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Friday, November 11, 2016

X-amining X-Factor #81

"Belles of the Ball"
August 1992

In a Nutshell
X-Factor defeats Cyber & the Hell's Belles.

Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Larry Stroman
Inks: Al Milgrom
Letters: Rich S.
Colors: Kevin Tinsley
Editor: Bob Harras
Chief: Tom DeFalco

As Cyber explains that he'll only give Strong Guy the antidote to the poison he injected him with in exchange for Shrew, Briquette accidentally sets the hotel's boiler on fire, triggering an explosion that separates the two teams. Meanwhile, Madrox prepares to break Rhapsody out of jail, but when she reveals that while she didn't murder Mr. Sharp, she was complicit in his death, he leaves her in jail and tells Quicksilver it's time to go home. Meanwhile, Val receives a call from Cyber arranging the meeting to exchange Shrew for the antidote, but a government doctor has been able to create an anti-toxin. Strong Guy is less than confidant, however, prompting Havok to poison himself, saying he won't ask his teammates to take a risk he himself won't take. Together, he and Strong Guy drink the anti-toxin. In New York Harbor, a ship arrives carrying a group of mutants, lead by a man named Prodigal, who tells the authorities he and his people are seeking asylum. That night, X-Factor arrives at the prearranged meeting place. With the Belles lacking any leverage and with X-Factor reinforced by the return of Madrox & Quicksilver, they're able to defeat the villains, with Shrew seemingly killing Cyber by forcing him into the path of an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the fight, Havok admits to Quicksilver that he didn't really drink the poison, but tricked Strong Guy into thinking he did, earning Quicksilver's admiration.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is Larry Stroman last issue as the book's regular artist. Though the timing is coincidental, his departure is not tied to the Image Exodus (though he will eventually launch a series there in 1993). Nevertheless, his leaving helps ensure that every series relaunched in 1991 alongside the debut of X-Men #1 is without the artist that helped relaunched each series.

The Rhapsody plotline comes to a close this issue, as Madrox learns that while she didn't murder anyone, her powers were responsible for the death for which she's been jailed, which is enough to snap Madrox back to his senses and go back to X-Factor with Quicksilver.

In a setup for next issue's plot, this issue features the first appearance of Prodigal, the leader of a group of mutants eventually dubbed the X-Patriots (as we'll find out they're Genoshan mutants seeking asylum, aka expatriates). Somewhat famously, this is the plotline which will eventually lead Peter David to leave the series, as it will be rather awkwardly interrupted by the events of "X-Cutioner's Song", deepening his ire for the way crossovers interrupt his plans for a series.

While the name of the letter column (X-Changes) doesn't change, the logo is changed this issue to reflect the logo on the cover, replacing the old one (which was still in the style of the series' oldest logo!).

A Work in Progress
Havok's objections to Guido's code-name are put to rest this issue, as by the end he unmockingly refers to him as Strong Guy.

Strong Guy dons a large t-shirt with an X on it; this will serve as something of an unofficial second costume for him in future issues.

The Quicksilver-doesn't-where-an-official-uniform running bit gets referenced this issue, as it proves to be a liability when he's grabbed by Briquette (since unlike the official uniforms, it's not insulated).

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Cyber makes a joke about switching to MCI. Remember MCI?

There's also a reference to Murphy Brown at one point.

Austin's Analysis
Though Peter David remains on the series for a little less than another year, this marks the end of the all-too-short David/Stroman run. Stroman's art really was like nothing else out there, and while it had its quirks and wasn't always successful in what it tried to do, it gave the series (and its new direction) an undeniably unique and powerful new look. Thankfully, he goes out on a strong note, as he and David wrap up the Cyber/Hell's Belles story by bringing Madrox & Quicksilver back into the fold in time for the climax, giving Stroman one last change to draw almost the entire team in action.

The resolution to the Rhapsody plotline is fairly perfunctory, and it's never quite clear if Madrox' infatuation with her was a result of her powers or genuine interest, but whatever, it's done. The main plot resolves well, though, with a climax built on the relationship between Strong Guy and Havok (having it turn out that Havok faked the whole self-poisoning is a bit of a cop-out, an attempt to end the issue on a zinger that undercuts the impact of Havok's earlier actions, but the whole thing still works). In the end, this is ultimately a slight but well-crafted story, striking the right balance between action, characterization, tone and theme, one that works well as an example of a "typical" David/Stroman X-Factor. It's just too bad it's also their last one.

Next Issue
Next week: X-Men #11, Excalibur #53, and Wolverine #58.

Collected Edition


  1. It was a bit shame that Rhapsody strangulated the prison guard in previous issue, because the first issue in the story had totally sold me Mr. Dick Roper as the culprit. A bigoted lynch mob leader AND the business partner of the victim? Totes covering an embezzlement by murder and pinning in on the everyone's favorite suspect, a mutant. I felt PAD was maybe a bit too obvious and clicheic about it when reading. Well done.


  2. // the leader of a group of mutants eventually dubbed the X-Patriots //

    I’m not sure the last page’s next-issue box counts as “eventually”. 8^)


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