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Friday, February 28, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #23

"You Say You Want Some Evolution?"
December 1987

In a Nutshell
X-Factor battles the Right 

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

Plot
Having tracked their wards to the Right's secret base beneath the science museum in Arlington, X-Factor infiltrates the complex. However, Beast's brash actions quickly alert the Right to their presence. As they penetrate deeper into the complex, they get trapped in a room lined with ruby quartz, and seemingly knocked out by gas. However, Marvel Girl shielded her teammates from the effects of the gas, and when the Right try to collect them, they are able to escape, triggering a blackout in the process. Meanwhile, Apocalypse watches their battle from his ship as he pits his Horsemen against Death, who easily defeats his teammates, prompting Apocalypse to declare him their leader. Back in Arlington, the kids are freed when the power goes out, and they manage to overpower a guard and escape their cell.


They come across a pitched battle between X-Factor and the Right's armored Smile Face troops. Hodge joins the fray, wearing armor made of ruby quartz, but Iceman's increased power enables him to crack Hodge's armor, allowing Cyclops to blast it apart, seemingly killing him. Yet when he approaches the body, it turns out to be a robot duplicat who taunts X-Factor before exploding. Marvel Girl gathers X-Factor and the kids, flying them out of the building just as it too explodes. As they land safely outside, however, Apocalypse suddenly teleports X-Factor to his ship, declaring it is time for their true test against his Horsemen.

Firsts and Other Notables
Death makes his first full appearance this issue (though this is generally considered a "cameo" appearance, with next issue his first full appearance, for whatever reason), wearing the blue-and-red costume that will remain with the character well into the 90s. He defeats the other Horseman to become their leader, and we see that his metal wings are capable of launching sharpened metallic "feathers" at his opponents.


It's confirmed this issue that as a result of Pestilence's touch in issue #19, the more Beast uses his strength, the dumber he gets (even as he gets physically stronger), something which has been hinted at the last few issues. This ongoing "dumbening" will continue for awhile and eventually lead to the return of blue hairy Beast.


During the battle with the Right, Iceman receives a belt intended to inhibit his power. However, as it was designed based on his previous power levels, in his amped-up condition he merely regains some measure of control over his power via the belt, rather than it eliminating his power entirely. He'll continue to wear the inhibitor belt through "X-Tinction Agenda"; it disappears after that when he begins wearing the new While Portacio-designed X-Factor uniform.


For what it's worth, Hodge formally fires the title characters from X-Factor in this issue. He also appears to die, only to reveal he faked his death and is actually alive and well, which becomes something of a trope for the character.


A Work in Progress
When Beast tries to question a guard, he seemingly kills himself, though Cyclops suspect he was implanted with a device that killed him in order to protect Right secrets.


Hodge takes credit for orchestrating the amputation of Angel's wings and his death, threatening San Fransisco, increasing anti-mutant hysteria, kidnapping the X-Factor kids and massacring New Yorkers.


Rictor uses a gun with ease in this issue, saying he learned how from living in Central America.


Hodge rants again about how mutants usurped his position of privilege earned by being born wealthy.


Artistic Achievements
If you look closely, you can see the point at which the HodgeBot (wearing the ruby quartz armor) enters the battle, after which the real Hodge leaves the scene (Hodge is on the floor, while the HodgeBot comes in behind the kids on the catwalk above Hodge and X-Factor).


Mutants. Deeds. Know Them. 
Infiltrating the Right's complex, Beast echoes Iceman's phrase, saying that humans should be judged by their deeds as well, and that the Right is evil. 


Teebore's Take
This issue serves to finish the first phase of the conflict between X-Factor and the Right while segueing directly into X-Factor's portion of "Fall of the Mutants". Not only does the end of the issue, which finds Apocalypse nabbing X-Factor to face off against his now-completed team of Horsemen make for an effective "out of the frying pan" cliffhanger, it also wisely keeps up the breakneck plotting of the series begun in issue #21 - Simonson, after all, is at her best when the plot clips along at a brisk pace.

