Friday, August 9, 2013
X-amining X-Factor #1
In a Nutshell
The original X-Men reunite to form a new team to help mutants: X-Factor.
Writer: Bob Layton
Penciler: Jackson Guice
Inkers: Bob Layton, Jackson Guice & Josef Rubinstein
Colorists: Petra Scotese, 'Max' Scheele & Glynis Oliver
Editors: Mike Carlin & Michael Higgins
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
In Alaska, a retired Cyclops watches news of the Mutant Registration Act with concern, but Madelyne insists his family is his only concern now. In New Mexico, Beast and Iceman leave Angel's home, bound for new jobs. After they leave, Angel receives a call from Reed Richards, and rushes off to New York. In San Diego, a young naval sailor named Rusty and his chief leave their ship for shore leave. The chief introduces Rusty to a woman named Emma, and when she kisses Rusty, he suddenly bursts into flames, burning her. In New York, Reed takes Angel to Avengers Mansion, telling him Jean Grey is alive. In San Diego, Rusty is arrested by the navy, while Angel contemplates calling Cyclops about Jean. The next morning he does, and when Cyclops rushes off, Madelyne tells him that if he leaves now, not to bother coming back.
Later that day he arrives in New York and is reunited with Jean, but is unable to tell her about Madelyne. After Cyclops learns the details of Jean's return, Jean admonishes the pair for doing nothing in the face of rising anti-mutant sentiment and flies off in a rage. Angel follows her, admits she's right, and announces he has a plan. Over the next few weeks, Angel recruits Beast and Iceman, and they convince a confused and reluctant Cyclops to join them as well. The next day, Angel unveils his idea: X-Factor, an organization that poses as mutant hunters but secretly trains the mutants they "capture" in the responsible use of their powers. Meanwhile, Rusty's chief visits him in jail and, angry over what Rusty did to Emma, tries to kill him, prompting Rusty to escape. The chief then proceeds to call in X-Factor to capture Rusty. X-Factor tracks Rusty to the countryside outside San Diego, where he's running from the military. In their costumed identities, X-Factor fends off the military, but a fearful Rusty attacks them. Working together, they're able to subdue him, and in the process, Cyclops realizes his place is with his teammates. En route back to their headquarters, X-Factor tells Rusty the truth about their operation. Meanwhile, in Alaska, Madelyne watches a commercial for X-Factor, alone.
Firsts and Other Notables
Appropriately enough, this is the first appearance of X-Factor, a new team comprised of the original X-Men, including the newly-revived Jean Grey. The team is essentially born of Jean's desire to help protect mutantkind in the face of rising anti-mutant sentiment while being unwilling to work with the X-Men as a result of their continued association with Magneto, combined with the general aimlessness felt by Angel, Beast and Iceman in the wake of the New Defenders disbanding.
This issue proceeds to layout the initial premise of the series: within the Marvel Universe, X-Factor is being advertised as a mutant hunting agency (think the Ghostbusters but for mutants). When the public hires X-Factor, the team will proceed to capture the mutant, if necessary doing battle with it in their costumed identities, and once subdued, they will proceed to train the mutant and help acclimate it to normal society, while the general public believes them to be studying or disposing of the mutant.
This premise is, to be blunt, deeply flawed. The characters (chiefly PR man Hodge) suggest they are turning anti-mutant sentiment around on itself, using it to actually help mutants, but none of the former X-Men seem to realize just how much the seemingly-legitimate X-Factor business model will fan the flames of anti-mutant sentiment, reinforcing the public notion that mutants are something to be feared and hunted down. Furthermore, no one addresses what will happen when X-Factor is hired to capture a villainous mutant who needs to be locked up, as opposed to mutants being wrongly persecuted. Finally, while lip service is paid by the characters to the idea that the obviously-mutant Beast and Angel can't attend meetings with clients and that, while operating as costumed heroes, they need to be careful not to be associated with X-Factor, no one seems to recognize the fact that Angel is a known mutant, and that his money is all over X-Factor even while he operates alongside the others as a costumed hero, meaning it won't be too hard for anyone to make the connection.
When operating as costumed heroes, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Angel all sport new costumes.
Originally, before Jean Grey was revived, the fifth female member of X-Factor was intended to be Dazzler, as detailed here. In fact, the final pages of the last issue of Dazzler's solo series (issue #42, which will actually be on sale at the same time as X-Factor #2) has Beast suggesting X-Factor as an option to Dazzler.
In addition to the new team, this issue also marks the first appearance of Rusty, a young mutant who can create fire. He is the first mutant rescued by X-Factor, and will, in future issues, be the first of what will gradually become an almost New Mutants-like group of young X-Factor trainees who round out the book's supporting cast. In the first manifestation of his mutant power, he accidentally burns a woman (in a moment that makes the metaphor rather obvious, as it occurs when she gets sexually aggressive with him), and his guilt over that will color much of his early characterization.
Cameron Hodge, an old friend of Angel's from college, makes his first appearance as well. Though presented here as nothing more than a lawyer/PR man, future issues will reveal him to be rabidly anti-mutant and the leader of an anti-mutant terrorist organization known as the Right. He will eventually serve as the team's primary antagonist for several years, and continues to have a presence in the X-books, most recently working with Bastion as part of the group that menaced the X-Men in "Second Coming".
