Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Long, Strange Trip of X-Factor...

Marvel Comics X-Factor is a unique title. Rarely has a mainstream comic gone through so many drastic changes and survived. The fact that the book has come back from the dead on more than one occasion gives it a special distinction.

X-Factor began as a simple premise-- a vehicle to unite the original X-Men team, including the real Jean Grey who kept in limbo underwater while the Dark Phoenix blew up planets and made Cyclops cry and stuff. OK, maybe not so simple, but basically the book started out as Xavier's first class of gifted mutant youngsters--Scott Summers/Cyclops, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, Bobby Drake/Iceman, Hank McCoy, The Beast, and Warren Worthington III, Angel--older, wiser, a bit more damaged, yet optimistic about a new beginning.
Because You Demanded It - The Dramatic Return of The Original X-Men!

The original team did a sort of throwback, character-driven action book kind of thing for a dozen or so issues. The early issues feature the debut of none other than Apocalypse, arguably the greatest X-Men villain introduction since Magneto nearly 30 years earlier.

Around the time of Marvel's mutant-title spanning summer crossovers Mutant Massacre and The Fall of the Mutants, things started to get a bit dark. Case in point :

Hi Kids, I'm Scary-Demon Angel! Now with Wings that Kill People!
Whaa? Yeah baby, this was the mid-80s--grim and gritty in full bloom! Angel? Who the heck wants to read about some rich blonde douchebag with plumage coming off his back when there are ninjas and dark knights jumping through lightning and stuff?
No sir, the kids want the darkness.
And like that, boys and girls, Warren Worthington III became Archangel--a razorblade winged, emotionally damaged, brooding blue skinned harbinger of doom.
The series continued to get stranger--Beast went from a beast to a human to a beast once more, the team moved into a living spaceship-turned-skyscrapped--you know, normal mutant team insanity. Inferno happened, bringing to a head a whole lotta of simmering mutant drama, mostly involving the Summers brothers and their appetite for redheads with possession issues.
Then Jim Lee came to town and Marvel did a wholesale restructuring of the entire mutant universe--Uncanny X-Men would become home to Xavier's "Gold" squad, lead by Storm, and a new title, X-Men, would feature Cyclops leading the mighty "Blue" team.
Yes, before those Hellboy checks starting rolling in, Mike Mignola did Marvel mutant books...
So yeah, the original X-Men....they were needed back. End of the road for X-Factor book then, right?

Wrong!
Issue #71 really could have been #1. This is when shit gets real.

Witness the remarkable transformation of X-Factor, part I! Issue #71 turned the title into something All New, All Different--a Peter David helmed mutant team book made up of B-list All Stars. Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man, Muir Island's own Wolfsbane, intergalactic pop star bodyguard Guido/Strong Guy, and fearless leader Alex Summers/Havok and his green-haired partner in crime, Polaris. Quicksilver lent his brooding hilarity to the mix.

Writer Peter David came on board and crafted something remarkable with this x-book that was probably destined for the ash heap...X-Factor truly did stand out in the 90s comic bubble as a book where characterization mattered.

The early issues of the All New, All Different era featured equally new and different pencil art from Larry Stroman. The angular, bold, energetic art and the team's highly stylized uniforms gave X-Factor even further distinction. This was something else.

The All New, All Different team faced off against Mr. Sinister, the Nasty Boys, and a formidable jar of mayo...some guy named Joe Quesada pencilled the book for awhile (whatever happened to that guy? :P) but eventually the late 90s nightmare of the post-boom Marvel Comics universe took hold. David would leave the title with issue #90--leaving behind a sort of unprecedented run on a mutant title. David had crafted a quirky, funny, touching, angst-y, dramatic team drama. The book developed something of a cult following.

The book X-Factor would eventually meander its way into oblivion. Writer Howard Mackie took Havok into an alternate timeline and the book became Mutant X. X-Factor was finally over...

Or was it?

  
Several years into the 21st century, Marvel was a somewhat changed company and started cranking out quality comics again...Peter David returned to the most interesting character of the All New, All Different X-Factor days, Jamie Madrox, in the mini series titled simply "Madrox".

The series did well enough to prompt this:

Vogue!

How about that, huh? Who would have guessed that about a decade later, Peter David would again assemble a spectacular group of mutant misfits under the banner of X-Factor? The real world can be stranger than these funny books sometimes....

Anyways, the new X-Factor posits Madrox as a mutant P.I., cracking cases with fellow old new X-Factor faves Raine and Guido, joined by Siryn of X-Force fame (Banshee's daughter), former Artie and Leech homie and now powerless bisexual Rictor, and beautiful Generation-Xer Monet, all growed up. 

The book has kicked all kinds of mutant butt since its launch, reaching the #50 issue mark and then, against all odds, returning to its original numbering with issue #200. 

So here we are, pretty much up to speed. Jamie's dupes are doing everything from preaching the gospel to sleeping with all his teammates, more B-list mutants like Longshot have joined the party, and Rob Liefeld has watched with aloof horror as Shatterstar routinely locks lips with Rictor....

You know, basic mutant team book shenanigans.