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Thursday, May 30, 2019

X-amining Factor X #1

"Sinister Neglect"
March 1995

In a Nutshell
In the wake of Sinister's disappearance, Cyclops takes charge of the Breeding Pens, much to Havok's dismay.

Writer: John Francis Moore
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inker: Al Milgrom
Lettering: Starkings/Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
In the shadow of Apocalypse's Manhattan citadel, Sinister's Elite guard, led by Cyclops, hunt down a group of escaped prisoners. Meanwhile, Sinister prepares to disappear & enact his plan to oppose Apocalypse. Later, Cyclops returns the recaptured prisoners to the Pens, while Havok meets with Beast, sussing out his loyalties as he plots against his brother. Cyclops then tries to meet with Sinister, encountering the Bedlam brothers and turning down an invite to join them at Heaven along the way, but is stunned to learn Sinister has disappeared. That night, Havok joins the Bedlam brothers at Angel's Heaven nightclub. As they foil an attack by a human terrorist, Havok has a rendezvous with Angel's star performer, a human woman named Scarlet. When they return to the pens, Cyclops enlists the Bedlam brothers' aid in breaking into Sinister's lab, which they're shocked to find destroyed. With Sinister clearly gone for good, the Bedlam brothers suggest Cyclops is now in charge, though Havok has plans of his own in that regard.

Firsts and Other Notables
The "Age of Apocalypse" version of X-Factor (featuring one of the laziest new titles - though not *the* laziest new title), Factor X chronicles the happenings of Apocalypse's Elite guards, the mutants tasked with maintaining order within Sinister's Breeding Pens and prison facilities, focusing most specifically on Cyclops, Havok & Beast.

X-Men 2099 writer John Francis Moore takes over as the full writer of the series (after plotting the previous few issues of X-Factor), and is joined by artist Steve Epting (coming off his long Avengers run with Bob Harras); both will remain on the book after it reverts to X-Factor.

The Bedlam Brothers make their first appearance in this issue; they are original to the "Age of Apocalypse", though Moore will introduce Jesse to the prime reality during his X-Force run (and reveal that Aaron died). They possess the ability to sow confusion in minds and machines, respectively.


Through the Looking Glass
In the opening pages, the Elite hunt down a group of prisoners escaped from Sinister’s pens who are roughly analogous to various members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Avalanche, Pyro (whose skin burns whenever he uses his power), Toad (“Newt”), and Phantazia. They are led by Artemis, the AoA Callisto, who now has camouflage power (presumably due to Beast’s experimentations).


Northstar & Aurora are part of Sinister’s elite guards.


Cannonball is one of the guards in the Pen, along with his sister, Elizabeth (whose appeared in the prime reality but is not a known mutant; here she has size-changing abilities). Sinister notes his inability to recruit their other mutant sibling, Paige (who appears in Generation Next as one of Kitty & Colossus’ students).


(Incidentally, I have no idea if the presence of so many mutant sibilings in this series - the Summers, Baubiers, Guthries, and Bedlams) is intentional, and if so, what Moore is trying to say with it, but it's worth pointing out).

Henry Peter Gyrich pops up as a human terrorist.


Cyclops is a no-fun buzzkill in any reality.


A Work in Progress
Set slightly before his disappearance in X-Men Alpha, this issue reveals that Sinister (who calls himself one of Apocalypse’s four Prefects, rather than Horseman) is moving against Apocalypse now because Apocalypse’s goading the Human High Council into War threatens the work Sinister has done to evolve mutantkind in the direction he wants. He also mentions that his efforts to stop Apocalypse would be for naught without Cyclops, a reference to Cyclops’ role in the creation of X-Man, the mutant boy whom Sinister designed to have the the power to defeat Apocalypse.


Also, the Statue of Liberty has been replaced by a statue of Apocalypse, inside the head of which Sinister has a secret lab.

Sinister says he was tasked by Apocalypse with creating the next generation of mutants, a generation born by design, which is why he gathers mutants in the Pens and experiments on them.

Sinister & Beast together created Apocalypse’s Infinites foot soldiers.

However, they only live for a year, due to their accelerated aging.


Havok’s encounter with a Sentinel in Weapon X #1 is referenced.


He also feels out Beast for support as he plots a move against his brother.


Angel’s nightclub Heaven, introduced in X-Men Alpha, gets some additional detail here, presented as, essentially as Rick’s bar from Casablanca (complete with a Casablanca shoutout in the dialogue).