I don't know this for sure, but I suspect neither Layton nor Guice created the character with any intention of making him a villain, as his villainous side doesn't come out until after they've left the book. As casting Hodge as a villain secretly trying to eradicate mutants goes a long ways towards redeeming the initial "mutant hunters" premise of the book, it thus seems likely that his heel turn was the idea of future writer Louise Simonson.
X-Factor's riverside headquarters building appears for the first time; it will serve as the group's base of operations until shortly after "Fall of the Mutants".
The title of this story is a reference to Giant Size X-Men #1, which was titled "Second Genesis".
The initial creative team of this series consists of Bob Layton, a writer and inker most well known for his work on Iron Man along with David Michelinie (the duo was responsible for the acclaimed "Demon in a Bottle", the story which first addressed Tony Stark's alcoholism) and Jackson Guice, whose work we saw in the X-Men/Micronauts limited series (and who will shortly become the new regular penciller on New Mutants). The cover of this issue is drawn by Walt Simonson, who will eventually replace Guice as the book's regular artist. This issue is edited by Mike Carlin, who will promptly leave the book, frustrated by overbearing hand of Jim Shooter (Carlin will go on to work at DC, eventually becoming a long time editor on the Superman books, including the famous "Death of Superman" story).
To that end, as detailed here, Shooter somewhat famously ordered this issue be completely redone only three weeks before its deadline, prompting Layton and Guice to hole up in a Manhattan hotel during a hurricane to complete it on time. This rushed rewrite may account for the generally pedestrian art (which features lots of standard six panel layouts) and bland dialogue (which lacks much in the way of unique voices, with many of the characters sounding indistinguishable from each other and at times barely recognizable compared to their more recent portrayals).
Additionally, it's worth noting that this is the second direct, ongoing spinoff of X-Men, and the first to lack Chris Claremont's involvement on any level.
A Work in Progress
Not that it in any way excuses his later actions, but Maddy is written as much more of a shrill, hysterical wife in this issue than she ever was in any previous appearances.
She mentions understanding Scott not being present for their (still unnamed) child's birth, "present" being their home in Alaska, even though the baby was born in New York, beginning this series' apparent ignorance of that fact.
Candy Southern, Angel's childhood sweetheart and girlfriend from his early days as an X-Man, is on hand as Beast and Iceman depart in the wake of the New Defenders disbanding (Candy, I believe, helped manage that team at one point as well). Beast is going to interview for a position at Empire State University (Spider-Man's alma mater), while Iceman has gotten a job at an accounting firm.
It's revealed that Angel is the person Reed Richards called at the end of Fantastic Four #286, and it's once again stated that it was Richards' examination of Jean's cocoon which prompted her release.
Jean admonishes Cyclops for even trying to work with Magneto, while no one steps up to gently remind her that things have changed a bit since she was presumed dead and that perhaps she shouldn't be so quick to judge.
It's once again noted that, in the wake of the whole Phoenix situation, Jean has lost her telepathic abilities (which conveniently makes the whole "Scott won't tell Jean he's married" plotline possible), though her telekinetic abilities are stronger than ever.
In a bit that I've always found neat, especially in light of Angel's otherwise low-powered mutant abilities, he reminds Jean that he also has exceptionally good vision.
This issue establishes "x-factor" as the term for the gene which gives mutants their powers.
Scott, torn up over Jean's return and whether he should join X-Factor or return to Maddy, receives counsel from his friends, but it's pretty crappy counsel (never once do they grab him, shake him, and shout "call your frickin' wife!"), born mainly of their desire to have Scott lead their team.
I Love the 80s
Angel, upon receiving Reed Richards' call and being told Jean is alive, tells Candy there's no time to explain before rushing off...for a four hour flight across the country. Given that, he probably could have taken thirty seconds to explain.
"You may have been there, Scott, but potential new readers of this series might not have been."
Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
The issue opens with Scott despondent, missing the life of the superhero and openly pining for Jean (even though he made peace with her death before her married Madelyne).
When he prepares to leave following Angel's phone call about Jean (a call he never shares the details of with Maddy), and Maddy tells him that if he leaves not to bother coming back, he apparently takes her at her word, as he proceeds to go to New York, reunite with Jean, contemplate joining X-Factor, agree to do so and then lead their first mission, all of which happens in the course of weeks, and all without either calling Maddy or telling Jean that he's married.
The issue ends with Maddy, home in Alaska, by herself, having not heard from her husband since he walked out the door weeks earlier, watching an X-Factor ad on TV. It is perhaps one of the saddest panels in X-Men history.
Angel, debating whether he should tell Scott about Jean's return and wondering what effect it will have on his marriage, also considers that not telling him could finally give Angel a shot with Jean...despite Angel having been involved with Candy for years at this point, and largely given up his one-time infatuation with Jean.
Jean is overjoyed to finally see Scott, and seeing her again prompts him to cry. He seems on the verge of telling her about Maddy when Angel interrupts, and by the end of the issue, he still hasn't told her that he's married, meaning he's jerking around two different (yet identical) women at the same time.
