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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

X-amining X-Factor #128

"Night of the Hounds"
November 1996

In a Nutshell
Jamie Madrox returns as Forge finds himself questioning X-Factor's purpose. 

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Jeff Matsuda
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's KF
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

In Georgia, a group of locals are hunting some masked mutant fugitives through the wood until X-Factor arrives and takes over the chase, citing jurisdiction over the matter. Though Forge is dismayed to have X-Factor tasked with hunting down their own people, he oversees the team as they split up to track down the fugitives. Meanwhile, in New York, Graydon Creed receives a warning from Bastion's aide Harper to not deviate from their plans for him, as he did recently when he had the Friends of Humanity target Mystique. Back in Georgia, Shard and Mystique each capture one of the fugitives. A third is spotted by Polaris, and he's relieved, because he believes she will listen to him. However, Polaris simply knocks him out from afar, not in the mood to talk. Elsewhere, Wild Child and Sabretooth corner the fourth fugitive. Forge catches up to them, and the fugitive taunts him about what he and X-Factor have become. He then hits his hands together, and three more of him appear. He removes his mask, and Forge is stunned to realize X-Factor has been hunting Jamie Madrox. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Previously teased in issue #111, this issue confirms that Madrox has returned from the down, as he turns out the be all of the four masked fugitives X-Factor is tasked with capturing in this issue. More about how he survived his apparent death of the Legacy Virus and ended up on the run next issue, though it is worth noting that at this point, the Legacy Virus plotline has gone on long enough without resolution that one of its most high-profile victims has had enough time off the board to be brought back into the mix (not that Madrox will stick around terribly long in the series after this). 

The Madrox reveals comes at the end of an issue that is mostly about Forge questioning X-Factor's relationship with an increasingly anti-mutant government as they're tasked with hunting down some of their own. 

A Work in Progress
Mystique continues to stretch her shapeshifting abilities under Matsuda's pencil. 

Bastion's mysterious aide Harper shows up to keep Graydon Creed in line, and seems to posses some kind of teleportation ability, able to appear suddenly behind Creed while in a limo together. 

In the wake of Uncanny X-Men '96, Shard struggles with her new state of being, saying that not even Forge is quite sure what she is now.  

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
This has got another very 90s cover, just in terms of layout and design. 

Human/Mutant Relations
Forge notes that even the townspeople X-Factor has been theoretically called in to protect fear and hate them.

Austin's Analysis
Plot-wise, this issue can be summed up as "X-Factor hunts some mutants in the woods" but the basic plot is mostly just there to further Forge's (and Polaris') growing doubts about X-Factor's relationship with the government, all of which is meant to help pave the way for the upcoming "X-Factor Underground" status quo shift towards which Howard Mackie has been building more or less since he took over the series. Even the big Madrox reveal is less shocking for confirming Madrox is alive (something previously teased), and more important for the way it furthers the "Underground" build-up: X-Factor hunting one of their own - not just a generic mutant but specifically one of their former teammates - shows just how deeply they've fallen into "just following orders" territory, while Madrox being that target makes for a quick and easy contrast between the state of the team today - emotionally wrecked, performing missions they hate, staffed with murderers and criminals who don't want to be there - and its more easygoing, carefree days when Madrox was a member. Mackie is never going to be an electrifying scripter or a terribly creative plotter, but just seeing some kind of narrative arc finally emerging for the title is appreciated, even moreso than the return of an old favorite. 

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  1. I wonder how that cover was published. Who thought that it would entice anyone to purchase that comic book. This failure reveals the layers of incompetence and misjudgment that can occur in a professional environment. The artist failed, the assistant failed, the editor failed, everyone failed. No one made the right comment: “this cover is horrible. No one will care about this book.”

    Anyway, I recall back in the the day that I actually liked Matsuda’s art, because I was (like many others) in love with Joe Madureira’s style. Anything similar seemed wonderful. Now I think Matsuda’s art was not good. Anyway. I purchased an issue (don’t recall which one) and I couldn’t care about the book. None of the characters were interesting. They felt like tertiary characters that somehow someone thought it would be a good idea to group together and give them their own comic.

    I still believe to this day that X-Factor (post X-Men #1) was a mistake. The way the mutant characters were divided among the X-comics was unfair. Clearly Jim Lee got to pick the most interesting ones and let everyone get the rest. Gold team always felt lacking to me, although I know that it could have worked on the hands of Chris Claremont (it had Storm, his pet character after all). Then you had X-Factor, who had no one’s favorite characters. I liked Havok in the X-Men, but I always felt that Cyclops in his place would have been much better. The same applies to all other characters in that book. Yes, I liked Wolfsbane, but I preferred Dani Moonstar and Cannonball during the New Mutants. Polaris has been a non-character for so long that it didn’t matter. Same for Madrox.

    Looking back, I feel like Cyclops should have remained with the X-Factor, while Gambit should have been given to the Gold team and Wolverine could have stayed with the blue team, which could have been led by Havok. Psylocke could have gone anywhere. Although we all know that Jim Lee would have never allowed that.

    Thus could have been remedied afterwards, but it seems like no one wanted to chance things too much. Creators clearly had no idea of what to do with Cyclops and Jean Grey after their marriage. Storm, from the most important X-Man (or X-Woman) after Cyclops left back in UXM 2001 became nothing. The lack of a clear team on both X-Men comics aggravated the problem. Meanwhile, X-Factor languished with third rate characters. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Excalibur, a team that I always felt should have been disbanded once Alan Davis left. They never felt like they mattered.

  2. I have to think that editorial, at the time, thought that the characters here would make for a more exciting team book. And in all fairness, the line up and direction they were shooting for could be really interesting, but it seems to have been greatly defanged by a too involved editorial approach and a writer who seems to struggle with team dynamics.

    That said, this issue does actually feel like it's finally doing something and I thought rhat Madrox coming back might lighten things up again. I also don't hate Matsuda's art here. All in all, a satisfactory issue if not particularly memorable.

  3. "Previously teased in issue #111, this issue confirms that Madrox has returned from the down, [...]"

    Issue #105 teased it too. Just five issues after Jaime Madrox's death...

  4. That cover. Yikes. Well, I enjoyed being reminded of Time Slip via the back matter.


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