Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor, Vol. 6-7

The Secret Invasion tie-ins are awful but the rest is amazing, and X-Factor remains one of my favorite comics to read.

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With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-factor volume 7Writer: Peter David

Artist: Larry Stroman (#33-36, 38), Valentine De Landro (#37, 39-45)

Issues: X-Factor #33-45

 

You know that TV show you love? The familiar characters that feel like long lost friends or a second family. The zany situations and clever callbacks that reward viewer commitment. The perfect blend of drama, comedy, and action.

I’ve read a lot of comics since subscribing to Marvel Unlimited digital service and I think I’m ready to declare that Peter David’s X-Factor is my favorite series to read.

As much prepared praise as I have for Volume 7, Volume 6 is actually quite terribly. Half Secret Invasion tie-in and half bringing in new characters in a regurgitated plot of bad guys experimenting on mutants, Volume 6 is also cursed with some of the worst art I’ve ever seen. Characters look like deformed alien monkeys with zero adherence to proportion or skeletal structure. It’s distractedly awful and even a stellar story would struggle to climb its way out of that mess.

The story is less than stellar. Thankfully the Secret Invasion tie-ins are only two issues long, as well as pointlessly crossing over with an issue of She-Hulk. I think it literally boils down to a random street fight with a single skrull.

It does introduce two new X-Factor members – dimensional playboy Longshot with his nebulous probability powers, and the constantly evolving Darwin fresh off the X-Men’s space adventures. Both end up as surprisingly neat characters in David’s capable hands, but in the immediate story following event tie-ins Darwin is captured and the rest of the team are hired to rescue him. It’s familiar ground that the comic has disappointingly tread before in the Complete Collection Volume 1, and wraps up all too easily.

x-factor #39It’s pretty rare for any story to go from its lowest point immediately to its highest, but that’s exactly what happens between Volumes 6 and 7. Syren is pregnant with Jamie’s baby from a drunken tryst during the Complete Collection Volume 2 that may or may not have involved one of his duplicates, and her water breaks right at the end of Volume 6.

In Volume 7, “Time and a Half,” the team rushes to the hospital for the dramatic birth. There’s an intriguing side story with Val Cooper of the O.N.E. trying to protect them. The mutants of X-Factor are understandably resentful of her involvement and fear for the baby, and once again David turns a seemingly minor throwaway character from a different comic into an interesting cast member.

Turns out the one they needed to fear was Madrox himself. In a supremely dark twist, Madrox holds his son for the first time only to absorb him like he does all his dupes. The baby was really the child of a dupe! Syren completely flips out and attacks him and the drama surrounding the event is deliciously crazy and awesome. Madrox’s unique powers and multiple personalities is fascinating, and together with his noir-ish inner monologue make Madrox one of the most compelling characters in Marvel comics.

Madrox reaches a low point and becomes suicidal as he leaves the team to search for a dupe he’d met earlier in the series (another awesome callback). John Madrox represents a life Jamie doesn’t have – a community leader and a loving family. Just when Jamie prepares to off himself, who should show up but the future-flung former member of X-Factor – the teenage psychic Layla Miller, now all grown up.

x-factor #42Layla (who’d teased earlier in the series that they’d be married some day), brings Madrox to the dystopian future of the Summers Rebellion. It picks up a lot of pieces from the Lalya Miller One-Shot but also acts decently on its own, considering there’s about four other stories happening concurrently. Syren and Val have a heart-to-heart girl bonding session over miscarriage. Guido and Rictor visit John Madrox only to be attacked by a mind-controlled Shatterstar. Darwin and Monet guard a new client who’s worried someone’s trying to kill her.

All the plot threads start coming together in a cool way, involving yet another mutant-targeting organization, but at least this one seems to tie in tons of previous events as well as drawing everyone together despite their different situations – and in some cases, timelines.

I say “seems to” because Volume 7 actually ends at a cliffhanger, to be resolved  in Volume 8. I try to organize these Final Thoughts so I’m not trying to cram too many issues in one write-up, but it was really hard not to sprint ahead and read Volume 8. Volume 7 had so many incredible moments and big plot-centric payoffs, and a big reason for that is maintaining the same comic show-runner throughout its run.

X-Factor has that perfect balance of soothing familiarity and exciting changes, all of which have been fantastic. My advice: skip Volume 6, “Secret Invasion” but read everything else, because X-Factor is nothing short of amazing.

x-factor #43

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor: The Complete Collection Vol. 2

This second volume ends up as a mixed bag, faltering in the middle but then ending with a fantastic story at the end, giving me high hopes for X-Factor’s future.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!


x-factor volume 2Writer:
 Peter David

Artists: Pablo Raimondi (#13-17, 21-24, 28, 31, The Quick and the Dead), Koi Pham (#18-20), Valentine De Landro (#29-30, 32, Layla Miller)

Issues: X-Factor #13-24, 28-32, X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead One-Shot, X-Factor: Layla Miller One-Shot

 

X-Factor’s first twelve issues, collected as The Complete Collection Vol. 1 was a resounding success. Peter David’s quirky team is immensely varied and entertaining and the overarching plot of the mysterious and evil corporation that exploited mutants provided a great hook and a satisfying conclusion.

