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 – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 7

Volume Seven acts as a prologue to Secret Invasion as our heroes reel from the discovery of a disguised Skrull and the implications of a major Body Snatchers-style invasion.

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!

new avengers 2005 vol 7Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Carlo Pagulayan (Annual #2)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #32-37, Annual #2

 

Poor New Avengers. You started off as the primary Avengers trade following the events of “Disassembled.” Then Tony Stark won the Civil War and the rebels of the New Avengers went underground, refusing to register but also not wanting to disband. Stark built his own government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers team, leading to two concurrent Avengers trades for the next few years.

So far Mighty Avengers has benefited from all the big stories while our rebel team mostly picks up the pieces and ties into the story-lines of their bigger brothers, first briefly in the “Ultron Initiative” then directly during the “Venom Bomb” crisis. More importantly, this seventh volume acts as a giant extended prologue to the then-upcoming major event Secret Invasion in 2008 as our heroes reel from the discovery of a disguised Skrull and the implications of a major Body Snatchers-style invasion.

“The Trust” revels in the horror (and dark comedy) of the team suddenly unable to trust each other after revealing that Elektra was really a disguised skrull at the end of the previous story arc. Spider-Man especially gets some genuinely funny dialogue (“Maybe I’m a skrull? Or maybe all of you are skrulls and I’m on the universe’s weirdest reality show”). The first few issues involve the roster of Dr. Strange, Hawkeye (as costumed ninja Ronin), Echo, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist arguing amongst themselves.

Spider-Woman defects from the team during the violent weather attacks produced by Ultron during the first story arc of Mighty Avengers. Her plan is to take the skrull body to Tony Stark to make him aware of a possible invasion. The rest of the team is justifiably worried that Tony Stark could easily be a supplanted skrull himself. The plane carrying the team goes down in a lightning storm, leaving Spider-Woman able to take down a wounded Wolverine and escape with the body (and we later see her carry through with her plan to talk to Tony Stark in Mighty Avengers #7), and at that point she officially joins with the Mighty Avengers.

There isn’t much of an actual plot for the first few issues until we’re introduced to a new villain organization, organized by The Hood. The Hood, a dual-pistol wielding, demonic entity powering badass, gathers a bunch of D-list bad guys into trying to form a criminal organization to take advantage of the fractured superhero community.

new avengers #34

Since the Mighty Avengers are tackling bigger problems, our group takes on the Hood’s head-on. It’s also approrpriate as the New Avengers roster includes some of the more well known “street level” heroes like Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The gritty battles and dialogue scenes are accentuated by Leinil Yu’s incredibly stark, pencil-heavy art style.

Yu took over as the main artist for New Avengers after Civil War and the dark shaded art provides a very strong contrast to Mighty Avengers‘ bright, typical tones. In fact this style is more in line with experimental stuff you’d see on random solo books rather than a major Avengers tie-in series. Kudos to Marvel for differentiating their two Marvel books, and really making New Avengers a unique and fun read.

The story concludes in New Avengers Annual #2 as The Hood’s gang assaults the magically hidden sanctum of Dr. Strange that’s acted as the Avenger’s hidden base of operations. They found the location through a very uncomfortable side plot involving beating, torturing, and threatening a completely random (and mostly naked) female hero, Tigra. Heroes getting brutally beaten is nothing new, but the violence factor is suddenly ratcheted up to a degree that hadn’t been seen previously (or again, as in the final battle), and takes on a very sinister tone as our heroine is mostly naked throughout and one of the bad guys is filming it and taking pictures, so that the rest of the bad guys can cheer and laugh. Ugh.

The Hood threatens to kill her and her mother as revenge for a previous attack she had foiled, and they use her again to get the location of Dr. Strange’s base. At least in the end she does get to join in the final battle as the bad guys attack the New Avengers. Yu’s style lends itself more to moody dialogue scenes than standard comic book action, and indeed the art is best when it focuses on one-on-one fight scenes rather than grand multi-hero stagings.

Just as our heroes begin to lose the fight (they’re outnumbered at least two to one) an already wounded (like, presumed dead) Dr. Strange basically hulks out in demon form, taking everyone down but draining himself considerably. Only the Hood escapes, and Dr. Strange decides to permanently leave the group as he’s been losing more and more of himself in these events.

new avengers annual #2

Ms. Marvel of the Mighty Avengers shows up with SHIELD to help incarcerate the bad guys, and to her credit she lets our rebel heroes escape. Of the villain crew only The Hood escapes, an intriguing villain I definitely want to see more of. Initially I was worried about the villain organization plot thread to merely be a minor stepping stone between Secret Invasion but it ended up with a fun, satisfying finale, and other than the super uncomfortable stuff with Tigra, I really enjoyed it. Yu’s artwork continues to be memorable and different, and our New Avengers are a fun team to read about with lots of varying personalities and witty banter. I certainly root for them way more than Stark and Ms. Marvel’s incredibly lame team, and look forward to their tie-ins to Secret Invasion, coming up next!