Retro-Review: X-Factor #71-89 By Peter David, Larry Stroman, Joe Quesada & Other Marvel Comics Creators

X-Factor 75 pin-up

X-Factor #71- 89 (October ‘91 -April ‘93) Review

Written by Peter David (#71-89)

Pencilled by Larry Stroman (#71-75, 77-78, 80-81)  Tom Raney (#76), Kevin West (#76), Brandon Peterson (#78), Jim Fern (#79), Rurik Tyler (#82), Mark Pacella (#83), Jae Lee (#84-86), Joe Quesada (#87-89), and Chris Batista (#88-89)

Inked by Al Milgrom (#71-89) and Andrew Pepoy (#88)

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

In the middle of 1991, Marvel overhauled the X-Men, launching the second, adjectiveless title with Jim Lee, and bringing the original X-Men back to the Charles Xavier School.  This left Marvel with the need to do something about X-Factor.  I’m sure there was talk about cancelling the book, since it was losing its entire cast, but Marvel decided to do something different instead.  All-New and All-Different, I should say.

It was at this point that Peter David brought a new approach to the book.  Now, X-Factor would be a government mutant response team under the control of Val Cooper.  David brought together a pretty diverse and strange group of mutants to staff the team.  Havok was the team leader, and the team was made up of Polaris, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man, Strong Guy, and Quicksilver (who just kind of joined the team on his own).

In addition to the radical change in casting, David also gave the book a completely different tone.  He gave the series a much lighter tone, making it more like the classic Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis run on Justice League, with the team cracking wise at all times.

I remember being very enamored of this book when it came out.  I quickly found myself frustrated with the excesses of the X-Men titles, and couldn’t often follow their storylines, but this book felt like a big breath of fresh air.  David has always worked in pop culture references into his work, and this is no different (especially the Rahne-themed parodies of Wayne’s World and Ren and Stimpy).  Guido’s use of the phrase ‘genetically challenged’ to describe mutants brings me back to the overly polite concerns about using politically correct language in that era.

David also did more than just about any writer before or since to add some real depth to characters like Jamie Madrox and Guido, to say nothing of writing the best Quicksilver ever.  Issue 87 is legendary, as the issue that had the characters meet with Leonard Samson in his role as a psychiatrist.  The insights given into these characters fueled stories for ages.  I get why this is such a favourite comic for so many, but when it came out, I remember feeling like it was a rip-off of the Personal Files issues of Suicide Squad that John Ostrander wrote so beautifully.

I don’t know why David left so abruptly after issue 89.  That comic started a new story, but it was left to Scott Lobdell to finish it off, without even a notice in the letters page.  More on that in my next column.

