X'ED OUT is the long-awaited first volume in a projected trilogy by comics creator Charles Burns, and in it he lays the groundwork for a predictably creepy tale of drug-addicted dreamers, young love gone wrong, and diaper-wearing, pig-faced midgets. No one who read Burns' brilliant Black Hole—about an STD that transforms teenagers into mutants—will be surprised by how effectively Burns combines pacing and grotesque imagery for maximum skin crawlage in X'ed Out; what's less clear is just what kind of universe Burns has dreamed up for us this time.

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Burns has explained that X'ed out is inspired equally by Hergé's Tintin (the cover is the first obvious reference) and the work of William S. Burroughs. With a nod toward Burroughs' surrealistic dislocations, the book opens in a dream sequence as a young man, Doug, wanders through a town populated with hostile green aliens and noseless, worm-eating lepers. Waking, Doug reveals himself to be a heartbroken young drug addict, trying to wean himself off of some sort of pill and trapped between the alternate universe of his dreams and the memories of his ex-girlfriend, a photographer with a penchant for Tori Amos-esque self-portraiture.

Burns is working in color here, and that alone is reason enough to give X'ed Out a look. There's only one thing to criticize, really, and that's the book's length: It begs and rewards several readings, but it's still just Act One, laying the groundwork for the rest of the series.

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