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Friday, February 7, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #20

"Children's Crusade"
September 1987

In a Nutshell
The X-Factor kids clean-up Central Park.

Writer: Louise Simonson
Guest Penciler: June Brigman
Inker: Randy Emberlin
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
X-Factor returns home through the underground tunnels, Beast terribly ill from Pestilence's touch and Iceman frozen over. Their young charges help get Beast and Iceman settled in the infirmary as Rictor announces that Hodge has disappeared. Rusty decides he's going to sneak out and try to melt the ice Iceman left in Central Park, in order to prove to the world that mutants are capable of doing good, but Rictor tells him not to risk getting caught by the authorities for such a foolish gesture. Rusty calls Rictor a coward, and the two fight until Jean breaks them up. Later that night, a sleepless Rictor realizes Rusty was right, he was being cowardly, as Artie seeks out Rusty only to find him missing.


In Central Park, Rusty tries to melt the ice, but ends up drawing the attention of a gang of muggers and gets knocked out. At the X-Factor complex, Skids alerts Rictor as Artie projects an image of the unconscious Rusty. The three of them take a subway into the city, tearing up X-Factor ads on the train along the way. Arriving in the park, they chase off the gang and revive Rusty. Working together, the young mutants are able to remove all the ice in the park, save for a message they leave behind telling the world mutants were responsible for cleaning up the park. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Like issue #16, this is effectively a fill-in issue starring the X-Factor kids.

June Brigman fills in on pencils for this issue, the same month she similarly filled in on New Mutants. That's certainly not unprecedented, but still kinda crazy. 

The heads in the corner box on the cover are gone...

The Chronology Corner
This issue ends with X-Factor called in to investigate reports of a large gray mutant, setting up their appearance in Incredible Hulk #336-337, which takes place between this issue and the next (and during the time Hulk was once again gray, and not green). Those issues are notable for being written by future X-Factor writer Peter David and drawn by future Image Founder/toy magnate/owner of Mark McGwire's balls Todd MacFarlane, but beyond that, nothing much of note occurs regarding X-Factor.

A Work in Progress
It's mentioned that Rusty is still wanted by the government. 

It's revealed that before the Right found him, Rictor accidentally destroyed a small town in Mexico using his powers.


I Love the 80s
Maybe it's just me, but if Beast is so sick and possibly contagious, maybe his bed shouldn't be so close to Iceman's...


Rictor says that even in Mexico, the muggers of Central Park are legendary. The ensuing gang of criminals the X-Factor kids encounter are pretty much what you'd expect 80s criminals in New York to look like.


Human/Mutant Relations
At least one of the muggers is pretty anti-mutant. 


By Their Deeds You Shall Know Them
Iceman beats himself up for freezing the park, saying he told everyone to judge mutants by their deeds, and all they do is destroy. This prompts Rusty to venture out into the park in order to try and melt the ice and prove mutants are capable of good deeds as well. 


He does so, then leaves a message in the park:


Teebore's Take
Three issues after their last spotlight, the X-Factor kids take the spotlight once more, relegating the regular cast and the ongoing Hodge/Apocalypse/Right plots into the background. In theory, this is an effective use of a book's supporting cast, periodically elevating it out of its usual role as a way to break up the regular dynamic of the title, while also giving the supporting players some extra room to develop. In practice, though, it isn't always as effective. For one thing, these types of stories are usually seen as opportunity to give the regular artist a break, and while June Brigman's art here is effective enough, it lacks the energy and style of Walt Simonson (and even the crispness of her New Mutants issue from the same month). For another, this particular group of supporting characters isn't all that exciting. They're not bad characters, just...bland characters. Even Rictor, the newest member of the cast, who (wisely) gets something of a spotlight in this issue, goes through pretty much the same arc Skids did in the last "X-Factor Kids Fill-In" story, running scared from his power before learning to control it in order to help save Rusty.

But the real problem here is that this is the issue where Simonson really beats the whole "know mutants by their deeds" idea to death. I'd have to count, but I swear that phrase is uttered at least a half dozen times throughout the issue, and serves as the impetus of the plot: the public, angry at Iceman for freezing Central Park, motivates Rusty to go out and melt all that ice, to show mutants are capable of good deeds.

