MOTIVATION BY OBSESSION:
The Architect + The Archetype
by Jeffrey Morgan
“Mr. X can only find his life confusing. He cannot but feel the lack of harmony between what he regards as his
principles and the society of which he is part. If he has an enquiring mind, his commerce with political and social ideas
must be largely confined to books. He believes himself to be free minded and free to express what he thinks; yet he lends
himself to a general conspiracy not to mention, not even to recognize, the implications of what has happened. Mr. X does not
have a leader or any morality based on anything real.”
-- Edmund Wilson
“Mr. And Mrs. X,” The New Republic,
“What will the Hep Cat
of tomorrow think when he peers back through his darkened shades at us from his swank pad in the twenty-first century? How
square will we seem to this cool Mr. X of the future as he bops around in his flying flivver, cutting a rug across the sky
from one end of town to another?”
-- J. Mark Berkowitz
“The New Hipster,” Playboy, March 1955
As the above-noted quotes ably attest, the concept of an emblematic enigmatic outsider known only to society as “Mr.
X” is by no means a new one. Nor is this occurrence an isolated instance as history is rife with many such references.
From the lurid century-old pages of police gazettes and penny dreadfuls to the crusading boss-busting editorial cartoons of
the prohibition era to the mud raking scandal sheets of the fifties, the term “Mr. X” was liberally applied by
the public prints to anyone in the news who had somehow managed to elude identification either by a fortuitous stroke of luck
or a forced stroke of pen; the latter on a check to facilitate an exposure-preventing blackmail payment.
The fact that most of these references are now long-forgotten is no mere accident. Time is rarely indiscriminate in
choosing which artifacts it deems worthy of popular preservation for the ages and which ones it deigns to consign to arcane
academic obscurity. But as is usually the case in such matters, talent will out, especially if it speaks an intuitive universal
truth about the human condition which resonates from one generation to another.
is only one side of the equation. Running just beneath it, out of sight yet in full view of the psyche, another equally vital
side surreptitiously swims a parallel path. This darker side is governed by a second universal truth which, unlike the first,
is not intuitive in nature but, rather, compulsive—and when the two paths converge, surprising results sometimes emerge.
But not always, for the aesthetic graveyard is riddled with the ruined remains of many creative people who let their
myriad infatuations get the best of them. A select few, however, have been gifted with an innate ability to harness their
conceptual genius and use it to transmute their personal demons into something altogether so extraordinary that it transcends
mere fixation altogether.
One such visionary found salvation while meditating in a somnambulant dream state. Upon awakening, he set about creating
a set of schematics which systematically delineated the new environment he so thoroughly envisioned while entranced: a city
unlike any other; one that bridged the speculative sanity schism between what once was and what could be. A conurbation whose
refinement would result in Dean Motter creating the landmark influential achievement for which he will forever be known: Mister
Thanks to an innovative pre-publication poster campaign centering around his bald head, dark glasses and gutter-gaunt
physique, the iconoclast image of Mr. X immediately attained a high degree of global recognition long before the premiere
issue of the magazine débuted. Indeed, a transnational poll conducted by the venerated European arts conglomerate Musee
d’Ars Iconografix ranked Mr. X as one of the ten most readily identified fictional figures in popular culture.
However, his distinctive visage notwithstanding, Mr. X didn’t get to where he is today on good looks alone. In fact,
a great deal of the credit for his enduring popularity must go to the magazine’s basic premise which, like all classic
narratives, is a deceptively simple one:
Radiant City—The City Of Dreams—is built using a radical new method of mood-altering design called
Psychetecture, which is the creation of a man known only as Mr. X. When these designs begin to fatally affect its inhabitants,
the ostracized Mr. X secretly returns from his imposed exile to the city now known as Somnopolis—The City Of Nightmares—to
This open-ended précis ensures that Mister X can be read on a multiplicity of levels, none of which
are mutually exclusionary. Such a simple premise lends itself to many stylistic treatments which result in a plethora of readings,
all of which are equally valid. And while a working knowledge of real-life architect Le Corbusier and his own attendant philosophies
regarding Radiant City may very well enhance one’s comprehension of the text, such elite awareness is by no means necessary
for the casual reader to fully understand what’s going on at any given time. For no matter how integral they may be,
such enriching subtexts are always kept subservient to the broader themes being posited.
Conversely, despite possessing a distinct personality of his own, the character of Mr. X is, by his very nature, a
blank slate open to interpretation upon which anyone can project his own persona. This central vacuity allows for the construction
of stories which inherently reflect a schema of diversification.
