Retro-Review: X-Factor #41-70 by Louise Simonson, Paul Smith, Whilce Portacio, and others

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X-Factor #41-70 (June ‘89 – September ‘91) Review

Written by Louise Simonson (#41-46, 48-54, 56-64), Kieron Dwyer (#47), Peter David (#55, 70), Whilce Portacio (#63-68), Jim Lee (#65-68), Chris Claremont (#65-68), and Fabian Nicieza (#69)

Pencilled by Arthur Adams (#41-42), Paul Smith (#43-46, 48-49), Kieron Dwyer (#47), Rich Buckler (#50), Terry Shoemaker (#50-53, 55, 59), Marc Silvestri (#54), Colleen Doran (#55), Steve Carr (#56), Andy Kubert (#57), Jon Bogdanove (#58, 60-62), John Caponigro (#61), Whilce Portacio (#63-69), and Kirk Jarvinen (#70)

Inked by Al Milgrom (#41-62), Hilary Barta (#50), Whilce Portacio (#63), Art Thibert (#64-68), Phil Lasorda (#69), and Joe Rubinstein (#70)

Spoilers (from twenty-six to twenty-four years ago)

In my previous Retro-Review, I looked at all the stuff that happened in this comic from its beginning through to the departure of Walter Simonson as artist, as that coincided with the wrapping up with most of the long-running plotlines that fueled the title.  Writer Louise Simonson stuck with the book through most of this run, but was left having to reposition the title with its major villains vanquished or absent, and without the gimmick that originally made it unique (the mutant-hunting disguise was abandoned by the team).

Her solutions were interesting.  She tossed the heroes into space, and had them participate in a big science fiction drama where they effectively became supporting characters in their own book for half a year.  After that, she had them back on Earth, and began focusing on the characters and their relationships with each other and with other people, introducing a couple of love interests (for Bobby and Warren), and having characters in established relationships (Scott and Jean, Hank and Trish) work on their issues a little, with some generic bad guys showing up from time to time to keep it all Marvel.

It’s interesting to note that these stories coincided with some big changes in Marvel’s other mutant books.  Chris Claremont generally lost his control of his book, throwing the X-Men through the Siege Perilous once again, and having them split up and change in a number of weird ways.  He was working with Jim Lee by this point, although not consistently, and a lot of the stories were playing to Lee’s strengths.  This is also the time when Rob Liefeld began working with, and eventually supplanting, Simonson on New Mutants, and the team went through its own changes, with the introduction of characters like Cable and Domino.

It’s not a surprise then that Marvel felt the need to make some changes on this title, and following the X-Tinction Agenda cross-over, that’s what happened, with Whilce Portacio coming on board and taking over the book, until he jumped over to Uncanny (coinciding with the launch of Jim Lee’s adjectiveless X-Men title).

While there are some good comics in this run, I don’t think anything here is likely to be remembered as anybody’s favourite run. Let’s look at some of the things that happened in this run:

