Saturday, 5 July 2014

X-Factor: The Complete Collection volume 1 review

X-Factor collects Madrox, a five issue mini-series and the first 12 issues of the third X-Factor series written by Peter David. I previously reviewed David’s run on the first X-Factor series during the early nineties and while there were some good ideas in that series, the highlight was really the character development. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t a lot of it and the series was plagued by a lack of focus (crossovers with other titles including one major crossover between all the existing X-tittles at the time) and inconsistent art. It made for a run that had quite a bit of potential but ultimately it fell short on providing a good story or even serving as quality entertainment.

Lucky for us all, David got another shot at these characters. Though I’ve only read about two years’ worth of issues, I think it’s pretty safe to say that X-Factor is one of the best X-men comics to come out in the last ten years. The reason is pretty simple; the series doesn’t focus on telling Good versus Evil stories by way of superhero fights. Instead, David focuses on the day to day operations of Madrox Investigations in a post-House of M Marvel universe and how this affects the characters and their relationship to one another.

Madrox #1-5:
It’s my first time reading Madrox and while I wouldn’t say it’s essentially to read in order to understand and enjoy X-Factor, it provides plenty of additional information regarding the setup of the ongoing series and some of the characters that would round out the regular cast. The idea of Madrox is a simple one: what if a Madrox decided to open a private detective office for mutants? Heavily influenced by noir films, David creates a new chapter in Jamie Madrox’s life. Also known as the Multiple Man, Madrox was part of the government sanctioned X-Factor team of the 90s. That incarnation of X-Factor started under David’s guidance and continued after his departure from the title. After leaving the team, Madrox worked for one of Professor Xavier’s X-Corporation offices which was located in Paris. After acquiring a million dollars cheating on a televised game show and uses the money to open up XXX Investigations in the heart of Mutant Town in New York.

Madrox obviously focuses on the character of Madrox and while it also serves to introduce the concept of XXX Investigations, that’s mostly part of the setting and serves as a B-plot to occupy Guide “Strong Guy” Carosella and Rahne “Wolfsbane” Sinclair. David takes a rather bland X-men character and turns him into one of the most interesting characters in the franchise’s history in a mere five issues. He does so by exploring the possibilities of Madrox’s powers and how that changes Madrox and the world around him. For those who might not know it, Madrox has the power to create dupes (short for duplicates) of himself. A concussive force will create a dupe and they have their own personality and autonomy, apart from Madrox prime. Only Madrox prime can reabsorb the dupes and only this ability and the knowledge that he is Madrox prime and the dupes’ self-awareness of being dupes, keeps Madrox as the dominant version of himself. It’s a little complicated, I know, but David complicates things further and it actually improves the character.

Part of his plan to open up a private detective agency was to send out dozens and dozens of dupes around the world to learn various skills, from sports to achieving doctorate levels in various fields of study to becoming a monk. He does this because when he absorbs a dupe, he also absorbs all of the knowledge they acquired when roaming free. While there are obvious perks to sending out dupes and acquiring vast amounts of knowledge and new skills, there are also negative consequences. Madrox prime is starting to feel drawn out. He’s feeling confused and his “internal” dupes (for a lack of a better description) are starting to associate themselves with specific portions of his psyche and they become fully consumed by the part of his psyche that they represent.  In short, his brilliant plan is starting to back fire on him and there is no real way to recall his long range dupes because they’ve attained full autonomy. There’s also no telling when one of those dupes will show up again. It’s a great way to establish the random arrival of a dupe which David uses as a way to introduce new plot elements or to jump start character development. Because this comic is written by David, dupes are also used as way to inject humour in the comic.

The B-plot involving Guido, Rahne and one of the dupes is interesting in itself and it helps to round out the miniseries. It deals with one of the office’s first investigations. One of them is investigating the apparent murder of one of the dupes and Madrox takes care of that one on his own. The other involves mutant marital troubles. A woman asks them to confirm whether or not her husband is having an affair. It’s important to mention that her husband is paralyzed and she thinks he’s cheating with the aid of his astral projection. Weird, mutant related private detective comic? I’m sold.