The Mutant Registration Act, first mentioned in abstract in X-Men #141 and by that name in Uncanny X-Men #181, is gaining traction in the government, according to a news report Cyclops hears in the opening pages of this issue, and could be signed into law soon.
In addition to the act, this issue is filled with casual references to the general public's unease, fear and outright hatred of mutants: one of the construction workers at Angel's home is uneasy working for a mutant, Angel is greeted with catcalls at the airport, Rusty's naval chief more or less declares that all mutants need to die, and Beast is routinely turned down for jobs so as to avoid any controversy caused by hiring a mutant.
Mike Carlin on X-Factor
"This is going to be a team idea that hasn't been seen before at Marvel. It's not a bunch of guys waiting for the Earth to be threatened. It'll deal with threats on a smaller scale and large scales. They're not the Avengers. They're not the X-Men, because they're public, very much so, the most public organization were going to have at Marvel. None of the others are going to advertise on TV, that's for sure."
Yarber, Eric."X-Men Redux." Amazing Heroes November 1985: p22
Louise Simonson's reaction to X-Factor
"I couldn't believe it. Chris called me. He was very upset. I said, 'oh, they wouldn't do that. That's just a rumor. Shooter told you he wasn't going to bring Phoenix back.' How wrong was I? Even then, I truly did not believe that Shooter would do a book like that without involving Chris. I was really appalled. I didn't think it was fair. That's my identifying with the creators, as opposed to thinking about X-Men as a commercial property. Maybe working with Chris affected me and made me believe that these were real, living, breathing people. Ripping those characters away from Chris just seemed like an appalling thing to do! I just felt terrible for Chris, knowing what those characters meant to him."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p143
Louise Simonson on Cyclop's characterization
"He had been turned into somebody that he wasn't. He had simply abandoned his wife and child to join this other team and be with his old girlfriend without any guilt or soul-searching. That was nonsense! You'd think he'd at least call his wife. We spent the next three years kind of putting Cyclops back where he belonged. It was one of those things where the editorial realities were having an influence on the fantasy world the characters inhabited, making them behave in ways that weren't right. I think everybody hoped I could help Chris straighten it out and we did straighten it out in the end."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p144
Let's start with the positive: as I've said before, I have a great deal of affection for this series, particularly this original iteration of it, largely born of its availability on the back issue market during my early days of collecting and because, as much as this series may have been conceived and executed with a strong marketing hand and made possible by a divisive and ultimately unnecessary retcon, there is no denying that there is fun in seeing all the original X-Men reunited and working together again for the first time since the original series went into reprints in 1970 (Beast having been absent from most of the Hiatus Years stories and Giant-Size X-Men #1, with Iceman missing out on the climax to "Dark Phoenix"). Unfortunately, most of my affection for this series doesn't start until Louise Simonson takes over as writer and begins dismantling the initial premise of the series, while the twisting and turning this issue goes through, in terms of characterization and the book's initial premise, sucks a lot of the fun out of seeing these characters together again.
So the bad, then. To begin, this issue is responsible for a tremendous act of character assassination on Cyclops. That he would rush off to New York upon hearing that his former girlfriend is alive is understandable; that he would proceed to stay there, agree to once again lead his friends as a superhero team and never discuss this decision with his wife, nor return to his newborn son or even make a friggin' telephone call to Madelyne for weeks, is absolutely ridiculous. Even worse, it's entirely unnecessary: there's no reason Scott has to be a complete dick to his wife and completely abandon her (in fact, an X-Factor in which he must balance his legitimate feelings for Maddy while working with Jean could have been quite interesting). Furthermore, with the exception of Jean, who remains blissfully ignorant, the other characters are drawn into the same muck as Cyclops through their complicity in the whole thing. No one bothers either to tell Cyclops to nut up and call his wife or fill Jean in on the situation, because, quite frankly, they seem more concerned that if Cyclops goes back to his wife or breaks Jean's heart, they won't be able to play with their friends anymore.
Secondly, the premise of the book as presented in this issue, of the original X-Men fronting an organization that pretends to be mutant hunters, is deeply flawed. It's ridiculous that none of the main characters realize how such activity is only going to make things worse for mutants, and while, eventually, they will come to this conclusion, in the meantime, it makes them all look like idiots for not realizing it from the outset. Once again, there's potential in the idea of Xavier's original students willingly fanning the flames of mutant hatred in the interest of what they believe, rightly or wrongly, to be the greater good, but that's not what Layton and Guice seem to have in mind here (such a direction would, at the very least, require the characters to acknowledge the unintended side effects of their "brilliant" mutant hunter ruse, something they don't ever do in this issue).
There is definitely promise in the premise of this series, in the novelty of seeing these characters hanging out with one another once again, but unfortunately, it will take awhile before that promise is realized, before the character interactions and indeed, the very existence of the book, feels like something more than a marketing mandate.
Our final Secret Wars II crossover comes in Uncanny X-Men #203, followed by the aftermath of the New Mutants' death in New Mutants #38 and the introduction of X-Factor's first original villain in X-Factor #2.