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Friday, August 30, 2013

X-amining X-Factor #4

"Trials and Errors"
May 1986

In a Nutshell 
Frenzy makes her first appearance. 

Writer: Bob Layton
Layout Artist: Keith Pollard
Finisher: Joe Rubinstein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
X-Factor, in their costumed guises, confront Tower at LaGuardia Airport, having noticed him watching the X-Factor building. He ultimately escapes and meets up with Frenzy, who admonishes him for failing to liberate the boy from X-Factor and tells him their master has sent her to finish the job. Back at X-Factor headquarters, Rusty is training with Jean, but gets distracted when Scott and Artie enter the room. After being admonished by Jean, and angry about being forced to live with the odd-looking Artie, he rushes off. Later, X-Factor investigates a potential mutant at a boarding school, but it turns out the boy in question was just faking being a mutant. However, the abject terror he expresses at the idea of being taken away by X-Factor leaves Jean wondering if their mutant hunter ruse is doing more harm than good.


Back at X-Factor headquarters, Rusty packs his bag to leave and when Artie tries to stop him, calls him a freak before running away. Out on the streets, Rusty encounters Frenzy, who applauds him on escaping from X-Factor, but when he refuses to return with her to her master, she attacks him. When X-Factor returns to their headquarters, Artie, who has established a mindlink with Rusty, alerts them to Rusty's predicament. With Artie's help, they track down Rusty and fight off Frenzy. Jean apologizes to Rusty for being so hard on him, while Scott imparts the importance of learning to control his powers, and Rusty apologizes to Artie and thanks him for saving his life. Elsewhere, Frenzy is ordered to report to the Master before withdrawal begins, and she swears that someday she'll be free of the sway of the "source". 

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the first appearance of Frenzy (who will later be given the real name of Joanna Cargill), a super-strong, near-invulnerable mutant working with Tower. Of all of the handful of new villains Layton creates during his short run on this book, Frenzy is the one who has, for whatever reason, managed to establish an extended place for herself within the X-universe, eventually showing up as a member of Magneto's Acolytes before joining an expanded Marauders lineup and ultimately joining the X-Men, even falling in love with Cyclops and co-starring for a time in X-Men: Legacy.


Time Shadow, another associate of Frenzy and Tower's, is mentioned and heard, but won't be seen for the first time until next issue.

Frenzy, Tower and Time Shadow all answer to someone they only refer to as "the Master"; he will be revealed as Apocalypse next issue, Bob Layton's last, though Layton's original plan, before leaving the book, was for their master to be the Owl, an old Daredevil villain. They are all hooked on something called the "source", and are fearful of withdrawal if they don't get regular doses. 


Keith Pollard, who penciled the issue of New Mutants prior to Jackson Guice taking over that title, fills-in for Guice on this issue, though with Rubinstein on hand, the difference is hardly noticeable. 

A Work in Progress
During a training session with Rusty, Jean is uncharacteristically bitchy and shrill. This is not a setup for a future plot, but rather just bad writing.


Candy Southern (remember her? Warren barely does) calls Warren, saying some non-X-Factor business needs his attention, but he blows her off, telling her she can handle it.


Certain panels in this issue suggest that Frenzy is larger than a normal person, but the perspective isn't always consistent, and later stories depict her as being of relatively normal size.

We're down to Maneuver Three!


I Love the 80s
Before encountering Frenzy, Rusty is almost mugged (because this is New York in the 80s), and his mugger is rocking a pretty interesting ensemble.


Frenzy's overall look also strikes me as being very 80s. 

Scott Summers, Husband of the Year
While working with Scott to hone his powers, Artie projects an image of Madelyne from Scott's mind, prompting him to breakdown and almost get into everything with Artie, of all people.


Young Love
Meanwhile, the old Scott/Jean/Warren love triangle rears its ugly head, as Jean comes to Warren for advice about Scott, at which point Warren instead tries to tell Jean about his feelings for her, only to be interrupted by the call from Candy (his current, and longtime, girlfriend).


Rusty, meanwhile, continues to crush on Jean.


Human/Mutant Relations
In the wake of X-Factor's battle with Tower at the airport while in their costumed identities, the crowd cries out that someone should call X-Factor on them.


