X explodes across a meandering (at first glance) tale of race and music in Los Angeles shortly before the Rodney King riots of 1993. What begins as a shiftless, slice-of-punk-rock life around the real band Love & Rockets (and not those name-stealing talentless turds from England) becomes a taught, masterful ensemble drama that bursts forth from the page with an urgent honesty, more familiar perhaps to journalism or a documentary than to comics - especially the magical realism that is most often Gilbert's literary stomping ground. Potent and prophetic, X is Gilbert Hernandez's most accessible, most relevant work to date.
Freed by and large of his setting his story in his ficticious town of Palomar (well, one character ends up there, but previous knowledge of the place is not needed), Hernandez tells us a story of Los Angeles in a very specific time and place; as he and his brothers have always been definitive L.A. cartoonists, the incisive reality he brings to X is only made possible by the fact that it's all taking place in Hernandez's back yard. There's a natural pace and authenticity to the characters, settings, and conversations that only a native Angelino could realize and translate to the page.
X has been compared to Altman's film Nashville in that both are multi-character narratives about a music event that never quite seems to come off, but Gilbert possesses a warmth and affection for some of his characters that Altman has never been able to convince me of possessing. To read the work collected now, and to place it in it's pre-riot context, it becomes apparent that the dread and tension permeating the tale comes from a man who knew where his town's vibe was heading, and no amount of "Can't we all just get along" would save us. X reads like Gilbert Hernandez praying for the soul and future of Los Angeles.
Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.