Peter David started writing stories for Marvel in 1985. He was responsible for a historic (and some would say the all-time best) run of the “Incredible Hulk,” from 1985-1997. He helped create the Thunderbolts. And he wrote a ton of X-Men, mostly through the “X-Factor” series, first in the 1990s, and again in 2006. Peter David is a comic book titan, and one of the first writers whose name I knew when I was a kid reading “Amazing Spider-Man” and “X-Men.”
In 2016, Peter David attended a panel on LGBTQ characters in “X-Men.” The panel was derailed when David was asked a question by a Romani activist, which sent David into a furious racist rant. Six days later, he apologized. But I was in the room for that panel, and the whole thing was deeply disturbing. I haven’t read a comic by Peter David since. Not as an active form of protest, but his books subconsciously remind me of an uncomfortable experience.
Well, it’s time for the Multiversity Summer Comics Binge, and I have chosen to return to my all time favorite Peter David comic. The colossal “X-Factor” run that lasted for 120 issues, released between 2005 and 2013. The series follows Multiple Man and a team of mutant B-listers, ostensibly working as a detective agency. I have not read the series since it originally debuted. A lot has happened since then, to me, to you, to Peter David, to the world. I wonder how the series will feel 10 years after it debuted. Read along with me, and we can all find out together.
‘Madrox: Multiple Choice’
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Pablo Raimondi
Inked by Andrew ‘Drew’ Hennessy
Colored by Brian Reber
Letterd by Cory Petit
Jamie Madrox aka Multiple Man, has one of the coolest powers in comics. Peter David is a guy who gets superpowers, and uses them for all they’re worth. That alone is worth the price of admission for this self contained 2010 miniseries. Multiple Man doesn’t just split into copies when he’s struck- those copies have specific rules and mechanics and playing with them is half the fun.
What happens when Jamie absorbs a dupe at the moment it dies? It sucks! Since he can learn everything his dupes know by re-absorbing them, he sends them all over the world to learn Russian, and martial arts, and anatomy, and philosophy, and detective skills. What happens when a dupe is cowardly, or nihilistic, or self destructive? Great drama, that’s what! Multiple Man is an underrated protagonist, especially when he’s written with such affection.
One thing I remember about Peter David is that he often leans into meta-storytelling. While that’s less thrilling to read now than it felt back in 2006, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Jamie Madrox loves noir flicks, and he talks about it all the time. On the surface, it’s a pretty annoying quirk, but its also a justification for some of the Bogart-flavored narrative captions, which David writes very well. I could take or leave all the reference humor, but Jamie’s affection for old detective movies is a good excuse to write him as a fun detective character.
This is an old series, under the Marvel Knights banner no less, but it looks great. Pablo Raimondi creates an authentic Marvel New York, using lots of insane, noir angles. I was surprised at how modern a lot of the storytelling still feels. If someone published a book today with panels like these, it would get a lot of attention. It’s crazy to find work like this in a mostly forgotten miniseries about a C-list Marvel character a decade ago.
The most overwhelming feeling though, is how much sex there is in this issue. Not explicitly, but sex is a big theme, and one that’s going to come up a lot in the series as a whole. Superhero comics famously have issues when it comes to portraying women, and the 2006 of it all really bring that into focus. The noir conventions sometimes act as a justification of why almost all the female characters are slinky femme fatales, but whether that’s a good excuse or not seems to be a matter of taste.Continued below
That being said, Wolfsbane aka Rhane Sinclair is our main supporting character, and I really like the development she gets. Here’s a character who has led a very unconventional childhood, but she’s written as a cool young adult, one who is clearly grappling with her repressive religious upbringing. But it’s still a bummer that she’s introduced by scaring away some aggressive cat-callers on the street. This is especially true because that kind of situation is what will lead to her death in “Uncanny X-Men” in 2019 (maybe we haven’t come that far?). Is staring down some creeps empowering? Maybe. But including those creeps in such a throwaway scene is kind of exhausting.
