Imagine if you could delete memories, forget the past, un-remember people. Imagine if the guilt that keeps you awake at night or the trauma that’s ruined your life could just be waved away. That’s the conceit behind Black Mask’s X’ed by Tony Patrick and Ayhan Hayrula. The first arc of the recent series, now collected for the first time, tells the story of septuagenarian Evelyn Lemonson who approached the Mezign corporation, a company specializing in “X”ing or removing memories. Her deadbeat brother has heaped so much shame on her over the years that she wants to forget that he even exists. Is Mrs Lemonson a sweet old lady who just wants a quiet life, or is there more to this than meets the eye?
It’s an intriguing concept and one that writer Tony Patrick and artist Ayhan Hayrula bring to life vividly. The story takes place in two very different worlds: our reality and the inner world of the subconscious. In this inner space anything can happen and it often does. Patrick draws freely from a familiar cinematic well here and is clearly influenced by the likes of Inception, The Matrix and Minority Report, perhaps unsurprising given his day job as a Hollywood screen writer. That being said the script is tight, the characters always interesting if not always likeable and the action is pretty much relentless. Although the inner world is often terrifying and unnerving, it’s nothing compared to the real world where gangsters feed their victims to the lions, husbands cheat on wives and no one is quite what they seem.
Although there are some derivative elements, the idea of your inner demons becoming the villains that you have to defeat to survive is one that Patrick plays with enjoyably. One character, trying to overcome memories of her past comes face-to-face with “Catholic school girls with rocket launchers!”. She’s later not only, in a move that out-Goyas Goya, devoured by her own father but also literally ends up in the belly of the beast! If Joseph Campbell was alive today he’d be a very sick man. Patrick is clearly having fun creating a world where everyone is “batshit crazy” and we’re never quite sure what is real and what’s not. As one of the crew says “It’s all in our minds anyway”.
Ayhan Hayrula’s art is bold and inventive, effectively bringing to life imaginary worlds, gunfights, deep space and mad scientists at play. At times he’s reminiscent of Charlie Adlard in the way he portrays ordinary people in dramatic situations. His dramatic splash pages frequently emphasise the high drama of X’ed and this is really highlighted by Doug Garbark’s colouring. His solid blocks of just one colour have a similar effect that we’ve seen recently on Simon Fraser’s art in the recent series of Hersey in 2000AD, creating an electric atmosphere and adding an emotional depth to the proceedings.
Despite the mind-bending elements at work here, the ending of this first story owes as much to Die Hard as anything else with the shaven-headed, vest wearing McClane, I mean McClure, taking out a gang of assassins singlehandedly. It’s an action-packed tale but there’s lots to chew over too. The more we find out who has developed this mind-altering technology in X’ed and why it’s been developed, the more interesting the story becomes and the line between hero and villain is increasingly blurred. The ending of this collection concludes the arc in a satisfying manner but the twist at the end sets up the promise of more to come.
X’ed then is an exciting romp that wears its influences on its sleeve but has a lot of fun along the way. If you like the sort of psychological drama where a character trapped in their own mind cries out “My dear conscience…how about you shut that yap of yours and die!” then X’ed could be the book for you.