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District X #1-6
Written By: David Hine
Drawn By: David Yardin, Lan Medina, and Mike Perkins
Publisher: Marvel Comics; $2.99 USD ea.

I picked up District X expecting it to be Powers-lite. A relatively untested creative team writing a series in the same genre as Gotham Central, Top 10, and Powers? Using Bishop as a main character? It seemed doomed to failure. However, while the initial story arc is far from perfect, there is some definite promise in the series.

In the wake of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, there is a mutant ghetto in the middle of New York City with record rates of unemployment, crime and vice. Ismael Ortega is a cop just trying to keep his bigoted partner in check when an unusual case forces him compromise his ethics and protect his partner with a lie. This results in him getting a new partner, Lucas Bishop, whom is trying to stop a mutant gang war. Ortega and Bishop investigate the conflict between the gangs, which centers on a boy and his strange abilities. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger with unimaginable power and knowledge of Ortega’s secret begins to take matters into his own hands.

David Hine (Strange Embrace) manages to avoid many of the traps that might have made this book a laughable cliché. The first half of the story arc focuses on the main character of the series: the District itself. Hine conveys both the tragedy and triumph in the everyday lives of the people in Mutant town, for whom the powers are neither a blessing nor a curse. Through some remarkably clear vignettes of city life, we see mutant powers as metaphors for all of the obsessions, hobbies, petty failings, and personal tragedies that make individuals. This is drawn into stark contrast to the views of Bishop and Ortega, who see being a mutant as an issue of race.

Ortega and his family life are also well developed, as we see him in conflict between a natural conservative streak and his love for his outspoken activist mutant wife. Hine wisely manages to dodge Bishop’s exceeding convoluted history, focusing on his skills as a detective and his fish-out-of-water nature.

Where this arc falls apart is the pacing of the second half. The first three issues do an excellent job introducing and detailing the setting, characters, and plot. In the final three issues, the focus shifts to the mysterious Mr. M., whom turns out to be a generic "god-like madman with good intentions." This was a really dull character whose sole purpose was to cut off dangling plot threads. Furthermore, in focusing on him, the mutant gang war and investigation stories become footnotes that are solved far too cleanly. The pacing on the second half is rushed and formulaic. The ending to the Mr. M. plot could have been done in any issue of any superhero series just as well. Looking at the two halves, one feels as though two different writers were on the book, and the difference was jarring.

David Yardin abandons the shadowy, mysterious tone used in other noir books in favor of a standard superhero style that doesn’t work for the setting. The sunny, relatively clean New York streets depicted conflict with the idea of Mutant town as a ghetto. However, the character designs Yardin uses makes up for this. The characters in this book have distinctive, individual appearances that are interesting and never generic. The storytelling here is clear, if sometimes a bit plain.

It also struck me as being surprisingly bloodless for a cop series (an early example of this is when a character asks for blood samples to be taken of and item that seems to have no blood on it).

Medina’s fill-in art in #4 is largely consistent with the tone set by Yardin. The final issue, illustrated by Mike Perkins, takes a turn for the worse, becoming rushed and unfocused.

Despite the flaws in the second half of the story arc, District X does offer a unique setting in the larger Marvel universe. The approach is still a bit too conventional for this type of series, and work on story pacing will need to be done, but the potential for an excellent book is evident. Grade: 3/5

-- Michael Paciocco

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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