  • After all the craziness of Inferno and it’s immediate aftermath, it seems that the New Mutants have moved onto the Ship, even though no real discussion of this happens; they are just there, and they appear to have incorporated Rusty, Skids, and the rest into their team.  I know that most of these characters joined the New Mutants, I just don’t remember when or how.
  • The X-Factor team gets called to England to help a new mutant, Alchemy, who has been taken by Trolls who want him to make all of England into gold.
  • Strangely, the team takes young Christopher (Cyclops’s baby, and the future Cable) with them, where he demonstrates a force bubble power.
  • Ship gets taken to a distant planet by the Celestials, with X-Factor inside him.  When they get there, the team is sent to the planet, where they fall in with different warring factions, the Chosen, the Rejects, and the peaceful Beginagains.
  • Over the course of seven issues, Simonson explores this world, effectively making X-Factor supporting characters in their own comic.  Eventually, they bring everyone together and avert the negative judgement of the Celestials.
  • In the middle of this story there was an inventory issue by Kieron Dwyer that has Archangel helping a group of mutant children who were being exploited by a man.  It didn’t fit, but it wasn’t bad.
  • During this time, Jean manages to purge her psyche of the Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor, and (I think) her telepathic powers become stronger, although then it’s not realy used when they get back to Earth.
  • When the team returns to Earth, Ship decides to park himself standing upright at the lower end of Manhattan, which causes a bit of a stir.
  • Archangel runs into Sabretooth, who is apparently back to hunting Morlocks, having killed a chicken-dude, and attacking a guy named Mole.  He gets into it with Archangel.
  • Scott, Jean, Hank, and his girlfriend Trish go out for dinner, and get attacked by gigantic cockroaches.
  • Iceman goes shopping for music, and meets Opal Tanaka, who becomes his girlfriend.  She is hiding Mole in the basement of the store she works at, and later Mole attacks Bobby.
  • Scott asks Jean to marry him, but she says no.
  • Caliban, now enhanced by Apocalypse, goes hunting for Sabretooth, but instead gets into a big fight with Archangel.
  • At a party, Bobby and Hank run into Colossus, who has no memory of his being a mutant and superhero (this is that weird period where the X-Men had gone through the Siege Perilous and were all changed into other people – Betsy stayed an Asian ninja, but none of the other changes stuck).
  • Crimson, a psychic vampire and part of a group called the Ravens, gets a taste for mutant energy at this party.
  • In a filler-issue by Peter David, Hank keeps seeing his ex-girlfriend all over the city, but really, it’s Mesmero messing with him.
  • Archangel gets crazier and crazier, and kills one of the Ravens, which now means that he has to become one of them within 24 hours, but Crimson has her own plans.
  • Everyone spends a lot of time chasing Archangel around, and that’s when the Right makes a reappearance to also attack him.
  • Bishop and Forge show up to help chase Archangel around too, and Scott gets all jealous because Forge looks at Jean (Scott’s always been a jerk, eh?).
  • The Ravens get destroyed, and Warren gets better.
  • Warren and Officer Jones get closer, and Bobby and Opal get closer, while Beast gets upset with the way Trish Tilby has been reporting, causing her to question her role in delivering the news, and eventually, accepting an assignment overseas.
  • The X-Tinction Agenda ties this book into events in Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants for three issues.  This cross-over starts off well, with the various teams responding to increased anti-mutant activities in the nation of Genosha (spurred on by Cameron Hodge), but it eventually breaks down into a lot of overwrought nonsense.
  • Hodge is now a gigantic robotic spider-machine thing with a human head that seems to always be changing in size in different panels.
  • None of the stuff that happens in this cross-over really affects the core X-Factor team, leaving most of the changes in status quo to the X-Men (Storm becomes an adult again, Havok recovers his memories) and the New Mutants (Warlock dies, Wolfsbahne becomes a mutate).
  • After that event, Whilce Portacio comes on as co-writer for Louise Simonson’s last two issues, and brings the book into the more dynamic, pre-Image era.
  • The team gets new uniforms off-panel, which is a pre-Image kind of thing, but I like these uniforms much more than the old ones.  No one messes with Archangel’s design though, cause it’s awesome.
  • Bobby’s girlfriend Opal discovers that she is the heir to a powerful Yakuza clan, and is kidnapped by five cybernetic warriors so her grandfather can marry her to one of them.
  • Bobby and Jean pursue them to Japan, where they connect with Mariko Yashida to free Opal.  Strangely, in a gigantic fight with ninjas and the cybernetic warriors, Jean just sits around and does nothing for reasons not explained.
  • The book is given over to an awkward writing consortium of Portacio, Jim Lee, and Chris Claremont (on scripting), and the story starts moving very quickly in a number of odd directions.
  • One issue has a weird little backup story showing a fight between Sebastian Shaw and his son Shinobi, which becomes relevant later on in Portacio’s Uncanny X-Men run, but has nothing to do with this title whatsoever.
  • Apocalypse attacks Ship, using a group of typical 90s villains called the Riders on the Storm.
  • Askani, a visitor from the future, comes looking for Scott’s son Christopher (who is now called Nathan all the time, which is what Madelyne called him), except when Askani calls him the Chosen.  She makes it clear that she’s there to protect him from some sort of problem, but never says what that is.
  • Apocalypse’s people kidnap Nathan/Christopher and cause Ship to explode, with the team on board, as well as the now-promoted Sergeant Jones.
  • The team, Jones, and a glowing holographic ball that is now the Ship end up on the moon with some of the Inhumans, where Apocalypse has somehow taken control of a few members of the Royal Family.  We learn that the Riders are maybe Inhumans too.  I have no idea why Apocalypse, who was always interested in creating conflict among mutants, would suddenly care about the Inhumans, unless it was deep foreshadowing for Marvel’s current publishing strategy.
  • During the battle with Apocalypse, young Nathan/Christopher becomes infected with some sort of techno-virus, and the only way to cure him is for Askani (who has shown up again) to take him to the future.  There is a lot of hinting that he grows up to be Cable, but nothing is explicitly stated here, and that might not even have been the intention of these writers.  Askani discorporates or something, and is never seen again, although later writers make use of her name quite a bit in relation to Cable.
  • Jean more or less gets her telepathic powers back, but it was never really clearly stated as to whether or not that was really the case.  Did she get them from the baby?
  • At this point, the book gets tied in to the events of Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men and his long-running and very confusing Shadow King/Muir Island Saga, which had a number of X-Men under the control of that most over-used of evil telepaths.
  • Issue 69 is really just another issue of Uncanny X-Men, as the team gets involved with trying to sneak onto Muir Island, while the Shadow King is playing them.  There’s a lot of fighting.  A lot of characters are wearing hideous variants of the old X-Men costume, although with snaps on their neck and some pouches and unnecessary straps and stuff.
  • After the Muir Island Saga ends, issue 70 is used to kind of reset this book and Uncanny X-Men.  Professor X tries to find his son Legion’s mind on the astral plane, while reconnecting with Jean Grey, and as the rest of the two teams mingle and start cleaning up the island.  Valerie Cooper makes her pitch to a few heroes, trying to get them to come work with the government.  This is significant for where the book goes next, which is one of the most extreme soft relaunches of the era, as the main characters of this title return to the X-Men, taking places on the Blue and Gold teams (although, did Iceman go with them?  I don’t remember).

