I have adored Peter David’s writing for a long time, and it is hard to believe that he can take characters that I really couldn’t care less about, and in one issue make me feel like I know them. He did this with the matrix Supergirl back in the '90s, and now he has done it again with X-Factor. He gives everyone a distinct voice, rich with feeling and texture that most writers cannot achieve with even one character let alone an entire team. However, in each case, those voices resonate with one emotion: Despair. It is that unbelievable feeling that you receive when you have run out of options. If "Messiah CompleX" was about hope for the mutant race, this book provides a look at the impact of its emotional opposite on the individual and the group.
Peter manages to characterize different aspects of the same emotion, from the horrible feeling that you are on a run-away vehicle that you have no control over, to the overwhelming need to beat the living daylights out of something, anything, simply because it is one thing that you perceive you can control, or more importantly, the one chance when you can feel out of control. There is the feeling of a community that is no longer viable, which is familiar to anyone who grew up in small town North America. Finally, there is the desperation tied to hope that things will improve with the arrival of some unexpected news.
It is hard to talk about this issue without going into some of the specifics of the story, but I will tread carefully. In the case of Wolfsbane, we have Rahne leaving the team to join X-Force in what is a broader editorial move. Peter David actually comes up with a very clever story hook to have Rahne leave to join X-Force, one that could be picked up at just about any time in the future. This is much better than having the mental equivalent of “Exit stage right out of panel” which a lot of books are doing these days when lineup changes come down from editorial. There is emotional resonance in every scene, and you actually feel Rahne’s desperate need to move away from X-Factor, against her desires.
The story of Rictor is more personal. He is desperate to find a place in a world that is moving on without him. Having had a taste of knowing where he belongs in the world, the collapse of mutant town, and the loss of Layla, throw him back into outcast status. Meanwhile, his pal Guido is desperate to convince Rictor that everything is going to be okay, because he has been in this situation before. There is depth of experience in the goofy dialogue that Strong Guy uses with both Rictor and Maddrox.
Maddrox finally reaches his breaking point. After all he has been through in the future, losing Layla, seeing his team fall apart and knowing that everything he did to understand the fate of the baby was for nothing (you better believe this one is coming back to get Cyclops) he does the only thing he can: he decides to beat the living daylights out of someone; a lot of people. I know it seems very juvenile, and out of character, but I have to say, I can remember feeling the way Maddrox has, and it took everything in my power to keep from acting on it. You just lose all understanding of who you are and your world collapses around you. Peter David managed to completely replicate that feeling in this book, and while unpleasant, I sat stunned at how I wanted to leap out of my chair and join in the action.
Finally, new hope is breathed in between all of these scenes with the promise of another baby that could bring hope, or further despair to the mutant race. It is painful to think that we will have to wait 9 months of comic time for this to develop.
Of course none of this would have been effective without the excellent art team that is on this title. Faces convey emotion that seems very real. The rage of Maddrox, the tears of Rahne, the perplexing detached expression of Monet in each of her scenes, are conveyed in incredible detail. Add to that great atmosphere, from the opulence of a cathedral (what a great rendering of a stained glass window) to the gritty realism of the now defunct buildings of mutant town, and you have an outstanding feel to the book.
After what was an anticlimactic end to the "Messiah CompleX", Peter David and his team keep everything fresh and moving forward in the not-so-brand-new-world that the mutants are in. Well done all.
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