Or – “How Do You Follow Up A Nigh-Perfect Issue?”

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X-Factor. The term can be used to refer to many things… It was an album by Iron Maiden, it’s the name of Simon Cowell’s internation version of ‘American Idol’ (“Dear Supreme Being: Respectfully, please get Sanjaya off my TV set. He makes my brain hurt, and not in a good way. I would never wish him harm, but the boy barely has the talent to have breakfast without injury. Save him from us all. Love, Matthew.”), it was the nom de guerre of an excrable wrestling tag team based mostly on the fact that Pete Polaco looks remarkably like Sean Waltman after a Nair bath, even some sort of Macintosh OpSys (and I know they call them OS’s now, I’m just old-school). Previous versions of this concept at Marvel have always been predicated somehow on the presence of a Summers brother, the X-Men’s equivalent of being a Kennedy, but this book has a diverse cast of characters who have been used as second-bananas their entire history, and the synthesis has that certain something that you can’t really define, not-at-all-coincidentally ALSO called “the x-factor.”

Now I’ve got that horrible Uncle Kracker theme song that X-Factor used stuck in my head (“I got everything I ever wanted and somethin’ somethin’ aaack!”) AND I realize that I’ve made TWO X-Pac references in as many weeks, a major faux xf1.jpgpas. My own fault, I know. Previously, humans began recieving superhuman abilities in a weird kind of genetic lottery, giving them strange “powers” and often, mutated forms. Thanks to the efforts of the reality manipulating Scarlet Witch (herself a mutant, though one with a serious complex), nearly all of these mutants have been stripped of these abilities, and been forced to find a new corner of the sky. More recently, Jamie Madrox (one of the few remaining mutants, as having had membership in an X-Team seems to be the one common factor that the vast majority of unaffected mutants has) has been scouring the globe, regaining the duplicates sent out into the world, each one a lost piece of his personality. Siryn and M went to Paris (to avoid talking about the fact that Madrox managed to bed both of them THE SAME NIGHT) and got involved in mutant politics, started a riot, went to jail, broke out of jail, transported a minor to another continent, and gave a racist (speciesist?) some payback. Most of the rest of the team has been in the background, but that’s about to change, and Jamie’s quest for his lost faculties may be taking a wrong turn.

Our issue starts out with a flashback to last Christmas, in the house of the otherwise-unnamed Undersecretary of Defense, just finishing up with a marathon session of spoiling his granddaughter rotten. The girl opens her last present, and yells the adorable yell of a kid with a new toy, “A baby elephant! He’s beautiful!” Grandpa is puzzled, as he didn’t BUY a baby elephant, and the toy’s tag reads only “May present a choking hazard.” He doesn’t understand how a stuffed animal could ever be a choking hazard, when the creature’s trunk suddenly wraps around his neck…

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Turns out, it’s just a warning shot from a mutant terrorist cell, but why would they threaten a cabinet member about “wanting their powers back?” I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say, “because they’re nuts?” In either case, bad things are afoot, and nowhere is that more true than in the life of Madrox. After last issue’s triumph of spirit, he’s back to his usual doldrums, and has found another duplicate, this one sent out the become, in his own words, “the world’s greatest detective.” “I thought that was Batman?” quips Madrox, but the dupe isn’t having any. This dupe is clever, in that to keep from being reabsorbed, he’s gotten roaring drunk, and Madrox can’t reabsorb him without sharing in the glory of being hammered, and then badness occurs. “Like sleeping with someone, or SOMEONES, you shouldn’t have?” Madrox is stunned that his duplicate knows about the Siryn/M thing, and the drunken dupe peevishly spits back, “Which word didn’t you understand? Worlds? Greatest? Or detective?” Heh. I like this dupe… which is a shame, because he’s pretty much a lost cause.

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It’s really sad to see the “son” trying so hard to protect the “father,” and Jamie not getting any of it. But, then, how many of us really notice our own heroism or nobility? Dupe-Jamie starts telling a story about a dirty cop, a police captain with mob ties who actually destroyed the life and family of a subordinate who had figured him out. D-J knows that the man is dirty, but can’t PROVE it. He asks Jamie-Prime what kind of world would allow that to happen, to see innocents destroyed so a corrupt official could continue on his merry way? “It’s the world we live in,” says Jamie-Prime, and a chill runs up my spine. “What you mean WE, paleface?” asks the dupe, producing a pistol and assasinating the captain…

