Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review # 38: "X-Factor - 'Hard Labor' and 'Super Unnatural'"

Wandering through the pits of Hel? Meeting up with the Whore of Babylon? Bah. That's a cakewalk compared to "Hard Labor," possibly the high mark for the "Adult Layla" era of X-Factor.

Rahne and Shatterstar are having a lovely jaunt in the rain attempting to come to terms with Shatterstar's relationship with Rictor and her lying about the nature of her unborn demigod child who is due to pop out at any moment. Times of peace are fleeting in this series, so - of course - they have to battle a supernatural sin-eater that's just murdered the congregation at a Catholic church.

That's tame compared to what happens next. Rahne and Shatterstar - Rahne especially - are now being haunted by the ghost of former X-Force member Feral, who's being manipulated by otherworldly spirits to hunt Wolfsbane and her baby down. Suddenly they're being chased by multiple mystic Celtic ghost wolves and an Egyptian cat lord among other semi-domesticated breeds of God. After going to the team for help, Rahne is saved Terminator-style by a werewolf named Jack Russel. It doesn't get any easier for them as they're hunted by freaking Cerberus and the Fenris Wolf.

This builds into what has to be one of the best single issues of the series. Rahne is tricked into taking shelter by another Norse God (No, it isn't Loki,) who attempts to claim her baby and puts its fate in his hands. Finally, Rahne's child is spawned and it is not pretty. It is an absolutely shocking moment, unleashing a seeming horror upon the world... which David suddenly turns a 180 on, filling the reader with an incredible amount of sympathy. Then he plays on it again as other members of X-Factor arrive on the scene.

The climax is something else. With the baby on the run, the client and villain from "Happenings in Vegas" emerges - the Norse Goddess of the Dead, Hela. I remember almost screaming "NO!" at the pages of this book when I read it the first time, completely drawn into the plot. It's a spectacular emotional rollercoaster that rivals any story in any medium.

David follows that up by hitting the reset button in "Super Unnatural," important artistically as it's an unofficial handoff from Valentine De Landro as chief penciller to Leonard Kirk. While previous events play a big part, this is not a direct continuation of "Hard Labor." Instead, the team is called to Jamie's hometown where they deal with a mysterious threat. More important, though, is Jamie - with Layla - visiting his old home and meeting the single mother and her child who live there. It's a civil visit... however, the woman ends up murdered and the child goes missing. We're off and running.

Finding the culprit plays a second-hand role at first to character dynamics. First, outside the series, Rictor had regained his power to create earthquakes. It has an effect on his relationship with Shatterstar. Second, after Strong Guy's seeming near-death, Madrox deduces the horrifying truth - Layla resurrected him, thus robbing Guido of his soul. As Madrox confronts Layla over this, they track down the villain(s) responsible for the murder of the single mother - and Madrox ends up getting stabbed in the chest. Normally I wouldn't mention a character's death, as it's a huge spoiler in most cases. Thing is, Madrox isn't dead... and his true fate fulfills a prophecy from much earlier in the series. It is a major "what the hell?" moment and sets up a bombastic volume 15 where we learn what has happened to Jamie and two major players from X-Factor's long past make their return.

Rating(s): 9/10 ("Hard Labor"), 7.5/10 ("Super Unnatural")

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