Retro-Review: Marvel Comics’s X-Factor #1-40 by Bob Layton, Louise Simonson, Butch Guice, Walter Simonson, and others

X-Factor #1-40 (Feb ‘86 – May ‘89)

Written by Bob Layton (#1-5), Louise Simonson (#6-40), Walter Simonson (#28), and Tom DeFalco (#32)

Pencilled by Butch Guice (#1-3, 5-7), Keith Pollard (#4), Marc Silvestri (#8, 12), Terry Shoemaker (#9, 35), Walter Simonson (#10-11,13-15, 17-19, 21, 23-31, 33-34, 36-39), David Mazzuchelli (#16), June Brigman (#20), Sal Buscema (#22), Steve Lightle (#32), and Rob Liefeld (#40)

Inked by Butch Guice (#1), Bob Layton (#1), Joe Rubinstein (#1-5, 7-9,16, 35), Bob McLeod (#6), Bob Wiacek (#10-12, 14-15, 17-19, 21-31, 33-34, 36-38), Dan Green (#13), Randy Emberlin (#20), Steve Lightle (#32), and Al Milgrom (#38-40)

Spoilers (from almost thirty to twenty-five years ago)

As I got into the groove or re-reading and writing about The Avengers, I started thinking about what series from back in the day I wanted to start reading when I finished that project.  Some of the titles that I was most interested in revisiting, like the New Mutants, Namor, or Iron Man, are all pretty inaccessible to me right now, as retrieving them would mean re-arranging some pretty heavy items in the basement of my childhood home to get to the crawlspace where I was able to negotiate housing for them a couple of decades ago.  I thought about re-reading Walter Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor, but ultimately decided instead to check out a mutant title that never seemed to get the love that it often deserved; X-Factor.

This series was launched with an interesting concept and take on mutant-dom.  The idea behind it was that the original five X-Men, including the newly resurrected Jean Grey, would pose as very public human mutant hunters as a way of accessing and helping mutants.  In the mid-80s, there was a lot of anti-mutant sentiment in the Marvel Universe, and the team figured they could help with this (despite the fact that one member of the team had big wings, and another was blue and furry, making their public role a little difficult to manage).

Of course, the team also needed to be able to suit up as ‘renegade mutants’ at times in order to get what they wanted, and so they got some pretty generic costumes with gigantic X’s running across their chests.  Later the colour scheme of these costumes changed, but they retained their generic look (except for Angel, who got to become awesome).

The series began well enough, with a strong first issue that had to be famously reworked more than once, especially since legend has it that Marvel’s earliest plans were for Dazzler to be on the team instead of Jean.  It’s interesting that the series’s original writer, Bob Layton, was only on the book for the first five issues.  The reason he left was given as being because he had to work on the book’s first annual, but that certainly rang pretty false.  When he left, Louise Simonson (occasionally still called Louise Jones in the credits) took over, and stayed for a long time, remaining with the book long past the period this article is covering.

Simonson’s stretch can be seen as one very long story, as it takes her over thirty issues to reconcile the original concept of the book, the mess that Jean’s return causes for Scott Summers and his family, the strangeness of the character Madelyne Pryor, and years of hints from Chris Claremont’s X-Men run.

One thing that is pretty notable about the book is the way in which Scott Summers, Cyclops, is portrayed.  At learning of Jean’s return, he leaves his wife (Madelyne Pryor) and baby to go to her, and then just never bothers calling them for a few weeks, by which time, they’d disappeared.  He also never tells Jean about his family, and generally behaves pretty strangely for a while.  I’d forgotten how weird his actions are in this comic, but it does help explain how strangely Brian Michael Bendis has been writing him in contemporary X-books.

It’s not until Simonson starts writing the book that Jean gains any prominence beyond being a casual object of desire.  It is now that she starts dealing with the missing years of her life, her missing telepathy, and her confusion around why Scott is giving her the cold shoulder.

Once she finds out the truth, she also has to deal with Warren’s new feelings for her, in an attempt at a love triangle that doesn’t make it too far.

Simonson retcons a lot of Summer family history in such a way as to show that Mr. Sinister has long been involved in events that helped shape both brothers, as well as Madelyne.  A few pieces feel forced, but for the most part, it works.

Once Walter Simonson joins his wife as the artist of the series, things really show some big improvements.  The Simonsons bring us to the Mutant Massacre, one of the first Marvel cross-over ‘events’, and one of the few that have been so successful.  These issues are kind of brutal, as our heroes try to save the Morlocks from the Marauders, while dealing with the fact that the Morlocks believe they are no better, due to their ‘mutant hunting’ gig.

After the success of the Massacre, you can tell that Marvel wanted more coordinated events spanning across the X-Books, and the first few feel very successful.  The Fall of the Mutants is odd, in that the X-Factor events aren’t really too tied in to what happens with the X-Men (who die in Dallas) and the New Mutants (I don’t remember what they did).  Inferno, on the other hand, brings the team into contact with the X-Men (surprise, they weren’t really dead, just in Australia) for the first time, and they eventually work together to iron out any number of continuity errors and weirdness.

