Neo Noir in a Flying Car

Mister X: Eviction #1

by J.C. Macek III

30 April 2013

The “psychetecture” of Radiant City, the fedoras, Zoot suits, art deco and Lois Lane hairstyles, all rendered in a mix of drab and brilliant colors... it's all there in Dean Motter's Mister X: Eviction
 
cover art

Mister X: Eviction #1

(Dark Horse)
US: Jun 2013

In the thirty years since Dean Motter’s Mister X appeared (in the old Vortex Comics), the subjects he has influenced have become absolute icons, much bigger than the character or comics themselves. Gilliam’s Brazil, Burton’s Batman and the subsequent Batman: the Animated Series Proyas’ The Crow and Dark City all take cues from the meticulously planned and rendered futuristic world of Radiant City, still somehow trapped in the art deco of the 1940s.

Unlike many of the futuristic style artistic throwbacks we find in media, there is very little pristine in Motter’s comics, particularly in the new series Mister X: Eviction. Written and drawn by Motter, this Dark Horse Comic contains all of the trademarks of the character’s history in comics. The “psychetecture” of Radiant City, the negative space, the over-expressive drawn sound effects, the 1940s automobiles (usually flying in Jetsons-like sky lines), the fedoras, Zoot suits, art deco and Lois Lane hairstyles, all rendered in a mix of drab and brilliant colors… it’s all there.

That may sound quite orderly and impressive, but in Motter’s cynically witty style, “Pretty” goes out the window and a Noir dirtiness takes over. Sure the concept of a “used future” hasn’t been anything new since Star Wars popularized the notion in 1977, but the ugliness here is not on the surface. The floating deco busses look as polished as a retro-styled Ruby’s Diner, deep red, rich beige with bright chrome accents. But a second glance shows an advertisement on the side of the same bus shows an Asian stereotype caricature surrounded by the words “Peking Tom’s Ethnic Cuisine”.

As Mister X himself enters into a new, insomnia-driven quest to fix the dystopic city he helped build (aided by a few semi-friends) and an alcoholic reporter named Rosetta “Rosey” Stone spills her guts to a bandaged Theramin and piano player in a bar, we are reminded of what makes this weird series unique and peculiar. In the comicbooks of Mister X, it’s as if the style and substance of the Noir era never changed, even as the technology and capabilities did. Cars fly, blimps and nuclear power are everywhere and robots (created by “R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots”, no less, for a brilliant reference to an X influence) serve the public. However, racial and gender sensitivity has no more caught up with these “future” visions than the Felix the Cat wall clock has gone out of style. The Forties became the future, as opposed to the future growing out of the past.

The storytelling of the current Mister X is likewise a “Golden Age” throwback. For one thing, the actual “Eviction” story that gives Mister X: Eviction its title, is only the first half of the first issue, with the second half taken up by the almost extinct animal of the “Backup Feature”. This second story, called “Dean Motter’s Mister X in Control” takes a step backward in its 2-D artwork to feel thoroughly “retro” in more ways than the obvious. Entire pages are made up of single-frame montages with text blocks and no word balloons all in monochromatic shades that… simply put, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Best of all, the inclusions Motter chooses all make sense. Nowhere does the artist appear to be picking and choosing “really neat stuff” to shove into a panel. If Motter shows us some absurd contraption that looks taken from the set of either Bride of Frankenstein or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, you can be damned sure that he has a reason for including it. And in any style he emulates, Motter appears to be the master of it. There is a certain Mike Mignola flatness to his work and like Mignola he uses this to an expressionistic bend that would look absolutely at home on a retro art deco poster. The clean lines, negative space, surprising color choices and creative play of light and shadow (particularly on the face and glasses of our title character) are all impressive without seeming gimmicky. An initial glance shows retro art… a lingering look shows Motter to be a master of the craft.

Growing up as comic collectors, we often come across single issues of interesting comicbooks that have a full backup and a continuing lead story. And as enthralled as we are by the lead story, we are equally frustrated by not knowing the rest. This was an ironic thrill all-but-erased by the existence of the internet and the availability of reprints from many sources. Somehow, Mister X fits well into this peculiar place of memory. Eviction is a new comicbook, yes, and it may be confusing and frustrating to readers unfamiliar with the backstory of the characters. Like the best of those rare collector’s finds of the old days when we might not find the continuation of the tale or the issues that came before the one we laid our hands on, there is somehow enough in this throwback called Mister X #1 to give us that thrill, even without reading more. That may not be a sign of a great comicbook of today, but maybe it should be.

Mister X: Eviction #1

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