Charles Webb: Afternoon, Jason. How are you?

Jason Sacks: Hey Charles, doing great, how are you?

Charles Webb: I’m good. Had a good reading week – not a single book made me depressed about the comic industry as a whole.

Jason Sacks: (laughs) Does that usually happen?

Charles Webb: For the last couple of months, mostly event fatigue from the work of the Big Two. I mean, seriously, Dark Reign (with very few exceptions) has been will-crushing and as fun as some parts of Blackest Night are, I just can’t muster up any energy for the event as a whole.

I think what I really dug about the book we’re discussing today and some of the other mainstream titles I’ve been catching up on are their focus primarily on the title characters and their stories.

Jason Sacks: I lost a lot of enthusiasm for Marvel stuff during Civil War, really, and it’s been hard getting it back. I have a lot of love for the characters, but I’m not interested in them going through those sort of editorial-driven machinations.

Charles Webb: Yeah. Some titles seem to be able to shrug the event stuff off (Spidey, X-Factor) or exploit it in a way that gives it a higher profile (Punisher, any of the DnA cosmic stuff).

Jason Sacks: I really liked how X-Factor seems to be so embedded in its own continuity in issue #200. There’s a lot going on and just about all of it flows directly from the characters and not from an artificial external event.

Charles Webb: David has done a good job about that throughout the series, though. Events like Secret Invasion or Messiah Complex seems to fare much better here because his plots put the long-in-development characterizations before anything else.

Jason Sacks: Yes, this is one of the few Marvel series that I’ve keep up with (in trades) without fail – but then, David has such a strong feeling for these characters that I find them really compelling. The Secret Invasion stuff was much more fun here than in most any other series.

Charles Webb: In a lot of ways it reminds me of Dan Jurgens’ Booster Gold by being outside of the normal goings-on of the company’s continuity but still being of it while moving forward its own plot.

You’re right about the Secret Invasion stuff, and I think that’s because unlike everyone else who wrote a “Skrull shows up, the heroes fight it” story, David actually threw in a weird element (namely the one that X-Factor and She-Hulk were chasing the collective will of the Skrulls).

Here, David draws on the Fantastic Four as a chance to reintegrate the characters back into their New York setting well while also pushing forward some X-Factor continuity back matter.

Jason Sacks: And there was so much to like in here. The New York setting is a nice fit for the team, and their interaction with the FF is portrayed really wonderfully. It’s nice how David has picked up some of the vibe of Jonathan Hickman’s acclaimed FF run, with special attention to brilliant Valeria (who David writes really well).

The fight between the Thing and Guido, and then fight between the Thing and Shatterstar, are really fun. I’m not sure I buy the idea that the Thing hasn’t really learned to fight well, but it makes for a very entertaining sequence – and also feels very traditional for Marvel.

And what is the mystery with Sue? I’m really intrigued by the apparent tension in the FF family.

Charles Webb: I wonder if Johnny being out of the picture will have anything to do with the overall mystery (it’s too weird to comment on it and then never come back to his absence).

The fight between the Thing and Guido makes me believe that Marvel is really missing out by not producing a Thing/Guido mini – just a couple of New York knuckleheads knocking about the city, having boozy, brawling adventures. But that’s just me.

Your mention of David’s handling of Valeria was actually off-putting for me initially, mostly because it was one of the most poorly-established elements of Mark Millar’s run. But the interplay between Valeria and the X-Factor team sold me on the “smarter-than-everyone” characterization she’s been given. David strikes a fine balance between someone who has wisdom beyond their years and childish petulance that works for me.

Jason Sacks: The idea of Johnny being missing is interesting. For some reason I didn’t pick up on that. Could it be a Storm family issue or have something with the overall mystery? I just like the idea of having X-Factor sticking their nose into FF business. There’s a bit of “high and low” there since X-Factor live so much on the street level and the FF live in their penthouse.

Great idea regarding teaming up Guido and Ben… but then again I still miss the Thing team-ups in the old Marvel Two-In-One because I think Ben’s interactions with the rest of the characters in the Marvel Universe can be so much fun.

I didn’t read much of Millar’s run on FF, so I don’t really have much of a pre-conceived notion of how Valeria is portrayed. David’s portrayal of Valeria brought back happy memories of the way he portrayed Layla early on in this current X-Factor run. I loved her characterization at the time – all mysteriously smart and with amazing foresight. David somehow managed to make a character like that charming, and he does the same with Valeria.

But that’s also typical of David – his characters really come alive on the page in a way that few writers’ characters do.

Charles Webb: Right – and they’re warm, which is something that I think is missing from a lot of Marvel titles. Where this issue and the book as a whole excels is in investing these characters with lives, making them care for one another, and in turn making us readers empathize and sympathize with their stories.

