Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - X-Factor #1

Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Peter David
Artists: Ryan Sook (p), Wade von Grawbadger (i), Jose Villarrubia (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Keith Dallas:
Shawn Hill:
Shaun Manning:
Adam Volk:

Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: Members of X-Factor try to talk a mutant out of jumping off the ledge of a building. Ever since M-Day de-powered the majority of the mutant population, the effects have been reverberating through the mutant community and the Marvel universe. When an informant working on a dangerous mission gets shot, it’s up to Syren and the other members of the group to apprehend the culprit and to unravel a new mystery.

Commentary: I always liked the concept of X-Factor as the original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast and Iceman) as a group of mutant investigators who secretly sought mutants not to eradicate them, but to train and help them, as conceived by Marvel under Jim Shooter, and written by Louise Simonson almost 20 years ago. There was something so fresh and inventive about having Stan Lee’ s first “children of the atom” in brand new adventures before a gazillion X-books flooded the market. In 1991 when the team needed a new direction, Peter David was brought in around issue #70 to write the new adventures of a new X-Factor, so now it seems appropriate as we come full circle and the book gets a reboot yet again, that it is David writing this first issue. It is a good one.

The group’s mission is left more open ended and less defined in this new take on the title as explained initially by Multiple Man. “The unexpected. The anticipated, that’s what we specialize in” he says. One thing which hasn’t changed and makes for good storytelling is the fact the world is no less chaotic now than when X-Factor first popped on the scene. If anything, it is more so now following the events of M-Day, and David capitalizes on the opportunity to paint fresh portraits of desperate mutants such as Rictor with the seasoned strokes of a master craftsman.

There are some great bits showcasing David’s trademark flare for humor such as the source of funding for X-Factor to set up their investigative offices and the confusion over “M” joining the group, but mostly David takes two subplots: Rictor’s attempted suicide, and the murder of Syrin’s informant Victoria, and uses them to advance the story of the team’s new direction and to introduce the reader to the cast including Syrin, Banshee’s daughter, who’s developed an interesting new power, Rahne and Guido who were on the team when the title last revamped, and Jamie Madrox (Multiple Man), who given the shock ending to the story, may or may not be an asset to the roster.

Final Thoughts: With some cool artwork by Ryan Sook and company and David’s firm grasp of Marvel’s mutant history, this comic is off to a great start. Bolstered by the events of “DeciMation,” this is another classic mutant team primed for exploring new and interesting storytelling avenues. Marvel is really enamored with Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian image; Sook draws yet another interpretation of it in this book.

Keith Dallas

This is one of the best comic books I’ve read all year. The issue’s events and situations are engaging, its dialogue is relevant and witty (as one would expect from Peter David when he’s bringing his “A” game), the artwork and coloring does a wonderful job with lighting and shading, the transitions between scenes are clever, and the cliffhanger is masterfully unexpected.

Continuing from last year’s Madrox mini-series, Jamie Madrox (“The Multiple Man”) heads “X-Factor Investigations,” a private detective agency operating in Mutant Town and specializing in mutant affairs. His associates include Siryn (Theresa Cassidy, Banshee’s daughter), Strong Guy (Guido), Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair), Monet St. Croix, Layla Miller and… maybe… Rictor (we’ll find out for sure next issue). For the most part, this issue does not develop how these characters interact with each other, which I’m sure will be remedied in future issues. In one scene though, Guido and Theresa have some choice words with each other as they pursue a fleeing suspect, and I’m interested to see if a patterned enmity is developing between them.

The most fascinating character interaction, however, occurs not between two different characters, but between a man and himself. Throughout the Madrox mini-series, Jamie had to deal with duplicates of himself who didn’t automatically aid him. Indeed, some of his “dupes” actually actively tried to hinder or thwart the endeavors of “Jamie Prime.” One of the most interesting aspects of Jamie’s power is that he doesn’t know what aspect of his own personality will be manifested in his dupes. David has played this for both comedic and dramatic effect. In this issue though, David presents the debilitating psychological effect this power is having on “Jamie Prime”: “I’m worrying ‘Jamie Prime’ is useless. I’ve been my own worst enemy. Now I’m my own competition.”

I’m thrilled to see that Jamie is the principal character of X-Factor. The narration boxes present exclusively his voice and perspective. I’d have it no other way as he is one of the most charismatic and complex of super-hero characters today. My favorite part of this issue comes when Jamie divulges how he was able to fund “X-Factor Investigations.” It’s a laugh-out-loud sequence that can’t be spoiled.

