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Friday, March 14, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #25

"Judgment Day!"
February 1988

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor battles Apocalypse. 

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

Plot
Apocalypse and the captive X-Factor watch as the Horsemen attack Manhattan. As Apocalypse gloats, Beast is able to deactivate Iceman's inhibitor belt, enabling him to ice up and free his teammates. They attack Apocalypse, damaging a transformer that causes the ship to suck light and energy from the city, plunging it into darkness. After Apocalypse ejects Marvel Girl and Cyclops from the ship, they decide to try and stop the Horsemen. As Pestilence heads into the subway tunnels, Marvel Girl and Cyclops split up to face Famine and War. Famine seemingly defeats Marvel Girl, at which point Apocalypse teleports her to Kansas, to smash American's bread basket. Meanwhile, Cyclops beats War by targeting his mount, and reunites with Marvel Girl. Aboard the ship, Beast accidentally destroys the ship's cloaking mechanism and stabilizers, causing it to appear in the sky above the city and then to smash into buildings, causing panic in the streets.


When the ship smashes into the Empire State Building, Marvel Girl grabs the broken antenna telekinetically but struggles to keep it aloft. Suddenly, Power Pack arrives, followed by Pestilence. As Power Pack battles Pestilence, Death flies through the antenna, smashing it in half. Just then, Apocalypse teleports Death back to the ship, while Pestilence is killed by the falling debris. As Cyclops and Marvel Girl instruct Power Pack to continue helping people, they commander Pestilence's mount to return to the ship. They arrive as Iceman and Beast are battling War and Death. As War is easily overpowered, Iceman has an idea. Death circles around and flies into Iceman, slicing him in half with his wings, seemingly killing him.


The shock of this action brings Death to his senses, and he realizes he regained his wings at the cost of his soul. Turning on Apocalypse, he's quickly joined by X-Factor, including Iceman, who faked his death using an ice dummy. As X-Factor once more insists they won't join Apocalypse, he abandons the ship, taking War and Caliban with him and offering the vessel to X-Factor in return. As the ship nears the harbor, X-Factor tries to get it under control, and an explosion somewhere inside stops its movement. It hits the water, then falls over, crushing the X-Factor complex. They emerge from the ship as reporters gather, telling them that an evil mutant named Apocalypse caused the damage to the city whom they tried to stop. Cyclops then reveals the truth behind X-Factor, and says that the good on both sides, human and mutant, must work together against those who would possess Earth for their kind alone, or else the planet will become a graveyard.

Firsts and Other Notables
Angel is snapped free of Apocalypse's control this issue, brought to his senses after seemingly killing Iceman, though he will continue to struggle with the changes wrought on him by Apocalypse for years to come. And though Angel appears with X-Factor at the end of the issue, he won't rejoin the team until "Inferno", maintaining a presence in the book in the intervening issues but mostly keeping to himself.  


Apocalypse gifts his space ship headquarters to X-Factor this issue, fleeing it along with War and Caliban, and X-Factor manages to down the ship such that it destroys their original riverside headquarters. Ship, as it will come to be called, will serve as X-Factor's base of operations from this point forward for the remainder of the original X-Men's tenure in the book.


In the wake of their battle with Apocalypse, X-Factor reveals the truth behind their mutant hunter ruse to the public, officially ending that phase of the title.


Of all the "Fall of the Mutants" issues, this is the one which crosses over the most with the non X-book titles. Famine disappears in the course of the issue to attack America's breadbasket, which will be seen in Captain America #339.


In deciding to pursue the Horsemen rather than help people affected by the damage, Cyclops notes that the city has other champions, which will be seen in the Daredevil & Power Pack tie-in issues.


Power Pack #35 weaves rather tightly in and around this issue, showing Pestilence's battle with the kids, more fallout from the damaged Empire State building, and the explosion which disable's Apocalypse's ship.


Apocalypse's ship causes a massive amount of damage to New York in this issue (including a blackout), the fallout of which will be addressed in future issues while also serving as the backdrop to some of the tie-ins.

Pestilence dies this issue. As far as I know, she's remained dead.


A Work in Progress
It's noted that as far as X-Factor can tell, Angel hasn't killed anyone as Death. 


It's also confirmed that while he considered it, Warren didn't try to kill himself in issue #15, and that his plane was rigged to explode by Hodge. 


I Love the 80s
Ronald Reagan is shown signing the Mutant Registration Act into law.


Human/Mutant Relations
In the wake of the damage being caused by Apocalypse, Cyclops wonders if humans aren't right to blame mutants, with Marvel Girl countering that if they're going to blame anyone, they should blame Apocalypse, not mutants in general.


