X leaping in the darkness, and a lightning bolt


(John Smith 24)

“Tell them it’s over. The crime. The corruption. All of them living high and rich on corpses and ruined lives. One warning, one mark. The second mark is the mark of death. Tell them it’s *my* city now. It’s my time. Tell them.”


X was one of the more notable characters of Dark Horse’s super-heroes line. This imprint originally launched in 1993 as Comics’ Greatest World, but was later rebranded to a more modest and descriptive Dark Horse Heroes badge. Though the full line no longer exists, several of its characters still see irregular publication by the 2010s.

X is a Batman/Shadow-type character, and an almost infernal figure – unkillable, implacable, sometimes seemingly omniscient, unstoppable, fanatical. Around this anti-hero took place a very complex criminal and political storyline about the city of Arcadia, with numerous revelations, betrayals and colourful figures.

This profile is purposefully light on S P O I L E R S, except for the “Secret Origin” section – which is all S P O I L E R S.



  • Real Name: Unrevealed.
  • Other Aliases: The X killer, John Smith 24, “Jack”, “Johnny”.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: None.
  • Base Of Operations: Arcadia.
  • Height: 6’3” Weight: 241 lbs.
  • Eyes: Brown Hair: Very light brown/dark blond.

Powers & Abilities

X is an extraordinary fighter. His strength, agility, reflexes, durability, etc. all seem to have been raised in the peak human ranges, though it is still possible for a human being to outfight him. His strength in particular seems borderline superhuman, particularly in his legs. For instance he can leap on top of a tall van without extraordinary effort.

X is an elite marksman — particularly with his paired .45 pistols — and hand-to-hand fighter. He is fully proficient with a wide range of weapons. He’s also a superior acrobat and stealth specialist, and has excellent skills in B&E, explosives, security and investigation. His intelligence, resolve and competence are extraordinary.

Healing factor

He has regenerative powers. Thus, killing him is quite difficult, though it can still be achieved with ordinary levels of force such as guns or swords. However, even if X is clearly killed, it is quite likely that he will spontaneously return to life and heal the damage.


His regeneration is not at the level usually associated with, say, Wolverine. But it is an important asset in staying alive and dealing with serious wounds.

One assumes that beheading or removal of the heart would prevent X from coming back, and it would seem that organs can heal but not wholly grow back.

Street omniscience, part 1

X has a strong, very threatening presence. Hardened individuals can resist it, but these are not common and X uses his presence on less impressive persons to build up his intelligence network.

Over time, this network becomes peerless. There are apparently hundreds through Arcadia who fear X more than death itself and will report everything of interest. Furthermore, these snitches have been carefully selected to be well-placed. Even if the clues are vague, X is an extraordinary interrogator and will soon be able to obtain more information.

With this network and skills, X essentially knows *everything* that is going on in Arcadia, even when that seems impossible. Only the smartest and most extraordinary precautions, or a complete x-factor from outside of town, can blindside him.

Even if only two or three people know about a secret, X is likely to detect that something is up, find the weak link and interrogate them to learn what he needs to know within hours.

Street omniscience, part 2

Over time X extends this intelligence network beyond Arcadia, though it is not as good outside city limits and is geared toward detecting possible outside actions in Arcadia (say, from the State and Federal governments).

X’s ability to know everything often seems supernatural. It may even seem inexplicable to people who are not very high-level intelligence experts with time to investigate.

Late in the series, X’s presence has become the lynchpin of the new Arcadian equilibrium, keeping all factions in check. If X is thought to be gone, massive unrest will soon occur as these try to fill the vaccum and use the opportunity to build up their power.

The Rule of X

X has a specific modus operandi, called the Rule of X or the Mark of X. The Rule of X punishes those who break X’s rule in Arcadia by committing crimes. Anything that significantly harms another is a breach to the Rule of X.

Any who invoke X’s ire are first marked with a red slash across the face – the first half of an X. The mark can be physically appose on the face of the person – or drawn on a photograph, poster, etc. depicting the person (or even on the windshield of their car as they sit behind it).

At this point, the person can still pack everything and flee Arcadia as fast as he can. If the recipient fails to take the warning, X completes the mark and kills the offender, using whatever level of violence is necessary.

