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Friday, January 31, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #19

"All Together Now"
August 1987

In a Nutshell 
Apocalypse unleashes his Horsemen on X-Factor. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Walt Simonson
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
As Scott and Jean clean-up the damage caused by their recent fight and discuss Hodge's machinations, debating whether they should just shut down X-Factor, Iceman, Beast and Caliban search the city for Boom-Boom. As they search, Iceman's super-charged powers attract attention, including a pair of news choppers that begin to follow them. Overhead, Apocalypse watches X-Factor as his Horsemen squabble amongst themselves. They tell Apocalypse they are powerful enough to take down X-Factor themselves, without the fourth horseman, so Apocalypse sends them to face X-Factor as a test of their abilities. At X-Factor headquarters, as Scott and Jean are training Leech, Rusty and Skids rush in to tell them their teammates are on TV, being attacked. Meanwhile, Beast, Iceman and Caliban take the fight with the Horsemen into Central Park to limit the collateral damage.


There, they are joined by Cyclops and Marvel Girl, but the team is forced to split their focus as the Horsemen target the circling news choppers. During the fight, Pestilence touches Beast, infecting him with a deadly plague. With the fight getting out of control, Cyclops orders Iceman to unleash his power, freezing everything in sight. He creates a massive dome of ice that ensnares the Horsemen, but at that moment, Apocalypse teleports his minions back to his ship. As Marvel Girl carries her teammates back to their headquarters, Cyclops announces that whether they hunt evil mutants or save good ones, they need to keep doing it, but that Cameron Hodge needs to go. 

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is the first time the Horsemen of Apocalypse are seen in action, riding their metallic steeds, as Apocalypse sets them against X-Factor to prove to them the value of teamwork. In the process, he continues to be impressed by X-Factor.


Beast is touched by Pestilence during their fight, infecting him with a disease that will lead him to lose his intelligence the more he uses his strength, a condition that will persist for the next dozen or so issues and, ultimately, lead to the return of his blue and furry look. 


More hints that Angel is the mysterious figure being transformed into Death: Pestilence refers to him as the Wingless Wonder, and he clearly knows X-Factor. It's also established that Apocalypse is drugging him, to make his mind more pliable to Apocalypse's will.


The series gets its first proper corner box on the cover, with the heads of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast and Iceman appearing instead of the various solo figures that had been used in the box previously.

A Work in Progress
Cleaning up the damage from last issue, Scott wonders how Xavier's prized pupils could end up being mutant hunters. From your lips...


Iceman tells an angry crowd to call X-Factor about him, telling Caliban that if people call X-Factor and they don't respond, it'll help discredit the organization.

Trish Tilby pops up, reporting on X-Factor's battle with the Horsemen.

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
After realizing he nearly killed Jean last issue, Scott spends most of this issue beating himself up over it, calling himself dangerous and worthless, etc.


Mutants. Deeds. Know Them. 
As Iceman, Beast and Caliban search the city for Boom-Boom, onlookers recall Iceman's speech about knowing mutants by their deeds, and point out all the three of them are doing is sulking around in secret identities making a mess, so, not such a great deed. 


A sentiment that is later echoed by a cop arriving on the scene after X-Factor's fight with the Horsemen, though Cyclops points out Iceman also saved the onlookers from the Horsemen. 


Teebore's Take
Since the beginning of her run, Simonson, taking a page from Claremont's book, has seeded multiple storylines in the book, giving any one of which the potential to rise up in a given issue and serve as the central plot: Cyclops' ongoing angst, the relationship between Jean and Phoenix, Angel's fate, Iceman's amped up powers, Hodge's machinations and Apocalypse's plans. In addition to keeping things fresh, it helps give the book the feeling that each issue is just one piece of a larger narrative puzzle, a feeling more akin to that of Claremont's X-Men and New Mutants that was lacking in the series' early issues. With last issue bringing the Scott/Jean elements to a head and seemingly exposing Hodge's perfidy (at least on some level), this issue puts Hodge aside in order to bring Apocalypse, specifically his Horsemen, to the forefront.

The timing on this is just about right, as the Horsemen have been simmering in the background of the book since issue #10, and here we finally get to see them in action. As with issue #14, this gives Walt Simonson another chance to cut loose, depicting some energetic and creative fight scenes as X-Factor battles the Horsemen, while Louise is careful to give each Horseman a distinct personality, making them more than just generic henchman (a far cry from the Alliance of Evil, Apocalypse's previous flunkies).  It's all well executed and does an effective job of keeping the book's various storylines in play, but frankly, the real entertainment here is just seeing the Horsemen of Apocalypse - a concept I've always loved - in action for the first time.