Except the public isn't judging mutants generically/generally (as the mantra implies), blaming all mutants for the actions of a few bad ones. The public is instead judging Iceman by the wrong deed - they're angry he wrecked the park, failing to see that he only did so to save their lives. The public IS knowing this mutant by his deed - it's just a narrow knowledge of Iceman's actions born of ignorance of the big picture. As a result, the actions of the X-Factor kids in this issue - going out and righting Iceman's perceived wrong - don't carry quite the punch that Simonson seems to think they do (the more accurate counterpoint would be to illustrate how Iceman's actions saved human lives), and the whole thing just points out that as well intentioned as the mantra may be, it's hopelessly simplistic. 

Next Issue
Uncanny X-Men #222 wraps up the Marauders rematch, New Mutants #57 spends more time with Bird-Boy, and X-Factor #21 gets back to the Hodge plot.

15 comments:

  1. Between this and the current New Mutants issue you reviewed, I think June Brigman should have been the permanent New Mutants artist.

    "owner of Mark McGwire's balls Todd MacFarlane"

    I hope McGwire's wife/gf is aware and ok with that...

    "Maybe it's just me, but if Beast is so sick and possibly contagious, maybe his bed shouldn't be so close to Iceman's..."

    Maybe none of them should be actually TOUCHING him as well, and just let Jean and her TK deal with that from a distance...

    "Rictor says that even in Mexico, the muggers of Central Park are legendary."

    I will say, for those of us living outside the US, New York City in general had a pretty (in)famous reputation for crime...

    "But the real problem here is that this is the issue where Simonson really beats the whole "know mutants by their deeds" idea to death. I'd have to count, but I swear that phrase is uttered at least a half dozen times throughout the issue"

    Sounds like a fun drinking game when reading Wheezie's X-factor...

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  2. Hey, let's not forget that Todd McFarlane also owns at least one of Barry Bonds's balls, too!

    Also, this Brigman job, based purely on the scans you posted, is more appealing to me than the New Mutants issue from yesterday. Maybe -- to my eye, at least -- Randy Emberlin is a better fit for her than Terry Austin.

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  3. "I swear that phrase is uttered at least a half dozen times throughout the issue"

    It's nuts, isn't it? I've got the big FOTM omnibus that reprints X-Factor 19-26 (I believe that's the sequence), and I had to stop after this one. The "deeds" thing was just killing me. I'll take a 100-issue Gosamyr maxiseries over this. :)

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  4. Carried over from the comments on #19...

    @Teebore: // I have a lot of affection for the original X-Men //

    Me too... Which is why I got excited about X-Factor and, like Jason, why it disappointed me so much: Here was my chance to finally see the original X-Men in more than reprints, trepidation over altering the Phoenix saga aside. I knew that large swaths of the Silver Age X-Men were dismissed, and all I'd read were a few Lee/Kirby and Thomas/Adams tales, but I loved the first decade or so of the All-New, All-Different incarnation and the sense of history that came from various founding X-Men setting off for the diaspora of the Avengers, Champions, and (later) Defenders.

    I can't bring to mind the name of the phenomenon now, but there's this thing where you have a mechanism slowly replaced part by part until you're left with what is actually a brand new object but is considered the original. Like if my laptop needs a new battery, duh, I get a new battery. It's still the same laptop. Then its hard drive goes, but I have everything backed up, so I get a new hard drive and install everything just as it was. Then somebody cracks the screen and I get the top of the clamshell replaced. Finally the keyboard or the trackpad goes and I get that bottom half replaced, meaning even if I carried over the battery and hard drive into the new base, as they were themselves replacements there's nothing left of the original — yet since it all happened over time I still think of it as in essence the laptop that I got x (no pun intended) years ago.

