Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 30, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Mister X


I think Mister X may be the most 1980s comics series of them all, for a variety of reasons. It certainly seems that way to my memory. Mister X existed as a series of compelling advertisements before it ever became a comic book. Those single images by Paul Rivoche -- working with series creator Dean Motter -- may be my primary memory of that title, presaging a time when the discussion about, previews of and speculation concerning all items of pop culture may have sway over the object itself. That I just had to qualify a series of advertisements in terms of their provenance gives us an entry point into the feature's panoply of creative talent. The initial issues were executed by Los Bros Hernandez; later installments featured work by a number of super-quality creators including Seth (!) and D'Israeli. A variety of artists working on a single title was the exception rather than the rule in that realm of comics, and the baffling provenance of who created what and when and to what extent made Mister X seem to me like some sort of avatar of old industry issues, like it was being sacrificed on an altar of how maybe not to do things now.

The Mister X story as I remember it in the early issues was that a man claiming to be an architect of a futuristic city, now slightly to severely broken in a way that makes its citizens go mad, returns with aims to rid the place of the psychological cruelties that are being inflicted on those people. He does this by accessing elements of the design known to him and by staying up all the time through the ingestion of a drug. He has an adorable, sort-of to yes-very-much-his girlfriend; there are direct obstacles in the shapes of outsized gangster-type people. I'm sure I'm missing 80 percent of it, but that's what stuck. That seems to me now a perfectly serviceable plot, more than enough for a prestige cable-TV series, say. That said, my other memory is they kept resetting the title's reality, reveal after reveal trotted out like the work some late-1990s wrestling booker determined to swerve his audience. The flexibility provided by hinted-at secrets and to-be-revealed character realities has always been a crutch for serial comics writers; in Mister X this was wielded like a blackjack. Mister X has to offer the smallest number of total issues for any comics character in which I've ever been interested to totally lose me. I suppose the titles has been reset since, maybe to fine effect. Comics is good at that, too.

I read Mister X for such a short period of time that if I were to consume those same issues today the same way I bet it would feel like a single encounter. Everything makes more of an impact on you when you're 15, even the stuff that ultimately doesn't stay with you in more than tatters of memory. Mister X represents on this list of 1980s comics all the series that faded or flamed out -- at least for me, in fact just for me -- by not ending, or switching creative teams, or never quite settling into a creative run I could hold onto, or leaving the field with its publisher, or being a memory for its creator when they go on to better things. If there's one difference between the way I read comics 25-30 years ago and the way I consume them now, it's that sense of mercy felt for the whole, mad mess of it: the unrealistic hope to see a new world through new eyes, the knowledge that in most cases it wouldn't work, the certainty that in other it wouldn't last, and an appreciation of the minor miracle that occurs when everything falls into place. I miss that.
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