It’s a wonder he’s still around… Mister X has had a long and often troubled existence, dating back to the 1980s when graphic designer Dean Motter had an idea for a comic that combined hardboiled noir stories with the German Expressionism art style. After original artist Paul Rivoche quit the project, the first few issues of Mister X were illustrated by the then up-and-coming artists Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Others followed, but production delays from publisher Vortex Comics caused continued problems. Mister X has gone through four incarnations in 30 years and now returns with Mister X: Eviction & Other Stories, the first new collection since 2009. The book is comprised of issues 1-3 of the miniseries, Mister X: Eviction, as well as stories from issues 26 and 27 of the online comic-book anthology MySpace Dark Horse Presents and Dark Horse Presents #12-14.
You might think a title that’s been around for 30 years would be hard to catch up on, but Motter has made things relatively painless. As the first story, “The Vanishing Breed,” opens, Radiant City — think of films like Metropolis, Brazil, or Dark City — has a problem: its drug-addicted mayor and his cabinet are no longer in the picture. A new mayor, Justice Welles, has closed City Hall and has given free reign to the Central Administration Authority, a Big Brother type of entity that also controls the city’s legal system. People have become numbers, not names, and Mister X, long thought to be gone for good, is back to set things right
Mister X can do that because he was one of Radiant City’s original architects. He knows that the reason this city of dreams has been reduced to crime, corruption, and madness is due to its flawed structural design, marred through the use of experimental drugs by its builders. For Mister X, fixing the city, one problem at a time, is all that matters.
Motter’s decision to publish a collection of interrelated stories is a wise one. Someone picking up this trade doesn’t even have to know the character’s been around for 30 years. Each story is self-contained, yet they all form into a cohesive unit. In “Hard Candy,” Mister X investigates the abduction of the granddaughter of a pharmaceutical entrepreneur — a tie to the experimental drugs that helped build Radiant City, perhaps? “Rosetta Stone, Girl Reporter in ‘Little Urchin Andy’” not only gives us more background on reporter (and narrator of many of these stories) Rosetta Stone and her relation to Mister X, but also shows us the subculture of the city’s many orphans.
Each of these stories gives us a greater understanding of the whole of the Mister X universe without having to have experienced all the previous stories and volumes. The trade-off, however, is a lot of backstory in several text-heavy pages. This is understandable and, in most cases, forgivable. I really can’t think of another way around it. Yet, most of the time, Motter’s artwork comes across stronger with less text, very much reminiscent of German Expressionism, especially in silent films.
The stories in this collection are good, but not great, yet Eviction & Other Stories does a fine job of mixing noir storytelling with an art style that actually resembles the Gotham City of Batman: The Animated Series more than it does the German Expressionism of Metropolis. I expected a certain amount of despair and fatalism in these stories. They are, after all, noir tales, and Mister X must feel a black cloud of responsibility of having been a part of the original problem, but Motter’s choice of color instead of black and white and a few moments of levity take away some of the edge I’d anticipated. I haven’t read the early Mister X stories, but I wonder if this new collection is trying to move forward, honoring the spirit of the original series for a new audience, much the same way I see the recent incarnations of The Rocketeer paying homage to, but not quite imitating, Dave Stevens’s original work. Regardless, Eviction & Other Stories is a fun, entertaining read, whether or not you decide to explore the previous volumes of Mister X.
Check out Mister X: Eviction & Other Stores, as well as other Mister X books: