Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review # 25: "X-Factor - 'The Longest Night' and 'Life and Death Matters'"

Comic fans were stunned this year to learn that writer Peter David had suffered a stroke. While he has been on the road to recovery, it was a stark reminder that all good things come to an end. With that in mind, there was an air of preparedness when it was announced that the series he's been most associated with this century would be wrapping up: his noir-inspired version of a relaunched X-Factor.

David was originally handed the keys to the X-Factor bus in 1991 after the five original X-Men rejoined the main series. He took over the table scraps, using the characters no one else wanted including Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Quicksilver and Multiple Man. The government-sponsored team mixed drama and comedy effectively, becoming a hit (though everything in the X-line was at the time.) However, David became upset that his stories were being pulled into franchise crossovers and he ended up leaving in the middle of a story arc.

Fast-forward about ten years later as David was brought back into the mutant world with the series MadroX: Multiple Choice. Centering around Jamie "Multiple Man" Madrox this time, it followed his exploits as a private detective in the mutant district of New York City. It was well-received, leading to a relaunch of the X-Factor title after the "House of M" event. Once again, David adopted characters no one else was using, including Strong Guy and Wolfsbane from his original team, along with Siryn, Monet St. Croix, a depowered Rictor and one of the power-players from "House of M," the young girl with a vague power that seems to center on premonition, Layla Miller. Her tag line: "I'm Layla Miller. I know stuff." Get used to it.

It's the characters that drive this series. There are so many great moments in the first two books. You have Wolfsbane (no spoiler) trying to talk down a suicidal teammate from jumping off a building by condemning it as damnnation in a way that goes just far enough without being completely over-the-top. You have a sitcom-like situation where Rictor walks in on a naked Monet who uses it as an excuse to not bail out her teammates in the middle of an escalating riot. You have Siryn, brought news by Cyclops about her father Banshee's death in another series, brushing it off in a tongue-in-cheek mockery of how comic characters are never really dead.

It sounds cheery, but in reality this book gets very dark at the drop of a hat. Siryn's jokes about her dad come as she's recovering from a harrowing abduction; an invader is killed in gruesome fashion; a team member is brainwashed into murdering a client. The whole time, Madrox - whose Dupe powers have changed so that they all exhibit a different side of his personality - is worried about a side of him that intentionally deceives others to create havoc. His own "X-Factor," if you will. Ironically, it's a different personality entirely that does the most damage when he gets drunk and he or his dupe or both sleep with two of his female teammates. The creepiness factor is brought up significantly when Madrox - concerned that he's had sex with a minor - is told by Layla that she's "saving herself for their wedding night."

Ah, yes... Layla. She seems like an odd inclusion from the get-go, but in a good way. In the early-goings of what's become a long series, Layla is the glue that holds the team together - whether they like her doing so or not. Her seemingly-precognitive ability is used well for both dramatic and comedic effect. I wish I could give more examples, but what truly makes this series great is how quickly and suddenly events can take a left turn. Layla herself is a walking left turn.

Going back and reading these I find it amazing how strong this series was from the get-go. All of the characters click instantly, and their own insecurities have been a binding thread throughout. There are also some small hints about Layla's true nature (revealed later on) that went over my head the first time. Be warned, though: X-Factor is a lot like a good TV show. I only intended to buy a few trades and have now bought EVERY trade. I may not be happy that it will end this fall, but my wallet might be.

Ratings: 9/10 ("The Longest Night"), 8.5/10 ("Life and Death Matters")

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