    At this point in time the turnover in Uncanny X-Men has been such that none of the original members remain, not even Professor X, but the membership changed gradually for the most part — even during the big upheavals there were a couple of major holdovers (Cyclops, Xavier, and sort-of Marvel Girl in 1975; Storm and Wolverine, if not Rogue too, in 1987) — and the setting remained the same. They're called the X-Men and they star in the series called The Uncanny X-Men. Meanwhile, X-Factor chronicles the lives of the five original X-Men. Which of these teams is the real X-Men? It's not just a mental exercise. The groups are highly suspicious of one another: the current X-Men unaware that X-Factor is Scott, Bobby, Hank, Warren, and the revived Jean; the X-Factor five disbelieving that Logan, Ororo, et al. could let Magneto into the fold especially with the New Mutants at the school. X-Factor even has its own group of trainees, still learning to control their abilities rather than being prepped for combat but overseen directly by X-Factor in a way that the New Mutants really haven't ever been by the X-Men. Of course it's completely implausible that X-Factor wouldn't go check out Xavier's place, and that none of the X-Men has seen their old friends operating in barely redesigned costumes using their familiar powers on TV under the X-Terminators rubric, although that's a whole other can of worms.

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  5. @Jason: // I think I tend to hold dialogue to a higher standard than plotting -- at least with serials //

    Unlike Teebore I'm with Jason here even if I never thought about it much. It can be tremendously disappointing when a discrete storyline fizzles out or takes a dumb turn, but really all you have to judge ongoing serial comics is the trees rather than the forest, especially back in the era we're discussing.

    @Jason: // I think Walt’s art on X-Factor is pretty bad ... Don’t get me wrong, I think Simonson at his best is among the very top of the line for superhero comics art. //

    Count me in on this as well. I haven't read any of the New Mutants we're about to cover before, so I can't really judge Blevins' art in comparison to Walt's on X-Factor or his own other work, but the Simonsons have both been disappointing me on X-Factor overall. Like others have said, Walt is probably more suited to Thor and Orion and, going back to my own Golden Age, the postapocalyptic Hercules Unbound, because his design-oriented work lends itself to Asgard or Fourth World trappings rather than the kind of mundane ones that even superhero comics have when set in present-day New York City. Also, Simonson's whole gestalt is helped greatly by the lettering of someone like his frequent collaborator John Workman rather than X-Factor's Joe Rosen. I really liked Simonson's art before he evolved the style by which we know him now, too, as evidenced in the classic 1975 Batman tale "The Cape & Cowl Death Trap" (Detective Comics #450, written by Elliot S! Maggin).

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  6. " Which of these teams is the real X-Men? It's not just a mental exercise. The groups are highly suspicious of one another ..."

    This is part of why Uncanny 242 is one of my favorite issues, as it brings all of that tension to a head. It's the first issue of Uncanny to feature the original five in active lead roles since the "All New" guys replaced them. And everything -- the suspicion and distrust you talk about -- boils over. "We were the original X-Men. Let's show these imposters what that means!" So epic.

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  7. Oh come ON! This lot got the book cancelled back in the day while the others made it the most read book in the world. These are not the X-Men you're looking for.

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  8. Just like they may say in the ending credits that "Wolverine was created by Len Wein & Herb Trimpe" but those guys aren't the reason why the movies get made and the people go see them.

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  9. Careful Teemu, you are almost contradicting yourself ;)

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  10. @wwk5d: Careful Teemu, you are almost contradicting yourself ;)

    Naah, I just felt after posting the the first one that it wasn't explicitly pro-Claremont enough. ;)

    Anyways, that was mostly my out-universe view. In-universe I'm more like "Real X-Men?! You hunt mutants! You betrayed Xavier's dream!"

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  11. @wwk5d: Maybe none of them should be actually TOUCHING him as well, and just let Jean and her TK deal with that from a distance...

    Also true.

    I will say, for those of us living outside the US, New York City in general had a pretty (in)famous reputation for crime...

    Oh yeah, even in the US New York in the 80s was pretty synonymous with rampant crime. Obviously, there's still crime in the city, but there was a concerted effort in the 90s to clean up the city (which led to Times Square becoming a tourist thing instead of a locus of drug and sex activity) and cut down on crime enough so that nowadays the sort of "traditional" New York crime we often think of is very much an 80s thing.

    Sounds like a fun drinking game when reading Wheezie's X-factor...

    I'm pretty sure it would kill most people.

    @Matt: Hey, let's not forget that Todd McFarlane also owns at least one of Barry Bonds's balls, too!

    Obviously, I was going for the easy balls joke, but now that I think about it, "Barry Bonds' balls" would have been MUCH better...

    Maybe -- to my eye, at least -- Randy Emberlin is a better fit for her than Terry Austin.

