Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 7

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

I Can't Think of a Title For This One (or are these technically subtitles?)
X-Factor #213-224

One of my least favorite storylines, followed promptly by one of the best. Well, before either of them begins, there are two one-issue stories first. There's the low-key one about some line-up changes, like Pip obnoxiously forcing himself onto the team, Rictor convincing Rahne to come back despite the half-god baby she's pregnant with, and Darwin quitting X-Factor to set off on his own and figure out what exactly happened to him when he suddenly evolved into a god. That transformation brings about changes in his personality and abilities that he wants to make sense of by himself. His departure rolls into an excellent issue that focuses on Darwin entirely, a sort of send off for the character (who isn't seen again for like 20 issues) that also places him on the path he's still trying to follow in the most recent issues. Wandering through the desert, he stumbles upon a bizarre Old-West-style town that seems to exist outside of time, and is run by an evil sheriff who goes by the name Tier. He and Darwin have a brusque and cryptic conversation, leading to a quick draw competition between them. There, Tier drops a bomb by revealing himself to be the grown-up version of Rahne's still-unborn baby. It binds Darwin to a major event we know is still in the title's future, and also adds to the anxiety and anticipation surrounding the birth itself since we now see what kind of wicked man this half-deity might become. It's a fun but also frightening issue, and a perfect way to say good-bye (for now) to one of the series' best characters.
     After Darwin is tucked away, X-Factor focuses fully on a story arc that had been built up and hinted at in several preceding issues. I do not care for it. The long and short of it is that years ago, J. Jonah Jameson was involved in a sort of expansion of the Super Soldier project called SCARS (Strategic Capture and Retrieval) that resulted in the creation of three nigh unstoppable female assassins, two of whom began to get out of control with their killing. So General Ryan, the man who was in charge of SCARS, had false memories placed in the brains of all three women, and sent them out into the world to live mundane lives. In an earlier issue (#210), one of Ryan's victims comes to Monet for help with a recurring nightmare, and what happens instead is that her true memories are reawakened. She then reactivates her former partners, and the three of them set out to get murderous revenge.
     This is not a bad story per se, but it does nothing for me. The plot feels sort of old, the villains are only slightly interesting at first and become pretty flat before long, and J. Jonah Jameson is always such an ass that it's hard to have him pop up in a book where he doesn't belong. There's enough bickering in X-Factor among the team itself without throwing him into the mix. Mostly I think it's just that the idea of people lashing out against those who took control of their lives and/or gave them powers is something I have seen too often. Not a lot happens that is unexpected or atypical of such a narrative, so this has never resonated with me. Also Black Cat is a second guest star who, aside from one funny moment where her and Longshot's luck powers interfere with each other, doesn't add a great deal. Not sure why she was included.
     Guido does die in this story, which is a shocking moment and an important detail in terms of the series' future. Layla secretly uses her powers to bring him back with no soul, and the fallout from that decision has yet to be measured in full. But the creation of that thread does not improve the arc as a whole. It never does anything terrible, but ultimately I see it as a flop.
      Rahne's baby's birth, on the other hand, is some truly gripping graphic fiction. From the lovely scene in the beginning of Rahne and Shatterstar walking through the rain to the devastating end where she abandons her child (Tier...see above) out of fear, Peter David puts a lot of heart into these scripts. There are innumerable minor characters involved in the hunt for the infant, but everyone is distinct: coy and playful ghost Feral, deliciously unsettling child Agamemnon, and Jack Russel/Werewolf by Night as the true and noble hero of the tale. None of these people, or any of the various deities and demons and such that show up, are characters with whom I am especially familiar, but David makes them immediately familiar with every new entrance. The core team does get pushed aside a bit here and there, but it is always Rahne's story first and foremost, and in the end everyone gets something to do.
     Really, though, for me this arc is all about the scene of the birth itself. That moment, so hotly anticipated and carefully constructed, is a goddamn grand slam. Tier comes out of his mother's mouth, which is fitting and perfectly disgusting. He then viciously attacks Agamemnon, who has been asking for such treatment for pages, so it's nice to see that finally go down. And then, in a heart-wrenching panel, Rahne is so startled and terrified by this savage violence that she harshly rejects her son, turning away from him in disgust. You can see the understanding and deep, deep sadness on the baby wolf-boy's face, and it just chokes me up every single time. And that's how things end between them, too, making it all the more effective. Rahne and Tier's reconciliation will not be for a while, and having this arc land in a place where they are without one another---he ends up under Jack Russell's care---is as hard on the reader as it is on the characters. Her guilt is apparent, but not yet stronger than her fear and shame, so she walks away without even knowing where her baby has ended up. Rough stuff.
      Tier's true importance has yet to be fully revealed, but the currently-running "Hell on Earth War" storyline is all about him and the people who want him dead, so answers should be coming soon. His introduction, though, has already made him a favorite of mine. That single panel when Rahne denounces him is forever burned in my memory. A high point of the entire series.
     Whatever brutality Tier's birth contained is nothing compared to what comes next, though, when X-Factor throws down with a demon named Bloodbath.

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