Eric Nguyen (Strange Girl). This debut is well-written, competently-drawn, expertly-colored and about as fun as getting fucked with a sandpaper condom.
Right from the cover art I knew I was in trouble. It’s drawn by Dave Wilkins, and while I’m usually a sucker for wraparound covers this one is just laughable. It makes the book look like a pro wrestler’s vanity project. While that’s not the case–at least, I don’t think it is–it’s hardly an auspicious start.
If you can get past that, and I won’t blame you if you can’t, things do improve slightly from there. Picking up where the recent DHP story left off, this first issue follows the eponymous vigilante as he kills and kills and kills and kills and kills and kills and kills. With occasional breaks for torture and mutilation. This is probably the single goriest book Dark Horse is publishing at the moment. I am, however, pleased to report that all the profanity has been scrupulously censored out, with the traditional grawlixes. After all, an entire splash page of dismember gangbanger corpses is totally fine, but potty language? That’s just sick!
Also, while it may be a bit early in the game to start getting stuff like this out of the way, this issue tells you absolutely nothing about X as a character, least of all what he wants or why he’s splashing all this red stuff around. His only criteria for target selection appears to be “in my way”, being just as content to mow through law enforcement as he is mobsters and gang members. Granted, most of the cops on display appear to be pretty corrupt–is X cleaning up the streets, or simply eliminating competition? You don’t even find out what X looks like; while you do see him unmasked, his face is kept obscured. I seem to be seeing this device a lot nowadays, most recently in The Black Beetle. You should probably just read that instead. It’s possible a lot of this stuff would be more clear had I read the original X, which naturally I haven’t.
I’ve had occasion to admire Swierczynski in the past–I legitimately enjoyed his run on the New 52 Birds of Prey–and he does a pretty good job here too. Well, apart from some questionable name choices (“Pietrain”? Really?) and occasionally awkward dialogue (“He has a big damn X on his face. Feel free to put some Xs over his eyes, too”), that is. It’s nothing special, Swierczynski tiptoes about as close as you can get to impersonating Bendis without actually going over the line, but it works fine. The narrative-focus character of this issue, a blogger who seems to be lining up as some sort of sidekick, is likewise pretty generic, but at least gets the fleshing-out denied to X himself.
I said before that this issue is competently-drawn, but I’m not sure I’ll stand by that. Nguyen has constant issues with body proportions and posture, and his sense of perspective often just plain sucks. Additionally, most of the faces in this book make the characters look like they cut someone else’s face off and stapled it across their own, and the new face was slightly too small so they had to stretch it. Strangely, none of this applies to X, who remains properly dimensioned throughout. He’s also pretty well-designed for what he is, capturing the precise correct sense of downmarket menace. Nguyen also has a bizarre fascination with Dutch angles, using them in virtually every panel, even when they’re not appropriate. This goes hand-in-hand with the posture issues I mentioned earlier–on at least one occasion a character appears to be standing at a forty-five degree angle to the floor. So, I guess I really can’t describe the art as competent. I do, however, mean what I said about Michelle Madsen’s coloring, which brings a certain grotty vibrancy to the proceedings.
I don’t hate X. I don’t give a rat’s ass about X. There’s nothing in this book you haven’t seen done elsewhere, and better. You’ll probably think to yourself how much more you liked the title character when he was called Grendel. Or the Punisher. Hell, his costume even reminds me of Deathstroke a little bit, what with its single eyehole. There’s far better competition out there for your three bucks, even if you’re just looking for straight-up blood-soaked action. Dark Horse may yet prove my misgivings about this revival to be misplaced, but this wasn’t the series to do it.