Not to beat up on Millar but the reason his Valeria didn’t work and David’s does is because the latter makes her someone who cares about her mother, father, and brother. She’s kind of outside the plot and above it, but she’s also a worried kid.

It’s also good to see Jamie in a slightly better place emotionally than we have seen him over the last few months. The last few stories have really put him through the wringer – throwing him into the middle of a weird mystery seems to be a way for the character to let loose a little (and I have to imagine it’s cathartic for the writer as well).

Jason Sacks: You can almost see the relief on Jamie’s face when Valeria and Franklin come in with their case. We really see that on the page when he broods about Theresa. What’s better for a guy when he’s depressed about a girl but to work and hang out with friends?

All the characters in this book are warm, and David does a nice job of setting up his characters in ways that makes us like them. I never had any affection for Shatterstar, but his love of Gladiator and arrogance in his fight with Ben Grimm makes him someone that I want to read more about.

Throughout the whole issue, the characters all act in ways that seem both to reflect their individual personalities and in ways that makes them seem like real people rather than just lines on paper. That should be a quality that most writers can use, but to see it on such a full display is kind of thrilling.

Charles Webb: I completely agree with you there. I almost hate to dwell on any missteps, but I feel there are a couple. First, his handling of Theresa seems… off, somehow. I understand that’s she’s at a low point but the liaison hinted at in this book seems beyond depression and the short story that appear
s about her in the end just seems like a pat resolution.

The second is more of a matter of personal taste, and it’s to do with Guido being put off by getting an assist from Shatterstar. I could see the homophobia as a way to work off a couple of good jokes and play on the character’s urban machismo thing. But after the fight in this issue I worry that we’ll wander into “very special issue” territory.

But two moments out of a very, very good story are, I think, more than forgivable.

Jason Sacks: I agree with your comments about the portrayal of Theresa. I’ve never been much of a fan of the kind of confessional story that runs as the backup in this issue because it feels a bit like an easy out for the writer. Though there is a funny scene with her and one of the Jamie clones.

What did you think of the art by Cansino and Santucci? I liked the darker sort of cross-hatching feel they gave the story. It gave the story a kind of “ground-level” feel that also fits the characters well. I’ve not liked some of the artists who’ve worked on this series, but these guys are a good fit.

They’re strong with both personalities and action, which is crucial in a comic like this.

I gotta admit, though, that seeing Pablo Raimondi’s work from the Madrox mini on display in the back of this issue makes me wish he’d done more work on this series.

Charles Webb: You, me, and everyone else, I think. Raimondi’s work with the character was inspired a few years back. Here’s hoping someone gets him back on this title at some point for at least one arc.

Not to diminish the work done here by Santucci and Cansino. Their characters have an appropriate weight to them and their costumes look like real material as opposed to thin spandex (think the Ultimate X-Factor).

Their art really seems to come alive during the fight scene at the mid-point in the book, giving us the most visually-interesting looking Guido I’ve seen since the semi-deformed version of the character with the wide torso in his earliest appearances.

It just occurred to me that all the characters spend this issue in their costumes. It seems like a deliberate decision to reflect the status quo change for the team. They’re back in New York where things get a little weird and you have to dress appropriately.

I could have done with a more conservative hand with the inking; occasionally, it seemed to wipe away faces or costume features, giving the book a kind of hurried quality in some spots (see for instance, Monet entering the book around page 26 or so).

Jason Sacks: Yeah, I see that. That sequence is a bit oddly cartoonish, which feels a bit jarring next to everything else in this issue.

I do like these costumes. You mention that they’re a bit weird, but I like how they’re like the X-Men movie costumes that seem somewhat like what people might actually wear. I actually got more distracted by the fact that few characters have normal eyes – but that’s more a function of the book than of the artists’ work on it, of course.

Charles Webb: Oh, I actually like the new costumes (they all seem to be functional while still somewhat street level). It was just a surprise that after so many issues of the characters wearing street clothes (I think Madrox wore a tee with his symbol on it) it was a surprise to see them in something like a uniform.

I find myself very interested in the new direction the book is heading in. What about you?

Jason Sacks: Definitely. I really like the idea of moving the team back to New York since that’s really where all the action is in the Marvel Universe. The move really opens up some interesting plotlines for David, and it will be fun to see how these mutant misfits interact with their peers.

Of course, David has done such wonderful work on this series over the years that I’d follow this team to Antarctica if he took them there.

Charles Webb: I completely agree with you there. I think issue #200 is a great jumping on point for new readers as well as a great continuation of the series as a whole for longtime followers.

Jason Sacks: Sounds like we both really enjoyed this issue. How would you rate it? I say it’s a totally entertaining package that makes me want to return – 4 Bullets.

Charles Webb: I’m going to go a little bit higher at a 4.5 – not perfect because of a couple of missteps but still just this close to being excellent thanks to the welcome modification in tone and setting.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of Charles’s work at Monster In Your Veins