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Friday, August 16, 2013

X-amining X-Factor #2

"Bless the Beasts and Children"
March 1986

In a Nutshell 
Beast is captured by his old foe, Carl Maddicks.

Writer: Bob Layton
Pencils/Plot Assist: Jackson Guice
Finisher: Joe Rubinstein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Jean wakes from a nightmare, once again dreaming of her encounter with Phoenix, and broods on how alone and out of place she feels. Elsewhere in the X-Factor complex, Warren urges Scott to call his wife, but when Scott snaps at him, he leaves to go over some business with Cameron Hodge. In New York City, Hank and Bobby put a hold on their apartment hunting to meet an old friend of Hank's, Vera, and are shocked by her new look. Back at the X-Factor complex, Scott and Jean lead Rusty in his first training session, but he runs off after making a mistake. In New York, Hank and Bobby are attacked by Tower, who's been hired to capture Hank. Tower manages to knock him out, then delivers Hank to his employer. Meanwhile, Scott decides to call Maddy, but discovers the number has been disconnected. Just then he is summoned by Warren to join the rest of the team to respond to Hank's kidnapping.


Hank awakens in an underground lab in Georgia and learns he's been captured by Carl Maddicks, his old foe from the Brand Corporation, who hopes Beast will help him cure his son of his mutation. Hank refuses, but Maddick's son is able to pull the necessary information from Hank's mind. As Maddicks prepares to test his process on Hank, he calls X-Factor and sets them on Tower in order to tie up loose ends. X-Factor, in their costumed identities, locate Tower and subdue him, and he cuts a deal to take them to Hank, just as Maddicks experimental process sends Hank into cardiac arrest. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Arthur "Artie" Maddicks, son of scientist Carl Maddicks, makes his first appearance in this issue. Artie is a young mutant with pink skin, bulbous eyes and a large head who possesses the ability to create visual images of people's thoughts, a power that really only works in the context of a comic book (it falls apart once you wonder what the characters are seeing while we're looking at pictures drawn into a word balloon). Future issues will establish that Artie is mute, able to communicate only through his mental pictures.


Tower, a villainous mutant with the ability to change his size, also appears for the first time. He'll pop up repeatedly in these early issues of X-Factor, then largely vanish into obscurity.


Vera Cantor, Beast's regular girlfriend from the original run of X-Men, returns this issue. Since last we saw her, she's taken college courses in pop culture and traded in her traditional librarian look for some kind of New Wave/punk look. She references both Elvis Costello and Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa, with whose work Bobby, oddly enough, is familiar).  


Carl Maddicks, Beast's villainous colleague from the Brand Corporation, as told in his solo stories in Amazing Adventures, returns (Maddicks is the reason Beast is currently blue and furry, as he drank the chemical mutation serum he'd devised in order to prevent it from falling into Maddicks' hands). Maddicks is hoping to trick Beast into helping him "cure" his son of being a mutant.


After only one issue, the creative team undergoes a change, as Mike Carlin, fed up Jim Shooter's micromanagement, has quit the title and been replaced by Bob Harras, making this issue Harras' first work on a book even tangentially connected to the X-Men line. Harras will go on to become almost as polarizing a figure in the industry and amongst fans as Jim Shooter, eventually becoming the linewide editor of the X-Men franchise during its sales heyday and forcing Claremont out of the franchise in favor of the fan favorite artists who propelled the books in the line to new sales heights, all en route to becoming the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel, before leaving that position in the wake of Marvel's mid-90s bankruptcy problems. He is currently a VP and the Editor-in-Chief at DC Comics, brought aboard shortly before the launch of their "New 52" linewide revamp a few years ago.

A Work in Progress
Jean has noticed that Scott is oddly distant towards her.


Jean's reminiscences of the events of issue #1, when she was reunited with Scott, depict her in a different outfit than she was wearing (in issue #1, it was a black dress).


Angels spends the opening pages of the issue, arguing with Scott and meeting with Cameron Hodge, wearing only his underwear and a bathrobe.


Later, he's seen wearing a large backpack when posing as a mutant hunter, which will become his regular method of concealing his wings when playing mutant hunter (despite the fact that he doesn't wear a mask as Angel, and Warren Worthington is both a known mutant and something of a celebrity).


Adding to the book's retro feel, Cyclops is once again ordering his teammates to perform specifically numbered maneuvers. 


