Current Reviews


Mister X: Condemned #3

Posted: Monday, March 2, 2009
By: Thom Young

Dean Motter
Dean Motter
Dark Horse Comics
"Condemned: Chapter Three"

After reviewing Mister X: Condemned #1 two months ago, I somehow managed to miss the release of the second issue (sometime in January, I guess). Thus, I was surprised to see that the third issue had been released this past week.

Without having read the second issue, I hesitated to review the third. I considered just holding off until the eventual trade paperback collection would come out--though thereís no guarantee I would be able to buy it when it did.

Fortunately, Dark Horse Comics sent a copy of the second issue to me. Thank you, Dark Horse Comics. However, having secured a copy of the second issue, I then had to find a copy of the third--a task that proved more difficult than I thought it would be (and definitely more difficult than it should have been).

The first shop I went to didnít bother to order any copies at all--but I was told they could get one for me in about a week or two. Theyíve actually said the same thing about two other books Iíve wanted in the past six months, but they have yet to get either of those books for me--so I passed on their offer and went to another shop the next day. Fortunately, the second shop had one copy remaining from the five they ordered.

This situation is incredible to me. I live in Marylandís second-largest city (Baltimore is the largest), and the population of the county in which I live is around 250,000 (with more in neighboring counties that donít have comic book shops at all). In an area with a population this high, it surprises me that only five total copies were ordered of a series published by a mid-major comic book company in which a critically acclaimed character from the 1980s is being brought back by his original creator.

In other words, this is not an easy series to track down, and you may have similar difficulty in your own part of the world. However, Mister X: Condemned is worth tracking down--particularly if you like retro-futuristic crime noir fiction.

That weird sub-sub-genre is actually one of my favorites, so Iím glad I was able to track down the elusive second and third issues of this series.

I read the second issue a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not surprisingly, it was a straight continuation from the first issue--and it included a scene in which Radiant City racketeer Arnold Zamora took his girlfriend, Patrice, for a ride in one of his flying cars--a red Lincoln Futura (a concept car from 1955). The Lincoln Futura concept car was also used as the Batmobile in the Batman TV series in which Adam West starred in the 1960s.

In the original Mister X series from 25 years ago, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez also had Zamora and Patrice traveling around in a flying car--but it wasnít a specific model thatís easily identifiable the way Dean Motterís use of the Futura is here.

Motter has clearly researched Futurist concepts from the 1920s to the 1950s (perhaps earlier decades as well) to create his vision of Mister Xís retro-futuristic world. Itís the same approach Motter took in Terminal City and Electropolis, and itís a pleasure to read a story by someone who actually cares to correctly flesh out the details of his concepts.

I also enjoyed the fact that the scene of Zamora and Patrice flying over the city in their Lincoln Futura was a re-creation of the Hernandez Brothersí scene from 25 years ago in which Patrice looks over the side of the car and spots Mister X through the window in Zamoraís office. In turn, he casts a glance her way just as he begins to remove the blueprints of the city from the wall safe he had obviously just opened.

Not all the details in this new series are the same as the story that ran in the Hernandez Brothersí four issues in the mid 1980s, so readers of the original series shouldnít shy away from this ďremakeĒ of the story. This series is undoubtedly closer to what Motter had originally envisioned before giving control over to the Hernandez Brothers in 1984 (he moved into the role of editor at that time).

In many ways, this current series is like reading about a Mister X who is a parallel universe version of the one the Hernandez Brothers wrote about. Itís very interesting to compare and contrast the two works.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the second issue, and I was glad I had a chance to read it so that I could move on to the third--which I read two days later. Oddly, as I began reading the third issue, I suddenly felt as if I had not read the previous chapter. The third issue does not pick up where the second issue left off.

Two prominent characters (I wonít name them) who were very much alive at the end of the second issue are dead at the beginning of the third. I had to go back to issue #2 and re-read the last few pages to make sure I hadnít missed their deaths.

I hadnít. They were not killed in the second issue. They were killed between issues.

