Doug is a young man with a lot of troubles… the first of which is seemingly his troubled mind. We meet him at the beginning of Charles Burns’ X’ed Out—the first volume in a series from the creator of Black Hole—as he disappears into a rabbit hole. Well, not a rabbit hole, exactly: It’s a hole in the wall of his room, and he’s guided to it by his long-dead cat, Inky. Something’s obviously amiss in Doug’s world and in his head.
What follows Doug’s journey to the other side of the hole in the wall is a mixture of fantasy and horror, and we begin to piece the real story together in the same manner that the plot unfolds: in mesmerizing dribs and drabs. We see Doug as he experiments with slam poetry (and various illegal substances) in an effort to impress Sarah, a troubled artist who takes disturbing self-portraits with her Polaroid. And just as we begin to think we know where this story is going, we meet Doug’s father, whose role in the puzzle seems possibly frightening and twisted.
All of which is to say you won’t find a lot of answers the first time you read X’ed Out. You’ll possibly get more the second, as you reread and begin to notice the repeating motifs and imagery, and the story’s themes start to emerge. But not all of the answers are here in the first place. The book stops short of delivering much in that area, but it does manage to raise your interests a great deal for the next volume (tantalizingly called The Hive).
The story (definitely adult in nature, featuring nudity and swearing, as well as alcohol and drug use) is hard to follow at times, and that’s of course intentional. The promise that Burns lays out in X’ed Out, however, is a grand one, and he’s set up The Hive to play out in a grand way. It’s not entirely clear where Burns is going with all this, but it’s definitely going to be a thoroughly fascinating ride.
Reviewed by John Hogan on October 19, 2010