Rhane, along with vampy bigamist mob wife Sheila, and sad cuckolded wife Carol are all very sexualized. Lotta wives in this series. A lot of sexy sexy wives. It’s not a leery, slimy sexualization that makes you want to rub Purell on the book, but you’ll long for a version of this story that could tone down the male gaze, even while keeping all the sex. And the talk about sex. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where this series gets really interesting.
Throughout these five issues, the running thread of Jamie Madrox’s queerness comes up again and again. It’s first mentioned when Jamie is confronting a homophobic gangster. One of his dupes is enthusiastically gay, but he’s quickly gone, returned to Madrox Prime. Later, Jamie has a more significant heart to heart with a nihilistic duplicate who brings up his lingering queerness, and Jamie Prime reacts with mild gay panic. It’s not only played for a laugh; it’s a real look into his character- though one that reaches no conclusion. When you couple that with his default horndog persona who loves the ladies… there’s a lot of mixed signals.
Then you couple that with a b-plot about Wolfsbane investigating a woman’s quadriplegic husband. The man as it turns out, is having a psychic affair (it’s X-Men, it happens) with a man named Kim. This too is played very oddly. Wolfsbane accidentally kills the man and she, Guido, and Jamie decide that allowing him to posthumously remain in the closet is the right thing to do. When the wife learns about her husbands gay affair anyway, it triggers her mutant powers and she literally melts down. That is all insane.
It’s a mix of signals that reads strangely in 2019. On the one hand, it evokes the kind of gay panic jokes that every sitcom was telling in 2006. On the other hand, it’s the beginnings of a fascinating exploration of Jamie Madrox’s bisexuality. When you remember that this series will eventually introduce one of the most beloved gay couples of the era, that makes this theme an interesting prelude. But when you think of the perspective of the writer, you start questioning his authorial intent all over again.
This is going to be a complicated series to review. I can’t wait.
‘The Longest Night’ (issues 1-6)
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Dennis Calero and Jose Villarrubia
Inked by Wade von Grawbadger, Renato Arlem, Dennis Calero, Andrew ‘Drew’ Hennessy, Roy Allan Martinez, and Ariel Olivetti
Colored by Jose Villarrubia, and Brian Reber
Lettered by Cory Petit
We open the series proper on a strong, exciting note. M-Day has just happened, and mutants all over the world have lost their powers. Rictor has decided to kill himself, so Multiple Man looks for an optimistic dupe. The one he chooses though isn’t optimistic, so much as unpredictable, an “X-Factor” if you will. And he throws Rictor off the roof. Ric is saved by Monet, but that sets us on the path of X-Factor Investigation’s first case as a team.
It’s a lot, and it doesn’t slow down for new readers. But that’s OK, because this is an “X-Men” book. By spinning so many plates, it lets the book focus on a single thread, while enticing the reader with a dozen others. Case in point- Layla Miller, a little girl who shows up and “knows stuff.” “The phone’s about to ring, you’re going to want to pick it up,” she says, and sure enough, it does.Continued below
This combination of mystery box, soap opera, superhero adventure, and noir detective story could overwhelm, but instead it gives a lot of hooks. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t work, but it does. The fear of course, is that the series will be canceled and have to resolve it’s many stories all in a rush. Fortunately for us, we know that’s not the case. This series ran for 120 issues, and the many questions will all get answered. That’s a great promise for a team of B-listers, who’d be lucky to get 12 issues in today’s comics climate.
‘The Long Night’ is a decent introduction to our central cast, but a great introduction to the tone. X-Factor Investigations is headquartered in Mutant Town, but after M-Day, mutants have lost their powers. The titular long night is the first night the former mutants are living without their powers. Eager bigots are moving in and a riot breaks out. That makes up the central conflict, and it doesn’t even get into Singularity Investigations, an evil detective agency competing with our heroes and targeting Siryn for some reason. But X-Factor vows to investigate the mass depowering and get to the bottom of its cause.
The density of the story is the major takeaway. Everyone is up to something, everyone has an interesting arc (or the beginnings of one), and every shadow is filled with mystery. A great start to a mutant noir epic.
