Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Other X-Men

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


X-Factor #100

I have a confession to make: along with a few other titles, I've regarded X-Factor to be in the dust bin of my comic book collection in terms of my level of interest. I've forgotten practically all of the different team line-ups and certainly most of the plots--and I'd almost bet that you could say the same. Only a few things come to mind in remembering this book. First, that its premise--that of the original X-Men forming "X-Factor," an organization where they pose as normal humans who track down and take into custody mutants that people would alert them to, a ruse which allowed them to keep the mutants out of harm's way--seemed poorly thought out, no matter how much public relations wizardry they had going on to pull it off. Not only was it a constant struggle to keep the organization's true motives and operations under wraps, but no one in the group was really comfortable with their cover--a deception which only perpetuated the fear and persecution they were trying to alleviate.

Secondly, there was the period when writer/artist Walt Simonson took over the book, which led to strange concepts like the sentient ship which X-Factor shifted its headquarters to, as well as amping up anti-mutant hysteria, giving Iceman a power-dampening belt, and shifting the Beast back to his animal form, to name a few. To be fair, much of what was going on in X-Factor at this point was designed to coincide with the direction the other X-books were taking in terms of decimating the mutant status quo and radically shifting team line-ups. Yet with X-Factor, you felt the shift more keenly, as the book by now should have been stabilizing its direction, not becoming further fragmented.

After the "Muir Island saga" (yet another plotline that probably doesn't come to mind), X-Factor received its first major line-up change (issue #71), which for the most part took the team its remaining 29 issues to #100. Writer Peter David comes aboard with that change, but his tenure lasts only eighteen issues. After a few fill-in issues by Scott Lobdell, writer J.M. DeMatteis begins scripting with issue #92--and the bulk of his issues feature an antagonist named Haven, who the group finally confronts in a "double-size" issue #100.

X-Factor, I should point out, ceased publication with issue #149, which should unfortunately tell you that the book was unsuccessful in establishing a substantive direction or readership. Becoming in effect the "step-child" of the other X-books once the original team and its concept were dropped, there really was no reason I could think of to keep reading it, other than to see appearances of characters from those other books--such as Mystique, Sabretooth, Bishop, Forge, et al. Yet I must say that issue #100 had enough substance to give the book a hopeful outlook. Haven perhaps didn't merit the buildup she got in order to take center stage in a one-hundredth issue--but her character was handled well by DeMatteis, as was X-Factor itself. And as far as a team "statement," this full-page display was rather nice:

The drama of the issue, of course, comes with the death of Jamie Madrox (the Multiple Man) from the Legacy virus, a mutant plague which had been ongoing throughout all the X-books. It happens in the final pages of the issue, and DeMatteis skillfully weaves it in with his handling of Haven's defeat and departure--which is the main reason why Haven makes more of an impression in this issue than she otherwise might. Madrox's death comes at a particularly interesting time in the character's development, as his duplicates had developed a sense of independence and self-awareness that they should not have possessed. Yet the sense of loss we feel at the death of the source Madrox puts all of that aside, a loss which is conveyed well in a scene with Moira MacTaggert in the following issue.

So while X-Factor may arguably not have fulfilled any potential it might have had, issue #100 was a fine issue to turn the corner, so to speak, even though it mostly served to conclude the Haven storyline. There will be few who will rank X-Factor #100 alongside the milestones established by other centennial issues from Marvel--in fact, the book itself is not exactly going to go down in comics history. More than likely it will be regarded as collateral damage from the upheaval the X-books in general were experiencing around this time--a regrettable legacy for a book that tried so hard to stand on its own.

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