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Friday, August 23, 2013

X-amining X-Factor #3

"Regression Obsession"
April 1986

In a Nutshell 
Beast regains his human look. 

Writer: Bob Layton
Pencil Art: Jackson Guice
Ink Art: Josef Rubinstein
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
Carl Maddicks is able to pull Beast out of cardiac arrest, then begins preparing him for phase two. First, he has his son Arthur use his power to check in on Tower, and learns that X-Factor has overpowered him. He instructs his son to lock out Tower's mind, and just as X-Factor is about to cut a deal with Tower to learn Beast's location, Arthur takes control and Tower's mind goes blank. As Maddicks works on Beast, the captive mutant screams in pain, breaking Arthur's concentration and allowing Tower to tell X-Factor about Maddicks and point them toward Ryan Bio-Chemical, the facility where Beast is being held. That night, X-Factor storms Ryan Bio-Chemical, splitting into pairs. Angel and Cyclops are met on the roof by high tech security guards, while Iceman and Marvel Girl trigger alarms on the ground floor.


Both groups fight their way to the subbasement, where a now-bandaged, comatose Beast is being held, and confront Maddicks. Fearful they'll harm his son, he tells them everything, including his attempt to reverse the mutation process on Beast in order to do the same to Arthur. Just then, more security forces arrive, and an alarmed Maddicks tells them that because the level is top secret, they'll have orders to shoot to kill. Worried they'll kill anyone who looks like a mutant, including Arthur, he rushes X-Factor out a bio-hazard tunnel, eliciting a promise from them to look after his son. As they escape, Maddicks is gunned down as Arthur telepathically watches. The next morning Beast awakens from his coma, removing his bandages to discover that he's lost his fur and regained his human look.   

Firsts and Other Notables
Beast loses his fur and regains his human look as of this issue (he retains his original large hands and feet), a return to his Silver Age status quo that will stick around for the next thirty odd issues. I've seen these changes explained as alternately a desire on the part of the creators to further cement the "original X-Men" feel of the book and to make the whole "fake mutant hunters" ruse easier to handle by reducing the number of characters who can't pass for human (now we're just down to Warren, who, as we've seen, can hide his wings in a backpack). I suspect its a little bit of both.


Carl Maddicks explains to X-Factor how he survived his apparent death in Amazing Adventures #11, but by the end of the story, he's seemingly killed again, a death which, as far as I know, has stuck.


Maddicks' death leaves his son an orphan in the care of X-Factor, making Artie the second of X-Factor's wards, after Rusty. In a genuinely sad moment, Artie's power enables him to watch as his father is killed, buying X-Factor time to get the boy to safety.


Senator Thompson, a heretofore unknown member of the Mutant Affairs subcommittee and a friend of the Worthingtons, visits X-Factor and suggests to Hodge that X-Factor's mutant hunting business may be doing more harm for mutants than good, meaning this random, one-off character has more sense than everyone else in the book. He'll pop up again for one more appearance in X-Factor Annual #1, but the character never appears after that, whatever role Layton had in mind for him lost when Layton leaves the book.


A Work in Progress
After Maddicks sees X-Factor, in their costumed guises, conversing with Tower, he wonders where X-Factor is, musing that they must have thought his call last issue was a hoax.


In addition to visually projecting peoples' thoughts, this issue Artie is able to "mindlock" Tower, taking control of his mind and effectively shutting him down, an ability I don't think he ever exhibits again.

X-Factor continues to be a terrible team, using their real names and calling themselves X-Factor while in costume in public, and while Maddicks sacrificing himself was a plot device necessary to get Artie involved with X-Factor and Beast was in need of medical attention, you have to wonder if all four super-powered mutants were required to ferry Beast and Artie to safety and if perhaps one or two could have helped Maddicks hold off their antagonists.


A moment that I genuinely found entertaining in this issue: attacking the complex of the company where Beast is being held, Warren notes that he owns stock in the company. Shortly thereafter, when he and Cyclops are confronted by the company's's security forces, he asks them if it would make a difference if he told them he was a major stockholder...