The actual fight in this issue is also well handled: it manages to strike the right balance between ending the immediate conflict with enough gravitas while also not being so epic that it overshadows the looming crossover confrontation with Apocalypse. Having an increasingly-dumb Beast mucking up X-Factor's usually smooth teamwork adds a fun wrinkle and keeps the two sides evenly balanced (and Simonson does a nice job with Beast's dialogue here: it's dumbed down from his usual eloquence, but not as simplistic as it will become), and there's something about the HodgeBot's retro chic ruby quartz armor that I love; it's goofy but in a fun "only in comics" kind of way and is a striking image without being overly complex. Hodge and the Right will be back, but for now they've served their purpose: severing the main characters from the mutant hunter premise with as much of their dignity intact as possible, setting the stage for the next step in the evolution of the title.   

Next Issue
"Fall of the Mutants" begins! Uncanny X-Men #225 pits the X-Men against Freedom Force, New Mutants #59 pits the New Mutants against the Ani-Mater, and X-Factor #24 pits X-Factor against Death and the Horsemen of Apocalypse.

17 comments:

  1. wearing the blue-and-red costume that will remain with the character well into the 90s.

    That outfit is totally blue and pink, and you know it!!

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  2. "Infiltrating the Right's complex, Beast echoes Iceman's phrase ..."

    Why, Weezie, WHY?!??

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  3. @Jeff: That outfit is totally blue and pink, and you know it!!

    Heh. I've gotta give Warren a little dignity where I can.

    @Jason: Why, Weezie, WHY?!??

    It had been a few issues; she was probably worried we'd forgotten.

    Look on the bright side: now she's got the dumbest character saying it, which has to be some commentary on it, right? :)

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  4. "Look on the bright side: now she's got the dumbest character saying it, which has to be some commentary on it, right?"

    In a Claremont story, maybe, but this is Louise "Subtly? What's that?" Simonson...

    But it worth it to see Beast call the Right Evil suckers...

    While I like the Horsemen as characters...they do seem to get their asses kicked quite a bit, don't they? You have to wonder why Apocalypse keeps them beyond FOTM...

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  5. @wwk5d: While I like the Horsemen as characters...they do seem to get their asses kicked quite a bit, don't they? You have to wonder why Apocalypse keeps them beyond FOTM...

    You can't legally disband a team in Marvel Universe before you have had Wolverine in the roster. Lots of the heavy lifting will soon enough to be transferred to the Riders of the Storm though.

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  6. Y'know, ruby quartz armor is kind of a cool idea -- but really only if you're fighting Cyclops solo. When his teammates are around as well, it seems kind of silly.

    Also, I find it interesting that Simonson's Archangel costume is one of the few that Jim Lee didn't redesign circa X-Men 1 - 3. He must've been a fan.

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  7. @wwk5d: In a Claremont story, maybe, but this is Louise "Subtly? What's that?" Simonson...

    Yeah, no, I don't really think she's being that subtle.

    The Beast line is great though.

    While I like the Horsemen as characters...they do seem to get their asses kicked quite a bit, don't they? You have to wonder why Apocalypse keeps them beyond FOTM...

    He doesn't really keep them around after FotM, though. Sure, he keeps returning to the concept, with new Horsemen (including Caliban), but we never see him use this particular group after "FotM", who next show up in "X-Cutioners Song", thinking they're doing the bidding of Apocalypse but actually working for a disguised Sinister (which at least suggests Apocalypse kept them around, even if we didn't see him deploy them).

    And, as Teemu said, Apocalypse will transition to the Riders of the Storm/Dark Riders as his go-to lackeys before too long.

    @Matt: Also, I find it interesting that Simonson's Archangel costume is one of the few that Jim Lee didn't redesign circa X-Men 1 - 3. He must've been a fan.

    Good point. I suppose he technically leaves Gambit's and Psylocke's alone too, but I think he designed those in the first place so they don't really count.

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  8. Teebore -- "I suppose he technically leaves Gambit's and Psylocke's alone too, but I think he designed those in the first place so they don't really count."

    Yeah, I meant of the ones he didn't have a hand in initially. He leaves Gambit and Psylocke alone, as well as Jubilee, Forge and Banshee, as he was the one who designed all those outfits in the first place. He also keeps Beast in the classic blue trunks look. But really, how are you going to redesign Beast? Turn him into a cat or something? That's absurd!