Next Issue
Uncanny X-Men #221 brings back the Marauders, New Mutants #56 introduces Bird-Brain, and X-Factor #20 knows more mutants by their deeds.

17 comments:

  1. The series really picks up about now! We get a good BUILD UP to the Fall of the Mutants issues! And you are right, it DOES make everything feel like it is part of a longer narrative! While this isn't impressive as Walt Simonson's artwork on Thor...it is STILL a good LOOKING issue!

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  2. Ugh. The Awful and Interminable Self-Flagellation of Cyclops. I'll take your word for it that this kicks off some fun or interesting stuff, but overall the scripting is clunkier than a short-circuited Sentinel.

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  3. Simonson/Simonson X-Factor is just the worse. It's boggling to me that people think this is better than her New Mutants.

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  4. @wwk5d: While this isn't impressive as Walt Simonson's artwork on Thor...it is STILL a good LOOKING issue!

    You're RIGHT - while not as GOOD as his Thor work, the art HERE is STILL quite nice AND does A LOT to cover for THE scripting. :)

    @Blam: Ugh. The Awful and Interminable Self-Flagellation of Cyclops.

    Yeah. That, unfortunately, won't really stop until after "Inferno", when he'll return to his usual, and more palatable, level of angst.

    I'll take your word for it that this kicks off some fun or interesting stuff, but overall the scripting is clunkier than a short-circuited Sentinel.

    While I do maintain there is fun and interesting stuff ahead, the scripting, unfortunately, never gets much better.

    @Jason: It's boggling to me that people think this is better than her New Mutants.

    I don't know that I'd say it's objectively better (Walt Simonson > Bret Blevins, certainly, but in terms of Weezie herself it's pretty much a wash), but I personally prefer her X-Factor to her New Mutants, largely because I have a lot of affection for the original X-Men, and her X-Factor is pretty much the first "back issue" run I read in full when I first got into comics, so I'm nostalgic about it. Also, between the two Weezie-scripted books, I'd much rather see the team face off against Hodge, the Right and Apocalypse moreso than the Animator and Spyder.

    (Or, to put it another way, the worst character in her New Mutants run is probably Bird-Brain, while the worst character in her X-Factor run is probably Infectia. Neither is great, but I'd read an Infectia story before a Bird-Brain story any day of the week and twice on Sunday).

    Beyond that, I think the general consensus that New Mutants is somehow "worse" comes from the fact that it gets compared directly to Claremont's work on the title (where, for as much as I personally like it, it suffers), whereas her X-Factor is a marked improvement over the early Layton/Guice issues, even while it still has problems of its own.

    But, like I said, I can't speak for the masses. Personally, I prefer X-Factor, but that's largely for personal reasons. Objectively, I think they're about equal: problematic in places, successful in others, neither as good as anything Claremont was doing at the time.

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  5. X-factor is better than New Mutants because the plots are stronger. Both titles have some very weak, and very bad, scripting. But as Teebore points out, the overall plotting and storylines in X-factor are just more enjoyable.

    I do think both titles would have benefited from a better scriptwriter. As I said, Simonson's plotting isn't too bad, she just maybe needed a better (and more subtle) person helping her out with the scripts.

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  6. Tee, you make a strong case. I may not agree, but I am significantly less boggled. :)

    I think I've made my case before on this, but since you went into detail, I'll open up as well. I like the original Silver Age X-Men too, but for me that made X-Factor a worse buy than New Mutants, because I feel like Cyclops et al are written SO out of character (dialogue-wise at least, maybe not so much in what they do or even what they say, but HOW they say it.) I think I tend to hold dialogue to a higher standard than plotting -- at least with serials, because the plotting is soap operatic that a lot of the things I look for in a good plot (when I watch a movie or an episodic show) become moot points in the open-endedness of, well particularly any X-stuff, which never ends after all ...

    My take on Simonson’s dialogue is that everybody sounds like little kids. That is perfect for Power Pack, a little bit problematic for the teenagers in the New Mutants, and a LOT problematic for people like Scott, Jean and Hank.