The line-up of the core team is very stable in this book (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Archangel, Beast, and Iceman), and very few other important characters were introduced in this series, that are still around today.  That list includes only:

  • Opal Tanaka, who becomes Bobby’s girlfriend, and recently reappeared in an arc of Astonishing X-Men
  • Officer Charlotte Jones (later Sergeant), who has a weird relationship with Warren and then more or less disappears for a number of years

The post-Walter Simonson era of Louise Simonson’s run was marked by her collaborations with a number of different artist, some of whom are very notable.  Arthur Adams drew the two-part Alchemy story, and nobody would have been better at drawing the Trolls.

Paul Smith drew all but the last issue of the Judgement War arc, and while his stuff looks very good, it’s not as good as his run on Uncanny X-Men.  I think part of the problem might lie with Al Milgrom’s inks, as they are a lot heavier than other inkers would use with Smith’s work.  It looks like he inked his own covers, and they look wonderful.

After a bunch of issues drawn by some random artists (who is Steven Carr?) or long-standing veterans who never got much recognition (Terry Shoemaker), Jon Bogdanove came on the book for four issues, drawing the X-Tinction Agenda issues and one other.  It’s worth noting that in that cross-over, he was drawing alongside Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.  Needless to say, his issues were by far the clunkiest, as I’ve always found his work very awkward.  I can only imagine how the Internet of today would have reacted to these issues, especially at the height of Liefeld’s popularity, before the haters really went at him.

Following that, Whilce Portacio came on the book, and I have to say that of all the original Image founders, he’s always been my favourite.  I didn’t care for Wetwork at all, but I love his Marvel work.  He can be faulted for a lot of the same 90s excesses that a lot of his friends had, but there was always something more honest about his work, and he was always pretty exciting.  This book was in desperate need of a shakeup when he came along, and that’s just what happened, although handing over the writing to him and Lee was a mistake, as the stories stopped making sense, and no further character development was undertaken.

Next time around, I’m going to be looking at the first Peter David era on this title, although I don’t think I stayed with his run throughout.  I remember getting a little bored around the time that Random was getting a lot of screen time.  I haven’t looked at these books since they came out, so I’ll be curious to see if they start off as well as I remember, and if they dropped off as quickly as I think they did…

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