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Friday, October 10, 2014

X-amining X-Factor #42

"All That Glitters..."
July 1989

In a Nutshell 
X-Factor battles the Troll Associates. 

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Arthur Adams
Inker: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
In the tunnels under London, the Troll Associates gloat over the unconscious X-Factor, then leave with Thomas Jones to enact their plan to destabilize Britain's economy. X-Factor, however, quickly regains consciousness, and easily defeats the two trolls left to guard them. Above, the trolls try to force Thomas to turn the Tower of London into gold, but when he refuses and insteads transforms a dog, wounded by one of the trolls, to gold to end his suffering, they get a better idea, and attack Buckingham Palace, demanding to see the Queen. Just then, the police arrive, and their lights and sirens scare away the trolls. As they fly off, they encounter X-Factor, who manages to force the trolls out of the sky and back into the tunnels, where Thomas yells to X-Factor that sunlight will destroy the trolls.


Realizing they need leverage to force Thomas to transform things into gold for them, the trolls head towards Thomas' house. Cyclops blasts a whole into the ceiling above them, but there's no sunlight due to the rainy weather. The trolls capture Thomas' mother and demand that he do their bidding and call off X-Factor, or else they'll kill her. Instead, Thomas transforms the trolls themselves into gold, freeing his mother, just as X-Factor reaches them. Thomas takes the name Alchemy and vows to go to university to become a molecular biochemist. X-Factor helps move the golden trolls out of Thomas' basement and into Hyde Park, where Thomas switches them from gold to lead. After Thomas declines an invitation to train in the use of his power with X-Factor, they depart for home. Amazed that, for once, they found a young mutant with an accepting family and relatively normal ambitions, Marvel Girl hopes that Christopher will be just as sweet and smart and normal when he grows up.

Firsts and Other Notables
Baby Christopher manifests his mutant ability for the first time in this issue, as he creates a protective telekinetic bubble around himself when one of the trolls tries to step on him. He'll occasionally generate this bubble throughout his remaining tenure in the book, and for the most part, it coincidentally fits with the later development that Christopher is Cable, as his force bubble can just be read as a basic, rudimentary manifestation of Cable's later and greater telekinetic abilities.


After spending most of its existence with little more than a rotating series of figure in its corner cover box, the series finally gets a full team image as of this issue, one that will (barring next issue) remain the default corner box image until Whilce Portacio takes over artistic duties with issue #63. 

Thomas Jones takes the superhero name "Alchemy" this issue, though he intends to continue his studies and go to university, focusing on becoming a scientist rather than a superhero. In a nice bit of characterization, especially for what is essentially a one-off character who never really does much beyond this issue, he vows to learn how to use his powers so that one day he can eventually restore the trolls he transformed to flesh-and-blood.


A Work in Progress
One of the cliffhanger elements of last issue's ending was that Marvel Girl didn't know where Christopher was; as this issue opens, all of X-Factor is unconscious, and Christopher is right there on the floor next to Marvel Girl.


The trolls nearly have Alchemy turn the Tower of London into gold, which is funny simply because, based on publication times, Excalibur is at the Tower battling their alternate reality Nazi counterparts around this time.

Speaking of Excalibur, one of the royal guards tells someone to call them for help when the trolls attack Buckingham Palace, a nice acknowledgement of the existence of the "British X-Men", even if they don't actually show up in the story.


Beast says that X-Factor has a school for young mutants learning to use their powers, which seems like a generous (if appropriately shorthanded) description of X-Factor's training regimen as depicted thus far, especially since their expanded charges only showed up as of last issue.


X-Factor comments on how unique it is for Alchemy to be given a shot at a normal life, despite being a teenaged mutant, and Marvel Girl says she hopes Christopher gets the same chance (cue sad trombone). 


Artistic Achievements
Putting aside for the moment the continued-ridiculousness of X-Factor having brought the baby along with them to fight trolls in London, Art Adams does a masterful job of making sure Christopher doesn't get lost in the shuffle visually, being careful to draw him in someone's arms at various points in the story to ensure he's moving from place-to-place with the rest of the team and not just randomly showing up amongst them at the end. It's a detail lesser artists would be likely to overlook.

It's in the Mail
In this issue's letter column, someone asks if Archangel's costume comes off. The response is "we sure hope it comes off!", which is the kind of cheeky response to a legitimate question that always bugged me as a kid (because it makes it clear they have no idea and haven't bothered to come up with a proper answer).

It's also established that the pink bubbles that show up whenever Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis are meant to represent the invisible force and aren't seen by anyone within the comic (like Invisible Woman's dotted silhouettes), a note I greatly appreciated as a kid, as I often wondered the same thing.

