Friday, December 20, 2013

Review # 87: "X-Factor - 'Short Stories' and 'Hell On Earth War'"

I was overjoyed to learn a few months ago that Peter David's exploits with X-Factor would continue in a new form starting next year with a nearly brand-new cast. Polaris is set to be involved along with the return of Quicksilver... and the surprising inclusion of Gambit! I am incredibly curious to see David's spin on the popular-yet-poor (in my opinion) character. He could do some great things with Remy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We're near the conclusion of David's run on "X-Factor Investigations" and this is the final pair of re-reads in my pile. Beyond this is a series of epilogues that I will be reading and reviewing for the first time. While I don't expect all of the plot lines to be wrapped up and everything to be explained (after all, there's another series ahead,) I'm anticipating a lot of character closure. These two collections leave a lot on the table.

"Short Stories" quickly escalates the ongoing sub-plot of mystical involvement on Earth, beginning with a surprise twist to an issue devoted to Pip the Troll. This is the highlight of the book, focusing on what exactly Pip has been up to during his underplayed time on the team. It ends with him being shot and transferring his consciousness (temporarily) to an... unexpected vessel in the next issue. Meanwhile, Jamie and Layla have eloped in Vegas where they find themselves tracking down the reanimated corpse of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. It's played for laughs rather well, but has disturbing undertones.

One thing I notice during "Short Stories" that's emphasized by the announcement of the new X-Factor series is a change in Polaris. She begins to show traits of being a good leader including decisiveness and effective managing of the clashing personalities on the team. This makes a lot of sense to me. With Havok out of the picture and Lorna trying to show that she doesn't require Alex's presence, why not have her take over some of the void he left behind? Polaris is the most experienced member of the field team by far, and with recent events allowing her to finally get her head together, the time is ripe to develop a stronger presence. Very well-executed.

Lorna's leadership abilities are put to the test when - after about more than a year of teases - the Hell On Earth War finally begins and Madrox is taken off the table. Six demonic figures including the likes of Mephisto and Hela compete to kill the world's seven billionth person and thus claim dominion of Hell. The seven billionth person just happens to be Raine's demigod son/cub Tyr, who develops a knack for killing those who are hunting him. As far as New York apocalypse stories go, it's comparable to the final sequence of "Ghostbusters" at Spook Central. It's funny, it's tense and has the advantage of dozens of issues of history coming to a head. A lot of dangling threads including Darwin's ongoing hunt and Strong Guy's feud with Monet are tied up. The fight between Guido and M is outstanding, among my favourite battle scenes ever.

And the ending?

Holy crap. Even reading it a second time, my jaw hit the floor.

While there's still a volume to go, this is without a doubt the climax. What remains is an epilogue, save for one major relationship. The future for Jamie and Layla is murky, and not even Layla knows what will happen next.

Rating(s): 8/10 ("Short Stories"), 9/10 ("Hell On Earth War")

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