A small part of the plot in this third issue centers around the mystery of who killed those two characters and why--which, I suppose, is enough of a reason to have the murders take place between chapters. Nevertheless, it threw me off a bit--and I would imagine the problem was worse for a reader who actually read the two issues a month apart rather than two days apart.

A similar circumstance is that Mister X has been confined to a sanitarium at the beginning of the third issue--but he was very much a free man at the end of #2. Again I went back to make sure I hadnít missed something in the second issue. Again, I had not.

At the beginning of this third issue, we get some conversational exposition in which the police inspector informs the person heís talking to (and us) that Mister X locked himself in the restroom of a night club after it had closed and was writing ďalgebraic graffitiĒ on the walls. He was then dragged out and brought to the sanitarium. However, the second issue had shown him writing his algebraic graffiti on the walls of Mercedes's apartment, so it seems odd that he took his algebra to the bathroom walls of a night club--particularly considering who it is that the police inspector told the story to.

Iím not certain why Motter felt it necessary to jump ahead in the narrative in these two instances. Even the two deaths that occurred between issues could have been handled in a way that didnít reveal who committed the murders and why.

Perhaps Motter realized that he had too many other scenes that he needed to get into the story before the four-issue series wraps up next issue. However, I also noticed that the first issue was titled "The Necrolith," and the second issue was titled "The Necrolith, Pt II"--but this third issue is given the obvious title of "Condemned: Chapter Three" (i.e., the third chapter of this series titled Condemned). Thus, the title of the third chapter would also seem to indicate a narrative break from the first two issues.

Ah well. This third issue is still very good despite the jarring jump ahead in the narrative.

I mentioned in my review of the first issue that Motterís story makes specific allusions to the ideas of the French architect known as Le Corbusier (Charles-…douard Jeanneret-Gris) who was the ďhigh priestĒ of the International Style and who further developed the theory that rational architectural structures should (and would) influence the development of rational thinking in the minds of the people who inhabited them.

Le Corbusier published his ideas in his 1935 book, La Ville Radieuse, which translates as The Radiant City--the same name that Mister X gave to the city he designed in Motterís story.

Like Le Corbusier, Mister X designed his metropolis to influence the population to think and live rationally--but something went wrong. Instead, the cityís design has been driving the residents into insanity and/or depravity, and thatís where the hardboiled, film noir elements come into play to turn the intended utopia into a dystopia.

I also mentioned in my review of the first issue the allusions to the works and ideas of Ayn Ran that Motter has included in his story. With the second issue, it became obvious that the man named Roark in Mister X is not based on Randís Howard Roark in any way other than name. Similarly, Radiant Cityís mayor, Ian Rand, is not based on Ayn Rand in any way other than name.

Interestingly, these two characters are actually the antithesis of Randís view of the proper way in which men should conduct their business affairs. Even more interesting, is that it is Mister X who lives by the principles of Ayn Randís architect, Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, even though his personal life as a drug addict and borderline psychotic does not square with Randís concept of a hero.

As a character, Mister X seems to be Motterís re-imagining of Randís Howard Roark in the same way that Watchmenís Rorschach is a re-imagining of Steve Ditkoís Randian-influenced characters The Question and Mr. A.

Hmmm. Mister X as a retro-futuristic, crime noir, mirror reflection of Ditkoís Mr. A?

I definitely love this series. Fans of retro-futuristic crime noir fiction should seek it out.

Okay, I was going to end the review there, but I cut the following paragraphs out from their earlier position in this review and I don't want to delete them--so let me keep going.

Another work in this same sub-sub-genre is the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. These are works of science fiction set in a present as envisioned by the filmmakers of the 1920s and 1930s--such as Fritz Langís Metropolis or the 1936 film Things to Come.

If you enjoy those films, you will probably enjoy Motterís Mister X--which is very focused on creating an authentic Futurist vision based on detailed research and then setting a compelling hardboiled narrative in that retro-Futurist world.

In some ways, itís not unlike the film Gattaca that married a 1950s vision of a ďspace academyĒ with a 1950s film noir style (sort of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet meets The Postman Always Rings Twice).

Seek out Mister X: Condemned now or wait for the trade paperback collected edition, but get it for your library. Itís a very good work.

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