The Rule later evolved : for a murder, no warning. No first mark, but immediate death.

Marked for death

The Mark of X often appears in impossible circumstances : a trickle of blood just happens to form one of the bars. An item falls on someone’s face in just the right fashion. A splash of blood falls on a mirror at just the right place. A Plexiglas visor cracks just in the right way. X puts his Mark on a single billboard, but that’s the one his target sees. A shadow falls as it should.

The Mark of X is essentially a paranatural power, a sort of curse. Even if a person has left Arcadia with the first half of the Mark and they do something that breaks the Rule of X, it is likely that the curse will kill them through an apparent freak accident. One that inevitably apposes the second half of the Mark on the person’s face.


There are numerous stories about the mysterious and terrifying X. That he’s an escaped maniac, triggered by the phases of the moon. An avenging angel, wielding fire and steel. A devil, raining down brimstone and blood. A master of crime, driving out all competition. A dead man, back from the grave, to avenge his murder. A government experiment gone awry, let free to prey on Arcadia. The city of Arcadia itself, having taken human form to purge itself of its intolerable corruption. No one knows.

The X Killer appeared in 1993 in Arcadia, and first concentrated his efforts on claiming the waterfront as his own. After about six months, the docklands were X’s domain. No cops, no syndicate, no unauthorized business and no breach to X’s law. Many beggars and homeless persons moved to the docks, where there were no cops or thugs to harass them and where all murders were punishable by death.

Taking on the real players

For a while, it was thought that the X Killer would simply rule over the docklands. But about five months later he murdered a corrupt politician to cut short his candidacy to Congress.

X iconic shot

As the ante was thus upped, the Arcadia PD threw a SWAT team after the X Killer. But he drew the corrupt officers into a building laced with demolition charges.

As the APD had clearly failed the dominant Arcadian crime lord, Carmine Tango, moved in. He allied with Congressman DeMarco, a former Mayoral candidate in Arcadia who had since developed a lot of pull in Washington. Tango and DeMarco wanted to replace the current Mayor, Marcus Teal — a crook but not a dangerous criminal — with Commissioner James Anderson, a borderline psychotic running the APD like an irregular army.

The SWAT team nearly killed by X was turned into combat cyborgs which were sicced after X, but the vigilante destroyed them, killed Anderson, saved Mayor Teal from killers sent by Tango, and told Teal that he now worked for him.

This is when the war for Arcadia truly started. That was a months-long not-so-covert conflict for the control of the city between a number of very dangerous factions employing dreaded killers.

Secret origin

Like most superhumans in the Dark Horse Heroes continuity, X derives his ability from the Vortex.

The Vortex is an energy swirl in Nevada, and the result of the accidental destruction of an underground alien laboratory by an atomic test in 1947. The alien scientist in the lab was working on a “godmaker” technology. Thus, the accidental atomic destruction of his machine created a sort of black hole horribly mutating those getting close to it.

Dozens of men were killed and/or terribly mutated during the early efforts to contain and identify what was going on. Eventually the Cinnabar Flats area became a military no-go zone, with a complex called Block Thirteen studying the Vortex radiation and the mutates.

Undying arm

This situation would explode out of control in 1993 – but X’s actual origin takes place well before that. During the initial containment, a corporal whose unit was attempting to rescue survivors had his arm irradiated, and the blood within mutated. Normal policy was to kill and study infected soldiers, but the corporal violently resisted and fled.

As it happened, he knew certain secrets about highly-placed officers. This allowed him to cut a deal. The corporal had his arm removed so scientists could study it, everything was buried and he resumed his career. Study of the arm yielded little result, and it was kept — still alive — in a special canister.

In the 1970s, a Block Thirteen worker – apparently one of the biologists – stole the cannister as he left the project. By this point the Corporal had become a General, and his influence and impunity had grown. He was essentially outside of any chain of command.

Undying blood

The one-armed General eventually found the thief, and sent troops to raid his house, kill everyone and recover the arm.

The troops killed the biologist’s wife, but he locked himself in his basement with his son. Apparently, the thief had determined how the mutation of the blood within the arm worked. In fact, it might be why he stole the arm in the first place. As the troops were battering the door down, he injected the blood in his son’s arm to save his life.