I Love the 80s
Tower compares himself to TV's Ben Casey.


Also, Vera. Everything about New Look Vera. 

Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
Angel finally steps up and tells Scott to call his wife, which Scott snipply blows off, saying Angel is too much of a playboy to understand what he's going through.


He does, however, eventually try to call Maddy, but when he does, he discovers the number is disconnected, kicking off what will become a long running "what happened to Maddy and the baby?" subplot that will be handled alternately by this series and Uncanny X-Men. It's also a pretty lame way to get Scott off the hook ("he called her!") while still leaving the door open for as much angst about the situation as possible.
 

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
This prompts Cyclops to blame his inability to reach his wife, after running out on her without explanation and not contacting her for weeks on end, and, in general, his inability to lead a normal life, on his cursed optic blast. 


Young Love
Scott believes Rusty has a crush on Jean. 


Human/Mutant Relations
When X-Factor shows up at Vera's apartment in their mutant hunter outfits, the crowd outside cheers them, telling them to drag the mutant out so they can deal with him.


Mike Carlin on leaving X-Factor
"We gave him [Shooter ] the second issue, and he wanted us to redo that one from scratch. I said, 'you know what, I'm not quitting Marvel, I'm quitting this book. You should edit this yourself. You're the only one that knows what you want to have happen here.' And he goes 'alright, alright,' and he gave it to Bob Harras to do after that, And for the next six months, I edited books, but I was given things like Chuck Norris comics. I think by quitting X-Factor I got on his radar pretty heavily."

Howe, Sean. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. p289-290

Bob Harris on being assigned X-Factor
"X-Factor just didn't feel like an X-Men book to me … There seemed to be such a divide between those original five characters and the characters over on the main X-Men book. There didn't seem to be any logical reason why these characters were interacting. Jean Grey was back from the dead, but I don't remember if anyone in the main X-Men book was reacting to it. Madelyne Pryor was still a character in the X-Men books, but because Scott had moved into the X-Factor book, there was a de facto separation between this married couple who had just had a baby. Scott was being portrayed in a lot of ways, but mostly as this absent, neglectful father and husband, which was not the way I saw him."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p172-173

Teebore's Take
The second issue of X-Factor is, unfortunately, more of the same: more flashbacks to Jean's interactions with Phoenix (making this the third month in a row, if you read Fantastic Four #286, to feature these almost identical panels), more of Scott acting like an out-of-character jerk, more pedestrian panel layouts and wooden dialogue. It's possible, in the case of the later two, that Layton and Guice are intentionally trying for a Silver Age pastiche, especially with the return of Vera, featuring an all new, all 80s look to juxtapose against the old sixties sensibilities. But if that is the case (and frankly, even suggesting it seems an act of great charity), their pastiche lacks any of the charm that such retro stories need to succeed. Instead of remembering fondly a more innocent and carefree time for these characters, we're instead left wondering why they're all acting like some combination of idiots and nothing like the characters they grew into during 15+ years that have passed since they split up.

Meanwhile, X-Factor gets its first villain in the form of Tower, a fairly generic mercenary type who more than anything underlines the fact that this book, at the start, was intended to exist firmly outside the sphere of X-Men and New Mutants (in fact, X-Factor won't encounter a villain that's previously appeared in either of those series until issue #8, after Simonson has come aboard). Furthermore, Tower's deliverance of Beast to Maddicks in this issue will ultimately prove, as we'll see next issue, to serve no purpose beyond getting Beast to a place where he can more effectively function as an X-Factor Mutant Hunter, meaning that the first story arc of the new series is about little more than continuing to setup the book's flawed premise, and any hope that the problematic first issue was a result of last minute rewrites is quickly dashed.    

Next Issue
Uncanny X-Men #204 puts Nightcrawler in the spotlight, while New Mutants #38 finds the New Mutants living as Hellions, and Beast gets a new (old) look in X-Factor #3.

11 comments:

  1. Man, it really looks like Jean is showing Warren and Scott the goods in that picture up there.

    Maddicks is the reason Beast is currently blue and furry, as he drank the chemical mutation serum he'd devised in order to prevent it from falling into Maddicks' hands).

    I'm sure in AMA it's stated Beast drinks it to see what happens and forgets to take the antidote until it's too late. Has that - utterly ridiculous - idea been retconned somewhere? Actually, maybe it was later in Beast's AMA run and I've just forgotten.

