... Jaime Hernandez's only non-Love & Rockets book from the 1980s? I'm all over this beaut. Its plot is as sleek as its Art Deco setting: Mr X, an architect fueled by a drug that allows him never to sleep, returns to Radiant City, the city he designed with fellow architect Simon Myers, who is now dead after a mysterious suicide. Mr X is the world's foremost practitioner of "psychetecture" -- architecture conceived to enhance its inhabitants' mental well-being; but something went wrong during the construction of Radiant City, and now, says Mr X, all of its citizens are in danger of going mad. Only he can reverse this fuck-up.
Dean Motter, Gilbert Hernandez, and Mario Hernandez co-wrote the book, and I wonder if the team approach partly accounts for the way the story is pulled toward several different genres and moods simultaneously. It's a tense film noir on one page, a sci-fi cautionary tale on another, and then, suddenly, a romantic comedy. Then again, Gilbert often pulls off this sort of mix all by himself in Love & Rockets. There's an element to the Mr X character, though, that makes him unlike most L&R characters: he's a Randian hero, a man of extraordinary skills whose extreme individualism and drive cause ordinary people (those less morally advanced, Rand might say) to misunderstand him. "So much to do, and so little time to do it," he says repeatedly. It's his mantra and his justification for self-administering the anti-sleep drug.
That we never do see much evidence of the harmful effects of psychetecture gone awry could be telling. At least in this volume -- collecting the first four issues of Mister X -- we have to take Mr X's word for it. (Motter would continue writing Mister X for 10 issues after the Hernandez brothers quit.) Is he a paranoid neurotic? Is his apparent compassion for the citizens of Radiant City just a side effect of his obsession with perfecting urban reality?
I'm just in it for Jaime's usual flawless art, so I'll never know the answer. It's incredible how durable his style has been in the 26 years since Mister X first appeared. Jaime in 1984 is not as great a cartoonist as 2010 Jaime, but the draftsmanship and humour and grace and illusion (?) of effortlessness are all there. It's like a fucking shitting magick.