X-Factor #1-12:
The first issue of X-Factor doesn’t rehash everything that happened during the miniseries but it does present a considerable amount of information regarding Madrox’s powers. David also writes a flashback detailing how Madrox won the money to buy the small apartment building in Mutant Town which now serves as the business location and living quarters for X-Factor Investigations. It’s a a very solid first issue because it simultaneously recaps the Madrox-centric elements from the miniseries, presents the current status of X-Factor Investigations and adds a characters and story elements that the story will focus on. Some of those elements include the problems Madrox is having with his powers, specifically in controlling his dupes, the team’s investigation of what caused M-Day, the arrival of Layla Miller (from the House of M miniseries) a girl who “know stuff”. Another element that becomes important to the series is the budding rivalry with Singularity Investigations, a large PI corporation.

I’m very impressed with just how much David juggles with this series. There is so much going on and most of it is related to characters, what they do, how events in the larger Marvel Universe are affecting them, and how they interact with each other. Perhaps unsurprisingly, because it’s written by Peter David, the series really focuses on characters and everything else stems from that. Aside from Madrox, which is just fascinating to read about, I’m also intrigued by the storytelling potential of Rictor. He lost his powers on M-Day and he’s struggling with that lost. Some days are better than others but his development is engaging. It doesn’t take much time for him to start being useful to the team but I have a feeling that’s because X-Factor Investigations is really dysfunctional at this this point in time and it doesn’t take much for Rictor to provide assistance to the team. There is so much going on that it’s easy to help out. Still, being surrounded by mutants that still have their powers will take its toll on him, even if he’s worked with all of them before.

The other character that really stands out is Layla Miller. She was essentially a plot devise in House of M which was written by Brian Michael Bendis. In David’s capable hands she’s growing into a great character. Like Madrox, her powers are problematic. She “knows things”, things from the past, the present and the future. She also knows about the M-Day incident and she’s actively trying to prevent X-Factor from learning the truth. David could make everything easy for Layla but he powers aren’t infallible. She can’t read Guido too well and when she tries to read Quicksilver she’s often wrong (probably due to his blood relation with the Scarlet Witch and it affects Layla’s ability to read him). She also lies and keeps secrets about the stuff she knows. She doesn’t just know about the future but also which future should happen. When she learns that a member of X-Factor will be severely beaten, beaten close to death, she doesn’t try and stop it because it’s part of the future that should happen. David’s not cryptic about it though, he brings it back a few issues later and explains Layla’s action in a way that feels satisfying, despite the fact that someone was severely beaten. I also like Layla because she and Guido bring a lot of humour to the series.

While Madrox (series) didn't have too much tha set it in a specific time period of Marvel continuity, X-Factor is very much a story that takes place in post-House of M. One of its main characters, Layla, is from the series and the setting, shortly after M-Day, is relevant to the story being told. Still, those elements do not make X-Factor feel dated but they do place the series, a least the beginning of the series, within a specific context of the Marvel shared universe. It’s s little crazy to contemplate that period in Marvel history. Everything was constantly in flux. From Avengers Disassembled, to Hostory and plot of use of M, followed by Decimation and everything leading up to Civil War. It was pretty exciting reading Marvel comics then but sometimes, issues felt gratuitous because their sole reason for existing was to add additional information to these larger event stories. David expertly avoids this with X-Factor. The focus is never on the specifics of the events comics. Instead, it focuses on the effects of those stories on the cast of X-Factor. They’re having their own stories and adventures but everything is informed by the goings-on of the larger Marvel Universe.

It's pretty annoying that a collection like this the credit information is incorrect. It's not all wrong of course, but there are enough mistakes to make it rather embarrassing for the collection editors. Errors include indication the Madrox mini-series is six issues long when it's only five issues long in at least two different places, indicating that the cover art for issues 4 and 5 are by Gabriele Dell'otto and coloured by Jose Villarrubia when you can clearly see Ryan Sook's signature right above Villarrubia's on the cover of issue #5. It makes the whole production look amateurish. I'm almost surprised the issues are all in the correct order of publication. That doesn’t affect the quality of the stories within, because it’s really good stuff. It’s a stellar example of how to write an X-men comic that isn’t focused on a superhero team taking care of battling supervillains or preventing a large scale crisis every other week. I like these fat paperbacks. It’s one of the best ways to enjoy reading an ongoing series and it helps when the issues are as good as these ones. 

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