The mid-nineties were a wild time to be alive: O.J. Simpson dominated the news cycle, Jeff Buckley ruined sex scenes forever with his cover of “Hallelujah”, and Professor X was murdered by his son Legion. Then, in 1994, a new breed of superhero hit store shelves in the form of Dark Horse’s X, the story of the eponymous defender of Arcadia who doesn’t shy away from cracking a few skulls to deliver his hardline brand of justice. Now, Dark Horse is bringing back the ultraviolent hero and putting them in the hands of writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Eric Nguyen. Their reboot is not for the faint of heart, as X indiscriminately fills Arcadia’s criminals with lead and ensures the city’s safety at any cost. To get the inside scoop, I caught up with the brains behind the book to find out
Nerdist: How familiar were you with the original X series during the ’90s? What are some of the challenges in rebooting a character like this who has been out of the spotlight for a little bit?
Duane Swierczynski: I’ll be honest: not at all. The early 90s is exactly when I wasn’t reading comics (due to being in college and broke). But it was great fun to catch up with X via the two omnibus editions. X is a kind of character I love to write: bad-ass and mysterious with his own code of ethics. I don’t think it matters that he’s been gone for two decades; what matters is that he’s back now, and he’s going to turn your hand into hot link sausages.
Eric Nguyen: I was a big fan of the book in the 90s and still have the first issue with the Frank Miller cover tucked away somewhere. I wouldn’t call it a challenge, per se, but I think when you’re redesigning a character that fans are already familiar with, you want to walk a line between paying homage and modernizing. When Patrick, the editor, asked me if I would be interested in the reboot, I said yes almost immediately. I think his exact words were “…dark, gore, and a little weird….” He had me at gore. After a short discussion, we decided that X had to be more urban, his costume more functional, and he needed to step away from the spandex tights that had come before.
N: How true to the original character is the series? Did you want to go your own way or do something in the spirit of the original?
DS: While I tried to honor X’s past, I didn’t want to be mired in it, either. It’s a balancing act, to be sure, but Dark Horse has been absolutely great about giving me the freedom to take X down different alleys. For one thing, the criminals and villains he faces are all new. Eric and I have been having some great fun with anthropomorphism. You’ve got pigs in the first arc, but keep your eyes peeled for rats and dogs, too….
EN: Absolutely. I think we’ve been able to capture the essence of the character while also putting our own stamp on who he is. X isn’t a guy with a lot of pillow talk. He’s a man of action and not words. Personally, I really enjoy the relationship that Duane has created between X and Leigh, and believe it adds another side to the book that was missing previously.
N: This is some seriously hardboiled stuff. Tell us a bit about what we can expect from the series as it goes forward.
DS: More hardboiled stuff! But seriously, I’m excited about exploring both X and his city, layer by layer. The mystery of X — who he is, why he does what he does, can he enjoy 3D movies or not — will be examined piece by piece, just like the sordid saga of Arcadia, and how it got that way. I’m seeing my run on X (however long as it may be) as an epic crime novel. And the fun of writing crime novels (which is what I do when I’m not writing comics) is exploring a character and his/her environment chapter by chapter. I love old pulpy vintage novels not so much for the wild plot hijinx, but because it’s a guided tour through the past — how people behaved, what they ate and drank, and how they screwed each other over. My goal is to bring that kind of depth to X.
EN: Man, what can readers expect? Well, they’ll definitely be surprised. Duane has brewed some seriously twisted therapy sessions up for X.
N: Talk to us about designing the city of Arcadia – both visually and narratively. So far, it’s giving off a The Wire-meets-Clockwork Orange vibe (which I mean in the best possible way).
DS: That’s the best description of Arcadia that I’ve ever heard. This is definitely more Eric’s question, but The Wire is a huge influence on this series, as well as books about dying American cities (practically a subgenre now) and a whole slew of newspaper and magazine pieces.
EN: I think this book gives me a perfect outlet to show readers how I’ve always wanted to depict a dark book. Prior to X, I had been trying to get on a darker book at one of the big two. When the opportunity to draw X came up, I couldn’t have been happier. All that energy and inspiration I had been building up allowed me to just go nuts on X with textures. You’ll see that I try to make everything in X have grit. I incorporated wall textures, and city’s street grit scrubbed into the characters’ line art. It was a very deliberate decision to try and have the city mingle with the characters. I want the world to seem dark and seedy. Arcadia isn’t a place for the weak. I would also like to praise Michelle, who is our fabulous colorist, who has done a fantastic job giving the book the right palette and saturation for Arcadia.
N: There’s definitely a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence in here. Was that always part of the plan or was it something that came up naturally as you went along?
EN: The credit lays squarely on the shoulders of Patrick and Duane. They knew exactly how explicit the book needed to be, and I agreed.
DS: The violence just flowed from the character. X is super-passionate about saving his city; he likens his campaign to doing surgery, and well, you know surgery can get awful messy.
N: Are there any things that Duane suggests that are too gruesome for you, Eric? Likewise, have any of Eric’s drawings made your stomach churn, Duane?
DS: Only in the best possible way. Eric has this genius way of making something look nightmarish, even if it’s just some dude at a lunch counter snarfing down a baloney sandwich.
EN: I’ve mentioned this to Duane personally. He is doing a fantastic job and routinely provides me scenes that allow me the perfect foundation to springboard from. His scripts are brutal, his pacing perfect and it allows me to really let loose. I hope we work together for a long time.
N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?
EN: That’s a question with a long answer. Right now I’m enjoying more creator-owned books than ever before. I’ve been picking up Jupiter’s Legacy (love Frank Quitely), Saga (Fiona’s a gem), Bedlam, Nowhere Men, Luther Strode, Invincible, and Walking Dead. I know there’s probably more. What Kirkman has done with The Walking Dead is incredible and inspiring. To tell stories for almost a decade while keeping the property exciting is refreshing and something this industry really needs. I’m excited for whatever becomes the next Walking Dead.
DS: My taste in comics tends to run towards crime, horror and the just plain weird. I just ordered Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT and Brain Michael Bendis’s Jinx collection (which I’ve been meaning to read, oh, for a decade now). Loving Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, and as well as Matz’s Killer series. Also read and really dug Charles Soule’s Strange Attractors a few weeks ago.
N: What would be inside your ideal burrito?
EN: YES! Finally, we get down to the most important question of the interview. I’ll need caloric free carne asada, jalapenos, caloric free beans, black beans, pinto beans, refried beans (all of them!), caloric free guacamole, and with a small bucket of hot sauce to bath my delicious, foot long beauty in. Did I mention caloric free? Yes, If science could make it all calorie free, my waist line would appreciate it.
DS: Another burrito.