Friday, October 31, 2014
X-amining X-Factor #43
In a Nutshell
X-Factor gets embroiled in a war on an alien planet.
Writer: Louise Simonson
Finisher: Allen Milgrom
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Compelled by some unknown force, Ship suddenly takes off, blasting into space. It creates a dome to protect X-Factor, but Marvel Girl smashes through it, possessed by the memories of Phoenix to fly into space. Working together, X-Factor manages to retrieve Marvel Girl and repair the dome just as Ship enters hyperspace. Emerging seconds later but light years from Earth, X-Factor finds themselves in orbit around an alien world. Just then, a massive Celestial appears and silently takes Ship in its hand. Suddenly, X-Factor finds themselves transported down to the planet, landing in the middle of a massive battle between two different groups of super-powered individuals.
Springing into action, Archangel rescues a princess from a massive one-eyed creature, but is knocked unconscious by the princess' ally Lord Rask for daring to touch her. Iceman battles a fire-wielding woman and is also knocked out as the Celestial slowly begins to land on the planet. Marvel Girl is attacked by a group of telepathic Jammers, and as the Celestial draws closer, the battle begins to breakup. Beast is befriended by a one-eyed woman while Iceman regains consciousness but can't remember who he is, and is helped by the fiery woman who believes him to be like her. With the forces on both sides fully scattered, only Cyclops is left. He blasts the foot of the Celestial above him, which does nothing as it draws ever closer.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue kicks off the multi-part "Judgment War" storyline, which will last through issue #50 and finds X-Factor (including Christopher) embroiled in a war on an alien planet that is in the midst of being judged by the Celestials. It was billed as revealing the origin of Ship (which, granted, it does), but it's less about that than perhaps the buzz at the time suggested.
As a result, this issue throws a bunch of characters and ideas at us for the first time that will become regular fixtures of the book over the course of this story: there's the Chosen, who have superpowers but look traditionally human, represented by Lord Rask and an unnamed princess, the Rejects, who are basically alien Morlocks, led by an unnamed woman with one eye, zand Dualers, Chosen whose powers gives them an alternate form (like Iceman when he's iced up) and thus lands them somewhere between the Chosen and the Rejects in terms of societal standing, represented by the Human Torch-like Lev.
In orbit around the alien planet, X-Factor encounters one of the Celestials, Marvel's massive space gods, who proceeds to land on the planet. His presence ultimately serves as the catalyst for the escalation of the war on the alien planet, but the Celestials presence will mostly be of the looming variety until closer to the end of the story
Paul Smith joins the book, billed, I believe, as the series new regular penciller (though he really only draws this story before leaving the book). He's inked by the book's regular inker, Al Milgrom, who, per usual, does his best to drag down the overall quality of the art.
A Work in Progress
As seen in New Mutants #78, this issue shows us Ship taking off into space from his and X-Factor's perspective.
Jean is having issues reconciling the recently-acquired memories of Phoenix and Madelyne, which will become a recurring beat for her character during this story, with each set of memories essentially acting as an independent personality. She believes that while it was Phoenix who wanted to fly through space, it was Madelyne who prevented her from returning to Ship.
Ship provides translators to X-Factor before they're beamed down to the planet; we can thus assume these translators are enabling them (and us) to understand their alien language for the duration of this story.
It's suggested that Jean has recovered at least some rudimentary telepathic ability.
We learn that telepaths on this world are called Jammers, and that the Chosen reproduce via science (as opposed to the Rejects, who make babies the old fashioned way) and generally don't touch one another.
By the end of the issue, Archangel and Marvel Girl are unconscious and prisoners of the Chosen, along with Christopher, while Beast is with the Rejects, an amnesiac Iceman is taken in by Lev, who assumes he's a Dualer like she is, and Cyclops is about to be crushed by the foot of the landing Celestial, establishing their relative positions for the duration of the story (barring Cyclops. Spoiler: he doesn't spend the entire story under the Celestial's foot).
With the beginning of "Judgment War", I fear we may have reached a temporary parting of the ways with this series. I know the multi-part storyline which kicks off this issue isn't very well regarded; "X-Men in Space!" stories are already divisive enough, and like the contemporaneous "New Mutants in Asgard" story, I can't deny this one runs on far too long (then again, that's true of most of the big multi-part stories Marvel put out all over the place in 1989). Plus, dropping X-Factor onto an alien world for eight months of publication time doesn't do the book's supporting cast nor the development of the characters still-new status quo as the Marvel Universe's public mutant heroes any favors. And as I recall, Marvel Girl spends most of this storyline either unconscious or insane, which is troubling.
But I also recall really enjoying this story. Certainly, that can easily change as it goes on - I haven't actually re-read it in years, and when I did, I read it in close to one sitting rather than doled out over time in individual chapters, but nothing in this first part immediately dissuaded me of my recollections. It's big, fun space opera (which I generally enjoy), Paul Smith's art certainly isn't as on as it was during his earlier Uncanny run (I blame Milgrom, of course) but it's still very sharp and enjoyable, and both he and Simonson do an admirable bit of quick and dirty world building in the closing pages of this issue. There's more to come regarding all the new characters and their society that are thrown at us (with Simonson splitting up the main characters amongst each of the various factions to serve as vehicles for such), but we're given an immediate impression of the major players and their conflict, and it's enough to hook me, even now. But we'll have to see if it can continue to hold up as the story progresses.
Next week, Daredevil #269, Excalibur #11 and Wolverine #10.