Later, while investigating the young student thought to be a mutant, Cyclops quickly realizes the kid is not a mutant, but thinks the only way to get the truth is to scare it out of him, for some reason.


The encounter with said boy leaves Jean thinking that maybe the whole mutant hunter thing is doing more harm than good, a thought which occurs to her before either her genius teammate or Professor Xavier's star pupil.


Teebore's Take
With this issue, Layton begins his first, only and last extended story arc on the title, an arc that will culminate in the debut of Apocalypse (arguably the most significant X-Men villain to come out of the 80s), albeit under the pen of another writer. For now, he kicks off the arc by introducing Frenzy and giving her a working relationship with Tower, his other creation, while hinting at additional team members, all in the thrall of a mysterious master. Unfortunately, the prospect of a longer story arc, regardless of its ultimate destination, does little to lift the title from its early doldrums, as the rest of the issue is more of the same, featuring characters' actions being dictated by the plot, lots and lots of fist-clenching angst, and more wrongheaded attempts to rewind the clock back to the Silver Age - this time, by resurrecting one of X-Men's oldest (and most resolved) love triangles. Apocalypse can't arrive soon enough.

Next Issue
Next week we cover the Firestar miniseries, then X-Factor Annual #1, because if there's anything this series needs, its an irrelevant, double-sized filler story. 

9 comments:


  1. Wasn't the team just debating last issue that if they let Tower go he'd be free to blab about how they were X-Factor?

    Hank laments that Rusty isn't adjusting well, right after laying down the law that "we're not humans ... none of us will ever be human". Good talk.

    The FF was integral to helping Jean in the run-up to X-Factor. You'd think maybe they'd call on Johnny Storm to help Rusty hone his powers.

    A caption says that Warren is "as The Angel, founding member of X-Factor Inc." — getting its public and clandestine versions of X-Factor mixed up, methinks.

    I had zero idea that Frenzy had any kind of longevity, never mind that she joined the X-Men.

    // This is not a setup for a future plot, but rather just bad writing. //

    Ha!

    // We're down to Maneuver Three! //

    I'm reminded of when Phil Hartman used to go on Letterman during his SNL, Newsradio, and Simpsons days billed as "the Man of a Thousand Voices". There wasn't actually a list anywhere. Hartman would ask Dave to pick a few numbers in succession, each time making like he was surprised and oh how interesting this one was, and then of course do whatever bits he'd prepared.

    // Meanwhile, the old Scott/Jean/Warren love triangle rears its ugly head //

    Suddenly, Professor Xavier is struck aboard the Starjammer by a conviction that Jean Grey is alive, ordering Corsair to turn the ship around because he realizes how much he's always loved her.

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  2. I suppose Johnny would be edgy about seeing another kid go burn (like when that No. 1 Fan fatally incinerated himself during Byrne's FF run). Actually, Rusty and Johnny did meet during Walt Simonson's FF run, helping the Torch come to terms with that earlier tragedy.

    As for Xavier, I always wondered when he discovered Jean was alive. Reading the New Mutants' minds in NM#51? Accidentally contacting them during X-Factor's Judgement War? Reading Storm's mind in UXM#278?

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  3. Yay! Blam's back!

    Wasn't the team just debating last issue that if they let Tower go he'd be free to blab about how they were X-Factor?

    Yes. Apparently his skulking about their headquarters was enough for them to invalidate their agreement to let him go.

    getting its public and clandestine versions of X-Factor mixed up, methinks.

    Definitely. Even though the eventual X-Terminators/X-Factor distinction is ultimately backwards (in that the mutant hunters should be called X-Terminators), coming up with a term for the team when they're acting as costumed superheroes instead of posing as mutant hunters was long overdue.

    I had zero idea that Frenzy had any kind of longevity, never mind that she joined the X-Men.

    It's all very recent - in a testament to just how recent (and how far behind I am in my reading of current stuff), I'm only now reading the "fall in love with Cyclops" part of her story, which comes about because of a jaunt into an "Age of Apocalypse"-esque alternate reality where they're a couple. Everything else I've gleaned from vague mentions online and on podcasts.

    Suddenly, Professor Xavier is struck aboard the Starjammer by a conviction that Jean Grey is alive, ordering Corsair to turn the ship around because he realizes how much he's always loved her.