Over the course of these issues, the team completely abandons their mutant-hunting aspect, and instead become minor New York celebrities, and spokespeople for mutants in general.

It’s interesting to see just how long Walter Simonson drew this book, as it’s not one that he often gets associated with.  His work is not as exciting as what he did on The Mighty Thor, despite this coming after that high water mark, but he is incredibly consistent, even when working with a variety of inkers.  One thing I learned from these issues is that Al Milgrom’s inks don’t work well with Simonson’s pencils, but he does make Rob Liefeld’s issue (#40) look much better than most everything else that artist has ever done.

For the most part, these were some very good comics, with the gigantic exception of issue 35, which had Scott and Jean visit the orphanage that Scott grew up in, and fight Nanny, Orphan Maker, and some Inferno demons.  There must have been speech bubbles that fell off the art or something, because there is missing dialogue, and a rushed feeling to the comic that almost managed to tank the entire storyline.

If there’s anything this book will be remembered for, even more than the return of Jean Grey and the introduction of Apocalypse, it’s the reworking of Angel into Death, Deathangel for a very short time, and eventually Archangel, with his very cool blue skin and metal wings.  I remember being very excited by the character as a kid, and as a current reader who hates the angelic stupid Angel of today’s comics, I wish he had been left like this.

Let’s look at some of the things that happened in this run:

  • Marvel Girl comes back to life, without her telepathic abilities, and without any memory of the events that the Phoenix participated in, since that wasn’t actually her.
  • Cyclops leaves his family to go see Jean, wanders the city in a fog for a couple of weeks, and then decides to join up with his old teammates.
  • Angel, a little lost after the disbanding of the New Defenders, and a little in love with Jean, uses his money to start X-Factor.  He hires his old college roommate, Cameron Hodge, to help run things.
  • The team rescues Rusty Collins on their first mission, and then take him home to train him.
  • Tower attacks and kidnaps the Beast while he hangs out with his very 80s ex-girlfriend.
  • A scientist that used to work with Hank McCoy experiments on him, and ends up reverting him to his pre-blue fur mutant form (thus making it easier for him to pass as human when in his X-Factor gear, but I’m sure that’s just coincidental).
  • The scientist entrusts his son, Artie, to X-Factor’s care.
  • Frenzy tries to take Rusty to her mysterious master.
  • The team goes to California to try to rescue a drug-addicted mutant from the Alliance of Evil (a team which includes Tower and Frenzy)
  • We learn that the Alliance works for Apocalypse, who is all about having mutants fight and kill each other as a way of winnowing out the strongest mutants.
  • A pair of radioactive mutants, Bulk and Glowworm, decide to attack X-Factor as a way of protecting all mutants.
  • Freedom Force (formerly the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, now working for the government) come after Rusty, and get into a fight with X-Factor in Central Park.
  • I had completely forgotten that the Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman was ever a member of Freedom Force.
  • Rusty becomes friends with Skids while they try to get away from all their problems.
  • Our heroes begin to be referred to as the X-Terminators while in their ‘rogue mutant’ guise, which is a little cheesy.
  • The fight with Freedom Force is put on hold when everyone realises that the Marauders are wandering the tunnels below the city killing Morlocks.
  • There is a lot of back-and-forth between the Alley and the X-Factor compound (which suddenly has a direct entrance to the Morlock tunnels, which is handy) as the team tries to rescue folk, and find Artie, who has gone looking for Rusty.
  • X-Factor get into a conflict with a tough-ass group of Morlocks called the Tunnelers, although the only one of them to live through that story is Masque, who I’ve always found creepy (I don’t like protuberances).
  • We keep seeing Apocalypse gathering his Horsemen in a number of cameos.
  • Angel is tortured by the Marauders and badly injured.  He is also outed as the mutant financer of X-Factor, which puts the whole organization’s purpose under media scrutiny and makes everyone nervous.
  • Boom-Boom calls X-Factor to try to get the Vanisher off her back, and ends up moving into the compound.  She is perhaps more annoying than even early Jubilee.
  • Jean tries to reconnect with her sister, only to find that she has gone missing.
  • Scott flies to Alaska to try to find his wife and (as-yet) nameless baby.  She has gone missing as well, and all trace of her existence has been wiped out.
  • Scott kind of loses it for a bit, has lots of chats with Charles Xavier (who’s not really there), and gets into a fight with the Master Mold.
  • Angel gets worse, and his doctor’s get a court order to remove his wings, which is the only way they know how to help save his life.  The fact that Hank McCoy is a renowned biologist who specializes in mutant physiology never comes up, and in fact, Hank never even visits him in the hospital.  Hank is too busy being comic relief.
  • Despondent over the loss of his wings, Angel kills himself (by triggering the self-destruct on a private jet – do jets have such a thing?)
  • The kids get into a fight with Masque when he tries to get the bounty on Rusty.
  • The team is lured to California, where they rescue Rictor from The Right, an anti-mutant militant group.
  • Scott and Jean finally have it out over all of Scott’s issues, and they learn that Cameron Hodge has been manipulating Scott for his own ends (although not all the people he’s been imagining talking to could have been holograms – some of those conversations were in Alaska).
  • Iceman returns from Asgard, with almost no control over his abilities.
  • Apocalypse’s first three Horsemen attack the city.  Iceman freezes all of Central Park to stop them.
  • The kids decide to work together to fix the park and show the public that not all mutants are bad or destructive.
  • At the reading of Warren’s will, the team discovers that everything is being left to Cameron Hodge to administer.  When the team decides to out themselves to the media, the Right attack (in their smiley face battle armor that I’ve always hated).
  • The Right also attack the X-Factor compound and kidnap the kids, except for Boom-Boom, who was out at the time.  She follows them to Arlington, and disovers that Hodge is the leader of the organization.
  • The team fight against Hodge and the Right, before being transported back to New York by Apocalypse.
  • The team discovers that Angel is still alive, but is now Death (the fourth Horseman of Apocalypse), who eventually turns against his new master, but doesn’t rejoin the team.
  • Beast, infected by Pestilence, gets stronger all the time, but also keeps getting dumber.
  • Caliban decides to join Apocalypse when he is promised that he will be able to be stronger and not so useless.
  • The team ends up owning Apocalypse’s ship, which they free from his influence, and name Ship.
  • Scott discovers that Madelyne was still alive all this time, but believes that she has died with the X-Men in Dallas (which sparked the Australian Outback era).  Knowing that his son is still alive, but not knowing where he is, makes Scott into a huge jerk again, just as he and Jean were getting close again.
  • Infectia decides she wants Ship for herself, and attacks.
  • Infectia decides to try to seduce Bobby into giving her Ship, but that doesn’t work well for anyone.  Beast gets kissed by her by mistake, and eventually this turns him back to his blue, furry, and intelligent self.
  • Cyclops gets a fuzzy lead from Destiny as to where his son might be.
  • In an issue co-written by Tom DeFalco, the team fight a bunch of aliens posing as the Avengers, who also want Ship for themselves.  Ship is popular for a while.
  • Angel fights Cameron Hodge, and discovers that his ex-girlfriend is dead, and that Hodge has been working with N’astirh, the demon behind the Inferno cross-over.
  • The Right has been attempting to procure mutant infants for N’Astirh, while Nanny and the Orphan Maker have been going around stealing mutant children, for unknown purposes.
  • The kids get sent off to school (or, more likely, the X-Terminators mini-series that featured them around this time).
  • Cyclops and Marvel Girl go to the orphanage where Scott once lived, find his baby, and get caught up in a melee between demons, Nanny, Orphan Maker, some other mutant kids (including Jean’s niece and nephew, who she recognizes despite not having seen them in years, and their not answering to their own names).  Nanny takes off with the baby.
  • Demons begin to take over New York as the Inferno cross-over gets underway.  The entire team comes together, including Angel, for the first time since Fall of the Mutants.
  • Through a series of issues that crossed very closely with the X-Men, the team confronts the X-Men, before they begin to work together to stop Maddie, now calling herself the Goblin Queen, in her attempts to destroy New York, and everything Scott Summers has ever cared for (including her own infant child).
  • Jean somehow regains her telepathy.
  • The united teams go after Mr. Sinister, and learn all the secrets of how he manipulated the Summers brothers, and some other stuff.
  • The team fight Nanny and Orphan Maker, and rescue all the children they had with them, including Jean’s niece and nephew (although we never learn where their mother is).

