Once I read the first chunk of Astonishing X-Men issues, that super hero itch turned into full-scale yearning. I had to read more stuff, but while I still wanted to stick with X-Men-related stuff, I didn’t want to keep on with that particular comic just yet. So I dug around and found out that X-Factor had been revived. I liked what I heard about it and dug right in. Turns out this is probably my favorite of the recent crop.
X-Factor’s always been something of an offbrand when it comes to this X-Men shit. When it first came out in the mid-80s, it was the ghetto where the writers forced the original five (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel) to regroup. It wasn’t particularly good, especially since it screwed over all of the “Jean Grey is dead and everyone has to deal with it” stuff that’d been going on for quite some time. It also gave us that awful “Angel becomes Archangel” stuff. While Apocalypse himself ain’t bad, turning a low-key sort of dude into a “rraaaaagh I’m tough and kill with sharp pointy things just like Wolverine, buy my comics 13-year-old with anger issues!” sort of character was the sort of thing that turned away a lot of readers, even then.
Then, when those five finally rejoined the X-Men proper, it became something of a dumping ground for third-rate has-beens and never-beens (Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Quicksilver, and others that came along later). The catch is that X-Factor got kinda awesome once it shifted its focus to this group of “forgotten” characters. At least while Peter David was writing the series. It eventually got canceled aafter that dude left, since everything went to shit like everything else X-related in the 90s. But during that time it was my second favorite X-Men related comic, right after Excalibur. So when I heard that Peter David was writing X-Factor again, I got kinda interested. Granted, I caught on to this several years after he started writing, so I’m pretty late to the revival (He revamped it in 2006.).
Turns out that this newest incarnation of X-Factor is a throwback to that awesome 90s line-up. Havok and Polaris don’t appear until later on, but all of the other former members are back, along with some other largely forgotten X-Men characters.
The gist of the thing:
Multiple Man, a dude who has the ability to create clones of himself, has set up a detective agency that specializes in helping mutants, former mutants (Those that lost their powers post-M-Day), and other people on the fringe of society. He calls in a bunch of his old buddies, most of whom were teammates of his from the 90s incarnation of X-Factor, and they do their thing. They aren’t out there on call to save the world like your typical super-group. Sure, their actions occasionally have that sort of far-reaching “we just saved the world, didn’t we?” effect, but the story’s never about saving the world from blahblahblah. The series is mostly about these guys and gals doing their thing, dealing with their personal shit, and basically playing off of each other in genuinely interesting and amusing ways.
Big emphasis on amusing. This comic’s pretty damn funny most of the time. Sure, it has its share of X-Angst like any other X-Men thing, but for the most part the characters are the sorts that deal with pressure with humor, or at least with an attitude that lends itself to laughing in the face of hardship and despair. A lot of the humor comes from Multiple Man’s noir-like inner monologue. He fancies himself a detective, and so almost every issue has him pulling off this deliberately cheesy and self-aware monologue like you’d see in an old school detective movie.
In addition to Multiple Man you have a core cast of peeps that aren’t heavy on the brooding and moodiness of the regular X-Crew:
Strong Guy: Big super-strong dude. Has an attitude similar to The Thing’s, but he’s a good deal more insecure. He and Multiple Man play off of each other pretty well. They have a good buddy cop comedy vibe to them.
Siryn: Daughter of Banshee from X-Men (Who’s apparently dead now. Didn’t realize that until I started reading this comic.). Same screaming powers. They get some good morbid jokes out of her as she denies that her father’s dead. She’s so used to X-Men coming back from the dead she’s positive her dad will too. Spoiler: He doesn’t.
M: Classic assortment of powers (Strength, Speed, Durability, Flight, Telepathy). When describing her I told a buddy of mine “She’s Rarity from My Little Pony if she were a Muslim Supergirl.” Plays off of everyone with her justifiably haughty attitude.
Wolfsbane: Scottish Werewolf chick. Been a member of The New Mutants and has gotten around the X-Men universe. She’s an ultra-religious sort, which leads to some inner conflict. The mopiest of the crew, but that’s acceptable since she’s the only character who gets extended angst. Also has a baby with a Norse wolf-god.
Longshot: Alien who used hang out with the X-Men back in the day. Has luck powers, which means he boasts that any good luck that comes his way is due to his “powers.” Most of his teammates are starting to believe he’s just bullshitting them.