Let me instead describe a visual that particularly impressed me. Paul Levitz in an interview for Glen Cadigan’s excellent The Legion Companion resource book commented that sound-based super powered characters are “intrinsically futile in a silent medium” (111). That’s an astute observation about auditory powers being ineffectively presented in a visual (and soundless) artistic medium. Artists usually demonstrate sound-based powers with single line “sound waves” and surrounding characters holding their ears. In one panel Sook presents Siryn’s screams literally impacting and crunching the fleeing suspect’s car.

It’s one impressive visual among many impressive visuals within an impressively structured and executed issue. I’m eager to see where David, Sook and company take these characters. I expect they’ll take them down some avenues that we don’t normally see in a super-hero team title.

Shawn Hill

Plot: The pervasively inconsistent loss of mutant powers has thrown Mutant Town into turmoil, and generated loads of business for the newly well-funded X-Factor Investigations. Siryn and Rictor seem ideal new staffing candidates, to join Madrox, Strong Man and Wolfsbane. If anyone can stop the newly powerless Rictor from killing himself, that is.

Comments: It’s wonderful to see good ideas pay off. Peter David on X-Factor? A win. The Madrox mini-series? A well-deserved success. The idea to use Mutant Town as a freaky generator of sordid film noir stories? Pure genius. This first issue effortlessly captures all that lightning in a new bottle, and dances a nimble balance between action, humor and pathos.

Funny bits: It took a writer with the psychological insight of David to see that the “Multiple” Man might as well have multiple personalities, and also a complete lack of ability to make good choices. Witnessing Jamie argue with himself, literally, hasn’t stopped being amusing. The fact that he, too, finds himself alternately amusing and grating is comic gold.

And, really, if you’re stupid enough to be considering suicide, you too deserve a rabid Scottish Presbyterian lassie like Rahne to read you the riot act of what your fate in Hell will be in grim detail. David understands her character perfectly, up to and including a tossed-off but well-informed description of Japanese culture in the midst of her scathing diatribe.

Lookin’ good, babe!: They’ve signed on Ryan Sook to draw this? The genius who’s been keeping up with every one of Morrison’s craziest ideas over on Seven Soldiers Zatanna? Despite Rictor’s probable fate (and while I’ve never really seen the intense ecological awareness David gives him here before, it’s easy enough to buy), I’m in heaven! I liked the art on Madrox fine, but Sook brings in more of an Adam Hughes or Dodson’s anatomical competence (and by that I mean, more cleavage) while keeping the mood suitably noir.

Buy this now. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, and the fact that David acknowledges all the recent mutant mayhem without bothering to try and justify it is just as good. You get the sense he’d make this book work whatever the editors threw at him; the idea’s strong enough to withstand a lot, precisely because the characters are so clearly differentiated.

Shaun Manning

Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, auditions different aspects of his personality to talk former mutant Rictor out of hurling himself off a building. Rictor, whose power was to create earthquakes, reveals to “optimistic” Madrox that his abilities also gave him a communion with the earth, without which his life feels claustrophobic and muted. Madrox offers Rictor membership in X-Factor Investigations, the new mutant detective firm, and Rictor finally accepts. Before leaving the rooftop, however, there is one final threat Rictor must face. Meanwhile, Siryn screws up, and Layla Miller invites herself onto the team.

Although the first part of this issue plods along like Strong Guy trying to catch a bus, the last four pages offer some very funny moments and a terrific plot twist. The A-story here, Madrox trying to convince Rictor not to kill himself, is literally just two guys talking, which may not be the best way to introduce a new story. The B-story, in which Siryn meets with a mob witness, is full of action but it’s so melodramatic as to lose all sense of credibility. The heroine actually clutches a dying friend and shouts “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” into the sky. Rahne’s appearance is the first sign of life in this iteration of X-Factor, as she berates Rictor on the evils of suicide, and things pick up quickly as the issue approaches its conclusion.

Ryan Sook’s art, assisted by Jose Villarubia’s dusky coloring, gives the book a nice “urban crime drama” feeling. There are some strong stylistic similarities to the current Generation M miniseries illustrated by Ramon Bachs. Although I complained in my review of that book that the style felt like a heavy-handed effort to show that Gen M was about “people rather than super-people,” in X-Factor the art seems an excellent fit, since a detective agency should expect to see the seedier aspects of humanity and mutanthood.

A great cliffhanger is becoming a forgotten art, and Peter David should be commended for restoring the tradition here in X-Factor. But while the major players are introduced and the ramifications of M Day are explored, there is not much original action to this book so far. Readers have seen the effects of House of M in the other X-titles, and Rictor’s drama is not a particularly special take on the dilemma. While the dialogue with Madrox is essential to set up the fantastic ending, it may have benefited the issue as a whole to give less time to their dialogue and shine a bit more light on the other characters. It would be nice to be able to give an unconditional recommendation to read issue #1, because having read it you will want to pick up #2.

