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Friday, February 14, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #21

"For Every Action..."
October 1987

In a Nutshell 
Angel's will is read. 

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

Plot
Cameron Hodge returns to the X-Factor complex, and is quickly accosted by X-Factor. Though he feigns knowledge of any nefarious actions, X-Factor fires him, citing his failed ad campaign for the organization, which fanned the flames of anti-mutant prejudice. Later, Hank, still ill, plays a game of chess with the kids before getting ready for the reading of Warren's will. Unknownst to them, Hodge watches X-Factor from his secret lair within the complex, making ready a plan for later in the day. In the midst of a media circus, X-Factor and Hodge arrive uptown for the reading of the will, at which it's announced that Warren has left all his money to X-Factor, to be administered by Hodge.


Outraged, X-Factor storms out and addresses the media. Just as they're about to reveal the truth behind X-Factor, Hodge puts his plan into action, and the scene is suddenly attacked by a group of armored troops claiming to be fighting on behalf of mutants. X-Factor does their best to protect the innocents caught in the crossfire, eventually chasing off the troops before escaping themselves through the underground tunnels. Overhead, Apocalypse watches with amusement as Hodge points to the attack as an example of why mutants are dangerous. Back at the X-Factor complex, the kids see the footage of the attack on TV. Knowing X-Factor will have to return through the tunnels, they rush downstairs. But once Rusty opens the door, more the armored troops X-Factor fought burst into the complex. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Though they aren't yet identified as such, this marks the first appearance of the Right's armored troops, notable for the seeming big smile on their helmets. They'll remain a fixture both in X-Factor and throughout the X-universe for the next several years before disappearing along with most trappings of this era in the 90s, but they continue to pop up in conjunction with the Right from time to time.


Angel's will is read this issue, and while he did leave his money to X-Factor, he specified that it is to be controlled by Hodge, prompting the rest of X-Factor to, uh, quit X-Factor, and effectively leaving Hodge in control of Angel's fortune moving forward.

It's also revealed, via Trish Tilby, that Hodge clandestinely arranged for Warren's wings to be amputated.


X-Factor is on the verge of revealing themselves as mutants when the Right troops (as part of Hodge's plan) attack, and though they end up using their powers publicly in the ensuing battle, the footage is shaky enough that nobody makes the connection. Nonetheless, this is the closest X-Factor has yet to come to outing themselves.

Apocalypse, amused by Hodge's machinations, reveals that his work on Death is complete, and the fourth Horseman is ready to learn how to use the power he's been given. The ensuing picture of Death is one of the only times he'll be seen in the traditional Horseman uniform. 


A Work in Progress
Some of Hodge's motivation is revealed, as he explains that he and Warren were best friends and the socially powerful long before Warren learned he was a mutant.


Hodge points out that X-Factor went along with his mutant hunter ruse, but they counter they never "read the fine print" on his setup, and were too happy just to be working together again to pay much attention, more attempts to distance the characters from the mutant hunter premise.


Caliban now adds his inability to help Beast during the fight against the Horsemen to his inability to fight back against the Marauders, and yearns for power in order to better protect his friends. Iceman promises to teach him some hand-to-hand combat moves.


Beast notes that despite his continued illness, he feels physically stronger than ever, and that his mind remains sharp.


Trish Tilby hints that she's realized that the members of X-Factor are mutants.  

Artistic Achievements
I don't know why, but there's something about the gigantic glasses Walt Simonson gives Hodge that I find appealing. 


Teebore's Take
After the Apocalypse interlude and what amounted to a glorified fill-in, Simonson brings back Hodge in this issue, beginning a three part story arc that will reveal his motivations once and for all, in the process further evolving the concept of X-Factor while carrying the title into "Fall of the Mutants". As mentioned in issue #19, it's a Claremontian and effective bit of plotting on her part, creating finite stories with clear beginnings and endings which still flow directly from one to another, reminiscent in structure to the height of the Claremont/Byrne partnership. Setting up Hodge as a behind-the-scenes manipulator (here credited with clandestinely arranging the court order that removed Angel's wings, leading to his apparent suicide) not only provides a narrative spine that connects recent events, reaching back not only to Angel's death and his crippling at the hands of the Marauders, but even further, to the start of the series and its ill-advised premise. In doing so, Simonson, like Claremont, creates the sensation that each of these narrative pieces is part of a larger puzzle, all the more impressive considering she wasn't involved in the creation of the series' earliest issues. 

