[Interview] Duane Swierczynski Re-Launches ‘X’ In A Hail Of Bullets

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With the re-launch of the Dark Horse superhero universe in full swing, has now reactivated their classic masked vigilante known simply as X. The character is reborn in a brand new four-issue miniseries written by Duane Swierczynski (“Bloodshot”, “Judge Dredd”) and featuring art by Eric Nguyen (“Batman: Arkham Unhinged”, “Strange Girl”) that begins May 8th.

“X” is a shockingly violent take on the classic comic book vigilante, as a masked anti-hero attempts to clean up the greed and corruption in the streets of Arcadia. X is a one man judge, jury and executioner who warns those that dare cross the line, with a deadly mark. Cross the line again and X will mark the spot where they can find the body. X takes the brains of Batman and combines it with the Punisher’s violent desire to eliminate anything that stands in his way.

Swierczynski was kind enough to check in with Bloody-Disgusting to reveal what he has in store for Dark Horse’s most infamous one-eyed vigilante. Swierczynski talked candidly about his vision for the character, how he plans on modernizing the series, and how to guide a man with a broken moral compass.

Bloody-Disgusting: Talk about your approach to the re-launch of X and how you see him now verses in the original series?

Duane Swierczynski: I see X as a guy who’s not only out for revenge, but truly wants to save his city — the hopelessly corrupt Arcadia. But even though the city is fictional, I’m basing it on a lot of real cities such as Detroit and Camden, New Jersey, which is right across the river from me in Philadelphia. I just read Charlie Le Duff’s DETROIT a few weeks ago, and the stuff that goes on in that town would make even X blush, I think. There was always a great, gritty corrupt urban backdrop to the classic X series, and what I’m trying to do is inject a “ripped-from-the-headlines” feel into the series now.

BD: When you pitched the series to Dark Horse were you a fan of the original and how did you go about picking and choosing what elements of the original series to keep?

DS: What I loved most about the original series was the mystery of it all. Who is this guy? What’s the deal with the mask and S&M-style padlock? So I want to preserve that as much in possible in this version. Readers really won’t know what we’ve kept or discarded until later down the line.

BD: There are a lot of fans that love this character even though he’s been out of the spotlight for a number of years. Did you feel any pressure bringing to have this incarnation live up to the original?

DS: I always feel pressure when writing about a beloved character. I seem to have fallen into a pattern of re-launching titles from the early 90s like Cable for Marvel, Bloodshot for Valiant, and now X for Dark Horse. Oddly enough, the 90s is when I wasn’t reading too many comics, because I was a broke kid in college. But in each case, I just trying to think about what would interest me the most about the character. To be honest, Dark Horse kind of had me at “one-eyed vigilante” when they first approached me, because I’m a sucker for a “lone man against impossible odds” kind of story.

BD: Tell us a bit about this upcoming mini-series and what’s in store for X?

DS: The very first installment, X #0, is a reprinting of the three segments that appeared in recent issues of Dark Horse Presents. They were meant to introduce you to X, the kind of scum he targets, and the city itself. Starting with X #1, we’re going to see X through the eyes of Leigh Ferguson, a reporter whose newspaper has just folded — so she turns to writing exposes online under the nom de plume of “The Last Muckraker.” To her, X is a psycho killer who needs to be stopped, and then one bloody night they meet…

BD: The city of Arcadia has always played a big part of X. The city acts almost like a character within the story, sort of like Gotham City does in Batman. What can you tell us about the city of Arcadia and the role that is has in this new series?

DS: Settings are hugely important to me, both in comics and novels. Even though Arcadia is fictional, I’m trying to inject it with the DNA of real American cities, especially struggling, post-industrial cities like the one I live in. With every issue I want to peel back another layer of X, as well another layer of the city — and not just the underworld. Let’s just say THE WIRE is a huge influence on my thinking for this series.

BD: The original X series had some fantastic artwork by Doug Mahnke (Green Lantern), Ron Wagner (Captain America) and Javier Saltares (Ghost Rider), which set up a very gritty noir tone for the book. This series has Eric Nguyen on board to handle the art duties, what was it about his style that made him the perfect fit for this version of X?

DS: Oh man… Eric and I are going to go to hell for what we’ve done with this series. I’m damned because I wrote it, and he’s damned because he made it come to life in such a vivid, brutal way. We constantly egg each other on to go darker, weirder, crazier. Pray for us.

BD: Typically in superhero comics, the hero is guided by some sort of moral compass that drives him and guides his decisions. X takes a by any means necessary approach, to the point where he feels justified killing someone if it furthers his agenda. How do you write a violent, morally ambiguous character without falling into the pitfall of having him become a mindless killing machine?

DS: You just said it; X does have a moral compass. It may be hopelessly broken, or tuned to some other reality, but as John Goodman once opined, at least it’s an ethos. This is something we’re going to explore in the series going forward.

BD: Can we expect to see any other characters from the Dark Horse superhero universe show up in X anytime soon?

DS: Show up in X’s own series? Maybe. But I can tell you for sure that X will appear with other Dark Horse superheroes in a certain mini-series coming later this year. I can say this with certainty because I wrote the mini-series!

BD: What books are you currently reading and are there any titles out there that you think are deserve more of a spotlight?

DS: I seem to gravitate towards horror and crime comics more than superhero stuff, so of course I’m loving Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’ FATALE. I’m also loving those great reprint volumes of CRIME DOES NOT PAY and the Fantagraphics collections of the old EC stuff. I guess I’m in a backwards-gazing mood these days.

BD: Can you give us some insight into what other projects you’re currently working on?

DS: Right now I’m writing BLOODSHOT for Valiant and IDW’s JUDGE DREDD ongoing, which is an absolute blast because I’ve been a big Dredd-head since my teens. Geez, all of this tough-guy stuff; I keep hoping someone will ask me to pitch a story about helpful little kittens or something. Just kidding, but that might be a fun subplot for X…

BD: You have a new novel called “POINT AND SHOOT” coming out on April 30th via Mulholland Books. What can you tell us about the book and why should fans pick it up?

DS: POINT AND SHOOT is the third installment of the hyper-pulpy action series starring alcoholic house sitter Charlie Hardie. In the first book, FUN AND GAMES, he protects a spoiled brat actress from a team of killers who arrange celebrity deaths. In the second, HELL AND GONE, he’s sent to a secret underground prison, and eventually ends up stuck in a satellite in low-earth orbit. That’s right: in space. This next one picks up right there, in motherlovin’ SPACE. To say more would spoil the fun, but if you’re a fan of boozers trapped in space, this may be the book for you.