    Which is funny, because I was thinking the exact opposite - I much prefer the cleaner lines Austin gave her New Mutants other this, which reminds me too much of the Terry Shoemaker fill-in issues (which I've never liked).

    @Jason: 've got the big FOTM omnibus that reprints X-Factor 19-26 (I believe that's the sequence), and I had to stop after this one. The "deeds" thing was just killing me. I'll take a 100-issue Gosamyr maxiseries over this. :)

    Bite your tongue! :)

    Thankfully, I think this is the apex of the "deeds" thing. I have no doubt it'll still get brought up, but I don't think its pounded on quite as vigorously after this, mainly because the plots pick up steam and there's less space for it.

    @Blam: Which is why I got excited about X-Factor and, like Jason, why it disappointed me so much: Here was my chance to finally see the original X-Men in more than reprints, trepidation over altering the Phoenix saga aside.

    And I think the difference for me (and the thing that lends me more tolerance for X-Factor than others) is that, as much as I like X-Factor because it features the original X-Men, I like the original X-Men because of X-Factor.

    This title pretty much was my first exposure to them, as a group, aside from seeing the members, spread across two teams, in the present day stuff, and hearing them occasionally referenced, almost mythically at times, by the "All New" team in reprints/back issues.

    With no other point of reference, this stuff was all aces to me: the interpersonal dynamics, the sense that these were seasoned veterans who worked well together, all the soap opera relationship angst, I ate it up, and that early reading instilled a lot of fondness in me for the series (it also helped, as I've mentioned before, that of the three "main" X-titles, this was the one whose back issues I could find and buy easiest, making this series and its characters feel more like "my" book than the more popular/expensive/harder to track down New Mutants and Uncanny X-Men back issues).

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  12. @Teemu: // Oh come ON! This lot got the book cancelled back in the day while the others made it the most read book in the world. These are not the X-Men you're looking for. //

    I don't know if you missed the "why it disappointed me so much" part, Teemu, but I'm not arguing for the quality of X-Factor; I'm saying that there's a legitimate tension in the larger sense, execution aside, between what the X-Men team has evolved into (with none of the original members, but at least nominally still at the original headquarters for now and operating under the X-Men name) and what the reunited original X-Men are.

    Like you, I come down on the side of Uncanny being the worthwhile read here, but surely that's more for the creative work than the simple imprimatur of the name. When someone else was Captain America and starring in Captain America, while the original was forced to call himself "The Captain" or was newly returned from the dead and just Steve Rogers, Super-Soldier, was there any doubt who was still really Captain America?

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  13. Blam, I started reading at issue 199, my very first image was a splash page about Cyclops. A couple of next issues, Cyke in big role. At this point in my country they started publishing Secret Wars as a supporting series in the Spider-Man book, Cyke in the All-New X-Men. At the same time they published a special edition book of hitherto unseen Paul Smith issues, with Cyke. Within a year they also put out the X-Men/Alpha Flight story. And at the same time I was hunting the Byrne-era back issues.

    So to me, when things were established I considered Cyclops to be very much a member of the new X-Men. In fact, if we count issues I think he has more experience of being an X-Man from the new team alongside Storm, Wolverine and Colossus than the 46 issues of O5, of whom Jean had also been with the new team. Meanwhile the rest were doing other things than X-Manning.

    So if I am to address the question specifically as Scott puts it in the issue, I say he/they ain't got nothing on the new team to teach them anything. He was a member from the beginning, carried over to the second genesis, quit, and then quit again when he didn't get to be the leader. While others carried on. He can't now just rally up a merry band of other people who quit and go calling the shots.

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  14. Actually, for me, back-then, the "All-New X-men" were the real X-men. X-factor (Cyclops aside) was always those older less interesting characters who used to be X-men.

    Even now, when I think of the X-men, I tend to think of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, etc, before I think of the original X-men (again, Cyclops aside).

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  15. Teebore -- "Obviously, I was going for the easy balls joke, but now that I think about it, "Barry Bonds' balls" would have been MUCH better..."

    Well I was just sticking up for my local 'roided out home run slugger. Though at one point when I was in elementary school, McGwire was my local 'roided out home run slugger, too... I've just always favore the Giants over the A's.

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