Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Grand X-Factor Investigations Investigation Part 11

The eleventh in a group of 15 posts on X-Factor volume 3.

Meet the Madroxes
It's all about Jamie & Layla's love

There's something like 90 issues between child Layla telling Jamie she'll eventually marry him and adult Layla actually doing it. Peter David didn't have to make good on that promise. He wasn't required to find some means of aging her up quickly enough to be the writer who also handled the wedding (or lack thereof). Anyone could have done that any number of years from now. And it's impossible to say how much of their relationship David had planned out when Layla first mentioned marriage in X-Factor #9, but he's clearly had his sights set on making them a natural and likable couple from the beginning. Though Layla and Jamie are not central to every story---after all, she's absent from the book for a decent stretch---many of the biggest and most significant storylines act as definitive markers in the progression of their love.
     Right away, he saves her from the orphanage where she lives, motivated by something he can never quite pin down. She tells him they'll be married during Civil War, and after some smaller adventures, he loses her in the future during Messiah Complex. Then, once again, things become a bit more boiler plate, until Madrox accidentally absorbs the son he was supposed to have with Theresa. This makes him nearly suicidal, an outlook that drives him straight to the site of his reunion with Layla. Her return leads to the longest-running arc to date, which is also where their dynamic becomes romantic for the first time (now that she's grown). She soon brings Guido back to life and it becomes a point of contention between her and Jamie briefly, until it indirectly leads to his own death. Then his return comes not long before they get hitched, which also more or less coincides with the beginnings of the "Hell on Earth War". When major bombs are dropping in the book, it tends to line up with an important moment in the ongoing saga of Jamie and Layla.
     Plus there's no denying that Madrox, at least, is the star of the show. He narrates like 98% of the issues, leads the team, and has an old personal connection to their first and most commonly-recurring villain. Layla, meanwhile, is the resident scene-stealer. She loves to interrupt, pull focus, or just tell people how they ought to behave, and because she's always right, she gets away with it. Also she's got a great sense of humor, so that goes a long way. But the point is, even as individuals, these two characters tend to get a generous portion of the spotlight, so as a couple they constitute the core of the entire series.
     And they're clearly made for each other. He's the Multiple Man, always able to see all the options and therefore never confident in selecting one. She's Layla Miller, she knows stuff. Already aware of what the outcome is "supposed" to be, she can point Jamie to the best choice in any situation. Though neither are his creations, David must have seen right away how complementary their respective power sets, strengths, and even flaws were. So he stuck Layla right into the first issue of this series, I think already knowing what she would someday mean for Madrox.
      Maybe I am giving him too much credit. Perhaps he just thought she was cool or interesting and then the romantic angle appeared to him later. Maybe it's ALL editorial mandates, and David secretly thinks they make an awful couple. But whatever the external reality, within X-Factor the slow-but-always-burning love between Layla and Jamie has been one of the most satisfying throughlines to follow.
     Of course, they're married now, and yet X-Factor continues, so it could be that their romance is meant as just another of many long-spun narrative threads. But love doesn't end at marriage, relationships don't cease to grow because someone puts a ring on it. As the Layla-centric X-Factor #240 showed, her and Jamie's future still holds a great deal of promise, mystery, and perhaps even tragedy. Though we're no longer holding our breath for their long-anticipated wedding, the trajectory and destination of their marriage are question marks right now.
     There have been other romances in the book, good and bad, failed and successful, all along the way. Some even included Jamie or Layla, though many didn't. And really, their relationship is one of the newest. But it's the oldest, too, because they've both known it would be real for a long, long time. For Layla it always has been, an inevitability she merely had to wait out. Because of that, it is the simplest and strongest love in the series, in spite of the complicated path traveled to get to it.
     I've come to think of X-Factor as the Jamie and Layla story first and foremost, but I'm aware that this may be a skewed interpretation. I happen to adore both characters, adore comicbooks that reward their readers in the long term, and absolutely adore a good, natural, comfortable love story. But I can see how this view of the series might be a little too narrow. After all, this is a pretty enormous cast if David's ultimate focus is going to be on the love of two people. So, if I'm wrong, what is this series about? Is it just another monthly superhero funnybook, or is there a higher concept at play? And do we even need to ask these questions? The best answers I can think of, however unnecessary they may be, coming up next.

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