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  2. Blogger ate my first comment, but here's the main points: this book is still awful. Warren is the worst character on the team, and probably shouldn't be getting more second (fourth if we're counting) chances. Cyclops is a total heel, and should feel bad. It's nice that Jean remembers all the old maneuvers. When did Hank become a total square again? Didn't he get cool for the past decade with the Avengers? Guice is capable of so much better than this, it's a shame they're getting this rushed garbage.

    More shameless self-promotion: 2 new reviews this week at my blog: http://thepouchfiles.blogspot.com/

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  3. Yeesh, I'm glad I've never actually read these issues. I can see that Layton and Guice are trying, but they just aren't succeeding -- most likely due to Shooter's interference.

    The fact that noted mutant millionaire playboy Warren Worthington III is walking around posing as a mutant hunter is downright laughable. They wouldn't even have tried something like that in the much simpler Silver Age! How did no one realize how idiotic this was??

    "Harras will go on to become almost as polarizing a figure in the industry and amongst fans as Jim Shooter..."

    I've said it before, and I do not apologize for it -- I'm a Bob Harras fan. At least, a Bob Harras at Marvel fan. I'm not sure what he's been up to over at DC lately. All I know is that I loved the X-Men when he was their editor, and I enjoyed Marvel comics in general on a line-wide basis when he was the editor-in-chief more than I had for some time, and definitely more than I have since he left.

    (That said, his last year or so at Marvel had several misfires, with the Spider-Man relaunch and the X-Men "Revolution" stuff.)

    Anyway, I'm glad to see that fixing Cyclops was one of his priorities, even if it took a while to do it.

    "Jean's reminiscences of the events of issue #1 ... depict her in a different outfit than she was wearing."

    Possibly an artifact leftover from the re-drawing of the first issue? I can't imagine the same artist would forget what he had drawn her in, unless he was remembering how she looked in the first go-round and forgot they had changed it for the revision.

    "Scott acting like an out-of-character jerk, more pedestrian panel layouts and wooden dialogue. It's possible, in the case of the later two, that Layton and Guice are intentionally trying for a Silver Age pastiche..."

    I would doubt Guice is intentionally drawing in such an old-fasioned style, only because Shooter was huge on making his artists stick to a simple style whenever he edited something. If he was as hands-on with this as it seems, he probably ordered Guice to tone down the ingenuity quite a bit. You can see it across most Marvel comics around this time, in fact. As Shooter's tenure winds down, the art gets simpler and simpler on most titles, to the point that everything looks pretty homogenized (with some exceptions, of course).

    Lastly, if I may, I would like to piggy-back on Dobson's shameless self-promotion by noting that I "soft launched" my new blog today. The real, actual content will start next week, though.

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  4. This is another depressing installment of Silver Age X-Men Part Deaux. We're apparently supposed to forget about Warren Worthington III's notoriety within the Marvel Universe while he's in his mutant hunting get-up. Also we travel down the road to Hank appearing as a normal looking human again. I tend to think that this was done mostly to make the team look like the original X-Men, and not as much about allowing Hank to pass as a mutant hunter. Like you mentioned, this issue feels retro again, but I seriously doubt they were trying to recapture "the magic" of the Silver Age. I think that they were just plain sloppy with these early X-Factor books.

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  5. @SpaceSquid: I'm sure in AMA it's stated Beast drinks it to see what happens and forgets to take the antidote until it's too late. Has that - utterly ridiculous - idea been retconned somewhere?

    Not to my knowledge. My recollection of that first Amazing Adventures story is that Beast takes the formula to disguise himself as he attempts to stop Maddicks from selling off secret info (or some such), then fails to get back to his lab in order to drink the antidote that will reverse the changes before his time limit is up (which, all things considered, is stupidity compounding stupidity).

    @Dobson: When did Hank become a total square again? Didn't he get cool for the past decade with the Avengers?

    Yet another instance of the "picking up where X-Men #66 left off" feel to the book.

    Guice is capable of so much better than this, it's a shame they're getting this rushed garbage.

    Indeed. I seem to recall his upcoming New Mutants run is much better.

    @Matt: Possibly an artifact leftover from the re-drawing of the first issue?

    That's what I'm thinking, for the reasons you mentioned.

    I would doubt Guice is intentionally drawing in such an old-fasioned style, only because Shooter was huge on making his artists stick to a simple style whenever he edited something.

