I love Tier. He's a bit predictable, maybe, but he's also a kid in the middle of a fight between immortals, so I can understand his being overwhelmed by a few especially strong emotions. Fear, confusion, anxiety, shame, and above all a desire to see this whole mess end. Unfortunately, I am starting to wish the same thing, because aside from some strong characterization for Tier, X-Factor #254 falls flat and fully deflates what was already a not-so-amazing story arc.
The Hell Lords fighting each other makes up six whole pages of material, and all of it feels like boring filler. When they "kill" each other, there isn't any actual death, just a gaining of power over one another. Worse, though, is that we've been given no reason to care one way or the other who wins their little struggle. They are all evil gods, so pick one and get on with it, because everyone else is damned no matter what. Except, of course, this takes place in a shared universe, so even the havoc wreaked by the Hell Lords fighting is bound to be undone by the time the story ends, which lowers the stakes even further. Don't get me wrong, I am pulling for Marvel allowing Peter David to genuinely and permanently destroy Times Square in his peculiar little X-book, but that just isn't how it's done. There's likely a reset of some kind on the horizon.
There are hiccups in the rest of the script, too. Shatterstar insists there is no time to talk about Tier's reluctance to kill, and teleports the team away before Rahne can respond. But then the next thing they do is have that very conversation, now standing in the middle of a recently-demolished Times Square. Why would arriving there lessen the urgency of what they're doing? I guess the idea is a new location means they aren't so likely to be found, or something along those lines, because Polaris says she doesn't think it's safe to stay where they are. But if that's the case, it's unclear. And the final beat is not a natural stopping point; I honestly did not realized I'd reached the end until I turned the page and saw the ad for next issue. It feels like it needed one more scene, or even one more page of the scene it ended on. Instead we get Monet and Guido up in the air, mere seconds away from somebody landing the first blow, and dialogue that's way too long to be delivered in such a short amount of time. Just an awkward landing, not terrible or uninteresting, but abrupt at best.
I don't mean to give the impression that this is a terrible comicbook. Peter David at his most rushed and sloppiest still has strong dialogue, moves his story forward, and stays true to his cast. And Leonard Kirk is doing excellent work, actually adding some life to the less interesting moments. The full page of Mephisto slaying Satannish is excellent, a painful gutshot delivered with a horribly wide and satisfied grin. And I love Madrox's demon look, most of all when he leaps off of Guido's shoulder. There's actually an exorbitant amount of people diving into combat like that. Guido, Rahne, Monet, and Jezebel all do it as well. Not a complaint nor a compliment, just something I noticed that tickled me.
Kirk also adds a lot to the great work David's doing with Tier. The opening page of him and Rahne is very touching and understated, as well as being perfectly lit by colorist Matt Milla. Tier stands out against the pale blue background even though he's still done in soft shades, because of both Kirk's careful emotional work and Milla's deliberate choices. And there are far more panels of action than not, which Kirk tackles deftly. Lots of motion to his fights, obvious progression and varied angles. Again, it adds to the duller moments and amplifies the stronger ones.
My one gripe about the art is that Monet looks really weird on the last two pages, bulky in the body and strained in the face. I mean she's strong and furious, so it's not entirely inappropriate, but she just looked uncomfortable in her own skin, which is very much not true of the character. But it's only two pages, and even then it is just Monet---Guido looks spot on in the final splash. Kirk has always been a reliable artist for this series, and overall that doesn't change here.
It's too bad that "Hell on Earth War" has lost any remaining steam now, because I think there are only two chapters left, so they've got a fairly steep uphill battle in front of them. It's not that X-Factor is any less entertaining, but it has become less interesting, and perhaps less sure of itself than usual. David can still write the hell out of his main lineup, and Kirk carries some serious weight, but it's not enough to raise this issue up to snuff.