When Dean began writing Mister
X in 1984, he opted to adopt a secular stance which echoed his own neo-Bergmanian (Peter) interest in all aspects of
popular culture and social satire. Conversely, when I became the writer of Mister X in 1989 at Dean’s behest,
I was able to espouse a neo-Bergmanian (Ingmar) theological existential exploration dealing with such spiritual issues as
love, mortality, and the afterlife.
Meanwhile, the addictive architecture, grimy gumshoes, designer drugs, gadfly gadabouts, derailed denouements and vexatious
vixens which first appear here as the central shaft of the Mister X milieu are but a few of the emblematic elements
which have come to define Dean’s entire oeuvre over the ensuing years.
works like Terminal City, Aerial Graffiti and Electropolis, these diverse elements have been gradually
refined, but here they appear in their original nascent form as the precognitive ghost roar of future echoes. Witnessed also
for the first time are the ubiquitous airships, iridescent searchlights, illicit transactions, untimely disappearances, clandestine
romances and, of course, the vast litany of compulsive obsessions which are at the very core of this beckoning berg. Just
keep in mind that the worldly-wise Terminal City has a suave sense of sophistication that the world-weary Somnopolis isn’t
equipped to emote.
It’s understandable how a cursory glance might lead one to believe that Mr. X isn’t the kind of Everyman
with whom identification is easily made. A closer look, however, reveals that the trials and tribulations which beset him
are, in actuality, endemic to the entire human race. And so we are brought back to the aforementioned human condition which
Mr. X is a part of and with whom we can all identify with, as evidenced by the following:
fact that Mr. X has accidentally made a grievous
error mirrors the fallibility of us all.
· That he recognizes this error mirrors our
The fact that he attempts to correct this error mirrors our
own ability to accept responsibility for our own actions.
· That he doesn’t
have enough time mirrors the limitations
of our own existence.
The fact that he takes drastic measures to make things
mirrors our own indomitable will to succeed.
These crucial keys to Mr. X’s salvation are, by extension, a reflection of our own struggles with events both
within and beyond our control which we have to deal with on a daily basis.
the repairatory nature of his work dictates that he be a loner by necessity, Mr. X is nevertheless fortunate enough to have
the continued support of a select steadfast few who genuinely have his best interests at heart. Of this loyal group, whose
members he can count on the proverbial fingers of one hand, two stand out as being his earliest and most ardently able enablers:
Mercedes, friend and companion; and Katsuda Matsui, esteemed attorney.
outer perimeters of this faithful retinue is an ever-shifting cast of secondary characters comprised of alleged ex-wives,
aggrieved business partners and officious officials whose every move and motive are suspect.
And at the very epicenter of this duplicitous whirlpool of deceit swirls a man whose Sisyphean fate is to try and undo
Which is why it may surprise you to learn that Mr. X eventually does succeed in his task—but it really
shouldn’t. After all, for him to be doomed to suffer an eternal torment of everlasting failure would be to betray our
own sustaining faith in the human condition. Still, the manner in which he finally triumphs comes at a cost so severe that
it forever changes not only him but the city he so desperately sought to save. For in getting what he wants, Mr. X only succeeds
in trading one tragic set of limitations for another.
Mercifully, that calamitous chronicle
is not included in this volume. If the truth be told, it may not have even been written yet—although a careful reading
of Electropolis certainly suggests otherwise.
What is presented here,
however, are the historic first steps of an exceptionally unique individual as he optimistically begins a once in a lifetime
journey down an extremely long road which, unbeknownst to him, is covered by a tenuously thin and slippery skein of fortuity.
You may already be familiar with his story, in which case you’re cordially invited to get reacquainted—especially
since you’re sorely mistaken if you think you know how the proceedings ultimately end. Because this time around, Dean
Motter has written and illustrated a heretofore unseen concluding denouement redux that contains the vital addition
of several key revelatory surprises. Then he discards the past to foretell a brand new chapter in the life of Mr. X—one
which begins with the revelatory exposé of a haunting waterfront incident.
the other hand, you happen to be new in town, then consider yourself warmly welcomed to Somnopolis. But whether you’re
a long time resident or a tourist just passing through, be forewarned: certain streets have certain corners and sooner or
later you’ll turn his. When you do, I guarantee you’ll have the same problem that everyone else does.
You know his face but you can’t place the name.
He gets that a lot.