    I suppose he really didn't redesign Wolverine either, since he just restored him to his original yellow costume. And Storm's outfit was basically exactly the same as her Silvestri costume, but with the big lightning bolt swapped for twin "X's" instead. Though he added "X's" to every single costume, even the ones he himself had previously designed not to include them.

    Anyway. Archangel seems to be the only character who he did not either restore to a Silver/Bronze Age look or redesign from stratch, for whatever reason.

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  9. I was aware enough of this run to casually hate that when Archangel returned to X-Factor he kept the outfit he wore as a Horseman. When a team has matching costumes, an odd man out is just annoying. The fact that it's predominantly blue like Cyclops' and Beast's uniforms just makes it worse, too, as does the pink when the others' costumes are bold primary and secondary colors.

    Beast's new predicament eats into the duality that defines his character — inhuman size and strength with smarts and sophisticated speech — but I'm willing to see where it goes, since overall he's so much less interesting here than in his blue, furry Avengers (and X-Men reservist) incarnation.

    Nobody getting hit by the automatic Rictor was firing, even via ricochet, was a little suspect, as was the fact that the Smiley-Face Armor guys just kind-of stopped fighting and watched after subduing the kids while Cyclops broke open the Hodge robot's armor. I wonder if they were under orders from Hodge to stand down in that eventuality so that X-Factor could hear Hodge gloat about not really having been defeated; also, I wonder if he bothered to warn them that his robot duplicate was going to blow up the entire building after said non-defeat.

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  10. @ Matt: Also, I find it interesting that Simonson's Archangel costume is one of the few that Jim Lee didn't redesign circa X-Men 1 - 3. He must've been a fan.

    Lee's generation of artist would soon enough enter into a feud with Marvel over the cuts that should be coming to their way from the merchs sales as the visual designers of the characters' looks. The cynical part in me is yelling loudly that Lee's costume overhaul was not made solely out of visual considerations.

    Maybe he was like I were on impression that the new looks was actually Angel's skin. It took some time to him show his yellow hair again and I have vague remembrance that he was referred as baldy somewhere around the Inferno era.

    @ Blam: I wonder if he bothered to warn them that his robot duplicate was going to blow up the entire building after said non-defeat.

    I'm sure he didn't. Officially because he didn't want them act in suspicious ways like something was going to blow soon, but unofficially because he's just that kind of asshole.

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  11. "Forge and Banshee, as he was the one who designed all those outfits in the first place."

    Did Lee design the sexy-fied Kirby suits?

    I've always wondered about that. They first appear in issues drawn by Silvestri, but Lee seemed to really like 'em. (And I know I've read in interviews that Lee himself was a fan of the original "school uniform" era of X-Men.) Made me wonder if Lee was already assigned as Silvestri's replacement and designed those suits before he became the series' regular artist.

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  12. Teemu -- "Maybe he was like I were on impression that the new looks was actually Angel's skin."

    Hmm, I forgot about that. For a while the purple parts of the mask seemed to pass right over his mouth, like a tattoo or something. Which of course brings up the question: if the "costume" is his skin, then where did his junk go??

    Jason -- "Did Lee design the sexy-fied Kirby suits?"

    I find myself wondering about this sort of thing more and more as I realize just how blurred certain lines were in the old days. For example, Rick Leonardi designed Spider-Man's black costume even though Ron Frenz drew it first in Amazing Spider-Man and Mike Zeck drew its debut in Secret Wars. Leonardi wasn't even a regular Spider-Man artist at the time!

    At any rate -- for some reason I thought Lee did the first appearance of the Muir Island school uniforms. I believe they debuted around the time he was tag-teaming with Silvestri, didn't they? Or was it earlier? I should look at my X-Men by Chris Claremont Jim Lee, & Marc Silvestri Omnibus when I have a moment later. It's filled with design sketches and such. I bet there's a clue in there.

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  13. @Matt: Which of course brings up the question: if the "costume" is his skin, then where did his junk go??

    Apocalypse made him Death and deemed it needless for him to have any life-giving parts. As for the bodily wastes, they metabolize into poison and leave through his dart feathers.

    (I am a bit worried about me having come up with that explanation waaay too easily.)