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

  • The team starts off roughly, with many of the characters basically being strangers to one another, while Alex and Lorna have to figure out what shape their relationship is in.
  • Jamie Madrox quickly establishes himself as the jokester of the group, with a rigged jar of mayonnaise that is impossible to open.
  • Quicksilver shows up, looking for help with the fact that he is ageing whenever he uses his speed.
  • Jamie is shot dead in the apartment he is subletting from friends.  Of course, we learn later that this is one of his dupes that has been killed, surprisingly by another one of his dupes, which leads to a big Multiple Man fight in DC.
  • At the team’s first press conference, Guido angers his teammates by taking the name Strong Guy, which everyone agrees is stupid.
  • The team has difficulty figuring out which of the two Multiple Men they have in custody is the real Jamie Madrox.
  • Slab, a gigantic mutant, attacks the Washington Monument, calling out Strong Guy.  Their battle destroys the Monument.
  • The team fights the Nasty Boys, a new group of mutants working for Mister Sinister, including the murderous Multiple Man dupe, who eventually gets re-absorbed into our Jamie.
  • We learn that Sinister had been using a mutant Senator with anti-mutant plans to manipulate the team, and was behind Quicksilver’s problems, as well as all the other issues the team has faced so far.
  • There is a cross-over with Incredible Hulk (also written by David at this point).  In Trans-Sabal, while the rest of the team fights the Pantheon (I forgot about those guys), Wolfsbane kills a man in a fit of rage.
  • The Mutant Liberation Front rescues the captured members of the Nasty Boys from X-Factor’s custody.  The team almost manages to capture Stryfe, by dragging him through Zero’s portal, but end up only getting his glove.
  • Cannonball comes by to check in on Rahne, and Polaris tries to capture him but then lets him go.  Lorna is trying to build a better relationship with Rahne, who is clearly in love with Alex.
  • Throughout his first seven issues of the series, David keeps checking in on an evil scientist who is building a suit of armor to help him fight mutants, but who keeps experiencing problems.  Cannonball flies over his suit after the scientist is fried dead in it.
  • The MLF attack a medical clinic where a doctor is conducting genetic screenings on unborn children to identify mutant genes.  X-Factor is tipped off by Tempus, but the team is too late to rescue the doctor.  Rahne destroys the doctor’s research, because she doesn’t agree with his goals, but she keeps this secret from everyone except Lorna.
  • Multiple Man and Quicksilver get sent to a small town to investigate a murder believed to be perpetrated by a new mutant, Rhapsody, who uses music to deadly effects.  This is the first sign of the private investigator that Jamie eventually becomes, as he believes the girl is innocent, and sets out to prove it (although he’s wrong).  He also kind of falls in love with her.
  • Lorna is attacked unexpectedly, and has her jaw broken.  It turns out that her attacker is Cyber, one of the worst 90s villains ever (he has adamantium arms and claws that dispense poison.  He looks like a cross between Bane and Colossus, with the Maxx’s smile.  I just looked him up, and his first appearance was drawn by Sam Kieth, so there you go, although technically, he first appeared in the 80s.).
  • Cyber runs a group of villains called Hell’s Belles, and X-Factor is protecting one of their members, Shrew, who is trying to testify against them.  This leads to a big fight.
  • A group of mutant and mutate Genoshan refugees show up in the US, trying to claim asylum.  X-Factor gets involved with trying to convince them to go home, because things are good in Genosha now.  The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants try to recruit these refugees, dubbed the X-Patriots, which leads to some fighting.
  • The X-Patriots stick around for a while, and Alex agrees to take them personally to Genosha.  Before that can be arranged, the X-Patriots get a tour of New York by some of the team, and the young Scottish artist (from Genosha?  That didn’t make sense.) gets attacked by thugs in the park, while Guido gets lucky with the only female in their group.
  • This X-Patriot storyline gets interrupted by the X-Cutioner’s Song cross-over between this title, the two X-Men books, and X-Force.  It’s confusing to read just the X-Factor issues, but the Internet is helpful with that kind of thing.
  • Guido and Rahne get into a big fight with X-Force in the park where Charles Xavier was shot (by Cable?).  There is a lot of 90s grimacing, and fighting for no good reason.
  • As the cross-over gets more established, and the teams split into different squads, the identity of this title is pretty lost.  Still, Peter David manages to check in on the X-Patriots, as they take out the Madrox dupe that’s been left to keep an eye on them.
  • The last chapter of the cross-over (in this series) is by far the best, as the story solidifies, and becomes about Stryfe revealing his true identity (or so he believes) to his parents.
  • Following so many chaotic events, the team is sent to Leonard Samson for analysis.  We learn a fair amount about each character here.  Among the things discussed:
    • Havok has a hard time living up to Cyclops’s fame as a leader, and is wracked by self-doubt.
    • Multiple Man doesn’t like being alone.
    • Quicksilver is almost always bored.  (I love this take on the character).
    • Wolfsbane is attracted to people in authority, mostly because of the horrible way in which the Reverend that raised her treated her.
    • Polaris has some body image issues (that lead to her getting a truly hideous 90s costume, presumably designed by Joe Quesada).
    • Strong Guy is always in excruciating pain, and that’s why he makes jokes.
    • Valerie Cooper doesn’t really know her team at all.
  • At the end of the issue, Val is attacked by some tentacled alien thing.  Whenever we see her after this, we know it’s not her.
  • The team is called out to a hospital that the X-Patriots have taken over, and run into Random there.  He’s a new, very in-your-face 90s character, with a powerset that makes him almost omniscient, yet he’s a gun for hire type.  I don’t remember my initial reactions to the character, but this time around, I hate him.
  • Instead of fighting Random, Havok buys him off with a cheque.
  • X-Factor take the X-Patriots back to Genosha, where they find that things have changed, although not as much as they would have hoped.
  • Rahne learns that her attraction to Havok has been hardwired into her genetics since the X-Tinction Agenda cross-over, where she was made into a mutate.  She doesn’t react well to this, even though Moira MacTaggert is around to help comfort her.
  • Quicksilver and Crystal take off together to a cabin in upstate New York to try to rekindle their marriage, but things take a wrong turn when a reporter shows Pietro pictures of Pietro with the Black Knight.

