Friday, August 14, 2015

Review # 169: "X-Factor Visionaries by Peter David"

You could make a case for Peter David's original time on "X-Factor" as the best X-family creative run of the entire 1990s. Its peaks likely weren't as high as the best the main "X-Men" line had to offer at points, but it makes up for it by being of consistent good quality.

Personally, I don't care for the government-era X-Factor nearly as much as I do for X-Factor Investigations. The jokes aren't as funny and the characters don't have as much depth. Part of that may be due to the fact that David's tenure was relatively brief. 19 issues and parts of two annuals. In trade, four volumes instead of more than 20.

Still, David does more than enough to leave a lasting impression.

Throughout the years, David has staked a reputation on taking leftover characters and using them to make magic. Seemingly without effort, he adds personality dimensions or plot elements that make his charges more accessible and - as a result - more likable. Off the bat, he does this with his merry band of mutant cast-offs. He makes Havok a leader for the first time, instantly putting him in the shadow of his brother Cyclops. It's a character point that has been exploited up until the modern era. The same can be said about Polaris who develops insecurity despite being a more than capable hero. With Wolfsbane, David turns her latest in a series of adolescent crushes into a more creepy obsession. The reasons for which would be explained later on.

Additionally, David is able to work some magic on a pair of characters who - previously - had no personality. With a practical carte blanche, generic bodyguard Guido becomes the wise-cracking "Strong Guy" who lights up - and loosens up - each page. And in a landmark moment that would become important years later, David begins scripting Jamie "Multiple Man" Madrox, who also takes a lighthearted (perhaps in denial) approach to the X-Factor team. His duplicates are used to full effect for a couple of big twists, and a great joke about why Madrox's door doesn't have a knob.

And, finally, we have Quicksilver who is the biggest star on the team with his Avenger ties - and he acts like it. Pietro is the dramatic centre of the team, clashing with everyone put in front of him and doing his best to remain as an outsider. He refuses to wear team clothing, for example. It could be argued that this was the apex for the character, as he deals with significant personal problems involving his family, and - be it through intervention or not - fails. Pietro had been a dick for so long (including periods as a full-fledged mad villain in then-recent history) and his time on X-Factor spins it into making you feel sympathetic.

Storywise, these books play like a soft satire of superhero teams, and of the early 90s in general. You have evil twins, villain teams getting drunk, mysterious figures hatching evil plans that backfire before getting out of their own homes, and running gags about political correctness (ie: Strong Guy dubs mutants as "Genetically Challenged," and they are referred to as "GeeCees" thereafter.) There are parodies of "Wayne's World" and "Ren and Stimpy" painted as dream sequences for Wolfsbane. The Hulk shows up quoting Ahnold and running buddy Rick Jones jokes that he had just taken Bruce Banner to see "Terminator 2."

But it's not all fun and games. Despite David having a better creative run with "X-Factor" years later, his best single issue - without a doubt - comes here with "X-Aminations." One by one, team members sit down with Doc Samson and he picks them all apart. The sequence with Quicksilver is the definitive moment for the character, as he explains why he's such a dick to so many people. Very simply, Pietro makes you understand why he's so crass and impatient. His teammates provide similar revelations, but none to that high of a degree.

Sadly, "X-Aminations" comes close to the end of David's time. With crossover demands taking their toll, the author bows out mid-storyline. That really effects the quality of the fourth and final volume of "Visionaries." There are gaps between stories during "X-Cutioner's Song" and we end with a mysterious figure behind a door that never ends up being revealed. That means getting the entire story (save whoeever is behind that door) requires picking up the large "X-Cutioner's Song" and "Fatal Attractions" collections.

Affecting the quality of the entire run is Larry Stroman's art. The man has a unique style, but it's not really my cup of tea. It fits more to the time here than it did when he drew an arc for David again during the "X-Factor Investigations" run, but when Joe Quesada shows up it makes Stroman look all the weaker.

In the end, I would heartily recommend "X-Factor Investigations" ahead of these collections. However, for someone who's already a fan of that run or of the X-Men in the 90s, this is worth a look.

Rating(s): 7.5/10 (Volume One), 7/10 (Volume Two), 7/10 (Volume Three), 7.5/10 (Volume Four)

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