The remaining characters actually warrant some real discussion.
The first is Layla Miller. She’s the lone new character in the comic, since everyone else was fairly well established before joining this version of the team. Apparently she appeared in a couple of comics before this, but she didn’t really get established before joining X-Factor.
When she first appears in the comic, she’s a little kid. Early teens most likely. She claims that her power is to “know stuff.” It becomes her catchphrase. She isn’t exactly psychic or anything, since she isn’t using divining powers to see into the future or anything. She just has vague memories of what is supposed to happen and what might happen at certain intersections of fate. She knows possibilities, and from the get-go she tries to nudge the X-Factor peeps in the “right” direction, which means she imposes herself upon them and does as much bossing around as a 13 year old girl can get away with when dealing with adult superheroes.
The catch is that “knowing stuff” isn’t really her power. She had these memories implanted into her by someone I won’t spoil here. Because of these memories she knows she has to ensure that certain things happen. If these things don’t happen, or if she deliberately tries to change what should happen, things get screwed up big time.
She also knows that she’s supposed to fall in love with and marry Multiple Man.
Yeah. He’s in his late 20s or 30s. She’s barely in her teens. But she’s quite open about how this will happen. The squickiness of this isn’t lost of any of the characters, especially Multiple Man. This being X-Men, time travel comes into play, and when Layla comes back she’s an adult. Still younger than Multiple Man, but legal. Things happen, and they do seem to be heading in that direction, but that what the fuck factor is still there. Multiple Man knows this is messed up, even if she’s an adult now. It’s the sort of imouto factor the anime fans love, but it plays with all of the creepy connotations of that shit.
But Layla has more to her than little sister freakiness. She has an actual mutant power which she does her best to hide from everyone. She can bring the dead back to life.
Yeah, a totally OP power, but it has an especially awesome side effect: whatever, or whoever, she resurrects comes back without a “soul.” Whether this literal or metaphorical is unclear. In the future she saves Trevor Fitzroy using this power. He’s a bit of an obscure villain nowadays, but back in the day he was yet another “I’m from the future and I’m here to fuck up your shit” type. Turns out that before Layla did her Phoenix Down trick on him, he was a good guy. In his case, losing his soul led to him eventually changing sides.
Layla resurrects one other character in a recent issue: Strong Guy. Strong Guy gets shot. He can shrug off normal bullets, but he was fighting someone with super mutant bullets or something. The wound itself wasn’t mortal, but Strong Guy has a heart condition that’s linked to his mutant powers. If he overexerts himself he can have a heart attack, and that’s exactly what happens. Layla “‘knows” that her friend is supposed to die here, but she’s sick of being bound to fate. She saves Strong Guy, knowing full well what’ll happen.
At first Strong Guy doesn’t seem to be phased. He’s his usual jovial, jokey self. But there are signs that things aren’t OK. He stops caring about certain things he once cared about. He’s also not quite as insecure as he once was. He even goes so far as to ask out M, whom he’s had an unrequited crush on for quite some time. Their resulting date doesn’t go too well, and it’s kinda crushing for Strong Guy. The catch is that his frustration doesn’t come from the emotional impact of M turning him down. It comes from the fact that he doesn’t care that she ultimately rejected him. He knows on an intellectual level that he’s supposed to care about this rejection, but due to Layla’s resurrection side effects he doesn’t.
So Strong Guy hasn’t turned evil or anything, although something happened in a recent issue that causes him to run off with an unseen force of indeterminate alignment, but he’s showing signs of amorality. He’s coming off as a bit like a Contractor from Darker than Black– fully aware of how you should behave but incapable of following through with those emotions.
I also need to go into Rictor and Shatterstar, and how their relationship has developed, but we’ll talk about them another time. I’ll probably talk about them along side Northstar when I get around to that storyline in Astonishing X-Men.
There’s plenty of other cool bits in X-Factor that I didn’t really talk about. There’s an awesome story involving Hel from Thor’s pantheon of villains that takes place in Vegas. There’s the ongoing metaplot with a dude who has existed for centuries who is trying to eliminate all mutants. There’s the bit where Multiple Man travels through alternate histories, trying to find his way back to the mainstream Marvel reality. All in all, this is a pretty awesome comic. I think peeps who normally don’t read this sort of thing may find it pretty interesting. It has a lot of the shit people like in manga without as much of the superhero baggage they dislike.