Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of Peter David’s “X-Factor.” There’s a lot of investigative mutant goodness I’d like to get into, but this is an “X-Men” book, and certain things come with the territory. One of those things is participating in big ‘ol crossovers, and that’s exactly what the next three issues are. “X-Factor” #25-27 aren’t collected in the main trades, as they are part of ‘Messiah CompleX.’ But some important stuff happens, so we’re going to be talking about those issues too!
‘Messiah Complex,’ “X-Factor” #25-27
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Scot Eaton
Inked by John Dell with Andrew Hennesy
Colored by Frank D’Armata
Lettered by Joe Caramanga
I was struck by what a true crossover this was. Let’s look at Rictor as an example. He’s a member of the “X-Factor” team, and he appears in these issues, but the bulk of his story occurs in “New X-Men” #44 and “X-Men” #205. As a former mutant, he infiltrates the Purifiers and backs up the young X-squad. There’s also a lot of business with Jamie and Layla.
The two of them head to Texas to visit Forge, the mystical mutant maker. It is weird to note Layla’s shirt in these scenes, which have a logo that reads “46664.” Googling tells me that this is a reference to a series of South African AIDS benefit concerts around the time these issues came out. Reading old comics is crazy yo.
But here’s the main deal: Forge built crazy time travel doohickeys, and since the birth of the mutant messiah, there are only two possible futures for mutants. Jamie sends two dupes to those potential future timelines- but they are both on one-way trips. Once they’ve gathered intel, they’ve got to kill themselves, which will send their knowledge back to Madrox Prime. There’s just one more problem- Layla throws herself into the future with one of the dupes.
We follow Layla and the one dupe in a truly bleak future. This is Earth-1191, the home of Lucas Bishop, a truly sucky timeline. Jamie and Layla get the full concentration camp treatment, and it is brutal to read, especially considering the atrocities America is committing in 2019. The two of them are shaved, humiliated, separated, and forced to endure horror. Everyone seems acutely aware that the camps slowly grew worse and worse, and that they were originally welcomed, even by some of the mutants.
Jamie is give the same M tattoo Bishop has, which is apparently made of living, viral ink and will brand itself onto his DNA. Layla gets the same tattoo and sure enough, the two of them meet a young Bishop. They learn that Bishop is the bad guy so Layla murders future Jamie. That allows past Jamie to wake up and warn the X-Men that Bishop is bad news. This story ends with Jamie Prime branded with an M, Layla lost in the future, and the team reeling from the event.
The “X-Factor” crew isn’t part of the main conflict in the crossover. Hell, they probably are at best, the fourth most important hero team. But that’s very much in line with the mission of the main book. These guys aren’t the protagonists of the X-universe, they’re just the regular people who have to deal with the consequences. Let’s see how that goes.
‘The Only Game in Town’ “X-Factor” #28-32
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Valentine de Landro and Pablo Raimondi
Inked by Andrew Hennesey, Pablo Raimondi, and Dave Young
Colored by Jeromy N. Cox, Brian Reber, and Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by Cory Petit
After the mixed bag of art in the last proper “X-Factor” arc and the fractured style of the crossover, I could really use a strong artist giving the series some character. And who should we get but the singular Valentine de Landro. Besides being a super nice dude, de Landro is masterful in drawing things that go to some dark places. I wonder if that will serve him well in this next arc. (Spoiler: it does!).Continued below
We open with Siryn in a church confession… she’s pregnant with Jamie’s kid! This reveal could have been dragged out some more, but as always there’s a lot going on in “X-Factor” so we’ve got to hustle. The fakeout with Monet doesn’t even get addressed. After all, we’ve got to deal with the drama of half the team quitting, including Wolfsbane, who is leaving the team to join the new secret X-Force assassination squad. Weird choice TBH. I know she’s got claws and is a wolf, but she’s also a nice gentle girl. It is what it is I suppose.
