fantasy and science fiction book reviewsMister X: Condemned by Dean Motter (writer and artist)

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe City of Dreams had become The City of Nightmares . . . was it too late to awaken it?

Mister X: Condemned makes for a perfect introduction to the critically acclaimed Mister X series that first appeared in 1984. Since that time, other writers and artists also have been allowed to play in this futuristic world that Motter created, but if you want an affordable, quick introduction written and drawn by Motter, then this book is the place to start before you shell out the bucks for the more expensive definitive edition of his work — Mister X: The Archives.

Mister X is a shadowy character who haunts the world of Radiant City, a dystopian, claustrophobic city that was designed by the mad architects of The Ninth Academy. The theory behind The Ninth Academy was that the geniuses of the world are also often the most psychologically disturbed; therefore, The Ninth Academy became part think-tank and part mental institution, an Arkham Asylum where the inmates are allowed to create. Radiant City looks much like Disneyworld’s portrayal of the future in Tomorrowland, but with a twist: The mad but genius architects created an architecture that would impact our emotional and psychological states through its “psychetecture.” Ideally, this psychetecture would create a happier, more properly-adjusted citizen. But, “The city of dreams” became “the city of nightmares,” and instead of making the citizens more sane, the architecture drove them insane.

mr x bldBut like so many other people, the city seemed to drive him insane, and being its creator, he became the maddest of all.

The shadowy figure Mister X is actually one of the original mad designers of the city but he maintains just barely enough of his sanity to want to fix the problems he and his fellow architects created. He is pitted against all the figures who seem to like the warped Modern city just the way it is since they profit from it. Mister X feels responsible and wants to take action, and his enemies are those who embrace Modern architecture and all it came to represent to authors such as Ayn Rand, particularly as she presented it her very popular novel The Fountainhead with its egotistic modernist hero Howard Roark. Dean Motter makes his critique clear by naming the slimy mayor Ian Rand and one of his sidekicks Roark.

Many contemporary readers and thinkers, myself included, are greatly disturbed by Rand’s selfish philosophy. It conveys a disregard for any who suffer in life and blames the victims for their own plight. It’s very much a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality with a complete lack of compassion thrown in for good measure. The character Roark in The Fountainhead succeeds as a great architect because he is truly superior — in his own mind — to all the idiots that surround him; he steps on anyone who gets in his way and sneers at everyone he meets.

mr x secret meetingThe architecture in Mister X: Condemned — and in all the Mister X series — is a direct critique of the Modernist architecture that was designed to pay tribute primarily — if not solely — to the genius of its creator-hero, the architect. Why? Because the one real flaw of much of this architecture was that it plainly created terrible spaces to actually inhabit — it ignored the lives of the people who would live there, largely because the Roarkian hero-architect didn’t give a damn about these people. Dean Motter’s critique is clearly of this type of architecture that literally drives the inhabitants mad. However, he takes all the moral philosophy and architectural theory I’ve just discussed and turns it into an interesting plot by showing that there is one lone modernist architect who has seen the errors inherent in his vision. He wants to save the city and save the people — but Ian Rand and Roark stand in his way.

There is so much to love in this book. The writing is brilliant and fast-paced. Don’t let my description of the theory behind the story lead you to believe the story is slow because of the theory conveyed. Motter has a great way of hooking the reader, of making us want to know what will happen next. The art, too, is worth looking at — independent of the words even. Any fans of architecture, urban living, or film noir will find the art here of interest.

As is usual in my reviews, I’ve revealed little of the plot and talked primarily of the larger thematic concerns that make the book of interest to me beyond mere story. I would be surprised if those of you who order this little book don’t start saving up for the large hardback Mister X: The Archives. Or, if you want to keep within a budget but still want to see similar worlds created by Motter, check out Electropolis: The Infernal Machine or The Compleat Terminal City. Finally, one of my all-time favorite Batman stories is Motter’s graphic novel Batman: Nine Lives.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.