The team’s adventures continued in a second large collected volume, though it awkwardly includes issues before and after the major X-Men crossover event Messiah Complex. In the “Many Lives of Madrox,” (#13-16) Jamie continues his quest to reabsorb the numerous dupes he’s sent out in the world. Many of have them have been living varied lives for years, including a SHIELD agent that gets Jamie captured by Hydra, with hilarious results.

My favorite duplicate had carved himself a nice quiet life as a pastor with a wife and two kids, and Jamie’s sudden intrusion into this life creates some lovely drama. Ultimately Jamie makes the right decision to let it be, but the implications that his dupes have created these meaningful lives is part of why I find his mutant power and his personality so interesting.

x-factor #16There’s also an ongoing side story involving the rest of the team and X-Cell, a mutant terrorist group full of ex-mutants, and that story hits center stage in the next arc, “X-Cell” (#17-20). Quicksilver joins up with the leader to start handing out his power-restoring terrigen crystals he stole from the Inhumans in Son of M. The plot eventually reaches its climax as X-Factor attacks them to rescue Rictor and Layla (the latter doesn’t really need rescuing, she knows stuff).

There’s a few fun battles but straight-forward action has never been X-Factor’s strong suit, and unfortunately the art takes a huge nose dive when a different artist takes over (thankfully only for that arc). It’s fun seeing Rahne/Wolfsbane go full berserker wolf-mode, though.

In “The Isolationist” (#21-24), X-Factor is approached by a mysterious figure known as Josef Huber, an isolated telepath that takes drug to quiet the voices in his heads. Oh, and apparently he has every mutant power. He wishes to put mutants on the endangered species list, forcing the government to protect them and possibly overturning the superhero registration act. In reality he just wants to gather them together to kill them all, so the telepaths will no longer drive him crazy.

Huber’s a surprisingly interesting villain, and Peter David opts to write the last two issues from his perspective (with copious amounts of noir-appropriate monologuing) in lieu of a backstory, and it works quite well. Unfortunately things wrap up far too swiftly  after a lengthy build-up, and in the end Huber escapes after a brief battle with the depowered but oddly immune Rictor.

“The Only Game in Town” (#28-32) takes place after the mega crossover event X-Men: Messiah Complex. Messiah Complex is absolutely critical reading to know what the new situation is for X-Factor, namely: Jamie now has a tattooed “M” over his right eye as a souvenir from his time traveling sojourn, quirky clairvoyant Layla Miller is trapped in a dystopian future where mutants are put in concentration camps, and Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane) is leaving X-Factor to join X-Force.

The entire arc is put under the “Divided We Stand” era that is the X-Men and associates’ post-Messiah Complex fallout. Given that Messiah Complex is fairly integral to X-Factor’s story moving forward, it’s strange that this second collected volume would include issues all around it. Provided you’ve read it, however, this epilogue story arc is just fantastic, and really shows off Peter David’s incredible skills as a writer. The art remains fantastically shadowy and mostly consistent, despite the workload trading off between two artists.

x-factor #30 team

Since our small cast is now smaller than ever, we get even more time to delve into their lives and relationships. Siryn’s pregnant with Jamie’s child! Guido turns down the O*N*E’s job offer. Rictor is fully prepared to quit on X-Factor after Rahne quits on him. It’s delicious character-focused drama that gets interrupted when X-Factor is attacked by Arcade, who was in turn hired by the Purifier that Rictor duped to infiltrate the organization during Messiah Complex.

The team quickly comes together and goes into full on crisis mode after Arcade sets off a series of bombs while trapping all of Mutant Town in a fiery forcefield. It’s fun seeing them all react and save people, and Madrox’s ongoing (and excellent) inner monologue reinforces the fact that a crisis brings them together when they needed it most. The arc ends in an uplifting theme as they celebrate the pregnancy and leave Mutant Town before O*N*E’s Valerie Cooper can arrest or forcibly register them.

Two one-shots are also included, The Quick and the Dead and Layla Miller, both written by Peter David. The Quick and the Dead centers on Quicksilver’s incarceration and subsequent escape after the events of “X-Cell.” I’ve grown incredibly sick of Quicksilver’s self-pitying, selfish, and frankly evil behavior ever since the House of M. Seeing him having a mental breakdown in prison wasn’t exactly riveting, and the strange and sudden return of his speed powers was just confusing and weird.

x-factor #31

Layla Miller is much more interesting, but no less confusing as it takes place in the 80 year, dystopian future that Layla had become trapped in. She escapes from the concentration camp in a supremely funny and suitable manner (falling space debris!) then goes to visit future-cyborg Cyclops and his daughter Ruby. Yeah, I was lost too. Layla manages to incite an entire rebellion against the mutant-oppressive government. I’m not entirely sure if any of it matters but it’s fun seeing Layla be Layla, and I hope she can rejoin the team soon.

This second volume ends up as a mixed bag compared to the first, faltering in the middle but then ending with a supremely fantastic story at the end, giving me high hopes for X-Factor’s future. The cast is so damn likable and the writing comes across like one of your favorite comedy-drama TV shows. Still one of my favorite comic series to read.