    I have no idea what, if any, plans Layton had for the series down the road had he not left the title (beyond knowing the Owl was going to be in Apocalypse's place and that presumably he was going to do something with Senator Thompson), but I wouldn't be at all surprised if bringing Professor X back in some capacity wasn't something he or Shooter wanted to do, just to add to the Silver Age-iness of the title.

    @angmc43: Actually, Rusty and Johnny did meet during Walt Simonson's FF run, helping the Torch come to terms with that earlier tragedy.

    I knew they'd met during Simonson's run, but having not read the issue, I didn't know it dealt with the whole "#1 fan" incident. That's kinda cool.


    As for Xavier, I always wondered when he discovered Jean was alive. Reading the New Mutants' minds in NM#51? Accidentally contacting them during X-Factor's Judgement War? Reading Storm's mind in UXM#278?


    I'm pretty sure it was when he briefly contacted them telepathically during the "Judgement War" arc. The New Mutants wouldn't have known about Jean when Xavier reunited with them (the X-Men themselves didn't learn until "Inferno"), and I'm fairly certain he remarked on Jean's presence when he contacted them at the end of "Judgement War", meaning he knew about her return by the time he reunited with the X-Men in issue #277, the next logical opportunity for him to learn that info.

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  4. @Teebore: // Apparently his skulking about their headquarters was enough for them to invalidate their agreement to let him go. //

    I was actually referring to the fact that he seemed oblivious to the original X-Men (superheroes) being X-Factor (mutant hunters) when talking to Frenzy. "Those stinkin' freaks jumped me while I was casin' the X-Factor building!" he tells her on Pg. 3. "They've been after me since I worked with Maddicks. ... I don't even know why they was there!" She replies that "They must be after the boy -- just as we are!"

    @Teebore: // Even though the eventual X-Terminators/X-Factor distinction is ultimately backwards (in that the mutant hunters should be called X-Terminators), coming up with a term for the team when they're acting as costumed superheroes instead of posing as mutant hunters was long overdue. //

    Ugh. I have vague memories of hearing of a team called the X-Terminators during that period — Wasn't there a miniseries even? — but assumed they were villains. I hate the name on general principle; applied to the original X-Men as a team it's an outright crime. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

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  5. I have vague memories of hearing of a team called the X-Terminators during that period — Wasn't there a miniseries even? — but assumed they were villains.

    I have that mini-series - it was about the kids that X-Factor rescues having an adventure. It largely served to push them towards either joining the New Mutants or living forever on the X-fringes. You're not missing much, though.

    Put me in the school of thought that felt the "X-Terminators" would have made a more intimidating name for the mutant hunter cover story. But that would probably have backfired even worse, since it would lead to, well, more New Mutants #45 situations.

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  6. Has Layton ever said why he decided to use the Owl, of all characters, as X-Factor's first big antagonist? It's such a random, obscure choice that I actually kind of like it, though I'm not sure I would've trusted Layton to pull it off.

    Anyway, we obviously got something better with the Simonsons' creation of Apocalypse.

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  7. @Blam: I hate the name on general principle; applied to the original X-Men as a team it's an outright crime.

    At least it isn't a name they use seriously - it's something they come up with to help set apart their costumed identities when they're posing as anti-X-Factor mutant heroes, and is more a device for the media than anything, and I don't think it even gets used all that much, in-universe.

    And yeah, as Mela said, there was an X-Terminators miniseries, in which X-Factor's young charges appropriated the name for a one-off adventure. It was an "Inferno" crossover, and more or less led to most of the characters getting merged into New Mutants.

    @Matt: I hate the name on general principle; applied to the original X-Men as a team it's an outright crime.

    I've not seen anything definite, but I think it just stems from a desire to use an underused character and make him a big deal, something I can appreciate in principle but like you, am dubious that Layton could have pulled it off in this case.

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  8. Any of y'all read X-Factor's appearance in "Incredible Hulk"? That was actually my first encounter with the whole idea that the team had two names, X-Factor AND X-Terminators. I found it weird.

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  9. @Jason: Any of y'all read X-Factor's appearance in "Incredible Hulk"?

    I have, though I remember very little of it. I'll need to give it the once over soon to see if its worth getting its own post or just a mention.

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