Written, illustrated and published by Stref', X is a 96 page colour graphic novel described on its cover as "Mature readers only. Containing bloody strong violence, gore and explicit scenes of a sexual nature." downthetubes readers of a delicate disposition may like to look away now.
In a near-future Edinburgh, police are having no luck hunting a serial killer known simply as X. By chance his 34th victim manages to survive her ordeal and is able to give the police a good enough description of her attacker that they are able to identify a suspect. But the authorities know that X will not come quietly and, if they do catch him, should he be put to death for his vicious crimes, or should he instead be psycho-analysed to understand just what event could have created such a monster in the first place?
Stref', or Stephen White, has previously worked on The Beano and The Dandy for DC Thomson and had an anthology of his black and white work, MILK, published in hardback by Insomnia Publications. With the collapse of Insomnia, Stref' updated MILK as MILK+ which is due to be released by Markosia who have already released a collection of his colour humour strips entitled Raising Amy, a Minnie The Minx character for the 21st century. However X is unlike anything else that Stref' has so far released and self-publishing the book allowed him to be as extreme with the plot and artwork as he wanted to be.
And X is most definitely Xtreme. If you don't like the idea that there is attempted necrophilia by the eighth page then there is no point going any further, this is definitely not the book for you. The mutilations are graphic and the violence is extreme, while X's use of one decapitated head isn't to be dwelt on. It has to be said that a lot of the violent action wouldn't look out of place in a zombie comic, but in such a title that sort of violence is normally inflicted on the dead or the undead, in X it tends to be on live innocent victims, or on police undertaking their duty, which makes it all the more shocking.
Stref's slightly stylised art style, and use of flat colour at times, helps blunt the gore to a degree while his deliberate lack of panel borders and toned down colours on the flashback scenes gives those pages a dream-like quality which works well. The book does reveal why X became a killer and, while the plot twist around that revelation could have done with a little more emphasis, it raises the book above the level of the gore and leaves it with a distinctly unsettling conclusion.
X is definitely not for the squeamish but it is much more that the mere gorefest that an initial glance would suggest.
X is available direct from Stref' for £10 (X in Latin) plus P&P. There are ordering details, as well as more information about the book, on the X Facebook page.