Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 3

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

An Illogical Next Step Made Logical
Messiah Complex

On it's own, Messiah Complex is a fine if not always engaging story. There is a lot to like about it, and in terms of continuity, internal logic, and narrative focus it's miles above the more recent major Marvel events. But reading it as part of this enormous read-through of all of X-Factor, what stood out most was that the characters I was trying to follow were barely in it. X-Factor is a book all about a left-of-center mutant team living and operating in their own tiny corner of the world, and having to mix them in with the greater Marvel U is not the most natural thing to do. Many members of the group end up with minuscule or non-existent roles, so in the middle of reading entirely about them, Messiah Complex feels like a big, loud interruption. Peter David handles it just right, though, and while I have no way of knowing whether it was his plan for the character all along, what he does with Layla Miller in the midst of this crossover is still one of the most important developments of the ongoing, longform story he's been telling from the start.
     Layla follows a Madrox dupe into the distant future and ends up stranded there once the dupe dies and rejoins Madrox Prime in the present. She lives for years in that time period, finally growing up and becoming a sassy and mysterious young woman rather than a sassy and mysterious little girl. It comes to light (well after Messiah Complex has concluded and everyone other than X-Factor has forgotten Layla completely) that all the "stuff" she's always known isn't a mutant ability but, in fact, a result of her getting to live in the future and learn about everything that happens to the mutants of the world. How she is able to get that info to a younger version of herself is a time paradox for another post, but the point is, the essence of the character ("I'm Layla Miller, I know stuff") actually comes from what she does during this event.
     It's a smart move by David. X-Factor is not a title that wedges easily into this kind of crossover story because, as I said, one of the major themes of the book is that its cast is on the fringes of the superhero world, handling the kinds of problems that bigger-name mutants don't have time for (or interest in). So the one time that the series is taken over by a big-time event---yes, it had Civil War issues prior to this, but they weren't even remotely a part of the main plot of that story---David makes the consequences for his team, both long- and short-term, significant and personalized and, most importantly, he fits them into the big, elaborate puzzle he's already assembling for his readers. There are clues before this that Layla's clairvoyance may stem from something other than a mutant ability. We were told way early on that she'd one day marry Jamie, a detail that was hard to believe until she got a chance to mature outside of her own time. And there is a running thread through the whole of X-Factor that they as a team are going to someday be responsible for ruining the planet (that is, after all, Mr. Tryp's whole jam) and when Layla finally does return, much of what she says seems to subtly back this up. So even though the original reason for this adventure in the future was tied directly to Messiah Complex itself, David usurped it and made it his own, a plot point that ultimately meant way more for his book than it did for the larger event.
     After this, X-Factor isn't ever again folded into a Marvel event in the same way. It has its Secret Invasion and Second Coming issues like everything, but Messiah Complex is the first and last time that the title is fully derailed by such a story. Derailed in the sense that it had momentum going in a particular direction and with a specific and well-developed cast, and had to take a three-issue break from that to send a handful of the characters elsewhere. But Peter David doesn't just shoehorn in three issues of meaningless story that get wiped away when the event wraps up so he can jump back into what he was doing before. No, he uses Messiah Complex as an opportunity to advance and explain on of the most (if not the single most) important and interesting characters he has. I wish more writers could get that kind of juice out of having their books involved in a crossover.
     Coming up next, X-Factor hits its pacing groove, and transforms into a series of short stories without ever losing sight of the massive big picture.

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