It wasn't until I read an interview with Duane Swierczynski that I realized that Carmine Tango, the villain in "X" #10, wasn't a brand-new creation of his and Eric Nguyen's. He's a character from the older, previous version of the title back in the day; the way that Swierczynski and Nguyen tackle him, though, he feels fresh and original. And really, isn't that how a revamp of an old concept should work?
Swierczynski has two plots start to intertwine in "X" #10; the continued pursuit of Leigh for X's identity, and the arrival of Carmine Tango and his obsession with astrology to guide his path forward. It works well here, as Leigh investigates history and concrete facts while Tango is staring up into the heavens and listening to random fancy from a kidnapped writer of horoscopes. But of course, at the center of it all is the mysterious X.
What makes this story work especially well is how X connects the two threads. It's nice to see that X's past has some heft to it, even as at the same time it's nice that X appears to be a brand new character that we hadn't met in any of the previous issues. There's no, "He was the old man in the alleyway" or "He was the bartender that kept giving Leigh drinks" amazing coincidences here; he's just a guy who went through some truly awful and formative experiences. At the same time, though, Swierczynski doesn't make X's past disposable. His conflict with Carmine Tango is a reminder of that, as a foe that he's tried to forget comes roaring back.
The real star of this issue, though, is Tango. There's something wonderfully erratic about a villain who chooses his targets and forms his plans based on a horoscope. And in a city without a newspaper, I love that Tango's response was to kidnap the shuttered newspaper's horoscope columnist and make him generate new horoscopes for Tango. It's brilliant in a twisted sort of way, that logical step of, "What would a ruthless crime boss do if his navigation system went away?" Swierczynski sells the idea here, and it works.
Nguyen's art is as beautifully ragged and rough as ever. His characters never come across and crisp or clean; instead it's dirty, angled ink lines that really sum up the overall look of "X" and its world. The Night Watcher, as he's dragged out of car trunks and hauled up onto rooftops, looks gangly and frail, defeated and agonized. It's a strong look for a minor character, and that's something that Nguyen pulls off over and over again. I love that even the streets and buildings of Arcadia some how come across slightly grimy without there necessarily being piles of trash or filth; Nguyen has made it as an ethically dirty city in physical appearance, if that's even possible. He's also a strong user of large patches of shadow; it gives his characters a real texture to them, one that makes them fit into the overall darkness of Arcadia. With each issue, I think Nguyen is getting better and better.
"X" is, month in and month out, a brutally entertaining series. Swierczynski and Nguyen's "X" kicks its characters in the head and has them crawling back for more, as a fight against corruption with only one voice of morality left in the city begins to shift into high gear. Another strong installment from one of Dark Horse's better new series.