The line-up of the core team stays consistent throughout these issues, and Random is the only notable character introduced during this run, even though no ones seen him around much in the last fifteen years.

It is impossible to read and discuss a 90s comic without talking about the art.  Larry Stroman was the first artist to work with David on this book, and his art is pretty insane.  I’ve recently been looking at Stroman’s earlier work on Alien Legion, and it was much more controlled than what he did with this book.  Basically, Stroman has a very loose relationship with anatomy, but not in the over-muscled way of his 90s compatriots like Rob Liefeld.  His figures have big boxy chests, but stubby little legs.  His women have very large rear ends, and hair goes just about everywhere.  Stroman’s layouts can be very confusing, and I often found myself having to pause to figure out what order speech bubbles and panels should be read in.

What I do like about Stroman’s work is the wide diversity of background characters he drew.  Stroman, more than any other artist of the era, drew people of other cultures in his scenes, and drew more body shapes.  His characters are fat, brown, and sometimes very oddly dressed.  When a crowd gathers to watch a mutant fight, it’s not surprising to see people wearing bunny slippers standing next to Orthodox priests.  It’s sometimes distracting, but I liked that aspect of things.

It seems that Stroman couldn’t keep on the monthly schedule for long (or maybe he left to start Tribes at Image around this time), so we got a variety of fill-in artists.  Someone named Rurik Tyler does one issue, which looks pretty stiff.  Next, Mark Pacella shows up for an issue that is purely hideous.  He is, of course, the artist who drew the issue of Alpha Flight where Northstar came out of the closet, and he’s a pretty terrible example of the 90s.

Jae Lee took over for the X-Cutioner’s Song issues, which was an interesting choice in a few ways.  First, the other chapters of the story were being handled by Andy Kubert, Greg Capullo, and Brandon Peterson, so Lee’s darker, more atmospheric style was a pretty jarring difference.  Secondly, Lee back then was kind of awkward.  His Namor pages looked better; these issues are very grimacy, veiny, and kind of hard to follow.  And then, suddenly, issue 86, his last, is gorgeous from start to finish.  I’m not sure if inker Al Milgrom took a different approach to his issue, or what happened, but it looks great.

Joe Quesada shows up with the 87th issue, and it’s lovely, but his later issues already feel a little rushed, and the inclusion of a back-up story on his second issue, drawn by Chris Batista, suggests that he could never actually handle a monthly comic.  Quesada is a strong artist, although given to excessive wavy hair (especially on Havok and Madrox), and his design for Polaris’s new costume is really terrible.

I’m a little surprised that David’s run with this book was so short.  I remember it lasting a lot longer, although it wasn’t until his return to this title and these characters in recent years that he really had the time and space to do what I felt he was trying for here.

After he left the title, I remember that my enthusiasm for it dropped quite a bit, but I guess I stayed with it for a while.  How long?  You’ll find out in my next column!

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