The fourth in a group of like 8-12 posts on X-Factor volume 3.
What's Been Up Comes Down For A While
X-Factor #28-38 (and, technically, She-Hulk #31)
Though still tied to everything that came before, the series takes some time to tell more self-contained tales in the wake of Messiah Complex. Peter David still lays the groundwork for things to come in future issues, but the primary narratives here are resolved in the short-term, usually after only three or four chapters. Sad to say, they're some of the weaker stories this book tells, but the pacing of them allows David to do some important cast expansion and status quo shake-ups, so by the time these issues wrap up, the pieces are in place for some really excellent and much slower-burning narratives to kick off.
First is a pretty solid issue centered on Rahne's decision to leave X-Factor, followed by the story of Arcade's attack on the team, then a Secret Invasion tie-in that crosses over with She-Hulk, and lastly Darwin's kidnap and rescue. All very brief and interesting, and with some unique resolutions, but for their own reasons none of them are the strongest material this title has seen. I suppose "The Only Game in Town" might be better than I give it credit for, but personally I just can't get behind Arcade as a villain. Robot fake-outs and double robot fake-outs and cheesy traps that are built into illusions...none of that does anything for me. It's a bit too campy, and Arcade is always uncomfortably pleased with himself for coming up with it. That makes him into too obnoxious a villain for my tastes, so I was happy to see his reason for taking on X-Factor was money, meaning I'd be unlikely to see him again (and I haven't). To David's credit, he writes Arcade with all the smugness, self-satisfaction, and pun usage that has turned me off of the character in the past, so obviously he gets it right. It's just not for me.
The destruction of Mutant Town that is a result of Arcade's nonsense sees the team relocate to Detroit, which is a peculiar choice that I wish David had done a bit more with. It ends up putting them in a unique position for the Secret Invasion story, fighting The Talisman, a sort of Skrull high priest whose presence means invasion is nigh. But really that could've happened anywhere, and so could everything else that happens from that point until they move back to New York. I'm not sure what I expected from the change in setting, but it seems like a missed opportunity that keeps being missed for the next twenty-odd issues.
X-Factor collides with The Talisman, She-Hulk and her Skrull partner Jazinda, and the mutant Darwin all at once, and if it weren't for Darwin being there this whole arc would be something of a bust. Though The Talisman is impressive and important, ultimately this is too early and inconsequential a piece of the bigger Secret Invasion picture. Yes our heroes win the day, but it doesn't stop the larger threat, and they immediately bounce on to the next problem and never look back. The center of the event doesn't involve them, so their time here on the edges of it feels a bit wasted.
X-Factor #35-38 focus on Darwin being kidnapped and subsequently saved, and though it has its rough spots, this arc definitely marks the beginning of an upswing. David already established Darwin as a likable and natural addition to the cast in the previous story (titled "The Darwin Awards"). He was a source of humor and surprise who also held his own against the big, scary bad guy, and I think it was a good choice to make him central to the this story, too, so his potential and personality could be more deeply explored. The rest of the team has been so fully solidified by David by now, Darwin can be given this kind of space right away, and it's worth it to give it to him. We see his darker, meaner side, and also have his unpredictability and level of power more thickly underlined when he escapes a prison designed specifically to hold him. He's a standout character, even though his full-time tenure on the team is one of the shortest. His place in the biggest, longest-running of the overarching narratives has by now become unexpectedly large, and it is because of the strong work done here in his introduction to the title that David has been able to bring him to that point today. Though the villains and consequences of these narratives are small-time, they allow Darwin some serious spotlight time, and for that I still enjoy these issues.
Longshot also joins the cast at this point, and even though I love him, I do think David's done less with his character. He slid into the rhythms of the book so quickly and easily that he's never really had his breakout moment yet. Something is brewing with him and Shatterstar (who will arrive in the next set of issues), and he's been integral in solving a lot of cases and winning a lot of fights. So it's not as if I don't want him around. It's just that he has yet to really wow me in the way other new team members have, most of all Darwin, who shows up just before.
Eleven issues of less-than-A-game material, all told, but they sow the seeds of some delicious fruits. By the end of this section, the team has gotten two members bigger, their government handler Val Cooper's been shot, and Siryn and Madrox's baby is on its way into the world.
Which is where I'll pick up next time.