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Friday, March 19, 2021

X-amining X-Factor #125

"The Ticking Clock" / "Free Fall
August 1996

In a Nutshell
Dark Beast sets a brainwashed Havok against X-Factor as Onslaught launches his Sentinel army. 

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Jeff Matsuda, Stefano Raffaele (2nd Story)
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Onslaught confronts Dark Beast, asking what use he can be to him; Dark Beast reveals that in addition to Fatale, he has brainwashed Havok into serving him, and that he has another agent in place with X-Factor. Meanwhile, X-Factor's training Sentinel goes wild, and while the team tries to shut it down, Mystique is sent to release Sabretooth, but the two are teleported away. Shortly thereafter, Fatale arrives and then telports away with the the Sentinel. X-Factor is able to trace the Sentinel to an abandoned Brand Corporation warehouse, where they discover numerous other Sentinels, all programmed to answer to Onslaught and prepared to launch. They are attacked by Dark Beast's allies, including Havok, and Random, despite his feelings for Polaris, reveals himself as a double-agent. Polaris is ultimately able to take out Fatale & Havok, but X-Factor is unable to stop the Sentinels from launching and flying off to join Onslaught in New York City! 

2nd Story
Mystique & Sabretooth are teleported into Dark Beast's lair, where he asks them to join Onslaught. He disables their restraining devices, then Fatale arrives with a captive Forge; Dark Beast tells Mystique & Sabretooth to kill him. They attack Dark Beast instead, Mystique unwilling to kill Forge on terms not her own, Sabretooth out of suspicion of Dark Beast. Revealing he has the real Beast captive, Dark Beast escapes, saying Beast will die before they find him. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Havok returns in this issue, with something of a new look (he same red metal shoulder pads now) and a new attitude, working alongside Fatale and taking orders from Dark Beast. It's presented here as the result of Dark Beat brainwashing him and marks the beginning of the "Havok is a bad guy now" era for the character (in, if we're being charitable, a riff on the earlier "Polaris is possessed by Malice" plotline that similarly drove a wedge between Havok & Polaris), one which will run for the rest of the series and lead-in to his starring in role in Mutant X, though it will eventually be revealed that at some point he breaks Dark Beast's conditioning and continues operating as a villain to take down Dark Beast & expose the extent of his experiments from the inside. 

Random's dual loyalties are exposed to X-Factor here as well, and Random's true form, that of a teenager/young adult and not a grizzled bounty hunter, is revealed (something which Mackie is clearly retconning as it contradicts plenty of previous bits of Random lore, including his wife and the flashback in X-Factor Annual #8 that implied him to be operating over a decade in the past). 

In a bit of dialogue in the second story, Dark Beast refers to his associates as "Dark Descendants", which is sometimes used as an unofficial name for the group comprised of Dark Beast, the brainwashed Havok, Fatale, and Random (which is the core group out of which (the undercover) Havok will later form his own version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). 

In terms of its "Onslaught" tie-in, this issue reveals that all the various teases in the run-up to the crossover involving Sentinel bases/facilities were Onslaught's way of capturing & reprogramming the robots to do his bidding, and the main story ends with those Sentinels being launched and heading to New York (where they'll serve as Onslaught's shock troops, basically, for the rest of the story). 

For reasons not readily apparent, this issue features two stories, with the second story following up with Mystique & Sabretooth after Fatale teleports them away from X-Factor in the first story. It probably would have worked fine as its own plotline woven in and around the events of the first story, but there may have been deadline issues or something which precluded that (or there was a desire to spotlight the Mystique/Sabretooth pairing ahead of their upcoming shared miniseries). 

A Work in Progress
Even before his big reveal, Random is, somewhat randomly, sporting a new look in this issue. 

Forge refers to Sabretooth as a heavy hitter in regards to battling a Sentinel, which seems like a stretch for that specific situation. Like, he’s gonna what, scratch the Sentinel?

Mystique is able to shapeshift one of her hands into Matsuda Manga claws, an atypical use of her abilities which Sabretooth claims she used to do more often.

