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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

X-amining X-Factor #131

February 1997

In a Nutshell
Havok tracks down the captive Dark Beast and invites him to join his new Brotherhood!

Writer: Howard Mackie
Penciler: Jeff Matsuda
Inker: Art Thibert
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Havok is being haunted by dreams of his past in which he is dominated and controlled by others, including Professor X, Mister Sinister, and Dark Beast. Deciding to take control of his own life, he locates Dark Beast, who is being held in a government facility. He attacks the facility, freeing both Dark Beast and the teleporter Fatale. Dark Beast thinks Havok is there to kill him, but instead, Havok offers them both a place with his new Brotherhood. Faced with no other options, they accept, with Dark Beast seeing in Havok something of his reality's counterpart. 

Firsts and Other Notables
With Havok the only part of the series' regular cast (inasmuch as Evil Havok is part of the regular cast), to appear in it, this issue is mostly focused on getting inside Havok's head to justify his recent heel turn (as revealed in X-Factor #126). Of course, that effort largely undermines the later retcon that this is all playacting on Havok's part, as a decent number of pages in this issue are dedicated to depicting Havok's insecurities and recurring dreams ie an expression of how he really feels and not something he'd have any reason to fake because no one is looking inside his head. 

To that end, Havok's expands his new Brotherhood (which debuted in Uncanny X-Men #339) by recruiting Fatale and Dark Beast, with much of the issue setup as a fakeout in which it seems Havok is going to kill Dark Beast in revenge for kidnapping him issue #118 only for him to offer him a job in the end (it is left ambiguous as to whether this was Havok's intent all along or if he swerved last minute). 

The issue concludes with Dark Beast referring to Havok as "Prelate" (the title carried by the Age of Apocalypse Havok), as the franchise continues to milk the ongoing popularity of "Age of Apocalypse". 

I failed to note it last issue, but #130 was Al Milgrom's last issue as the series' inker, a run which extends as far back as issue #38 (the longest gap coming when Whilce Portacio was the book's regular penciler). I am not the biggest fan of Milgrom's pencil work, but that is nevertheless a remarkable achievement, and his presence lent a certain consistency to the series even as a variety of different artists with different styles, from Walt Simonson to Paul Smith to the assortment of fill-in pencilers in the 50s to Larry Stroman, Joe Quesada, Jan Duursema, Steve Epting and Jeff Matsuda. 

A Work in Progress
Havok's dreams involving the various people who have used him through the years includes the Living Monolith; always appreciate a Living Monolith callback. 

When asked which side the Brotherhood is on, Havok responds that he "doesn't take sides, he takes initiative!" 

Human/Mutant Relations
As has become the standard of the time, it's noted that anti-mutant sentiment is worse than ever in the wake of "Onslaught" (though Matsuda livens up the presentation of that idea a bit here). 

Austin's Analysis
Frankly, this is the kind of story the series probably needed to do before now, offering a look inside Havok's head and what drove him to break bad, in order to really sell readers on the idea of his heel turn. But with the series' commitments to "Onslaught" and then tying off the Graydon Creed subplot, it doesn't appear until now, after we've already seen Havok carrying out standard super-villain beats over in Uncanny. What we get is pretty standard stuff, taking Havok's existing history and re-presenting it as fodder for his recent decisions (instead of just being part of his backstory, as it had been previously) but honestly, the act of doing something like this to sell the change is appreciated, even if the justification for it isn't the strongest (stuff like this happens all the time in comics; all readers really need is a baseline explanation to accept it). 

Of course, this all reads much differently with the benefit of hindsight, after later stories reveal that Havok is faking all this - which is all well and good except for bits like this issue, in which we are very pointedly inside Havok's head as he comes up with justifications for his villainous actions, and those justifications are something other than "to maintain my cover". That is, of course, also the nature of/risk inherent to these kinds of stories functioning as chapters in an ongoing narrative, but it does rob the issue somewhat of its impact (it also doesn't help that Havok deciding to make Dark Beast a subordinate - whether his plan all along or not - seems like a dumb idea after what Dark Beast did to him, something mandated by a real-world desire to keep Dark Beast around but not in charge). Matsuda's artwork is a little bit sharper here, featuring some clever panel layouts that don't distract from the story, so it has that to help it along, at least. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable meets another character intended to remind readers of "The Age of Apocalypse" in Cable #40. Next week, Christmas time is here again in Generation X #24!

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  1. Of the 8 pre-AoA titles, X-Factor felt like it struggled the most to find any sort of compelling direction. Which is strange since it had such a strong concept coming out of Mutant Genesis. Even without the humor that Peter David brought, or the high concept villain John J. Moore wrote there was some interesting fodder for storytelling. Of course, all the X-Books struggled with direction after AoA so it's not unique to this book.

    As far as this issue, I think it's one of Mackie's best efforts. His strongest work seems to be when he's focused on one or two characters rather than trying to service them all.

    Matsuda also seems to be showing signs of improvement. Not drastic, but he seems to be finding his own style now rather than doing his best Madureira impression.

    I think the later reveal about Havok being undercover is par for the course during this era. I feel like many plot points got either dropped or reversed as Harras seemed to be having a hard time figuring out what to fo with line. Something the line struggles with until 2001 if I'm not mistaken.

    1. "As far as this issue, I think it's one of Mackie's best efforts. His strongest work seems to be when he's focused on one or two characters rather than trying to service them all."

      I agree with this, Drew. A lot of people dislike Howard Mackie's Spider-Man stuff, but he was my favorite writer on those books circa the mid-90s. I think he did much better work on solo titles on than with teams.

    2. I think Jeff Lemire has the same issue.

  2. Maybe Alex is coming up with justifications for his villainous actions… to maintain his cover? Like in case he gets mind-probed or somebody, you know, asks.

  3. "Havok's dreams involving the various people who have used him through the years includes the Living Monolith; always appreciate a Living Monolith callback."

    Yet we missed out on an Eric the Red appearance here, which I find disappointing!

  4. Xavier shown as wearing the blue and gold default X Men uniform is a rarity, yeah? This is a dream sequence but still. Any other times?

    1. I swear Xavier wears an X-Men uniform in something drawn by Paul Smith, but I can't put my finger on what. The "Muir Island Saga", maybe? Beyond that, I can't think of many/any times.

    2. It was indeed by Paul Smith, in the X-Men/Alpha Flight 2-issue mini-series, that Chuck wore the blue and gold.

    3. Thank you, Chris! I just had this image in my head of a Smith-drawn Xavier in the school uniform.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. We have Xavier wearing an X-Men uniform in X-Men Unlimited #3, when he is inside Sabertooth's mind.


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