Friday, February 09, 2007

X-Factor: More Lies! More Guilt! More Betrayal! (#9-16)

After a very shaky start, X-Factor settles into a really nice groove in this run of issues, capturing much of the interpersonal and interspecies angst that made 80s X-Men into such a successful and beloved series. The book may be the Scott and Jean show, but that’s fine because they’re some of the most interesting characters in the X-Verse, and certainly have enough issues to carry a book.

The review title comes from the next issue teaser in issue 15, and it's as good a summary of these issues as anyone could come up with. I love the fact that they're promoting an action comic with the promise of more guilt. Only in the X-Men...

Issues 9-11 tie in with the Mutant Massacre, which also crosses over into Thor and Power Pack. I think the X-Men side of the crossover has more urgency. There, you get a greater sense of the damage done by the Marauders to the Morlock world, and you also get a heavier personal impact for the team. Of course, some of the impact here might be numbed by the fact that I’d already read the issues, back when I was passing through the X-Men run, so moments like Angel getting nailed to the wall didn’t have the impact they did on the first read.

I do like the line blurring ironies of having the team battling Freedom Force. By working with the US government, Freedom Force is trying to rehabilitate the reputation of mutants, show that they can work within the system. X-Factor is actually contributing to prejudice by fostering anti-mutant feeling, yet they also claim to be secretly helping mutants. It’s hard to sympathize with the X-Factor crew when they fight Freedom Force, since Mystique and her team are playing by the rules and doing good. It is only the old grudges carrying over, but they are now in a world that’s more complex than a simple good/bad dichotomy.

My favorite Freedom Force moment is when Rogue and Mystique fight together before she goes off to sacrifice herself during Fall of the Mutants, I always have a lot of sympathy for villains trying to go good, and not so much for what X-Facotr is doing here. Throughout the book, all the characters in X-Factor are struggling to return to the world they lived in when they were X-Men. They can’t deal with the fact that their former adversaries are now fighting for good, and Scott is trying to move back to a more na├»ve emotional place with Jean, forget about the troubled relationship he had with Maddie. They’re all living a fantasy, and that fantasy comes crashing down as the series moves forward.

A sequence that’s still striking in the end of issue 11, where the police gun down some Morlocks. It’s powerful because it’s played for realism. This is a crossover without easy resolution, it’s an awful event that will echo for a long time on.

The thing I really enjoyed about these issues is that we didn’t have any of the goofy villains who populated the first few issues of the book. Instead the focus is on interpersonal conflict between the team. There’s two major issues facing the team, one is Warren’s injury, the other is Scott and Jean’s relationship.

Warren has defined himself by his mutant identity, and the thought of losing that which makes him unique is too much to bear. The arc is well done, given enough issues that we can understand his descent into depression. I’d imagine his ‘death’ was more powerful when it originally happened, I know he’ll come back as a horsemen of Apocalypse, so I get no emotional charge from his loss. It’s not like the hints aren’t already there, but there’s a difference between thinking he might eventually return and knowing that he’ll back in a few issues for Fall of the Mutants.

The reason that the X-Factor book exists was to get Scott and Jean back together. At this point, Hank and Bobby don’t have much of a personality, and rarely get interesting material to work with. They’re just there to fill out the team, the core of the book is the troubles that Scott and Jean are facing.

I really liked Scott’s surreal journey to Alaska. Constantly hallucinating, he walks the border of sanity while searching for Madelyne. I like that he’s finally forced to deal with the consequences of walking out on his family. In some respects, I still feel like it’s not enough, but he suffers a lot of pain here, and I guess there’s only so much one man can go through.

This incarnation of Master Mold has a lot in common with the Sentinels that Morrison would use, feeding on whatever technology is available to rebuild themselves. It’s a great idea, and better than the original giant purple robot concept. Scott’s battle with him has the feel of a Shinya Tsukamoto film, a messy blend of mechanical and organic, emotion and blankness. It’s pretty epic, and ends with an appropriate lack of real resolution. Scott returns to New York and finds that his friend has killed himself in the interim. The man has gone through a lot, likely Louise Simonson recognizing the need to punish him for his actions in the first issue. The message, be responsible and don’t lie to your wife or all around you will die.

The stuff with the younger X-Factor team plays well as a lighter counterpoint to the heavy drama of the adults. This dynamic is a rare time when we see the X-Men actually teaching, another precursor to Morrison’s run. The final issue of the book, where Rusty and the young crew take Masque to the hospital, barely features the old X-Factor and still works, a testament to the character building of the younger team.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed these final few issues. I love the universe and the characters, and this stuff is a prime era in their development. I’ll be on hiatus for a bit, reading The Invisibles, but after that I’ll return for Essential X-Factor Volume 2.

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