COMIC REVIEW: X 16 (Dark Horse)

It takes a lot of finesse to craft a compelling storyline whose principal means of expression is panel after panel of abject violence. However, Dark Horse’s X No.16 accomplishes the task with bone-shattering success.

Wrapping up the series’ 4-part story arc Better Off Dead, Duane Swierczynski gives readers the final showdown between criminal monstrosity the Archon and the series hero and lead vigilante– X.

The confrontation happens inside the most unlikely and unassuming of places: a restaurant in downtown Arcadia. It is there that the two super-charged enemies face-off while the man who brought them together, Carmine Tango, gets caught in the cross-fire.

It’s a brutal, fast-paced comic that lacks any semblance of a real plot, and is instead told through panels chock full of blood and broken bones. Delivered with expert lettering done by Richard Starking’s Comicraft, the industry go-to for fonts, the entire issue is splayed with bold exclamations highlighted over heavy action scenes. It’s a style with a nod towards urban-punk that at times feels clunky and disoriented but meshes well with the gritty brawler plot-line of the comic itself.

Penciled by Eric Nguyen (Wildstorm Stormwatch, Image Strange Girl, DC Batman Arkham Unhinged) the art is sketchy on finer details but heavy on modern minimalist figures almost Carravaggian in style but with an emphasis on movement and a sense of action that gets dosed with plenty of gritty less linear splashes of blood and gore when the scene calls for it.

And the scenes definitely call for it.

Swierczynski, whose other work includes Crime Novels like Secret Dead Men by PointBlank and Marvel’s Moon Knight Annual and Cable, does an excellent job of pacing the comic, switching between the action of the no-holds barred fight and the surrounding actors outside the restaurant whose appearances hint at levers of power lurking eternally behind the scenes. With only a slight hiccup whereby a flashback seems oddly out of place involving the stashing of a gun, the rest of the comic presents excellent metaphors in the guise of the cool and collected machinations of X versus the brute force of the Archon—good and evil as mental and physical. The results are an introspective detente both in X’s mind versus the Archon’s seeming supernatural abilities and his physical confrontation with the man himself.

While this sounds like the typical  comic book super-hero muscle flexing, what really gives the comic the page-turning allure is the prose that Swierczynski gifts X’s inner monologue with:

“The next minute is an orgy of punishment I do not fully remember. Just fragments… Like the climax of a nightmare.”

Combined with the brutal and minimalist artwork of Nguyen the comic feels like a freight train streaming straight at you.

It is an excellent look at the unstoppable nerve of a man who marches into the face of certain doom with determination and borderline nihilistic abandon— the fervor of refusing to meet your good night with any semblance of gentleness. Instead, X No 16 displays the focused rage that always feels lurking just beneath the surface of your typical Batman tale, a man who incidentally took on the moniker, the Dark Knight.

But this particular vigilante, X, most certainly doesn’t go quietly into his.

Rating: 4/5

GS Blogger: Jesse B

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