The house was torched and everybody was thought dead, but the boy healed from the damage. When the General found his arm, it was dead – with the blood gone, the severed limb no longer was immortal.


The kid was found in the streets of Arcadia with selective amnesia. He remembered his education but nothing about his personal life. Social workers took him in but where unable to determine his identity. All the kid had were his clothes and a child’s wooden cube with the letter “X”. With nobody to claim him, he remained a ward of the state under the name John Smith 24.

When Smith 24 was 15, a new shrink experimented with ways to cure his amnesia. Her goal was to make him less violent, as the teenager was hard to control. Though she achieved some progress, the young woman screwed up and became her patient’s lover.

As it happened, she also was the mistress of mob boss Carmine Tango. Fearing for her life when Tango would learn of her indiscretion, she panicked and rejected John Smith 24 as hurtfully as she could, likely inflicting permanent psychological damage.

The Tango mob

Smith 24 soon realise the actual reason for the rejection, and invaded Tango’s home. What the orphan intended to do is unclear, but upon seeing him Tango realise that the teenager was a real killer and recruited him.

The mob boss was right, and John Smith 24 — whom Tango renamed “Johnny” — became one of his top lieutenants. He rose along Tango, who gradually became Arcadia’s top crime lord.

It is perhaps circa 1990 that Carmine Tango, a deep believer in astrology, came up with a dire prediction. According to the stars, he needed to kill his star lieutenant “Johnny” lest something terrible happen.

Ruled by the stars

Very reluctant but believing his foretelling, Tango had Coffin, his deadliest enforcer, capture “Johnny”. The brutal Coffin cut up “Johnny”’s face and destroyed one of his eyes before tossing him the bay. Carmine remained haunted by this awful incident.

“Johnny” returned from death and became the X Killer. Early on he struck a deal with Maffia queen Diana Goretti – an atypical strategy for him. It is possible that he considered that he needed to accelerate the early stages of his rise lest his plan to take over Arcadia would take too long.


X dresses completely in black skintight leather, with boxing boots and laced gloves. He has a full mask with a single eye opening and a red X on the brow ending in a slash over the left eye.

The costume is accessorised has a red cape, and a spiked red leather collar with a padlock. The padlock is the same that Coffin used to weigh down “Johnny”‘ corpse after killing him.


X is an obsessive psychopath. He has no past, little sense of identity and no memories. The world doesn’t makes much sense to him – especially the dysfunctional, corrupt Arcadian milieu.

He desperately longs for a world that is ordered, sensible, comprehensible and reasonable safe for defenceless people. He understands that such a world will not spontaneously emerge, and that he has to be the one imposing this order and simplicity.

As a mobster he had to an extent found this. He was part of a family with strong and relatively simple rules, whose motivation were easy to get and who represented a form of order. But Tango, the man who believed that everything was preordained through the stars, had him killed for a reason that didn’t make sense. Thus pushed “Johnny” further into madness, to become X.


The X Killer is barely a human being. He needs little human contact. The only person he talks with is street urchin Mikki D., who might remind him of himself. X has few visible emotions, no life, no restraints, no honour and no inhibition. He’s a maniacal killer and schemer. He cuts a red swathe through everything and everyone — except the innocent whom he’s sworn to protect.

X respects nothing but his own code, but he’s pathologically bound to it. When a woman defiantly used her lipstick to draw the Mark of X across her own face, he had to stop her from completing the mark. Had she drawn the second bar, he would have been *forced* to kill her. Because the rule is the rule, it is a simple rule, and nothing and no one is above the Rule of X.

X considers that he owns Arcadia. His life’s goal is to impose the Rule of X on the entire city so the citizenry can live in a simple, ordered world that makes sense. Arcadia as a whole is more important than anything to it, and everybody there is to be protected from death and chaos… until they break the Rule of X. X will stop at nothing to enforce the Rule.

X never takes off his mask or costume, and lives in the sewers.


“What lives or dies in Arcadia is my decision. That is the new law. No murder. No theft. No lies or corruption. No preying on weakness or profiteering on suffering. These will not be tolerated. This is the Rule of X.”