Later, she is able to give herself bony armor and protruding spikes. 

X-Factor leaves before they get the message from Jean citing Xavier as the X-traitor, though the message is garbled as it appeared in Bishop’s timeline.

Onslaught's Sentinels are being housed at an old Brand Corporation facility; the Brand Corporation is the company Beast was working for when he first transformed himself into his blue and furry look. 

An art error in the second story attributes Sabretooth's dialogue to Dark Beast

Mystique & Sabretooth do that whole "we're villains who don't WANT to work with X-Factor but when given the chance to kill our masters and escape, we don't, because we have secret reasons for staying WITH X-Factor" routine when given the chance to kill Forge and join Dark Beast/Onslaught, because, of course, they're still regular cast members of the series. 

Young Love
Sabretooth says says he can tell Mystique has feelings for Forge.

Austin's Analysis
Of all the "Onslaught" tie-ins thus far, this is by far the most important in terms of the actual plot of the crossover, as it features the launching of the Sentinels which will serve as, essentially, Onslaught's canon fodder and the easy vehicle for looping in additional tie-ins (they're basically the demons/possessed objects of "Inferno"). But much as with Excalibur #100, the bulk of this issue has little to do with that, as Mackie uses the crossover tie-in to advance the closest thing the series has to an ongoing subplot at this point, the fate of Havok and Dark Beast's machinations thereof. Revealing Havok as a seemingly brainwashed thrall of Dark Beast is a suitable event for the series' 125th issue, given the character's long association with this iteration of the team and his at-the-time reasonably-lengthy absence following his capture in issue #118. That, combined with the reveal of Random's dual loyalties, make this an emotional issue for Polaris, the character most affected by all this (Wild Child & Shard barely factor in, while Forge, Sabretooth, & Mystique get the spotlight in the issue's second story). 

Mackie isn't the most engaging of scripters, but he's a professional one, at least, and manages to hit the requisite beats in Polaris' reactions to these dual reveals (though he doesn't quite sell the emotion behind them), and even manages to toss in one surprising moment (when Polaris manages to talk down Havok, then uses that opening to knock him out). It all feels a bit workmanlike, like Mackie is running down a checklist of story beats ("Reveal Havok as a traitor, check. Have Polaris express disbelief, check. Have Polaris argue passionately on his behalf, check..."), but "workmanlike" is about the best we can expect from this series (and Mackie, in general) at this point, and the end result, thanks to the one-two punch of narrative relevance and narrative momentum, is one of the series' better issues to date. 

Next Issue
Next week: X-Man and X-Force do a little sub-crossover crossover in X-Man #18 and X-Force #57. Then, the Sentinels land in X-Men (vol. 2) #55!

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  1. “ Forge refers to Sabretooth as a heavy hitter in regards to battling a Sentinel, which seems like a stretch for that specific situation. Like, he’s gonna what, scratch the Sentinel”


  2. It seems like Havok only ever gets two stortlines: brainwashed into being a villain or getting manipulated by a woman. This is where it began feeling like a tedious cliche for me.

    Overall, I enjoyed this issue. Like you said, it's very workman like but it works in the larger crossover.

    I was hoping for more from a quarterly anniversary issue but that speaks more to my expectations than any failings Mackie may have.

    It's interesting that you bring up Inferno as a point of comparison. I had the same thought. It baffles me that Inferno was a relatively tight event while this one feels sprawling and confusing. Especially as Harras oversaw both events.

  3. I'm surprised you didn't mention the covering up of Mystique's thong by colorists Glynis Oliver and/or Kevin Somers. It was on the same page as the balloon text dialogue error between Dark Beast and Sabretooth. Colorists taking things into their own hands can be so annoying, especially when it's as blatant as this. Then again, perhaps editorial made them do it...

  4. Why is Dark Beast wearing skintight metal capris?

    1. Because the 90s, Blam. When in doubt, the answer is "the 90s".

      (A follow-up question might be, is that the same pair of metal capris he wore when he crossed over from AoA, and if not, where does one purchase a pair of metal capris?).


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