Teebore's Take
Well, that wraps up this Troll Associates/Alchemy two-parter about as perfunctorily as possible. Again, there's certainly some charm in seeing the winner of Mutant Registration contest, and this issue is mildly notable for establishing that baby Christopher is already manifesting some kind of mutant ability, but without the status quo building/character interactions from the first half of last issue, everything else here is just stock standard superheroics as X-Factor battles a group of bland villains. Once again, Art Adams is at least on hand to make this all look good (certainly better than the story deserves) and keep it from being entirely forgettable. Even then, Adams is only barely able to accomplish that.

Next Issue
Next week, Wolverine pops up in Punisher War Journal #6-7, followed by Excalibur #10 and Wolverine #9.

13 comments:

  1. X-Factor comments on how unique it is for Alchemy to be given a shot at a normal life, despite being a teenaged mutant, and Marvel Girl says she hopes Christopher gets the same chance (cue sad trombone).

    Ha. It'll be a given and normal in Cable's life to be shot at.

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  2. Is one of the trolls a Tyrannosaurus? Or is there an explanation for why there's a dinosaur running around?

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  3. @Jeff: Is one of the trolls a Tyrannosaurus? Or is there an explanation for why there's a dinosaur running around?

    Heh. Yeah, one of the trolls is a shapeshifter, and he becomes various creatures throughout the story, including a Tyrannosaurus.

    Each of the trolls has a specific power or attribute (one's a shapeshifter, one's the leader, one quotes Shakespeare all the time, etc.). I suppose I should have gone into more detail about them, but given that they never show up again and really aren't all that exciting to begin with, I didn't feel terribly compelled to do so.

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  4. I think I've mentioned before that I played the Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR as a youngster. I had their X-Men boxed set, though I knew little about the X-Men at the time, and the members of Troll Associates took up something like four pages in the character book, which led me to assume they must've been a big deal. Turns out I was mistaken. But I guess it goes to show that the book did a darn good job of providing write-ups for pretty much every mutant and X-adversary ever seen to that point (It had similarly long entries for the "Brood Mutants" and the Resistants from CAPTAIN AMERICA).

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  5. "the series finally gets a full team image as of this issue, one that will (barring next issue) remain the default corner box"

    I always liked it when a title got a more personalized corner box.

    "focusing on becoming a scientist rather than a superhero"

    And quite a bit of hubris on this kid, huh? I mean, he's already picturing the Nobel ceremony where he restores them...reach for the stars, Alchemy!

    "especially since their expanded charges only showed up as of last issue."

    And we all know how invested X-factor was in having a school at this point...

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  6. Yeesh. That dog. 8^{

    I think Walt Simonson did the corner-box art, which is kind-of weird timing.

    Something's funny on the last panel of Pg. 20/26 (story/issue). Those faces don't look like the work of Adams or Milgrom. Also, I don't think Christopher should be able to sit up on Hank's shoulder like that at the age he's supposed to be based on his size, lack of speech, and cradling in Jean's arms, but maybe it's his mutant power at work again.

    I appreciated the mention of Excalibur.

    What a shame the entire team felt that Hank being a brilliant mutant biochemist himself was not relevant to the conversation.

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  7. @Teebore: // one's a shapeshifter, one's the leader, one quotes Shakespeare all the time //

    Actually the one who's a shapeshifter is the one who quotes Shakespeare — or I should say quotes various authors including Shakespeare. There was some attempt at giving them distinct speech patterns, however, i.e. one speaking in Yoda-like inversion, one soundin' like a reg'lar casual Joe. Apart from the shapeshifter I don't know that any had powers beyond their physicality, but that was a hodgepodge too, with one having wings, one looking like a stone golem, one resembling a giant ape, etc.

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  8. @Matt: I knew little about the X-Men at the time, and the members of Troll Associates took up something like four pages in the character book, which led me to assume they must've been a big deal.

    It's amazing how something like that can color your initial impressions of characters. There's a bunch of characters from all over the Marvel Universe (Nebula, Calypso and Deathwatch come to mind) who I first encountered via the Marvel trading cards and assumed they were a big deal because they had their own cards. Only to later realize their presence had more to do with the year that particular series came out than with their significance to the overall universe.

    @wwk5d: I always liked it when a title got a more personalized corner box.

    I've always preferred the traditional "collection of heads" over an action shot, but then, that always falls out of date so fast (X-Men's at this point is consistently under-staffed) it almost becomes more of an annoyance than not.

    I mean, he's already picturing the Nobel ceremony where he restores them...reach for the stars, Alchemy!

    I thought that was a nice bit of teenage hubris.