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  14. @Blam: I was aware enough of this run to casually hate that when Archangel returned to X-Factor he kept the outfit he wore as a Horseman. When a team has matching costumes, an odd man out is just annoying.

    Yeah, that always bugged me too, especially after Portacio comes aboard and gives the entire team new, even-more-unified costumes. Plus, you've already got Beast (wearing naught but trunks) and Iceman (who's usually iced up) as visual odd-men-out, so by the time Archangel is flying around too, you're down to two team members in matching costumes, which is hardly a unified look.

    Beast's new predicament eats into the duality that defines his character — inhuman size and strength with smarts and sophisticated speech — but I'm willing to see where it goes, since overall he's so much less interesting here than in his blue, furry Avengers (and X-Men reservist) incarnation.

    It reads very much like Simonson biding her time until she can reasonably turn him back to blue-n-furry and deciding to do SOMETHING different with the character in the meantime, instead of just having a watered down version of the "physically an animal, mentally a genius" character running around.

    It definitely breaks that dynamic, but as a relatively brief status quo change for the character, I've always kind of liked it. It only exists for about a year or so publication time, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn't *that* long, so I've always read it less as a genuine attempt to establish a new status quo and more as a transitional period.

    @Jason: Did Lee design the sexy-fied Kirby suits?

    I've always heard/seen Lee credited as designing them, but again, that could just be rumor/supposition cemented into fact by getting repeated a lot. I've never actually seen anything definitive either way.

    @Matt: Which of course brings up the question: if the "costume" is his skin, then where did his junk go??

    I'm not sure which artist first made it clear that Archangel's costume WAS a costume, and not his skin (Paul Smith, maybe, in the "Judgement War" arc?), but I wonder if whomever it was did so simply because they assumed it *had* to be a costume because, you know, no junk. :)

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  15. You know, guys, very soon we will meet Pretty Boy, the Reaver who "doesn't want a silly sword when he can charm ladies". And then Pierce sidehands his head off and gives him a full robotic body with a vent where his penis used to be. A vent! And he gets taunted a plenty by his friends for it and is mightily pissed about the whole thing.

    So it's completely reasonable that Apocalypse who wants to turn Warren into an evil henchman would go with a similar route. Warren already took lots of offense when they amputated the other things he felt made him special, namely his wings, so it's really already a tested motivator for Apocalypse to work with. Paint him partly pink, give him a mound just like Ken (of Barbie fame) has, release him on the world, profit.

    Which is ironic really because essentially Warren has his pair taken off him in the very same process his character gets given one.

    Though I think all this play on manly fear of castration as a plot device really is not for us amateurs to meddle on. Do we know anyone who is a self-proclaimed world's foremost expert on X-Men sexing, maybe has a chart where anyone's pi-pi has been in any given time, that sort of thing?

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  16. " For example, Rick Leonardi designed Spider-Man's black costume even though Ron Frenz drew it first in Amazing Spider-Man and Mike Zeck drew its debut in Secret Wars. Leonardi wasn't even a regular Spider-Man artist at the time!"

    Well, I'm pretty sure Mike Zeck was a co-designer on it ... in fact, I think his contribution was larger than Leonardi's ... but still, your point is taken. It isn't always clear-cut with these comix.

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  17. "Well, I'm pretty sure Mike Zeck was a co-designer on it ... in fact, I think his contribution was larger than Leonardi's ... but still, your point is taken. It isn't always clear-cut with these comix."

    Interesting. I've only ever seen the Leonardi design sketches, which are practically the finished product, but with a red spider instead of white. But perhaps those sketches were refined from something Zeck drew first.

    Incidentally, I looked through that Omnibus the other day and could not find any design sketches crediting the streamlined school uniforms to Jim Lee.

    I did, however, find something that blew my mind -- Lee's original concept sketch for the interlocking X-Men #1 covers shows Cyclops in his Cockrum/Byrne costume! Every other sketch and piece of artwork I've seen from that era has him in the full Lee outfit. I wonder if Lee was originally going to put him back in the classic look before a decision was made to "ninetiesfy" him?

    I have to say that while I'm fond of the Lee outfit, a return to my favorite costume for the character instead would have been much better.

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