Monday, January 28, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 200

The sixth in a group of like 12-15 posts on X-Factor volume 3.

Three Rescue Missions
X-Factor #200-212

There are three arcs contained within these issues, and each of them tells the story of someone being captured by one villain or another and subsequently freed by X-Factor (or at least some of their number). Though the team has had a few occasions to run rescue operations before, it's never been this common or happened this many times in a row, and I'm curious as to whether or not it was an intentional move by Peter David to line these kidnapping narratives up back-to-back, or if he just coincidentally had three he wanted to tell one after the other. No matter the reasons for it, X-Factor becomes as much a retrieval squad as a private investigation firm for this run, and the stories that result are a lot of fun and all add important details to the big picture.
     First, Franklin and Val Richards hire our heroes to find their missing mother, Sue Richards a.k.a. The Invisible Woman. It's my least favorite of these three tales, mostly because the big reveal of the mystery feels a bit tired and lackluster, especially following the epic, time-hopping storyline that wrapped up just a few issues before. Sue has been kidnapped by Dr. Doom, working with a version of himself from an alternate reality who took control of Reed Richards' body years ago. So X-Factor ends up not only needing to rescue Sue, but also her husband Reed, since he's been replaced by Doom Reed back at Fantastic Four HQ. That's fine as far as it goes, and it's certainly a classic FF type of plot, but I'm just not wild about it. We get such a tiny glimpse of what Doom Reed is really like, he never feels like a fully-realized villain, and while good for a gruesome sort of laugh, his defeat isn't super satisfying either. But really I think what turns me off of this story is the involvement of Doom whatsoever after a much cooler, more interesting take on the character just finished having a key role in the previous story arc. There we had semi-senile future Doom, wheelchair-bound but no less dangerous, and that's just a meatier character than Doom in the body of Richards ever becomes. I understand that this story is in some ways an epilogue to the one it follows, insofar as it explains the relationship that Doom and Layla seemed to have in the distant future, but even that irks me a little. I wish there had been another, separate arc between the two. At the end of the last story, Layla had once again mysteriously disappeared, and to bring her back so quickly feels a little rushed and makes me question why she had to go away again at all. So I guess my problems with "The Invisible Woman Has Vanished" are with where it comes in the series' chronology more than the actual narrative of the arc. Though, again, that narrative isn't particularly impressive even on its own.
     Whatever, it's a plenty enjoyable read. It's short and direct, it sees the team back in NYC, and it makes Layla a permanent, present-day, full-time team member again. So even if I would've preferred to see it further down the line, I'm glad for this arc in the end. And it has some really strong humor. X-Factor plays with different levels of levity and severity throughout its history, and after a dark and intense arc like the last one, it is definitely a good call to do something that can be lighter and more amusing. Shatterstar and The Thing's competing machismo, for example, is the source of a lot of hilarious dialogue and outrageous combat. There's lots of stuff to like in this story, just nothing I especially love.
     The next kidnap-and-rescue tale is the strongest, doubly so at its resolution. That may be connected in part to the fact that it is one of the original and most consistent members of the team, Monet St. Croix, who gets captured. But I think its real strength lies in the choice of villain: Baron Mordo. A classic and terrifyingly powerful bad guy, but not one I would ever have expected to see in this book, Mordo represents an unusual threat for X-Factor in several ways. He is the first fully magical opponent they've had, and he sees them much differently than most of their villains because he's not really aiming to do anything to X-Factor as a whole. Monet's power set and history happen to be tailored to his needs at the moment, i.e. magically battling his cancer by controlling her mind and parasitically sapping her strength. If it weren't for the fact that he was dying, Mordo would never have had any reason to cross paths with Monet or any of her teammates, which also means they are about as unprepared to fight him as they could be. Only Guido even goes after her, and though he holds his own for a while, if it weren't for the intervention of a third party, I have little doubt Mordo would ultimately have killed him and Monet both.
     That third party is a group of soldiers working for Bolivar Trask (who is under the thumb of Bastion), which all has to do with the Second Coming crossover plot that runs parallel to, before finally colliding with, Monet's kidnapping. I am less of a fan of that story, which I tend to blame on my never having read any of the rest of Second Coming. I wasn't deeply into the X-books at that time, and have yet to go back and fully educate myself. Trask's attack on X-Factor makes for some innovative and exciting action, and when he goes down he goes down hard, but Bastion, his unseen master, is defeated elsewhere as a part of the primary event storyline. We see his hand at the wheel in X-Factor, but never revisit him as a foe because other X-people take care of it. Dangling threads like that are just one of the typical pitfalls of any tie-in story, but no less annoying for it. Maybe more annoying.
     The point is, Mordo only lets Monet and Guido go because all three of them need to escape Trask's people, and Monet agrees to let Mordo use her as he initially planned if he gets them out of their mutual jam. And it is that deal they strike that really pushes this kidnapping to the top of the list. Once the Second Coming dust settles and it's time for Monet to make good on her promise, Mordo attempts to betray their contract and immediately drains her of her energy and uses it against all of her allies. As soon as he steps into the street, though, the reader sees that he is in fact still just as sick as before, and it turns out that he was double-double-crossed by Monet, who mentally implanted the image of him taking out X-Factor, when in reality he did nothing of the sort. It's simple, maybe even predictable, but David sells it effortlessly, because it plays to the strengths and flaws of both characters involved. Mordo is, as I said, an unusually high-profile and powerful bad guy for X-Factor, which makes him think himself untouchable, even when he's in the heart of their base of operations. Monet, meanwhile, protects herself above all, and is sometimes underestimated because of her age, appearance, and attitude. She uses all of that to her fullest advantage here, and though Mordo walks away unharmed, he is still summarily defeated.
     Finally, there is Pip the Troll, who X-Factor inadvertently help Norse death goddess Hela recapture and then, mostly out of guilt, they go back and save him from her. I'm still not entirely sold on Pip. After this story, he forcibly adds himself to the cast, and as fun and funny as he is here in his introduction, I never felt myself hoping he'd stick around for the long run. But Hela, like Mordo, is an atypical choice of villain, and it leads to a Thor team-up that I adore for its concept alone. He looks so silly standing in front of X-Factor, too big for them and too confident. It's hilarious, and lasts just the right amount of time so as not to let the joke spoil.
     The real highlight of this arc, though, is the end when Darwin evolves into a death god in order to survive the attack of a death goddess. That moment is probably the character's most important development since joining the title. It is what pushed him onto the path he still walks and tied him into the title's biggest and most ambitious overarching narrative. Also it's 100% badass when it happens. The best use of Darwin's powers by David yet, and they've all been pretty great.
     All of these stories are somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as my personal admiration for them, but it's an exciting and amusing time in the history of the book overall. Layla and Rahne come back, magic and mythology are thrown into the mix, and there's just a lot of really good jokes woven into these issues. Plus Darwin gets to save the day one last incredible time before taking his leave of this title for a stretch, allowing my heart to grow even fonder for him during his absence. The details of that departure will kick off Part 7.

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