Upon learning of Sinister’s disappearance, Cyclops announces he’s in charge of the pens, something which privately rankles Havok.

Young Love
Havok is revealed to be in a (mostly) secret (and illegal) relationship with Scarlett, Heaven’s headlining (and human) singer.


Austin's Analysis
Like many of the other first issues of the Age of Apocalypse series, this issue does a lot of setup, introducing a handful of new characters, going into more detail regarding Sinister's disappearance (already a plot point in X-Men Alpha), and further exploring the fraught relationship between Havok & Cyclops. But it also does something a little different: by honoring the premise of X-Factor (which features a team of mutants working for the government) in the "Age of Apocalypse" reality (where the ruling government is Apocalypse's oppressive regime) by continuing to feature a group of mutants working directly for the government, it creates a world within the world of AoA in which the villains are the heroes, where the most heroic characters are either Sinister (the Horseman of Apocalypse who abandons his children in order to enact his plan to destroy Apocalypse because his dreams of further conquest threatens to upend Sinister's horrific experiments) or Cyclops (who gets mildly annoyed when a concentration camp escapee is killed instead of recaptured).

Setting this series amongst Apocalypse's followers, as opposed to his enemies, gives it an almost Shakespearean aura, something further heightened by Sinister's first-person narration (a cheap trick for exposition delivery, here it also creates of sense of inevitability & gravitas) and the machinations within Sinister's Elite (Sinister plotting against Apocalypse, the Guthries bristling at authority, Havok quietly working to usurp his brother while carrying out an illicit affair). Eptings pencils & Oliver's colors, meanwhile, lend the whole thing an especially grim & dirty look that pairs nicely with the arch tone: these may be the "Elite", but they inhabit a grimy world of prison camps & mad science chambers, festering within the shadow of Apocalypse's massive citadel, as they squabble amongst themselves for the tiniest bit of power & influence. AoA is, in general, a pretty dark storyline, visually & thematically, but this issue pushes that even further, even as it stays true to the specific focus of X-Factor by featuring the adventures of the "establishment" mutants.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Weapon X #1. Next week, Amazing X-Men #1 and Gambit and the X-Ternals #1.

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18 comments:

  1. FactorX along with Generation Next were my two favorite AOA titles. I think the presence of all the sibling pairs was an extension of Sinisters fascination with bloodlines and genetics. I believe Artimis was a character unique to AOA as Calisto shows up in XCalibre. Terry (Chris) Aaronson would show up in Xforce leading a new group of Hellions shortly after Jesse first appears.

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  2. But it also does something a little different: by honoring the premise of X-Factor (which features a team of mutants working for the government) in the "Age of Apocalypse" reality (where the ruling government is Apocalypse's oppressive regime) by continuing to feature a group of mutants working directly for the government [...]

    It also honors the premise of the original X-Factor by centering the book on four of the O5 and Silver Age X-Men Havok and Polaris.

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    1. And it honors the Freedom Force by making mutants from the original government-sponsored mutant team (albeit with collected individuals from the earlier Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) the first antagonists in the title.

      This book seems a lots of fun.

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    2. Huh. I never noticed the Freedom Force shout out!

      I just finished my reread of the AoA books, and Factor X stood out as my favorite by a mile. I don't recall liking it this much the last time I read this storyline, which must have been 10 or so years ago. Generation Next, Gambit and the X-Ternals, Weapon X, and the two core X-books were always the ones that stood out to me when I thought back on how good this event was, so it was a pleasant surprise to rediscover this book.

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    3. Well what they intended may as well be to answer the unasked question: what happened to Magneto's 616 henchmen when he went to lead the X-Men instead in the AoA universe (and later Evil Mutants). We did already meet Unus in X-MEN ALPHA, and Pietro and Wanda too. And Destiny kind of has a central role in the story I understand.

      It's just me who's partial to the Freedom Force.

      Maybe it's just irony of them always ending up to be on the wrong side of our mutants, and in this case also the "first Cro-Magnon" thingy.

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  3. The terrible and awesome looks of AoA Cyclops is as probable an explanation as any to why I wear my brown hair long.

    Pyro of 616 can control fire, but he can't create it. That's why he has the flamethrower apparatus in his costume. Possibly Bad Beast has genetically manipulated him to be able to do that now, but didn't solve so far to make the fire Pyro creates to not burn him. Or maybe it's a part of some weird torture, to let him try to use his powers to escape from the pens but get burned for it.