Cyclops is once again calling out for randomly-numbered maneuvers. 


I Love the 80s
Early in the issue, there's actually a scene in which the male characters discuss their next move while Jean sits off to the side, before Cyclops approaches her and tells her the decision they've made. Apparently, you can take the girl out of the Silver Age...


Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
Since last issue, Scott has decided that the disconnected phone at his Alaskan home means Maddie has moved out, more or less dusting his hands dustily of any further responsibility to his wife and son as a result.


Later, he worries that if he tells Jean about Maddie, he'll lose her too (poor guy might end up with no identical redheads!), but decides to come clean anyway. However, just as he's about to tell Jean the truth, they're interrupted by Hank regaining consciousness, and rather than finishing his sentence or, you know, bringing up it again after checking on Hank, it's dropped once more. 


Human/Mutant Relations
Before Tower goes his separate way, Jean makes a plea for him to join them and use his mutant power for good, a spiel which Cyclops later says is what X-Factor is all about.


Teebore's Take
This is at least a little bit better. The characters are all still acting like idiots, while the only person to even suggest that posing as mutant hunters may not be a wise idea is a random senator introduced in this issue who appears for two panels, but Maddicks at least turns out to be more than a one-dimensional villain, motivated as he is to help his son (whose mutation is at least somewhat physically debilitating, giving Maddicks' motivations more heft than the usual straight-forward anti-mutant rhetoric) and sacrificing himself in an effort to help Artie survive. Having the escaping Artie able to watch his father's final sacrifice also adds a poignancy that this story probably hasn't earned, but which helps the issue nonetheless (though "young boy watches his father die" is pretty low hanging fruit in terms of generating sympathy for a character).

Of course, in the end, this whole issue and overall story is ultimately about nothing more than a continued effort to setup the book's premise and make the whole everything feel even more retro, as the notable development is Beast losing his fur and ape-like appearance. And like the rest of the character "developments" in this series, Beast's return to relative normalcy is another step backwards, wiping away years of development and the interesting juxtaposition of Hank's intelligence with his animalistic appearance all so things can look more like they did in the sixties. So while this is the first issue to offer up some interesting and entertaining moments, the series as a whole is still mired in anachronistic and mystifying characterization and struggling under the weight of its flawed premise. 

Next Issue
Uncanny X-Men #205 puts Wolverine in the spotlight, New Mutants #40 puts Magneto in the cross hairs of the Avengers, and X-Factor #4 puts the series one issue closer to Layton's departure.

10 comments:

  1. As much as I didn't care for Panther-Beast because I thought it looked dumb, storytelling like this that does nothing but reset 10+ years of comics is one of the very worst things superhero comics does.

    On the plus side, I can see Guice's work getting cleaner, although there's still that awful flashback page layout, which looks like something from Secret Wars.

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  2. I haven't read these early issues in about 12 years, but reading about them now is showing me that they don't hold up. This series was pretty much slapped together by editorial to A) Have one more X-book out there and B) To reunite the original X-Men any way they can (Mainly through retcons). It's a good concept on paper, but the execution still needs lots of work.

    I wonder how the series would be different if Claremont was involved. By this point he had given the X-Men and New Mutants books such a unique voice. He knew the characters inside and out, and I have no doubt he'd do well writing the original 5 members in their own book. At this point X-Factor feels just like any other B- or C-list Marvel book. The writing is poor and the art is nowhere near the level of Paul Smith or John Romita, Jr. or Bill Sienkiewicz or even Sal Buscema (Even though Guice will evolve into a much better artist as time goes on).

    I'll expand on this more once you get to X-Factor #6. I finally got a copy of it, and....well.....I was extremely disappointed.

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  3. @Dobson: I can see Guice's work getting cleaner, although there's still that awful flashback page layout, which looks like something from Secret Wars.

    Indeed. More evidence, I suspect, of Shooter meddling in the creation of the issue.

    @Ian: I wonder how the series would be different if Claremont was involved.

