By Tony Patrick, Ayhan Hayrula, Brian Level and Doug Garbark
As if things weren’t strange enough following the adventures of a “subliminal assassin”, issue #4 maintained a sense of bizarre while managing to heighten things as well. The fairly new series by Black Mask Studios feels like a science-fiction movie from the 1980s. It is also reminiscent of some independent comics from the 80s and 90s – Vertigo’s Justice Inc. comes to mind, although the comparison to X’ED stops at the overall look and feel of the book. Once you dig into X’ED you’ll see in no time that modern sensibilities are driving this book no matter how old school the flavor may be. The sci-fi genre has always been around and isn’t going anywhere, though there has been a resurgence lately honing in on some of the nostalgia instead of attempting to create an all-new approach. Possible influences aside, what matters most is X’ED is making an all-new, highly original story to fit neatly into that sense of nostalgia, to the point where you feel like you’re reading a comic from that actual period, which would have outshined all the rest.
Writer Tony Patrick has created a fantastic story with pacing well enough overall and characters with actual motivation. The dialogue is genuine if not a bit heavy. At times there’s just too much exposition, although that’s not something unfamiliar to fans of sci-fi material and thankfully there’s nothing here you can’t use to appreciate the story even more. The downside is, the wordiness has an effect on the storytelling. Bookending this issue, are some great action sequences, which are filled with meaningful drama. The story as a comic is well though out and mostly gives readers an enjoyable stress-free experience, except for those times where the dialogue runs long and you’re stuck keeping track of off-panel narration blended with current conversations. It’s as if at times two separate issues have been combined into one. On the one hand, it’s cool to get so much content in a single issue, but it could also inhibit the overall success if becomes persistent.
Not to sell the book short, because ultimately it’s a standout series on a new release shelf full of mainstream comic books. This creative team behind X’ED has, in just 4 issues, created an identity for themselves that is pleasantly familiar and starkly unique. The concept is phenomenal and the execution basically does that concept justice. But it’s the artwork that truly takes center stage, and not one page or panel is wasted. Tony Patrick has provided amazing settings, characters and scenes for his team to illustrate and they have met the challenge. Even though the characters are, for the most part, extremely normal in appearance, it’s the things they say and the places they go that creates a contrast worthy of the genre. The artists at hand, however, have mastered the manner in which they use that contrast in the most effective way. Through dynamic panel arrangements and camera angles, Ayhan Hayrula and Brian Level lead the reader’s eye with a fluid motion. Without giving anything away, you know when you’re in the real world or not, although it can be a subtle shift. The artwork seems character driven and so settings, no matter how important or outlandish they may become, take a backseat to the experience the character is having, which in turn gives us readers a similar emotional reaction. For example: even when things are at their strangest there is a consistent tone of normalcy threaded through that makes for an ideal juxtaposition. Weird isn’t too weird and normal isn’t too normal and that’s a real achievement.
Colorist Doug Garbark only assists in telling the story by putting cool tones side by side with warm tones and filling backgrounds in with seemingly random palettes that create the perfect sense of dread or excitement. It’s not enough to have two people talking or fighting, and Garbark helps us realize the stakes of any given situation or scene by way of color. Solid blocks of secondary colors and predominant amounts of neon not only reinforce that sense of modern sci-fi, but also give readers a better chance to tune in and engage in the drama. X’ED probably isn’t the same book in black and white, not that it’s meant to be.
In the end it feels as if the creative team is staying true to what they set out to produce. Whether that’s something fans can latch onto is another thing, but at least X’ED has a sense of purity. As of issue #4 the story is moving forward quickly and everything that was good about the book early on is only getting better.