Adam Volk

Plot: In the aftermath of House of M, millions of Earth’s mutants continue to struggle with the loss of their powers. But for a handful of mutants trying desperately to stay afloat in the rundown slums of District X, it means turning to X-Factor Investigations. Composed of Siryn, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, Madrox the Multipleman, Rictor, M, and the enigmatic Layla Miller, this group of mutant PI’s is on the case. But in a world where mutants are now an endangered species, even X-Factor may not be enough to stop the changes that are about to come…

Comments: It’s a screwed up time to be a mutant in the Marvel Universe. As if it wasn’t bad enough being born with the ability to shoot laser beams out of your nipples or being hunted by giant Sentinels, now you have to deal with missing powers as well…

I have to hand it to Marvel for how they’ve dealt with the fall-out from House of M and Decimation. It must have been tempting to just crank out a slew of rushed issues to feed off the hype. Instead, Marvel is taking a slow, even-handed approach and using the world-changing events from House of M as a backdrop to tell stories on a personal level. It’s a far more satisfying approach, and one that has the potential to produce some truly interesting comics.

Case in point is X-Factor #1, a great opening issue in what looks to be an entertaining new series. The story opens with long-time X-hombre, Rictor, contemplating taking a swan dive off a downtown apartment building after learning his mutant powers are gone. Rictor has his reasons though, as it turns out that his earthquake inducing mutant abilities also allowed him to be attuned to the Earth. In essence, Rictor is now cut off from something that has been an integral, almost quasi-spiritual part of his life, and it’s this kind of ingenious plotting that shows us that there is more at stake here for mutants than simply losing their powers. Fortunately, Madrox the Multipleman shows up, creating a duplicate of himself to try and talk Rictor down. The situation however, quickly escalates out of control when Rictor’s former New Mutants pal, Wolfsbane, shows up on the scene along with a swarm of media and police officials.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Manhattan, former X-babe turned gumshoe, Siryn, is debriefing an informant who has turned over vital evidence against a local crime boss. It’s here that we learn that Siryn’s mutant power (a derivative of her father Banshee’s destructive sonic scream) also allows her to manipulate other’s emotions (a clever throw back to the Sirens of Greek mythology). At the same time a mob hit squad takes out the witness and in the resulting chaos, Siryn and Strong Guy take down the assassin in a no-holds barred street battle with a surprisingly brutal and dramatic end.

The issue rounds out with Madrox giving Rictor the run down on X-Factor Investigations (a detective agency operating out of the slums of District X’s “Mutant Town” and a spin-off from the excellent Madrox mini-series) including an hilarious look at how X-Factor has been funded. But just when it looks like Rictor may be listening to reason, it’s revealed that Madrox has a few surprises of his own…

In the end X-Factor #1 is a great read, and well worth picking up even amidst the number of Decimation, House of M, and countless others “X” titles cluttering the shelves these days. As an opening issue it comes across almost perfectly, balancing humor, drama, and action and offering just enough to keep the reader wanting more. This of course is due almost entirely to the brilliant script of Mr. Peter David. Any comic book fan-boy worth his salt knows that Peter David is a freaking legend in the business. His work on the Hulk is hands down the best take on everyone’s favorite super-powered green rage-aholic, and David has also had the testicular fortitude to stand up for his convictions and creative decisions over the years. X-Factor #1 demonstrates why David is one of the biggest names in the business, with his careful development of character and plot. Again, David does what a lot of newer writers these days seem to have trouble with, namely he is able to bring the story back to the characters. It’s one thing to have over the top action and world-shattering events, but it’s another to relate it back to characters that the reader will truly care about. Fortunately, in David’s capable hands, X-Factor positively shines with well-developed protagonists and pitch-perfect dialogue. Perhaps most impressive is that David’s mutants aren’t the typical spandex clad superheroes. These are deeply troubled, deeply flawed and occasionally morally uncertain heroes, and the dramatic moments are made all the more rich because of their inherent short comings.

David’s excellent script is also complimented by Ryan Sook’s artwork. Sook is able to produce dramatic moments as well as action panels with equal skill, and his style is refreshingly innovative and expressive, working perfectly for the character driven issue. Sook also avoids the cookie-cutter work of a lot of artists, and is clearly not afraid to take risks (as is evident by a brilliant panel portraying Rictor as Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man). The somewhat dark coloring and inking work by Jose Villarrubia and Wade von Grawbadger also works well with the series, bringing to life the darkness and tension David’s script calls for.

It’s been a hell of a long time since X-Factor has been around, but with Peter David’s spot on characterization and plotting, and Ryan Sook’s dynamic artwork, X-Factor is clearly back in business…

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