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District X: Mr. M

If there is one character in comic books that has been utterly changed and revamped since his inception, it would have to be Bishop. The character was the product of the early 90s Jim Lee X-Men/Uncanny X-Men era. Originally a mutant paratrooper from the future, Bishop has gone through a glut of character shifts, due largely to Marvel’s inability to figure out his place in the MU; he’s been an X-Man, he’s been an alternate reality savior, he’s been a warrior in a post-apocalyptic future. Bishop gets around.

Now, he is a detective working with the federal government to help police Mutant Town, the section of New York City that has become the home and haven for mutants around the country. Writer David Hine (Strange Embrace) has finally found a place for Bishop: the background.

Hine instead elects to construct an incredible microcosm within New York City. Mutant Town, or the titular District X, is a rich and well defined community with a cast of characters that, while some are ancillary to the main plot, help foster this atmosphere of truly urban, mutant life. At the heart of the story is Officer Ismael Ortega, a beat cop in District X who is trying to raise a family, while dealing with the pressures of working the most crime-ridden area in the country. After an incident involving the shooting of two civilians and injury of his partner, Ortega is assigned special duty with a Federal government operative with expertise with mutants; he has to show Bishop around, in order to prevent a gang war between the rival crews in Mutant Town.

Perhaps the most admirable quality of Hine’s script is the fact that he doesn’t so much focus on Ortega and Bishop as use them to introduce the reader to the rest of the characters and the district itself; Hine has such a flair for creating an emotional connection to even his bit characters that the reader is endeared to them immediately. One distraught and over-worked mother hits her kids, but briefly and honestly opens up about her once great marriage to her mutant husband, and it isn’t forced. In a moment of desperation to be understood, she uses a whopping two panels to show perfect strangers her life, and Hine makes it an entirely genuine and believable scene.

And there are others: tender and sometimes heart wrenching moments between Ortega and his wife, compassion-laden scenes between the strange Mr. M and a neighbor, horrifyingly violent outburst from the gangster Mr. Kaufman, etc. Hine runs the range of emotive expression in his story, but at no time is it a cheap stab or artificial insinuation of emotional content. He makes you care about the smallest character’s story, and there’s many stories to be told. His script, while about the starkly inhuman, is more about humanity than most of the X-Books being published.

I’m slightly reminded of the New York City stories written by Eisner, but I’m most reminded of one of the best book series about superheroes ever written: Wildcards, edited by George R.R. Martin. The parallels between Mutant Town and the book’s “Jokertown,” are readily visible, and both feature a myriad cast of well defined and fleshed out characters.

The artwork is by three different pencilers, but I honestly cannot tell when one picks up and the other puts down the pencil. David Yardin, Lan Medina, and Mike Perkins work so seamlessly together that I had to check twice to make sure they weren’t just one artist. Their work here is quite good. The way they design characters is what sets this apart from the other X-Books; like we began to see when Morrison and Quitely took over X-Men, Yardin, Medina and Perkins realize that not all mutations are welcome ones; these characters are not the ones with wings or retractable claws, but with mutations that could be considered deformities. Unwanted root growth, spontaneous fits of rage, unusually awful smell, all these make appearances within the District and these pencilers have no trouble balancing the unique appearance of their characters with the very textured and NYC colored atmosphere.

With Marvel, we never know. The series might already be cancelled or on its way, but with quality writing and detailed complimentary artwork, this is a collection well worth the $14.99 ticket price. And it’s nice to see Bishop has a place to call home, at least until he gets sucked into an alternate dimension and becomes the first president of the United States of Genosha or whatever might come next for the character. Enjoy.

District X Vol. 1: Mr. M 

Robert Sparling

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