    Ah, yeah, that makes sense. It's pretty clear that Shooter's hands were all over this series, at least at the beginning.

    Lastly, if I may, I would like to piggy-back on Dobson's shameless self-promotion by noting that I "soft launched" my new blog today.

    Excellent! I'll be heading over to check it out shortly, and will give it a more prominent shoutout first chance I get.

    @David: I tend to think that this was done mostly to make the team look like the original X-Men, and not as much about allowing Hank to pass as a mutant hunter.

    Yeah, that probably factored into it as well. They really are quite concerned with recreating that Silver Age vibe, after all.

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  6. Not to my knowledge. My recollection of that first Amazing Adventures story is that Beast takes the formula to disguise himself as he attempts to stop Maddicks from selling off secret info (or some such), then fails to get back to his lab in order to drink the antidote that will reverse the changes before his time limit is up (which, all things considered, is stupidity compounding stupidity).

    Yeah, I think we're both right. He definitely fails to get the antidote in time because he's too busy enjoying being furry and extra jumpy.

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  7. Actually, no. The reason Beast doesn't get back before his deadline is because the formula distorted his "time sense," and so time seemed to be moving slower for him than it actually was.

    He returned to the lab thinking he had hours to spare, then realized from the clock on the wall that his perceptions were skewed and he missed the deadline.

    Make of that what you will. I make no judgments ... but that's what's in the Amazing Adventures issue.

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  8. @Jason: He returned to the lab thinking he had hours to spare, then realized from the clock on the wall that his perceptions were skewed and he missed the deadline.

    Ah, yeah, I remember that now that you mention it, the whole "distorted perceptions" thing.

    Clearly, the story left a huge impression on me. :P

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  9. I'm not a fan of Mike Zeck's work overall, and this cover does nothing to change that — the apparent Neal Adams swipe of Iceman being an exception that proves the case.

    // Jean's reminiscences of the events of issue #1, when she was reunited with Scott, depict her in a different outfit than she was wearing //

    That was weird. One issue later! Same artist(s) even! [No-Prize to Matt for a possible explanation there, though.]

    // Angel spends the opening pages of the issue, arguing with Scott and meeting with Cameron Hodge, wearing only his underwear and a bathrobe. //

    That was weird, too. Even though the harness was always a bit iffy, Warren getting his enormous wings through slits in a robe like that is even harder to swallow. For some reason it never really comes to mind in his costume because you figure hidden zippers or unstable molecules or whatever.

    // Tower compares himself to TV's Ben Casey. //

    Which, just to be clear, is from the early-to-mid '60s. Tower may have watched it as a kid, but there have been plenty of medical dramas since then that would make a more topical reference for the younger folks reading — "I ain't Trapper John," say.

    Everything that you said about Scott. Also, though, I find it hilarious that he says "How could I have been so stupid as to think she would wait for me?" like all that's going on is she's moved on with her life, as opposed to her fearing not just for her own situation but Scott's well-being, too, not having heard from him, not even knowing that he was alive or, if she did see him in X-Factor commercials (which isn't clear from the end of #1, at least, and honestly I would think all five of them would want to keep their faces out of the advertising due to the number of people who know their double identities) worried that perhaps he had been brainwashed by some old foe.

    Everything that you said about the creative team — itself a charitable term; that's how bad this is — too.

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  10. @Blam: Warren getting his enormous wings through slits in a robe like that is even harder to swallow.

    It makes me think he's had someone go through all his clothes and cut slits into the back for his wings. Which...maybe he did...

    I find it hilarious that he says "How could I have been so stupid as to think she would wait for me?" like all that's going on is she's moved on with her life

    Right? He's treating it like they had a rationale discussion that culminated, however acrimoniously, in a mutual decision to end their marriage, instead of the reality, which is him running out on her without explanation then not contacting her in anyway for weeks on end.

    These two things are not the same.

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  11. Carl Maddicks, Beast's villainous colleague from the Brand Corporation, as told in his solo stories in Amazing Adventures, returns..."

    Hey everyone, remember when characters from another character's past would show up without needing to be retconned in?

    @Matt:"The fact that noted mutant millionaire playboy Warren Worthington III is walking around posing as a mutant hunter is downright laughable. They wouldn't even have tried something like that in the much simpler Silver Age! How did no one realize how idiotic this was??"

    I think it's safe to say that someone definitely forgot that Warren revealed his identity to the public in the past, as well as how famous he is.

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