    I've often wondered that too. Or even if Weezie, as Claremont's acolyte, was on the book from the beginning.

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  4. Wow, I like that cover. Is that Guice or someone else?

    The interiors look a little better too, as I see Dobson has already mentioned. Still somewhat pedestrian, but not as awful as the first two issues (this is only based on your scans, though).

    I don't mind the regression of Beast. Seems like a fun angle to explore. Plus, it's infinitely better than mutating him further into "Cat Beast".

    "After Maddicks sees X-Factor, in their costumed guises, conversing with Tower, he wonders where X-Factor is..."

    I thought the deal was that the mutant hunters were called "X-Factor," while the superhero team was called the "X-Terminators" (and really, shouldn't those names be swapped?!?). Or is this an issue because Maddicks is supposed to know that both groups are one and the same?

    Ian & Teebore -- I've said it before, but rather than Claremont, my wish would have been to see John Byrne on X-Factor. Byrne loves the original X-Men, and he was a guaranteed draw at this point in time. Plus it would've been a lot of fun to see Claremont and Byrne with competing X-titles. If you thought the back-and-forth sniping when they were on two unrelated books was entertaining...!

    Unfortunately, Byrne was on his way out of Marvel in 1986, plus the extra attention by Shooter pretty much guarantees he would've walked after like two issues if he had even taken the assignment in the first place.

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  5. @ Matt I've said it before, but rather than Claremont, my wish would have been to see John Byrne on X-Factor. Byrne loves the original X-Men, and he was a guaranteed draw at this point in time. Plus it would've been a lot of fun to see Claremont and Byrne with competing X-titles. If you thought the back-and-forth sniping when they were on two unrelated books was entertaining...!

    Byrne on X-Factor would have been brilliant -- gigantic improvement on both art and plot. It would have worked if Shooter could shrink the drama between to the two to an amicable rivalry instead of outright disgust towards each other.

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  6. @Matt: Wow, I like that cover. Is that Guice or someone else?

    Ron Frenz, I believe, though I'm not sure who inked it.

    Plus, it's infinitely better than mutating him further into "Cat Beast".

    Just curious, is it the "mutating further" you don't like, or the look of Cat Beast (or both)?

    I've always thought the idea of Beast mutating further made some sense (or at least wasn't an outrageous idea), even if I didn't love the resulting look.

    I thought the deal was that the mutant hunters were called "X-Factor," while the superhero team was called the "X-Terminators" (and really, shouldn't those names be swapped?!?)

    A. Yes, those should be swapped.
    B. They haven't yet established (in-universe or out) the "X-Terminators" name for X-Factor's costumed superhero team, so I've been trying to differentiate between X-Factor (the group the public knows as mutant hunters) and X-Factor (the team of mutants wearing costumes to fight people) until that distinction is established in the book. Which is often maddening.

    Plus it would've been a lot of fun to see Claremont and Byrne with competing X-titles.

    It would have been fun to see Byrne on X-Factor, especially if some kind of truce could have been called that would have enabled the rivalry between the books to be friendly, rather than bitter and jaded.

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  7. Teebore -- "Just curious, is it the "mutating further" you don't like, or the look of Cat Beast (or both)?"

    I have no real issue with Beast mutating further as a result of the serum he took all those years ago. It's the concept of "secondary mutations" that I don't like. It unnecessarily complicates things.

    Beyond that, I don't like the pompous way Morrison introduced both Cat Beast and secondary mutations in general: "I can't have Colossus? Okay then, presto -- Emma suddenly and inexplicably has the power to turn to diamond. We'll call it a secondary mutation. Because I must have my way."

    And the Cat Beast thing bugged me because of his stupid quote that when someone mentions a character named "Beast", everyone automatically think of "Beauty and the Beast", so therefore he should be a cat. There can't be two characters named Beast who look different?

    And furthermore, "everyone" doesn't think of "Beauty and the Beast". When someone mentions a character named "Beast", I happen to think of... Beast. You know, from the X-Men.