    Here’s a controversial statement that I’ll throw out there. I don’t think the Layton-penned X-Factor issues are THAT bad. They are pretty darn bad, but I wouldn’t say horrible. I don’t think there is something inherently wrong with building a series on a problematic premise, that the characters are eventually going to have to work through and transcend. I have to believe that even if Layton hadn’t left as writer, that is eventually what would have happened. Even in the early Layton issues people are realizing quickly that the “mutant hunter” cover is not working. I think that idea would eventually have been shed no matter who was still writing by the time they got up to issue 25.

    Granted, the Alliance of Evil were lame and the Owl would no doubt have been lame as well, while Apocalypse is a great idea for an X-villain. When Weezie first shows up, she definitely improved matters by bringing the series’ inherent problems more to the fore and making proper dramatic fodder out of them. Her immediate arrival is a step up. And yet …

    Here’s controversial statement #2, which I suspect no one will agree with … I think Walt’s art on X-Factor is pretty bad, and worse than Blevins’ for New Mutants. Don’t get me wrong, I think Simonson at his best is among the very top of the line for superhero comics art. But X-Factor strikes me as the worst thing he’s ever done. His distorted figures – which are usually so cool – just seem deformed and ugly here, and I hate how he does Iceman’s ice-effect. It looks like slime. (See the first bit of interior art you posted for this current review.) It’s interesting to see you and others talking in another thread about how you didn’t like Blevins when you were younger because it seemed too silly … I had the same reaction to Simonson’s X-Factor as a youngster. Silvestri’s stuff seemed so slick and “adult” while Simonson’s blocky, distorted figures seemed like a little kid drew them.

    But you and WW are right, I am probably not giving Weezie enough credit as a conceptualizer, and when considering that, her concepts for New Mutants do fall well short of her ideas for X-Factor. Apocalypse, the Right and the Horsemen are indeed better than the Animator. On the other hand, those are all villains. If we’re talking about good guys, Bird-Brain might be terrible, but he is just one lame ally. Whereas the focused totality of lameness that is Rusty, Skids, Artie and Leech … (Not that Weezie created most of those guys, but she made them all horrible … ) In short, the X-Terminators were a perfect storm of awful, and they came out of X-Factor.

    Oh, but wait, then the X-Terminators kind of got imported into New Mutants, didn’t they?

    Hm. Who gets custody of the X-Terminators? New Mutants or X-Factor? I say whoever does wins the prize for lameness.

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  7. @ Jason: Owl would no doubt have been lame

    I can't remember who and where first suggested it but I have been haunted by "The Age of Owl" ever since I heard of the concept.

    "The Final Chapter: The Owl vs. Wolverine! Claws and hair-dos! In this issue everybody dies!"

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  8. I mean really. For the covers they would redo all the classic Wolverine covers with the Owl. For the first chapter they'll use the #1 of Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries and the Final Chapter can't be anything else but the one from Uncanny #213 with the Owl and Wolverine.

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  9. @Jason: I may not agree, but I am significantly less boggled.

    That's all I was really shooting for. :)

    I think I tend to hold dialogue to a higher standard than plotting

    Whereas, now that I think about it, I still think I value plotting over dialogue, despite the serial/ soap operatic/never-ending nature of the format, which probably lends me a greater tolerance for Weezie.

    I don’t think the Layton-penned X-Factor issues are THAT bad. They are pretty darn bad, but I wouldn’t say horrible.

    I'd say they're boring, more than anything, and for me, that's a greater sin than being horrible. Short of an incomprehensible one (in terms of plot/art), I think a boring comic is the worst kind of comic. Bad comics can at least still be enjoyable in their own way.

    you didn’t like Blevins when you were younger because it seemed too silly … I had the same reaction to Simonson’s X-Factor as a youngster.

    I'll agree to disagree that Simonson's X-Factor is the worst art of his career (well, maybe it is, but *I* still think it's good, and if it is technically his worst, that's more a statement on how good his other stuff is than on how bad his X-Factor art is), but I didn't like Simonson's art as a kid, either.

    I came into the X-Men at the height of the Jim Lee era, and for me, at that time, that was the height of artistic perfection. I judged everything based on how close to Lee's work it was (I know, I know). So I didn't like Blevins' art because it was too silly, and I didn't like Simonson's art because it was too exaggerated/ surrealistic. Still, I liked Simonson's art more than Blevins, because "silly" was a much greater sin to young me than "overly stylized".

    Basically, coming into comics at the height of the Image Era gave me a very skewed view on what did and didn't constitute good art, and it took me quite awhile to appreciate stuff I otherwise like nowadays.

    If we’re talking about good guys, Bird-Brain might be terrible, but he is just one lame ally.