    @Blam: I think Walt Simonson did the corner-box art, which is kind-of weird timing.

    Indeed. Parting gift for the series?

    What a shame the entire team felt that Hank being a brilliant mutant biochemist himself was not relevant to the conversation.

    What a shame *I* felt such a fact wasn't relevant to the conversation...

    @Blam: Apart from the shapeshifter I don't know that any had powers beyond their physicality, but that was a hodgepodge too, with one having wings, one looking like a stone golem, one resembling a giant ape, etc.

    I think the idea was supposed to be that each represented a different monster for which each troll had been mistakenly been identified in folklore (so the stone golem one was a golem, the ape-like one was Bigfoot, etc.), the idea being we called them those things but they were all actually trolls, which tied in with the idea of England having lost respect for the magical ways or whatever.

    So I guess maybe the shapeshifter was meant to represent some kind of shapeshifting monster from folklore?

    Overall, an interesting idea, I suppose, but a bit much for one-off villains in a throwaway two-part story.

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  9. From the Chronicles of mortsleaM-

    When this story came out, many of my friends were certain that I had won the contest and Marvel used my character. First, I basically looked exactly like Art Adams' drawing (big glasses, mullet and all). Second, like many kids back then, I made up my own characters, one of whom was called the Alchemist. Unfortunately it wasn't me. The Alchemist sprayed acid and poison from his hands and was a middle aged military doctor. The character I actually submitted was a wisecracking, teleporting hitman. Imagine my surprise when Deadpool showed up a couple years later...

    - mortsleaM

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  10. There's a bunch of characters from all over the Marvel Universe (Nebula, Calypso and Deathwatch come to mind) who I first encountered via the Marvel trading cards and assumed they were a big deal because they had their own cards.

    They did publish the covers (I believe) of the Official Handbook as a 15-part continuous poster with a character spotting guide on the flipside between our local Spidey book and I always considered it a victory when anyone there showed up in an actual comics story. Byrne/Rubinstein really had Wonder Man Simon Williams steal the show in his green/red/yellowjetbacks uniform there. Hilariously, the X-Factor showed up both together in their pajama uniforms and scattered alone as their superhero identities, because they were supposed to be such a big deal at the time.

    Calypso deserves a card though solely on the Spidey story where her poison arrow ruins Kraven's last but one hunt and makes Spidey see lamppost as a two-headed snake. I pitied the couple really, she's so in love with Kraven she wants Spidey down fast and easy which didn't go down at all with Kraven who wants to show off to his woman in honorary fashion and even snatched the spear Calypso hurled at Spidey in the end. No one deserves the Torment of a MacFarlane afterlife, and specially not because of a love gone bad.

    Nebula and Deathwatch... I could find a kind word for even Terraxia and Snowblind, one of whom gets to bash Spidey dead with a stone and the other laughs off the Ghost Rider's penance stare, what with being blind and everything. Cards for everyone, no character too small!

    And Nebula still was once-wielder of the Infinity Gauntlet and Deathwatch should get one just for the massive build-up ending only in an anticlimax between him and the Ghost Rider.

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  11. Ok, a quick fact check on previous post: specifically the deluxe edition of the Handbook, Rubinstein but not Byrne. They run the posters in our Spidey book from Jan 88 to Mar 89, at the same time when the Secret Wars was the nr 2 story for the book, which both were a very special treat for someone who had found Marvel universe just six months earlier, and only about five minutes ago I realized they were on the alphabetical order in the posters.

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  12. @Mortsleam: The character I actually submitted was a wisecracking, teleporting hitman. Imagine my surprise when Deadpool showed up a couple years later...

    Ha! You know, I do wonder if Marvel slipped any of the other contest submissions into their back pocket, so to speak, to later tweak and roll out independent of the contest.

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  13. @Teebore: // I've always preferred the traditional "collection of heads" over an action shot, but then, that always falls out of date so fast //

    At least with the heads, though, you can swap 'em out during lineup changes. Which is fun — I always got a kick out of that when it was done right. Figures in the corner box are nice too, however. DC had a period in the very late '80s to early '90s where it was aping Marvel's old corner-box shtick; in a neat little touch the artists on the Superman titles (Ordway, Jurgens, and Pérez then Gammill, if memory serves) would draw him in the same pose in their respective styles. Likewise but contrariwise at the same time, I enjoyed Spider-Man getting a different pose on his various titles back in the day.

    @Teebore: // I think the idea was supposed to be that each represented a different monster for which each troll had been mistakenly been identified in folklore //

    For some reason that registered with me while reading about 90% of the way into my consciousness but not enough to articulate the way you just did.

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