When X-Factor emerges from the downed ship, someone in the crowd recognizes that they're mutants and shouts to "string 'em up!". 


Angel explains that it took both evil humans and evil mutants to turn him into what he's becomes. 


Deeds and Junk
In a pretty spectacular eff you to Iceman, Angel repeats his new mantra back at him just before apparently killing him. 


Louise Simonson on Angel's transformation
"We [she and Walt] were so bad! One of the goals we had - aside from trying to meld the mutant universes again - was to try to increase the powers of some of the X-characters. Rather than Angel being able to fly at sixty miles per hour or whatever he could do, we wanted to give him powers that were more in kepping with the inflated power level of other characters...[Apocalypse] grabbed Angel, mutated him, gave him razor sharp wings, increaeed his flying speed and when he flicked his new wings, these blade-like feathers would fly off and act like knives or razoe blades. We turned his skin blue too and I think we shaved his head - a very visual symbol fro the change of character! Ffrom being this happy-go-lucky rich guy, who's always had everything handed to him, he becomes an angry, anguished character. I have to say that there are probably readers who have never forgiven us for that, but, conversely, there are others who think that Archangel is their favourite character. This is what it's like in comic books."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. pp145-146

Teebore's Take
As with New Mutants double sized middle chapter, this issue effectively wraps up the immediate conflict of X-Factor's contribution to "Fall of the Mutants": Apocalypse and his Horsemen are defeated, Angel has been freed of Apocalypse's control (though not his influence) and a new status quo beckons for the main characters. In terms of the action scenes, Simonson and Simonson keep things from being too repetitive by splitting up both teams (whereas last issue featured the more traditional team-on-team action), even as they continue to develop Apocalypse as a character.

One of the great things about this issue is the way Apocalypse straight up doesn't care whether he wins or loses in the traditional sense. He's accepted that X-Factor are "strong", by his standards, so it's not a matter of defeating them so much as it is convincing them his worldview is correct. In the end, he leaves not so much out of defeat, but because he realizes he can't strong arm them into joining him, essentially gifting X-Factor his ship because he believes, in the end, it will help him prove his point. It's an approach that helps set Apocalypse apart from other X-baddies, and something that eventually gets lost when the character embraces the more traditional "you're weak because you disagree with me" routine.

Meanwhile, this issue represents the final step in Simonson's rehabilitation of the title. Thus far, she's established that the original mutant hunter premise of the book was the brainchild of a militant anti-mutant bigot with the goal of destabilizing human/mutant relations, while the main characters, having learned this, have both quit and been fired from the organization. In this issue, she formally ends this iteration of the title, first by the symbolic act of their new headquarters literally crushing their old one, then by having the characters publicly expose the ruse, outing the X-Factor mutant hunters as the mutant X-Terminators. It took just over two years, but the characters are finally free of their book's ill-advised premise.

Next Issue
Next week, "Fall of the Mutants" concludes in Uncanny X-Men #227, New Mutants #61, and X-Factor #26.

15 comments:

  1. "though he will continue to struggle with the changes wrought on him by Apocalypse for years to come."

    Which continues decently into the early 90s until horribly mangled by Scot Lobdell.

    "Cyclops notes that the city has other champions, which will be seen in the Daredevil & Power Pack tie-in issues."

    You mean the Avengers (minus Captain America) and the Fantastic Four, sitting in their respective headquarters twiddling their thumbs while being held in reserve? ;)

    FYI, the DD issue is pretty good, though from past comments, not sure how many people would appreciate it, since I do think it's written by Ann Nocenti.

    "It's an approach that helps set Apocalypse apart from other X-baddies, and something that eventually gets lost when the character embraces the more traditional "you're weak because you disagree with me" routine."

    I miss this version of Apocalypse. Much more interesting that what we got in the 90s.

    Overall, this is a solid, strong issue. Whatever you may think of Wheezie's scripting, her plot work is solid and really ties up much of the long running plot threads she began weaving when she started writing this title. And ties them up rather effectively. I do think her post-FOTM stuff isn't quite as strong; it does seem to meander at times since there doesn't seem to be a long term plan like there was here. Will be interesting to see if this true through your reviews.

    Also, Walt S produces some solid work here. It's not as good or inspired as his work on Thor, but it's a damn good looking issue.

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  2. Apocalypse sending Famine to Kansas is such a random thing. I wonder if Simonson wrote it first and Gruenwald decided to get in on the action or (and this seems more likely) Gruenwald asked Simonson if she would do it so he could get in on the action.

    "And though Angel appears with X-Factor at the end of the issue, he won't rejoin the team until "Inferno", maintaining a presence in the book in the intervening issues but mostly keeping to himself."