    Don't forget the horribleness of Gosamyr!

    Hm. Who gets custody of the X-Terminators? New Mutants or X-Factor? I say whoever does wins the prize for lameness.

    Ha! That's a good question...it's a tough call, because they don't really gel as a group/in their lameness until the miniseries, at which point they've pretty much broken away from X-Factor, but once they join New Mutants, the group gets broken up pretty quickly as Rusty and Skids get separated from the New Mutants, so the X-Terminators in New Mutants are really just Boom-Boom and Rictor.

    I think we should just be thankful that Whiz Kid stayed out of both series.

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  10. "Don't forget the horribleness of Gosamyr!"

    As much as try to, we can't...

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  11. Gentlemen, please: the very worst Walt Simonson art is found in Cyberforce #0. Yes, that is a thing that existed. I think good ol' Walt just threw up his hands and cranked it out to fulfill a contract.

    I love Walt Simonson's Thor, Orion, Manhunter, FF, X-Men/ Teen Titans, etc. - hell, I hold Robocop vs. Terminator in unusually high esteem- but I agree that X-Factor is some of his worst stuff. I think part of the problem is the lame character designs. Human-looking Beast? Iceman? Jean (snore) Grey? Only Cyclops's visor & cowl stand out, at least before Archangel shows up.

    The mileau doesn't help. In Thor or Orion you can have funky aliens designed by Jack Kirby and over-the-top action in distant realms. In X-Factor, you have New York City and mutants. Just like every other Marvel comic. Honestly, he could have done better but I think inspiration was lacking.

    Did I mention I find all the original X-Men not named Hank McCoy boring?

    - Mike Loughlin

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  12. " can't remember who and where first suggested it but I have been haunted by "The Age of Owl" ever since I heard of the concept."

    Funny how -- not long after Weezie created Apocalypse -- Claremont wanted to reveal him as the guy who gave Logan his adamantium.

    If things had gone the other way, would they have revealed the Owl as the man who gave Wolverine his claws? Cause that ... almost kinda could've worked ...

    "Gentlemen, please: the very worst Walt Simonson art is found in Cyberforce #0. Yes, that is a thing that existed. I think good ol' Walt just threw up his hands and cranked it out to fulfill a contract."

    I just read that issue recently! I bought a bunch of early Cyberforce out of some 50-cent bins! True story.

    It was interesting. Walt was hand-picked by Silvestri to draw that, and I think Simonson did it as a favor. (Albeit a high-paying one, I imagine.) I hadn't realized until reading Silvestri's text intro to CF 0 that he was a big Walt fanboy! It must have been fun for him doing the "Inferno" crossover with Walt as the artist on the other main book, and being able to pass the artistic baton back and forth between X-Men/X-Factor chapters.

    Also, I LOVE Walt's art on Robocop/Terminator. :)

    (But I still think X-Factor is his nadir, even below Cyberforce 0!)

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  13. One thing Cyberforce 0 has going for it is good paper quality and computer color separation, which still holds up rather well.

    Yes, I own a copy, and not only am I not ashamed to say I own it, but I also like Simonson's art as well in that issue.

    Of course, crappy Simonson art is still better than what many artists produce.

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  14. @Jason: If things had gone the other way, would they have revealed the Owl as the man who gave Wolverine his claws? Cause that ... almost kinda could've worked ...

    Oh god no, just realized: Because her daughter has this shape-shifting habit into the form of both those arctic animals, someone would surely have afterwards gone and retcon Nelvanna to have been the prime operator behind those shenanigans. An Owl totem and a Wolverine totem would probably have been there somewhere.

    I dare not name any creator who would do such a thing, though, lest he come here to violently disown this and call me chowderhead.

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  15. I have stuff to say on the above, but I'm prob'ly gonna post my comments on the conversation over in the thread on #20 instead when possible.

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  16. @Mike: I think part of the problem is the lame character designs. Human-looking Beast? Iceman? Jean (snore) Grey? Only Cyclops's visor & cowl stand out, at least before Archangel shows up.

    Good point: by the time Archangel becomes a regular member of the team and Beast gets his hairy look back, Simonson isn't long on the title.

    I do love the way he draws Cyclops' visor, though...

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  17. Louise Simonson's dialogue is wooden and expository, but to put her skill as a plotter in perspective, compare her original Apocalypse/Archangel story to the sloppy mess done by the writers of X-Men: Apocalypse.
    And they got paid millions of dollars to do it.

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