Next Issue
Next week, Storm fights a big snake in Uncanny X-Men #223, Bird Boy fights his hunger in New Mutants #58, and the X-Factor fights the Right in X-Factor #22.

9 comments:

  1. I like the small touch W Simonson gives Scott when the will is read out. His optic beams are more intense even with the glasses on lol

    "Caliban now adds his inability to help Beast during the fight against the Horsemen to his inability to fight back against the Marauders, and yearns for power in order to better protect his friends. Iceman promises to teach him some hand-to-hand combat moves."

    Wasn't Caliban supposed to have some super strength? In his first appearance, he went toe to toe with Spider-woman, and she had super strength...did he ever display any super strength after that during the Smith or JRjr runs?

    "Simonson, like Claremont, creates the sensation that each of these narrative pieces is part of a larger puzzle, all the more impressive considering she wasn't involved in the creation of the series' earliest issues."

    If only she had someone better doing the scripts (or she herself toned down the histrionics), this would be so much better. Its still good, it just could've been better, you know? For the most part, her plotting is pretty good.

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  2. Then again, I think Caliban is supposed to absorb negative energy or fear or whatever to get that super-strength...which meant he should have been kicking ass during the Mutant Massacre...

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  3. @wwk5ddid he ever display any super strength after that during the Smith or JRjr runs?

    I don't think so. Even in #148, any super strength was more implicit (going to toe-to-toe with Spider-Woman) than explicit, and I don't think he actually becomes super-strong until after Apocalypse does stuff to him.

    If only she had someone better doing the scripts (or she herself toned down the histrionics)

    The histrionics could definitely be toned down. I wonder who is responsible for bolding the words in dialogue: is that Simonson directing the letterer, or the letterer? Because it's all over this this series, yet doesn't show up much in New Mutants.

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  4. Ah, Caliban... for such a minor-role character he sure knew when to be there for have himself be drawn by different X-artists. First Cockrum, then he hit the ten or so issue run by Paul Smith, JRjr... and Liefeld with an in-universe excuse to bulk him up (was there ever one for Jamie Proudstar?). And there are also the disturbing concept drawings of Caliban by certain John Byrne.

    But, "the Right"... I know the funny books people often hail from the other end of the political spectrum, but isn't this driving it home a bit harshly?

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  5. That apparent smile on the Right's flying human tanks is weird, especially because the dot-centered loops above them look like eyes making the whole thing a macabre funny face — at least until you realize that the nozzles above those loops could also be eyes and so the loops suddenly turn into boobs.

    I think my favorite part of the issue was, paraphrased, this:

    Scott: "You rigged my computer to show me holograms designed to manipulate my behavior!"
    Hodge: "Did I?"
    Scott: "You totally did! Look! I'll show you!" [nothing happens] "Whatever! You still suck!"

    Anyway, I know that it's heightened melodrama but it still felt dumb for X-Factor to fire Hodge before they knew the extent of whatever surveillance 'n' stuff he might have in the headquarters and before they even verified that they could fire him. Will or no will, Hodge was probably the executive officer legally in charge of the X-Factor corporation in Warren's absence, whereas the X-Factor members themselves may not even have officially been a part of the concern. At minimum, Hodge could've evicted them — You shall know us by the deeds to our headquarters! — and cut off the stipends that they well might've been getting under assumed names, which by the way brings into question Jean Grey's legal status of existence, period, since her return from apparent death.

    Trish Tilby is — sorry, was — hardly an investigative journalist, although I guess being the least clueless person in this series is akin to being the one-eyed king in the land of the blind. From what I recall of Beast's long stint in the Avengers, his true identity as Hank McCoy wasn't exactly secret if maybe not as widely known as, say, Angel's true identity just by virtue of Warren Worthington being a public figure in his everyday billionaire-playboy life.