    Having read very little X-Factor, I have to say that I did not know that. Interesting.

    "Ronald Reagan is shown signing the Mutant Registration Act into law."

    I fully admit that I wasn't into politics in 1988 -- being nine years old and all at the time -- but I'm hard pressed to recall ever seeing Reagan make a public appearance in a cowboy hat.


    wwk5d -- "Which continues decently into the early 90s until horribly mangled by Scot Lobdell."

    What was mangled about it? I was thrilled when Lobdell restored Angel's original wings, though simultaneously disappointed that his skin color wasn't changed back at the same time. I still can't believe it took years more for Chuck Austen, of all writers, to finally undo the blue!

    If you're referring to the fact that Apocalypse had apparently given Angel the metal wings to let his originals heal inside -- which really makes no sense, logistically or motivationally, then I'd agree there was some mangling involved. But I don't think restoring the character to his original self was a mistake.

    wwk5d -- "FYI, the DD issue is pretty good, though from past comments, not sure how many people would appreciate it, since I do think it's written by Ann Nocenti."

    I read it for the first time just a couple years ago in the Fall of the Mutants hardcover collection, and I literally recall nothing about the issue. Though I barely recall the Power Pack story, either. So make of that what you will.

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  3. Actually, I should say -- "I'm hard-pressed to remember Reagan ever making a formal public appearance in a cowboy hat. Like a bill-signing, for example.

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  4. And here's the rant ...

    This issue was the final nail in the coffin of my opinion of Simonson-squared.

    Man, this was awful. That one lame Horseman whinging about "America's breadbasket" over and over ... lame appearance by Power Pack ... pages and pages of histrionic word-balloons ...

    I could JUST about forgive the extraordinary coincidence of the ship landing on X-Factor Headquarters, for symbolic resonance ... but Iceman and Beast's lame "Scooby and Shaggy" hug while they grin goofily and shout "Destroy the mutant hunters!" is both excruciatingly corny and annoyingly on-the-nose.

    And I've zero love for the artwork here. The "falling ship" sequence is one of the most boring things I've ever read in a superhero comic-book ... There's no sense of huge scale at all, it's just 100 panels of a "ship" that looks like a pair of binoculars, knocking into sh*t. This one's a true low-point, for me.





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  5. Um, what was mangled was that they had set up a sub-plot for a while where Warren wasn't necessarily in control of his wings, and they had been seen acting out on their own occasionally. Well, until Jean come along and just screeches at him that no, his wings were never out of control, it was always him, and that he just needed to get over it...I think I'll just re-post this from G. Kendall's review of Uncanny # 293 (original link at http://notblogx.blogspot.com/2007/10/uncanny-x-men-293-october-1992.html):

    "but I certainly noticed the retcon involving Archangel’s wings. It ranks down there with Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn’s love children in terms of poorly thought-out retcons that don’t make sense. Having Jean reveal this, and say that she knew it all along, makes it stink even worse (it also reminds me of Mary Jane telling Peter that she knew about Gwen’s affair all along, too). I hadn’t read a lot of the original X-Factor issues at this point, but almost every one I had read focused on Warren’s out of control wings hurting innocent people (I could be wrong, but I think his wings might’ve actually killed some characters). Now we’re supposed to believe that Jean knew that he could stop this all along, but never told him? This is ridiculous.

    This retcon was apparently done to remove a lot of Archangel’s angst and lighten the character up. I don’t have a problem with the goal, but the execution is terrible. Why would learning this cheer him up? Wouldn’t the knowledge that he had hurt so many innocent people, and try to kill his friends, just drive him further into depression? Not in the world of Uncanny X-Men, apparently."

    Which, yeah, just mangled...granted, it does reflect the behind the scenes drama affecting the titles at the time. Of course, if only Jean had screeched at Warren to just "get over it" much earlier, Warren might have just re-joined the team right after FOTM. I agree with Kendall; I don't mind them lightening up Warren as a character at that point, but the execution was just beyond lousy.

    Also, for what it's worth, I preferred the metal wings to the feathered ones.

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  6. wwk5d -- "what was mangled was that they had set up a sub-plot for a while where Warren wasn't necessarily in control of his wings..."

    Oh yeah, I had forgotten all about that plot. I distinctly recall Archangel's wings beheading a member of the Mutant Liberation Front during "X-Cutioner's Song". Having not read much X-Factor, I didn't realize that storyline had existed for so long.

    Jason -- "could JUST about forgive the extraordinary coincidence of the ship landing on X-Factor Headquarters..."