Aside from all the drama, a superhero story needs a good villain. And who is the villain in this piece? It’s none other than deathtrap aficionado Arcade, who’s been hired by the Purifier who recruited Rictor during ‘Messiah CompleX.’ He’s lost credibility with the Christian murder cult and his only remaining option is to… hire an insane ginger man in a bow tie to build elaborate death traps? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sometimes you use a little nonsense to bring Arcade into the picture. It’s all about how well you use the guy. And in this case, it’s pretty good. There’s a good fakeout where Arcade wears a real face over a robot face for some triple backstabbing action. That’s pretty classic.
Classic is sort of the word to describe this story. It’s a bit refreshing that the team’s drama is matched up against an old school villain with a silly plan. There’s a lot of business with a dead man’s switch, incendiary bombs, force fields, laser fences, and flame throwers. The details aren’t important, but they don’t have to be. This arc is just using the supervillain plot as a fun, exciting backdrop for our heroes to bicker and have drama with each other. Not everything can be an epic shakeup, and as filler stories go, this one is sort of a blast.
‘Secret Invasion’ “X-Factor” #33-38
Illustrated by Larry Stroman, Nelson, Valentine de Landro, and Vincenzo Cucca
Inked by Nelson, Vincenzo Cucca, Jonathan Sibal, and Craig S. Yeung
Colored by Barbara Ciardo, and Jeromy N. Cox
Lettered by Cory Petit and Dave Sharpe
Now we find ourselves in Detroit. After the events of the last arc, X-Factor was forced out of New York City for chillingly prejudiced reasons. It’s five months later, and we open with Longshot, the luckiest mutant alive. Well not Longshot exactly, but a Skrull taking his form. You see, we’ve plunged into ‘Secret Invasion,’ which means all the Marvel heroes are battling Skrull infiltrators. That’s right, we’re back in another crossover. Holy hell, this is the 7th story arc in X-Factor and so far, more than half of them have been involved in crossovers.
Larry Stroman takes up some art duties, and he’s got tons of problems, especially when positioned alongside professionals like Raimondi and de Landro. There’s a real 90s feeling (lack of) human anatomy in Stroman’s art, which can be very uncomfortable. People all have long necks, disproportional limbs, and luscious lips. Some artists, like Humberto Ramos, can make this their entire style, but Stroman looks more like his art is getting away from him. This gets especially uncomfortable in the way he draws non-white characters, who start to edge up into straight-up racial caricatures.
That’s really unfortunate, because the story here is actually pretty interesting. ‘Secret Invasion’ is shuffled into the background as the newly re-branded XF Investigations is hired to look for Armando Munoz, an obscure mutant known as Darwin. You might know Darwin from his brief turn in the film X-Men First Class, and he acquits himself well here. His dad is an interesting character, and Darwin’s plight is easy to invest in. But the art is so rough, I found myself wanting to flip the pages to make it stop. And that detracted from the strong character work.Continued below
We get de Landro back on issue #37, which is a more than welcome return. Having a great artist like de Landro not only makes the comic more fun to read, it helps so many little things come together. You can take one look at Siryn and guess how many months pregnant she is. The new XF Investigation headquarters looks like a neat old house, and de Landro fills you with longing to explore its creaky corridors. But that feeling is short lived because Stroman returns for the last issue of the arc, along with an artist named Nelson.
All of that makes this the hardest “X-Factor” story to get a read on. David feels like he’s backed into a corner, but also that all the pressure is good for his creative process. He instantly gets me interested in Darwin, and when the real Longshot comes into the story, David writes the hell out of him too. Most of all, he uses all the Skrull shenanigans to enhance the plot rather than derail it. The Karma Project isn’t a villainous organization with staying power, but much like Arcade in the previous arc, it’s well utilized to get at what’s really important- the team drama. And between a sudden move, increasing anti-mutant sentiments, shady government agents, and an imminent newborn baby, there’s more drama than ever before.
It really goes to show how important an artist can be to the story you are trying to tell in a comic. All of that good writing is in there, but it takes serious effort to find it. It’s buried under an art style that I did not like looking at, but which also distracts from the story trying to be told. It’s hard to tell whether people have weird eyes or chins because they are mutants or aliens or because of Stroman’s style. A good story sunk by subpar art. A tale as old as time.
See you again next week! Hopefully everything goes alright with the birth of Siryn and Jamie’s kid!