    Plus, Cat Beast just looked stupid. Especially when Quitely drew him.

    But otherwise I have no opinion on the matter...!

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  8. The cover is signed "Ron & Joe" — Frenz and Rubinstein, I'm sure.

    I don't love the cover, but it's not terrible and in the context of this series right now that's a win. Although I do hate the logo getting squeezed like this. I liked it fine on the first couple of issues, with the X in the corner box; moving it over without adjusting the height proportionately along with the width, however, was a big mistake.

    Why is Hank in light blue pouch-flap underpants at the beginning of the issue instead of his usual navy Speedo?

    I was going to ask why Jean lifted up an entire section of the security fence rather than lifting herself and Bobby over it, too, but she answered that: "showing off".

    Aren't we supposed to read that hair on the newly regressed Hank at the end as blue and weird-looking, not just the normal blue-for-black hair used in comics? Warren makes that lame comment, and Hank's hair is sticking straight up — hair that used to be brown. Hank still having large hands and feet also kind-of shoots down the efficacy of Maddicks' serum; in fact, Hank — who'd further mutated himself with his own serum to become fuzzy and blue — was like the worst test case possible because he had "extra" mutation for Maddicks' serum to overcome.

    I can't speak with authority on the general concept of Morrison's secondary mutations, having only sampled a couple of issues at the start of his run, but I can tell you that I hate Cat Beast. Furthermore, I prefer Panther/Gorilla/Whatever Beast — "Beast" Beast — over Hank's [not-quite-]normal look too, largely because that's how I first encountered him and how he looked for so long as a mainstay of the Avengers. There was a great dichotomy, or trichotomy even, between/among the way he looked, his intelligence, and his happy-go-lucky ladies-man persona. I had no idea that Cat Beast was supposed to be a reference to Vincent in the Beauty and the Beast television series, which makes it even dumber.

    I think we're all wondering what happened to Arthur's cat and just afraid to ask.

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  9. @Matt: Beyond that, I don't like the pompous way Morrison introduced both Cat Beast and secondary mutations in general

    I don't mind the idea of secondary mutation in general, but I'm with you on being bugged by how the whole idea came about essentially because Morrison couldn't have his way.

    There can't be two characters named Beast who look different?

    Also, depending on which "Beauty and the Beast" we're talking about, I wouldn't even say that Beast is a Cat Beast.

    @Blam: Why is Hank in light blue pouch-flap underpants at the beginning of the issue instead of his usual navy Speedo?

    Presumably, Maddicks changed him, which, creepy.

    I was going to ask why Jean lifted up an entire section of the security fence rather than lifting herself and Bobby over it, too, but she answered that: "showing off".

    Stupid, but honest.

    Aren't we supposed to read that hair on the newly regressed Hank at the end as blue and weird-looking, not just the normal blue-for-black hair used in comics?

    I'm honestly not sure, but I think so.

    in fact, Hank — who'd further mutated himself with his own serum to become fuzzy and blue — was like the worst test case possible because he had "extra" mutation for Maddicks' serum to overcome.

    Good point. I get that Maddicks needed Hank's help because he was smarter and worked on the original mutant extract serum, and maybe it just wasn't worth it to capture a second mutant to serve as a test subject, but talk about introducing extra variables into your test...

    I think we're all wondering what happened to Arthur's cat and just afraid to ask.

    Indeed. I almost pointed out that this issue really aims for a low bar by endangering a child's pet and making the child watch his father's death, but thankfully the cat disappears from the issue before any untoward happens to it, and I choose to assume it continues to live a happy, full life with Artie off panel. :)

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  10. "Carl Maddicks explains to X-Factor how he survived his apparent death in Amazing Adventures #11, but by the end of the story, he's seemingly killed again, a death which, as far as I know, has stuck."

    Following on from my post last issue about how refreshing it was to see a character with connections to one of the X-Factor members appear without needing to be retconned in, remember when characters showing up after an apparent death would actually have an explanation for how they survived, rather than, say, just randomly reappearing without even a reference to their death?

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