Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nation X: X-Factor #1 Review

X-Factor is one the titles that people recommend us the most during our weekly Post Crisis Previews. It seems like every week that does come out, we have a couple of comments along the lines of "Why aren't you reading X-Factor?" or "No love for X-Factor?". Neither Kirk nor Ryan follow the title anymore, so that's why it doesn't show up on the Previews or in the Reviews. I do, but because I hardly ever do single issue reviews, X-Factor is underrepresented compared to the other titles. I missed the opportunity to review the renumbering with the 200th issue of X-Factor, but I figure I'd take a shot at reviewing this one shot, which ties into the bigger events of the X-Men. Hit the jump to read my review, which will include heavy spoilers.


Written by Peter David
Art by Valentine De Landro

Nation X, in case you are out of the loop, is both the name of the current status quo of most of the X-Titles and the unofficial name of the island where most mutants are currently residing. One of the most notable exceptions is X-Factor, which recently relocated to Manhattan. This one-shot deals with the members of X-Factor visiting Utopia (the official name of the island, I guess). Before that happens, we are treated with a nice prologue that is oddly one of the best parts of the book.

Never try to take away stuff from old ladies, they will mess you up.

It's 1943 in Warsaw, Poland, as soldiers are rounding up the denizens of the city, and we are introduced to an old lady writing in a book about the nature of war and ghettos, about how they never really end, it's just the faces and places that change (this works as a transition to the X-Men's current situation, obviously). The old lady is more than what she seems, although it's never explicitly said what exactly. There are hints that she is some kind of avatar or witness of segregation and bigotry, as well as a scribe of history, something like the Endless. Now that I think about it, she resembles Rosa Parks, but I'm not sure if this was intentional or not.

Back in the present and in Nation X, X-Factor make their arrival, and sparks start flying all over the place as friendships and acquaintances reunite after a long time, or new ones are formed. If you are a long time X-reader (from any time period), you will undoubtedly appreciate many of these little moments, such as Cyclops and Layla meeting again after she had been lost in the future, Shatterstar reuniting with former team mate Boom Boom, or Dazzler and Longshot finally making up (after years of being separated on apparently unfriendly terms). David handles the humongous cast (more than 25 different characters have speaking roles) with incredible ease, even when most characters only show up for a couple of pages their voice is undeniably theirs. This coupled with the apparent immense knowledge of Marvel history he weaves into the story makes you feel that David really appreciates the characters he uses.

Layla can be a real downer sometimes.

Most of the issue centers around the conversation between Madrox, Layla, and Cyclops as they have a discussion of the pros and cons of the Utopia island, including pointing out the follies of living in Magneto's old base alongside with such questionable characters (at least in the eye of the public) such as Emma Frost, Namor, and Magneto himself. The conversation doesn't exactly break new ground, but it is nice how the current status quo is tied with Madrox and Layla's time in an alternate timeline, in which they saw a bleak future for mutant-kind and especially Cyclops himself. Meanwhile, the rest of X-Factor are out about the island, making themselves at home, including Darwin and Charles Xavier who are having a walk on the fringes of the island, this is where they encounter the aforementioned "old lady".

Darwin accidentally takes the book away from her and a fight ensues when the whole team eventually gets involved. The "old lady" (we learn her name is Crone) grows in size and threatens the whole island (the foundation is apparently not very solid) so the fight must quickly be resolved. And it is, once they retrieve the book and give it back to her. The fight does feel a bit pointless and short, but it helps to teach a lesson to both Cyclops and Madrox: those that do not learn from past mistakes are bound to repeat them. At the end of the issue, X-Factor decides to leave Utopia and head back to Manhattan.

Hey, it's Boom Boom and Disappearing-Face Girl!

De Landro's art is incredibly uneven, more so than it was in the latest X-Factor arc. Some panels look great, such as the scenes with Cyclops: it's a Scott Summers that looks slightly disheveled and unshaven (he's a leader of a nation, he doesn't have time to care about his physical appearance). Other panels don't have as much detail into them, and sometimes facial features are completely missing. A good portion of the backgrounds (especially outside scenes) are just solid colors that were probably added by the colorist. There was one particular scene where Madrox, Layla and Cyclops are supposed to be holding back a laugh and then letting it out, but instead it looks like they are choking. However, the opening scene (the one set in 1943) is done only in pencils, no inks or colors, and it looks much better. It makes me wonder if the whole book looked like that before the colorist and inker got to it.

In short, to old X-Factor readers, this is probably not a surprise, as the X-Factor title has always struggled to maintain a good and consistent art team for long periods of time. X-Factor goes through artists faster than Spinal Tap goes through drummers.

I'm also slightly confused as to how this ties into the current arc (only one issue in) of X-Factor. In X-Factor 200, we saw that the team was separated, Siryn was not on speaking terms with Madrox, and Layla was somewhere in Latveria. Here they all together and seemingly getting along fine. It's not like it's a big spoiler like Captain America showing up before his Reborn event was done, but it bothered me enough to warrant a mention.

Verdict - Check It. A done-in-one tale that was enjoyable, and a great sampler to give to other readers so they can get a feel of what Peter David's X-Factor is like. The character interactions are great and spot-on.This could have gone into Buy It or Must Read territory if it wasn't for the uneven art.

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grifter said...

couldn't agree more, Matt. felt the same way.

Jank said...

Good review Matt! I felt the same way. If the book had consistent high quality art, it would be a buy now week in, week out. Me, I just overlook the art, because Peter David's handling on the characters is so good. He really has the knack for handling a large cast, and it shows.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Grifter: Maguire on X-Factor would indeed be a top choice. Good call!

@Jank: I enjoy David's writing most of the time, and I am willing to look past uneven art most of the time (specially for a one-shot), but in this case it warranted a mention, because it is one of the biggest flaws the book, as an ongoing series, has.

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