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Jamie-Prime is devastated, and can’t really even imagine the kind of things that the dupe was trying to protect him from. Obviously, his doppelganger was killing two birds with one stone, “one being the dirty cop, the other being himself.” Jamie suddenly gets a call from Layla Miller at X-Factor Investigations, who tells him he needs to come home, now, because she “knows stuff.” A debate ensues on whether or not she’s omniscient, and Layla points out that she just knows stuff that others don’t know, at which point Jamie (in tears) gives up. A plane ticket is waiting for him at the Detroit airport (“And you knew I’m in Detroit because you ‘know stuff,'” snipes Jamie. “I know it because you have a locator beacon in your com device. Doofus.” I love Layla.), and it’s time for Madrox to come home to Mutant Town. That, by the way, is the place where Rictor and Wolfsbane have been languishing for three months with no storylines, but they’re about to make up for that. Ric thinks that Rahne/Wolfsbane is upset, but she tells him it’s none of her business, not trusting him due to his frienship with Quicksilver. When Ric presses the issue by mentioning their X-Force history, she snaps that history is, by definition, in the past. Ric tries a little toughlove, but the results aren’t positive…

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Rictor, Rictor, Rictor. It’s called ‘tact,’ and I highly suggest you look into it. Sadly, though, I suspect he’s more on target than not, but there’s no time for that now, as a scream comes from down the alleyway. Rahne immediately goes to her lupine form, and rushes in. They find two men holding a gun on what looks like a child, and the two former superheroes go with their instincts, taking out the gunmen quickly. Rahne is still angry, roaring that she didn’t need his help, but they’re BOTH going to need help of a LEGAL kind, in mere moments.

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This… is BAD. Especially in the new Big-Brother-style Marvel U, as a squadron of ‘cape-killer’ agents arrive to take the mutant and former mutant into custody. Since both of them have been tied to Cable and involved in all sorts of unwise shenanigans, they may be detained for some time. Back at X-Factor’s home, Guido (Strong Guy) is enjoying an afternoon snack, not knowing that the sky is going to fall soon…

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And, we cue the soldiers! More capekillers smash through the windows (and the WALL!) to take Layla and Guido into custody. Miss Miller, not phased (or willing to admit to being phased) holds up the ice cream to the nearest jackbooted thug duly appointed agent of what I presume to be SHIELD, and perkily says, “Hi. Would you care to try my smelly armpits?” The response is exactly what you’d expect to see on the faces of tough guys who smash through windows trying to scare young girls and innocent men, not that I have a problem with their unbridled machismo and bastardry. Perish forbid… Jamie arrives just in time to see his home surrounded with cops, helicopters and barbed wire, and a gruff federale tells him, “A lady wants to see you.” Jamie is led to a nearby limo…

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The mysterious X-Cell blames the U.S. government for the Decimation (because the superheroes kept it a secret to protect one of their own), and their mysterious ringleader, Elijah, seems to be in New York. How will we know him? Well, Val tells a disbelieving Jamie, he’s a little over three feet tall, and just by coincidence, Ric and Rahne aided and abetted him in escaping federal custody. Of course, they have no idea where he is, indeed WHO he is, they though they were saving a kid from muggers, but Val now needs Jamie’s assistance. Help the O.N.E. (Val’s agency) find the X-Cell in Mutant Town… or else. As for Elijah, he’s landed on the doorstep of the last man Jamie OR Val want him to get anywhere near…

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Have you ever noticed that the whole Lensherr family tree is off-kilter? Daddy Magnus likes to try and kill his best friend every couple of years, and Pietro has gone back and forth from hero to villain even more than his papa. Of course, Wanda is responsible for this whole mess in the first place, AND once created her children out of thin air. That kind of maternal urge puts Doctor Cuddy to shame, doesn’t it? In any case, putting the man who can give people powers (though horrible side effects always seem to occur) together with the nuts who miss their powers is like lighting a match in room filled with gasoline. The tension is ratcheting up, and it’s obvious that X-Factor is going to be caught in the middle by the sole virtue of living in Mutant Town…

I have to say, I’m not entirely sold on new artist Khoi Pham. This book has changed artistic hands several times in it’s short history, but each of the previous artists had a similar line style with a dramatic use of blacks. Pham’s art, while not as noodly as Leinil Yu, still has a scratchy kind of feel to it. I suspect that someone at Marvel thinks that it conveys the ‘dirty, street-level’ feel, but I’m unsold. Pham’s faces are also of concern to me, as they’re wildly inconsistent. Some are well done, and some are barely recognizable, and characters are more defined by hair and clothing than by any distinctive feature. I’m not ready to say definitively I don’t like his work, but this issue is a step in a direction I don’t care for, artwise. The story is top-notch, as always, building on the nearly-forgotten ‘House of M’ to push towards (I presume), “Endangered Species,” the next big X-Men event. I couldn’t possibly care less about the next big X-Men event, so I just hope X-Factor keeps it’s charm. This issue is a bit of a letdown after last month’s tour de force performance, and nets a (still well-done) 3 stars out of 5.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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