(Addressing a murderer) “*I* decide who lives and dies in Arcadia.”

“’Justice‘ ? A dream isn’t a vision. I don’t have time for fantasies.”

DC Universe History

X is in good part a Batman variant, exploring many of the same themes in a different manner but with common motifs. Having him be the Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd or Dick Grayson of an alternate Earth might be the simplest manner to hang that lampshade  – if the cosmology in your current DCU campaign has a multiverse, Hypertime or some such.

Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats


Dex: 08 Str: 05 Bod: 06 Motivation: Justice
Int: 08 Wil: 07 Min: 10 Occupation: Vigilante
Inf: 09 Aur: 08 Spi: 10 Resources {or Wealth}: 002
Init: 029 HP: 065

Awareness: 04, Defensive adaptation: 02, Regeneration: 05, Invulnerability: 09, Jumping: 02, Voodoo: 08

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Awareness can only sense when a mark can be completed. It has unlimited Range. The OV/RV of a clear breach of the Rule of X of 02/02 ; murkier cases and Powers such as Obscure will raise these.
  • Defensive adaptation and Regeneration are Contingent on Invulnerability.
  • Invulnerability has to wait for an amount of time equal to the original RAPs of damage plus five before activating (-1).
  • When Neutralized, Invulnerability can make Opposed Tests using its original level in APs against the RAPs earned by the Neutralization attempt in order to Recover (+1), with the same delay as above (if Invulnerability can recover, all other Powers recover simultaneously due to the Contingency). This is on top of normal Recovery (+1), and Defensive Adaptation APs can also be used.
  • Invulnerability would likely be defeated by major damage such as decapitation or removal of the heart.
  • Voodoo has a +8 Special Range Bonus (+2).
  • Voodoo doesn’t require a doll, but can only be used to appose the Mark of X (-2, see below for more on the Mark). Only two Voodoo attack can be made to complete a given mark. The first scores a maximum of 0 RAPs, and only serves to draw the first half of the Mark. The second is normally a Killing Attack completing the Mark.

Acrobatics: 07, Charisma (Interrogation, Intimidation): 11, Detective: 09, Detective (Legwork): 12, Martial Artist: 09, Military Science (Demolition, danger recognition): 07, Thief: 07, Vehicles (Land): 07, Weaponry (Firearms): 08

Area Knowledge (Arcadia), Iron Nerves, Lightning Reflexes, Omni-Connection (only in Arcadia), Rich Friend (Diana Goretti), Shtick (Paired firearms, Crowd control, Mystique, Preternatural streetwise).

Street (High), Underworld (High), Homeless folks living in the dockland (High), Miki D (High), Ghost (Elisa Cameron, Low).

Mistrust, MPR (one eyed), CIA toward Imposing the Rule of X, SIA toward Saving the innocent, Loss Vulnerability (BODY drops to 04 if Invulnerability is Neutralized).


  • Colt M1911A1 (x2) [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 07, R#03].
  • Mk2 Grenade (x2) [BODY 01, Bomb: 08, R#03, Grenade drawback].
  • Collapsible telescope [BODY 02, Telescopic vision: 04. A small telescope for surveillance].
  • Line [BODY 08, 4 APs long, includes a grappling hook].
  • PADLOCK [BODY 04]. This prevents X’s mask from being easily removed.
  • X often has a pair of knives on himself, but rarely uses them [BODY 10, EV 03 (06 w/STR, 10 w/Martial artist), can be thrown].
  • During his earliest appearance, X’s weapon of choice was a riot gun – a pump gun with a pistol grip, a shortened barrel and no stock. Use stand repeater shotgun stats from our Weapons Locker articles.
  • When faced with extraordinary opposition, X often uses explosives, leading them in the trapped area and triggering the charges. Such a trapped area makes two successive Bomb: 10 attacks with an EV equal to X’s Military Science (Demolition) Subskill.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Dark Horse Heroes.

Helper(s): Revenant and Michael Hopcroft (v1), Lord Rev. Dr. Paul Soth, Roy Cowan, John Kahane (v2); Capita_Senyera.

Writeup rewritten on the 7th of June, 2013.