Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 10

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

Modern Life is Rubbish
X-Factor #241-251 [most recent issue as of this writing]

So here we are, all caught up. And what is the current state of affairs for this mutant detective agency? Well...things are looking pretty grim these days. It all starts with "Breaking Points," perhaps my all-time favorite arc. It's up there. Five days, five issues, five individual stories that come together to tell a tale of a team in disarray, dropping members left and right. By the end of the storyline, one-third of X-Factor is gone, and though the book was ready to shave down its cast (from twelve to eight, so...still sizable), that doesn't make the process any less painful for the team.
     Guido, sick of being scorned by his love interest Monet just because he has no soul, storms off after a fight and never comes back. Rahne finds her son and they have a heartwarming reunion, and she decides to stay with him at a safehouse for a while. Polaris discovers that her own powers were responsible for the plane crash that killed her parents, and it disables her mentally. Well, it does until Banshee agrees to take the place of Morrigan (an actual banshee) and then uses her newfound powers to heal Polaris' pain. However, even once Polaris is feeling better, there is no saving her relationship with Havok, who decides he never belonged on X-Factor and quits, walking away all alone. It's an awful lot of change in a very short time, especially because Guido and Banshee have both been on the team since the debut issue with no pauses or breaks until now. To drop two of the oldest members and one of the newest (Havok) in the same arc is a brave decision on Peter David's part, but also a wise one. Guido's heel turn had been building up for a while, because his return to life as a soulless man had to have serious consequences for him eventually. And while less expected, Banshee's departure also feels inevitable when it arrives. It connects to her father's death, her damaged relationship with Madrox, and her recent encounter with Morrigan, and leaves her in a fascinating place. I have no doubt we'll see her again in this book, maybe even by the end of the "Hell on Earth War." She is a goddes now, more powerful than ever, and as sad as it is to lose her, I can't think of a team member more deserving of such a promotion.
     As for Havok resigning...good riddance, says I. He was never happy on the team, never added much to the title, and always looked ridiculous. So let him be an Uncanny Avenger. It's better for everyone.
     What I admire about "Breaking Points" is that every issue is its own whole narrative, but they're still very much connected to each other through this theme of X-Factor shrinking. And I like how David got a little inventive with the ways people left and their motivations for doing so. It's not just a bunch of different versions of people angrily stomping out, which would've been easy. Instead, some of them leave for better things, happier lives than they were living before. To send away some of the strongest characters without weakening the series overall or upsetting me as a reader is a pretty big task, but David was careful with his choices and found logical, powerful reasons for each of these people to go wherever they go.
     Sadly, what follows is a four-issue lull. I'd guess that this is at least partly so "Hell on Earth War" could officially kick off in X-Factor #250 (landmark story, landmark issue), but it's still incredibly disappointing. Riding the high of "Breaking Points" straight into much duller, not-so-deliberately crafted issues is a drag, but at least they move quickly. And they're not terrible or anything, just kind of chaotic and a little boring.
     I know that part of my feeling this way is connected to Pip getting his profile raised within these issues. I still can't get on board with Pip. He's always been deeply more obnoxious than humorous. X-Factor #246 is centered on and narrated by Pip, and does nothing but underline for me that he's a distasteful little shit. As an example, he hires a guy to pretend to mug a woman so he can then "save" that woman and ultimately sleep with her. That's despicable behavior that makes him a villain in my book, and when the same woman shot him at the end of the issue, I thought, "Great! One more needless member of the team eliminated." Then when he came back to life in Monet's head at the start of X-Factor #248, I was just as pissed as she was at the invasion. Innocent mistake or not, Monet has too many deep-seated scars when it comes to people mentally controlling her, and whatever comedy is derived from the idea of Pip in her brain is nothing compared to how serious a violation it is. I know that, as a troll, he has knowledge that is going to help the team now that they're fighting such powerful, mystical foes, but is it worth having to deal with his idiocy? I submit that it is not.
     In the middle of all that noise, Jamie and Layla finally get married, only for their honeymoon to be interrupted by the murderous ghost of Robert E. Lee. It's a goofy bit of business, but I like it, because Jamie and Layla are married. The story could have been almost anything, I'm just glad to have their relationship solidified. Then, finally, there is a full-team battle against demonic hordes at a botanical garden. It's a big, exciting fight, but maybe too rushed in its execution because it primarily just acts as a kind of prologue to "Hell on Earth War."
     It's hard for me to comment on "Hell on Earth War" right now because we're only two chapters deep. I know this is something David teased as long ago as when he was still the writer on Hulk, so expectations are high. But these first two issues have yet to wow me, still putting the pieces in place and explaining the situation. Basically, Rahne's son Tier, in addition to being a half-god, was also the seven billionth person born on Earth, and that makes him a key part of a bet between all the "Hell Lords" in the Marvel Universe (Mephisto, Hela, Pluto, etc.). Whichever Hell Lord can kill Tier first gets to be in charge of the rest of them, so they show up en masse when Tier arrives at X-Factor. And that's still where we are: X-Factor is trying to figure out how to defend its newest, youngest member from a gang of immortals with unthinkable power who are all hell-bent on killing him.
     It's a powder keg, and now that we finally know what's so special about Tier and why everyone wants him dead, I'm anticipating a lot of no-holds-barred action and some last-minute hail Mary saves. Also Darwin is back, so I'm smiling about that if nothing else. And because David has proven time and time again on this title how damn good he is at providing payoff for stories in the long term, added to the fact that this is something he's been cooking up for fifteen years or more, well...I have absolute faith that "Hell on Earth War" is going to be a standout arc when all is said and done.
     So that's it as far as talking about the issues chronologically. The finish line is in view, folks, but before I call it a day on The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation, I want to discuss the series as whole from a few different angles. Starting next time with the argument that, more than anything, X-Factor is a romance starring Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller. 

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