Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 1

The first in a group of like 8-12 posts on X-Factor volume 3. 

Loads of Cases, Just One Problem
X-Factor #1-20

The first page of the first issue of X-Factor shows Rictor standing on a ledge, thinking about suicide because he's lost his mutant powers. The last page of the twentieth issue is all about Quicksilver no longer being able to return mutant powers to those who've lost them. And though there are several other stories told along the way, M-Day's repercussions are a consistent part of the title that whole time. Peter David explores the implications of a depowered mutant population from numerous angles, through major characters and minor ones, A-Plots, B-Plots, and throwaway conversations. It's a big part of how the series is so quickly able to find its footing and introduce its characters. By focusing on a single incident and all of its consequences, big and small, David gets to tell a lot of different kinds of narratives and use the entirety of his cast.
     As I mentioned, there is Rictor's own loss of abilities, something which he has a difficult time handling and struggles with throughout these issues. And of course Layla Miller is a character created as part of the event that led to M-Day, and for a while her reason for joining X-Factor is to keep them from learning the truth about it. And while David does great work with both of these characters, his best stuff comes from the world outside of the titular team. Riots and protests and fistfights breaking out because humans are less afraid to display their hatred for mutantkind or, even worse, see M-Day as something which was deserved. Pissed off former mutants blindly blaming the government. Quicksilver as some kind of twisted, con artist messiah, with former mutants flocking to his promise of returned powers despite the fact that it usually goes wrong and kills them. It's not easy to imagine what the world would look like if a bunch of people suddenly lost superhuman abilities, but David tries his damnedest to cover all the possible reactions and problems it might inspire.
     The cream of this crop is X-Factor #5, when Siryn is taken captive by Dr. Leery, a depowered mutant who has decided to place the blame on X-Factor directly. It is the book's longest, most heartfelt dialogue (or, I guess, monologue) on what it would feel like to lose such tremendous power so suddenly and unexpectedly. And it's fitting as hell that Rictor is the one to save Siryn, since he, too, is in the middle of being pissed off and going a little crazy over no longer being a mutant. He and Leery are different versions of the same person, a man broken by his loss and looking for a way to regrasp some of what he felt before. Leery just chooses to fight against X-Factor while Rictor chooses to fight for them.
     As a detective agency with powers living in the middle of a mostly-unpowered Mutant Town, X-Factor position themselves as a lightning rod for this kind of madness, and it's why such a long stretch of issues sees them unable to escape the chaotic fallout from M-Day. They even manage to get to the bottom of what happened, only to realize they can't tell anyone without exacerbating the situation further. So they become superheroic janitors, cleaning the incessant messes that spring up. And it is in these janitorial duties that we get to know the team. Rahne and Guido spontaneously step in to stop a street brawl, displaying their short tempers and proclivities for violence. Siryn and Monet similarly put down an anti-mutant rally in France, and it shows that both women have a strange mix of deep compassion, great confidence, and sometimes-excessive attitude. Rictor wrestles with whether or not the risk of death is worth a chance to get his powers back from Quicksilver. It's not that they don't have these qualities in other situations, but watching them tackle various facets of the same problem gives the reader a chance to compare and contrast the team against one another and get a better sense of who they are as a whole.
     The other thing David uses all these M-Day-related stories for is setting up the unique pacing of X-Factor as a series. This is a book that provides its audience with payoff to things that were introduced sometimes as long as years before, and these first twenty issues represent a microscopic version of that. Between Quicksilver arriving and him losing his power-granting capabilities, there are 12 whole issues, and he's not even in like half of them. He shows up spouting his promises, establishes himself in Mutant Town, and then disappears for a while until David is ready to bring that story to a close (not Quicksilver's story, but the story of him giving powers back). On the other hand, issue #5 is a self-contained one-shot, as is #13 when the team all visit a shrink (Doc Samson), so in those we get complete little narrative nuggets. These kind of varied-length stories are a tactic that David uses all the way through. Hell, it is in these first twenty issues that Layla tells Madrox she'll marry him one day, and that just happened this past November. So by opening the debut issue with an M-Day victim's struggle and then carrying that thread through for such a long run, David lets his audience know right away that this is a series which will reward patience and attention.
     There is another throughline in these issues, and it is that of Mr. Tryp and his vendetta against X-Factor. Unfortunately, that'll have to wait for the next post (in a few days), where I talk about him and The Isolationist and ask the question: does the book need both?


  1. You ever get a chance to read his first run on X-Factor back in the early 90's?

    1. Yeah I've read some of it but not a great deal. Most of the early X-Factor stuff I have is from the 80's when it was still the original 5 X-Men pretending to be mutant hunters.