    While I agree it's a coincidence, the X-books have always thrived on coincidences (Cyclops randomly washing ashore on Magneto's island, or Magneto conveniently splashing to Earth right near Lee Forrester's boat, for example), so I don't think that can be held against the Simonsons. I agree with you, though, on Walt's decision to show the crash via smaller panels. It sucks the grandeur out of the whole thing.

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  7. "so I don't think that can be held against the Simonsons"

    Yeah, I probably made it sound too much like I didn't like that. I'm fine with the idea and agree that it is thematically appropriate. I just hate the way they did it.

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  8. That said, the other examples you give are coincidences that begin stories. The example here is a lucky coincidence that concludes a story, which can feel a little bit pat.

    But in and of itself, I could buy it. The occasional happy ending for a mutant team is fine. Of course, next issue ends with the city throwing a freaking *parade* for X-Factor, and that I don't like at all.

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  9. Did Medusa stand in for Jean on this cover?

    "Ha! Ha! Ha!" I roll my eyes at your staccato laughter, Apocalypse.

    Now the piping on Warren's suit is red. Most of the issue, anyway, briefly reverting to pink on Pg. 21 when he crosses paths with Scott... whose optic blasts are pink instead of red!

    I don't know if anyone cares, but I suspect that Walt began to place balloons with this issue and that he lettered the story title as well. The letterforms in that big "Judgment Day!" look very much like his sense of design. As far as the balloons, I haven't noticed them being open at the panel borders to this extent before, which is a trait of his frequent letterer John Workman's that I believe Walt likes (and which I like as well).

    That "one in a million" shot of Hank's on Pg. 6 got me wondering: Have we ever seen the amazing innate sense of spatial relations that Scott possesses applied beyond his eyebeams? I'm wondering if he'd be as good at billiards — or making some sort of bank shot in a battle situation — with a mundane implement in his hands as he is with the actual power that developed the skill in the first place.

    Although some of the smaller figure work is sketchy and poorly proportioned, for my money Walt lays out some great panels of the ship amidst the city skyline, nicely realized by his pencils and Wiacek's inks.

    "War's produce is destruction!" I know what farmer's market I'm avoiding.

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  10. @Matt: // I'm hard pressed to recall ever seeing Reagan make a public appearance in a cowboy hat. //

    I'll second that. Not unless he was on horseback for vacation at his ranch, anyway.

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  11. Blam -- " I'm wondering if he'd be as good at billiards — or making some sort of bank shot in a battle situation — with a mundane implement in his hands as he is with the actual power that developed the skill in the first place."

    Well, he does sink all the balls on a pool table in Uncanny #144 with one shot, though he does so with his optic blast rather than a cue. So what does that tell us? I'm not sure.

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  12. P.S.: I love the open balloons at the panel borders, too. I wish more letterers did it that way.

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  13. @ Blam: I'm wondering if he'd be as good at billiards

    The very first picture ever I met Wolverine - and instantanously fell in love with him - was in the beginning of UXM 199 where Scott shows off to shut down the Danger Room by richocheting his beam and has Logan clap at him commenting "Remind me never to face you over a pool table".

    I don't think it's wise for us to disagree with him.

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  14. I know that Scott can do insanely tricky stuff with his optic blasts. That scene with the pool table in #144 comes to mind often (albeit, unfortunately, as much for its suspect display of how much finesse Scott has with his beams when lifting his ruby-quartz glasses as for his skill). What I'm curious about is whether the innate ability to do complex maneuvers like that with his optic blasts has ever been established or exploited in terms of using other objects, be it manual dexterity in combat or playing sports or his affinity for piloting aircraft.

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  15. @wwk5d: Also, Walt S produces some solid work here. It's not as good or inspired as his work on Thor, but it's a damn good looking issue.

    Agreed.

    @Matt: I wonder if Simonson wrote it first and Gruenwald decided to get in on the action or (and this seems more likely) Gruenwald asked Simonson if she would do it so he could get in on the action.

    I agreed; the latter seems much more likely.

    @Jason: There's no sense of huge scale at all, it's just 100 panels of a "ship" that looks like a pair of binoculars, knocking into sh*t.

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree - I thought Walt did a good job of showing the scale of the ship, increasing the panel sizes from half page to full page (when it hits the Empire State Building) and then back down to smaller panels as it lands on the old X-Factor HQ.

    If anything, this issue is a high point in Simonson art for me, especially since things get a little wonky in "Inferno", especially after Milgrom comes aboard.

    @Blam: Have we ever seen the amazing innate sense of spatial relations that Scott possesses applied beyond his eyebeams?

    Offhand, I can't think of a time he used it without also using his optic blasts. How about that handball match with Storm in issue #154? Or were they both using their powers in that game?

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