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    1. After seeing that sequence I wondered if it also holds for 616 Pyro — he could generate his own flames if he wanted to, but it’s not without such a cost and so it’s far better to manipulate fire using an external source.

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    2. ...

      You just destroyed the truth about Pyro I have been carring for decades ever since our letter col person pointed out in an answer to a reader's question how inferior Pyro's power is in comparison to f.ex. Johnny Storm.

      "Pyro can't create." But maybe Pyro won't create, instead.

      Delete
  4. "(Incidentally, I have no idea if the presence of so many mutant sibilings in this series - the Summers, Baubiers, Guthries, and Bedlams) is intentional, and if so, what Moore is trying to say with it, but it's worth pointing out)."

    I figured it was a Sinister thing, but it never truly gets explained.

    This is one of the best AoA titles, personally tying with Generation NeXt for me. And I love that Cyclops being the ultra-moral stick in the mud, even if he's technically a villain, is a true constant across time & space. Some things never change, nor should they.

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    1. I would guess it's a Sinister thing like how the nazi's experimented on siblings and twins.

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  5. If the Infinites only live for a year due to accelerated aging maybe that wasn’t the best name for them…

    Kind-of interesting for it to be one of the Bedlam Brothers who refers to relations between mutants and human as “miscegenation”, even if Moore intended no commentary by it.

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    1. I understand the idea with Infinites is that the expired ones get returned to Beast's vat and he then cooks up new ones from the genetic material, and that is what makes them Infinites.

      Obviously I'm open to the possibility that you were mainly making a joke there.

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    2. Re: miscegenation, this would be a way to emphasize that in AoA world the big divide goes between mutants and humans instead of the races/ethnicities. They probably don't think much of the meaningless genetic variance in pigmentation that has zero effect on the big issue of if one qualifies as a Homo superior.

      The Africa-born overlord who's extremely knowledgeable in the genetics very likely doesn't count white as a power, and who's going to argue with him on that?

      But, I would assume in the AoA world a Homo superior might take some pride of an obviously mutant phenotype like blue skin that unquestionably marks him/her as one.

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  6. I had the gold trade paperback of Factor X, it was not only the only AOA story I had growing up, but the only X-men story I had period (all my knowledge came from the trading cards and animated series). And I still enjoyed the hell out of it, which I think makes it a testament to how great the overall story is.

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  7. "The Bedlam Brothers make their first appearance in this issue; they are original to the "Age of Apocalypse", though Moore will introduce Jesse to the prime reality during his X-Force run (and reveal that Aaron died)."

    I could be wrong, but didn't Aaron eventually show up as the leader of the New Hellions (with an inexplicably-resurrected Tarot as his thrall)?

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  8. It’s curious that I strongly disliked Epting’s art back then, feeling it outdated. I was, as many, many youngsters were as well, fascinated by the dynamic and cartoonish Joe Madureira’s art. Now, I dislike the latter and I really appreciate the former. Epting is a great penciller and pau attention on how he depicts people walking, talking, the angles, everything. He never repeats himself.

    Regarding the characters themselves, I had issues then and now on how Apocalypse’s regime was ran. Not even German Nazi could kill everyone. They still needed a functioning society and economy. It feels like the creators saw Terminator 2, which we know how much it influenced them, and thought it would be a good idea to emulate it. It doesn’t work. An authoritarian regime based on simply arresting and killing 99.999999% of the population cannot work. It would have been far better if it were similar to Days of a Future Past, with humans being kept as lower citizens, with some allowed to rise in the ranks.

    Regarding Cyclops, I hated his looks and rank. Much better if he had been a horseman (X-Men’s first member and leader now one of the main enemies!) instead of being... the chief of pena. It’s stupid. I’d had given him a military haircut and would have turn him into an evil character, with some conscience.

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  9. Factor X was one of the only AoA series I did not read around the time the event originally ran. In fact, I think it was one of the last AoA series I read in entirety — not until 3 years ago on Marvel Unlimited. I agree with the praise that it has been given. However, this issue features another one of the (impressively) few continuity errors in this storyline — Newt is clearly meant to be Toad, but we also meet Toad in X-Man. Also, I seem to remember that putting this issue in continuity as having occurred after Weapon X #1 creates some other problems when you also consider the temporal order of that issue and other AoA #1’s, but I could be misremembering.

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