‘Life and Death Matters’ (issues 6-12)
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Ariel Olliveti, Dennis Calero, Roy Allen Martinez, and Jose Villarrubia
Inked by Ariel Olliveti, Renato Arlem, Dennis Calero, and Roy Allan Martinez
Colored by Jose Villarrubia
Lettered by Cory Petit
They don’t make books quite like “X-Factor” anymore. Every book wants to assure you that it matters, but “X-Factor” is proud of the fact it is the unloved child of the X-books. The main story is happening in “Uncanny X-Men” and rippling out to effect the second string books. And that is awesome! You feel like a cool hipster discovering an excellent little shop that no one else is enlightened enough to have found.
Case in point: Banshee died in the pages of “X-Men” stopping a plane crash. But most of the people who care most about him- like his daughter, and Monet who was his former student- are in this book! So while his death made for a splashy dramatic moment in the main book, this is where we can see what his absence means to real people. Monet tries to play it tough, but she’s absolutely wrecked. Theresa just can’t stop laughing though. She knows this is X-Men, and that he’ll come back around sooner or later. (What she doesn’t know is that he’s going to come back without his free will as a creepy mummy-thing, but that’s years away from this)!
Before too long, freaking ‘Civil War’ starts, and the book sort of gets involved with that. Ostensibly. X-Factor solves their mystery- mutants lost their powers because of Scarlet Witch- but the real takeaway is that the main X-Men team knew and kept it a secret. Didn’t want to “spread panic” and all that. As if rioting in ignorance is better than rioting in wisdom. So superhero teams find a reason to fight, but it has nothing to do with registration. It’s more a situation about the mutant elites and the regular old mutants on the street just trying to make things work.
And like, like, Quicksilver shows up, he’s a weirdo Inhuman cult leader at this point in the story, and he’s striking up a weird relationship with Rictor. Oh and like, like, the dude from Singularity Investigations is also a Multiple Man, and maybe Multiple Men are a separate thing and not mutants at all? Not to mention um, freaking Strong Guy, yeah, he gets brainwashed into murdering one of their clients and feels real bad about it? My point is, a million things happen in these issues, and none of them are boring.Continued below
So does “X-Factor” 2006 hold up? It’s desperately exciting. It’s jam packed with story and characters. It’s got art that manages to grab my attention, and sharp writing that I still find entertaining. It’s also a product of its era in every way. Some of the references are cringe-worthy, as are the politics. But none of that ruins the whole book- at least not for me. I found it to be complex, and worth sinking my teeth into.
The art is heavily influenced by the early 2000s Marvel Knights (and Marvel MAX) style, which in turn was a heavy inspiration for the Marvel Netflix shows. There’s a lot of good watercolor work and while figures are mostly realistic, it’s a hyper-realism that comes around the other side and feels unreal. That’s because it captures dramatic split seconds. Characters have their mouths open as if they were caught mid-sentence and didn’t get a chance to pose for a photograph. The cityscape is drab and gritty, which makes the superheroics pop that much more. It’s cool to see an X-title share so much DNA with “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil.”
Reading these issues did nothing to erase the memory of my upsetting real life experience with Peter David. But the bad energy of that moment absolutely do not infect these pages. This is a good comic that I enjoyed reading, but in doing so I’m dealing with a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. It’s impossible to truly kill the author, but while I am reading about Jamie, Layla, Monet, Rhane, Guido, Theresa, Julio, and the rest of them, that is what I am thinking about. This comic is a good text, one that demands you pay attention to it on its own merits. I don’t know if my personal feelings will color how I read it moving forward, but at the moment, I am very taken with the story and the characters.
“X-Factor” hearkens back to an older era of Marvel, where every other issue is interrupted by a big crossover event, and there was a solid line dividing the A-listers (Spider-Man and Wolverine) from the rest. And maybe it’s part nostalgia, but I really liked it. By knowing they’re the B-listers, by being sort of unimportant, “X-Factor” is more consistent and driven than a lot of books that were coming out at the time. And considering how long it ran for, we’ll get to see Marvel’s publishing strategy change as the book goes on. But despite those changes, I hope the book manages to keep its sense of fun and madness. I was pleasantly surprised by these issues, and I hope that feeling doesn’t diminish.