The line-up of the core team is very stable in this book (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, and Iceman), and so I can’t discuss roster the way I did in my Avengers reviews, but it is worth noting the new mutants or other important characters that were introduced in this series, many of whom are still around today.  That list includes:

  • Cameron Hodge (who ends up being a problem)
  • Rusty Collins (apparently he’s dead now)
  • Artie (currently with the Future Foundation)
  • Frenzy (who is now an X-Man, and a lot shorter than how she was portrayed here)
  • Apocalypse (he kind of became a big deal for a while there)
  • Skids (where is she now?)
  • Trish Tilby (the reporter who was a long-time love interest for the Beast; her last name was Tilbit in her first appearance, which was interesting)
  • Rictor (last seen in the last X-Factor series, working for Jamie Madrox)
  • Ship (which I’m pretty sure I saw in Axis)
  • Nanny and Orphan Maker (who it seems are blissfully forgotten these days; they were dumb characters)
  • Cable (but he’s a baby, and still called Christopher)
  • Mr. Sinister (he may have debuted in Uncanny X-Men, but he gets a lot of play here towards the end)

As well, the series became home for some other bit-players who were previously around the Marvel universe, but weren’t given a lot of space to develop or grow, such as:

  • Leech
  • Caliban (who kind of joined the team for a while, although mostly so he could talk about how useless he was in a fight)
  • Boom-Boom

It’s strange that by issue forty, Simonson had wrapped up every sub-plot of note, but then continued to write the comic for the next thirty issues or so.  It is that era that we will look at in the next batch of Retro-Reviews.  With a couple of high-points (like Paul Smith’s art), I don’t remember these issues being particularly good, and remember them being way too tied-in to the more crummy cross-overs of the early nineties.  We’ll see how time has treated them…

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