    I call bandersnatch on Scott firing his eyeblasts with his glasses off in two separate beams. Can anyone even whatever-the-opposite-of-cross-is their eyes to the degree that they no longer have binocular, stereoscopic vision?

    Eyes or Boobs is my new band name.

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  6. @Teebore: // I wonder who is responsible for bolding the words in dialogue //

    It's the writer calling out that emphasis in his/her script, although in the old days — if you look at, say, Silver Age DCs, for sure — I think letterers had a blanket edict to embolden and italicize proper names regardless of cadence in speech.

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  7. @Blam: which by the way brings into question Jean Grey's legal status of existence, period, since her return from apparent death.

    I'm pretty sure they have relaxed procedures for cancelling a death certificate in the Marvel Universe akin to there being superhero insurances available for Manhattan business owners. I guess in Jean's case they just pencil the text in by now. I don't know though if there was some legal argybargy in the case of Wonder Man Simon Williams as a corporate magnate that forced him to pursue a career in Hollywood for livelihood.

    Or then someone just goes and hacks the current status on government computers. Perhaps they have a terminal or something for example at the Avengers' place.

    Specifically in the case of the (first) death of Jean Grey/Phoenix, there was nothing left to be buried or more importantly for the coroner to do the paper work on so legally I guess they would legally have to seek for to have Jean declared dead as a missing person which procedure has a lengthy waiting period of seven or so years before it's official. She may have likely returned in time before that.

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  8. @Blam: From what I recall of Beast's long stint in the Avengers, his true identity as Hank McCoy wasn't exactly secret if maybe not as widely known as, say, Angel's true identity

    In the very first issue blue-furred Hank McCoy was been interviewed for a job in Harvard Medical School and got rejected for the "fifteenth time" on the basis of him being a known mutant.

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  9. @Teemu: Ah, Caliban... for such a minor-role character he sure knew when to be there for have himself be drawn by different X-artists.

    Good point. He did kinda hit the jackpot just out of coincidence.

    was there ever one for Jamie Proudstar?

    No, I think Liefeld just bulked him up.

    But, "the Right"... I know the funny books people often hail from the other end of the political spectrum, but isn't this driving it home a bit harshly?

    I've always wondered about that. As a kid, I just assumed it was the Right as in "humans are right, mutants are wrong".

    Now, obviously, you can see all kinds of political connotations, but with all due respect to her, I find it hard to believe that's what Simonson was going for with the name.

    @Blam: I know that it's heightened melodrama but it still felt dumb for X-Factor to fire Hodge before they knew the extent of whatever surveillance 'n' stuff he might have in the headquarters and before they even verified that they could fire him.

    Didn't you hear Cyclops? They were too busy being awesome to read the fine print. :)

    From what I recall of Beast's long stint in the Avengers, his true identity as Hank McCoy wasn't exactly secret if maybe not as widely known as, say, Angel's true identity

    Yeah, I can't quite tell if Beast, as an Avenger, was publicly known as "Hank McCoy" rather than just as Beast. As Teemu points out, the first issue suggested he was a known mutant, though of course, he was blue and hairy at that point, which kinda makes it obvious.

    Of course, the best defense for Trish's poor investigative skills comes from the fact that Beast in X-Factor doesn't look like Beast who was on the Avengers, so that, if the public doesn't associate that blue guy on the Avengers specifically with the name Hank McCoy, it's more believable that a human looking Hank could remain incognito.

    I call bandersnatch on Scott firing his eyeblasts with his glasses off in two separate beams

    Yeah, I chalk that up to artistic license. I'm pretty sure Simonson draws it that wat fairly regularly, even though it's physically impossible. At least both the beams are ultimately going in the same direction...

    It's the writer calling out that emphasis in his/her script

    Good to know. All the blame does lie with Simonson then (and, oddly enough, I noticed the technique suddenly pop up a lot in the issue of New Mutants we'll look at later this week).

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