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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

X-amining X-Factor #133

"Down Under"
April 1997

In a Nutshell
Val Cooper & General Bowser investigate X-Factor's apparent demise. 

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

Val Cooper and General Bowser investigate the site of Mystique and Forge's car crash, and discover no sign of them in the Potomac. They proceed to X-Factor's Fall's Edge headquarters, which recently exploded. Despite Val's protestations, Bowser orders a force of six men inside the remains of the building alongside himself and Val to secure Forge's technology. Meanwhile, Jamie Madrox visits the comatose Strong Guy at a hospital in DC, where he is confronted by Havok. Inside Fall's Edge, members of Bowser's team are taken out due to the conditions of the building, and when the group comes across a toxic gas leak, Bowser orders everyone out. Back at the hospital, Havok tries again to get Jamie to join his Brotherhood, but Jamie declines. At Fall's Edge, an electrostatic field is erected around the remains of the building, sealing it off, with the members of X-Factor declared dead. Inside Fall's Edge, Forge and the rest of X-Factor watch Bowser pull out, pleased their ruse has succeeded and thankful for the role Val played in selling it. Now, they can get on with reinventing X-Factor as something better. Back at the hospital, Havok teleports away, urging Jamie to side with him when the time comes. Jamie just wanting a normal life, tells Strong Guy to get better before leaving and missing a small movement of Strong Guy's hand. 

Firsts and Other Notables
X-Factor #133 concludes the series' transition to "X-Factor Underground", getting the team out from under the control of the US government, making them free to act of their own accord (albeit, no longer in any official capacity). 

To this issue's credit, the idea that the six soldiers who enter Fall's Edge with Val and Bowser (four of which are seemingly killed) are actually X-Factor in disguise plays out fairly subtly. Ultimately, we can assume that Sabretooth was the solider "killed" by the spikes, Mystique is the one who was reduced to a skeleton, Forge the one who lost a hand, Wild Child the one who fell down a dark shaft, while Polaris and Shard were the ones who faced the explosion. 

Strong Guy, still comatose following his end-of-reality-heralding heart attack in issue #111, pops up again for the first time since X-Factor #114, as Madrox goes to visit him. While it'll be awhile before he rejoins the team, this is likely an effort to remind readers the character exists ahead of his upcoming one-shot a few months out. 

Creator Central
Eric Battle is credited in the issue as the penciler, but a note in the following issue reveals that Jeff Matsuda penciled it. 

The Reference Section
I can't decide if the title of this issue, "Down Under" is a reference to the time the X-Men faked their deaths and moved "down under" to Australia to operate more freely, or if Howard Mackie isn't that clever. 

It's in the Mail
This issue includes two-and-a-half pages of letters. 

Austin's Analysis
While the art of the various Joe Madueira clones popping up around this time in the wake of his astronomical sense can be an acquired taste (as can Joe Mad's art itself), I generally haven't minded Jeff Matsuda's style in this series. While his energetic, skewed linework sometimes displays a lack of storytelling fundamentals, the overall verve of his work can inject some energy into otherwise straightforward, talky scenes. In X-Factor #133 however, that more cartoony, bombastic style really lets down the narrative due to its tonal dissonance. Mackie is going for a tense, atmospheric mood here, with Bowser leading Val and (seemingly) regular soldiers into a damaged building in which they get picked off one by one in increasingly macabre fashion. Yet everything is depicted in Matsuda's usual over-the-top style, in sharp contrast to the creeping moodiness of the plot. The narrative is dark, the art is bright and cartoony. Sometimes, that contrast can help elevate the seemingly dissonant parts into a stronger whole, but here, the art significantly undercuts what the story is trying to do.

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  1. "I can't decide if the title of this issue, "Down Under" is a reference to the time the X-Men faked their deaths and moved "down under" to Australia to operate more freely, or if Howard Mackie isn't that clever."

    I vote for the latter.

    "While the art of the various Joe Madueira clones popping up around this time in the wake of his astronomical sense can be an acquired taste (as can Joe Mad's art itself)"

    I never acquired the taste for either.

  2. This is pretty much the beginning of Mackie really finding a voice for this series. Unfortunately, it's coming at a time when editorial was grasping even tighter to the narrative of the line, resulting in Mackie not actually being able to do much with it.

    I generally liked Matsuda's art style but find myself in full agreement. I feel like Matsuda would have been a better fit earlier in this era of X-Factor when it was still more action-comedy than paranoid thriller.

    I feel like if Steve Epting had still be on this series this is where he really would have shined. Ahh, what could have been...

    1. Epting was exactly who I was thinking of as a better artist for this story. I just couldn't decide if that was because he truly would be a better tonal match, or if it's just because I generally like his stuff more than most other artists lol

    2. Well, modern Epting would definitely fill the role nicely. However, even this era of Epting would have worked better. He wasn't quite to "phot-real" level yet, but his style still managed to be moody when it needed it. At least in my opinion.

    3. Go back to pretty much any issue Epting had already done on this title, and it was much better than most of the stuff that followed him. I wish he had stayed on longer, it might have made Mackie's run more readable.

  3. I’m glad to hear about the mistaken credits because it just did not compute that Eric Battle had pencilled this. And I completely agree on the dissonance of art vs. story content.

  4. I can't read this review talking about a General Bowser without giggling at the notion of a giant turtle wearing a military helmet with four stars on it declaring war on first X-Factor, then the Mushroom Kingdom. Just tickles me. I know, back THEN it wasn't quite the same deal, but these days in hindsight it's hilarious.


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