RETRO REVIEW: X-Factor #87 (February 1993)

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For those of us who lived through the comics boom of the 1990s, it can seem like those years were nothing more than an endless parade of stupid, sexist and ill-advised characters powered by little more than speed lines and avarice.  In truth, there are a great many gems to be had in those years, even in the ranks of the much-maligned ranks of the X-titles.  What manner of tale could break out of the cookie-cutter fighty-fighty and mutant angst?

Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
In-depth, fascinating character work.
Brilliant dialogue.


Cons

Quesada’s art is confusing and does the narrative a disservice.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

READER RATING!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


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XFactor87CoverX-FACTOR #87
Writer: Peter David/Shana David (assistant)
Penciler: Joe Quesada
Inker: Al Milgrom
Colorist: Marie Javins
Letterer: Steve Dutro/Richard Starkings
Editor: Kelly Corvese
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.00

Previously in X-Factor: Originally founded by the core five X-Men, the X-Factor name was co-opted by the United States government for their team of mutants, designed with the hope of fostering better relations between mutants and humans.  The experiment might have been more successful if they hadn’t chosen some of the most volatile and emotionally damaged mutants, the son of Magneto, and the man who will probably forever be known as ‘Cyclops Baby Brother.’  After the massive crossover schmaggegi known as ‘X-Cutioner’s Song’, the members of X-Factor are all emotionally compromised.  Normally, that would mean page after page of repression and snarling, but thankfully the Commission On Superhuman Activities’ insurance covers psychiatric care.  Enter Doc Samson, psychologist to the superhumans.  We begin with Rahne “Wolfsbane” Sinclair, who has been suffering from terrible nightmares…

XFactor871 Thanks to writer Peter David, the dream sequences are full of pop culture references, including a spot on ‘Ren & Stimpy’ parody, cutting edge circa 1993.  When Doc Samson tries to answer her question, he points out her need for acceptance by authority figures, her need to be loved, and the way the two combine into her obvious crush on team leader Havok.  Unfortunately, Samson broaches the topic of Rahne’s adoptive “father”, the late Reverend Craig…

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The best part of this sequence comes in the way David takes the established Wolfsbane character, what had then been around for a decade, and pointed out something that might have been obvious from the beginning, if anyone had been really looking for it.  It makes Doc Samson (and, by extension, the writer) look like a genius, and kind of puts Professor Xavier under an unflattering microscope for not having dealt with these issues before.  Speaking of things nobody thought about before, what happens when Samson turns his attention to one of the oldest characters in the entire Marvel Universe?

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Petro Maximoff, the son of Magneto had been through three decades of heel/face turns, weird obsessiveness, a failed marriage, ruined relationships and family drama.  What possible explanation could there be for his endless utter douchebaggery?

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Mind.

Blown.

In two pages, the creative team not only revitalized a character, but explained his inconsistent behavior and seemingly unresolvable character responses, even making me feel bad for the guy.  In short, they proved the old adage that everyone is the hero of their own story, and delivered more characterization than some characters get in ten issues.  Each member of X-Factor gets their moment, from an explanation of Polaris’ ongoing body-image issues…

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As an aside, this whole sequence ties into Lorna’s long-term possession by the creature known as Malice (it was the X-Men, just roll with it) and gives a strong emotional back story to Polaris’ adoption of a belt-and-buckles stripperiffic red costume later in this issue, throwing a new light on what would normally have just been Joe Quesada trampin’ up another female superhero, as was the fashion circa 1993.  As for the team strong guy, the man named… uhh…. Strong Guy?  His story is another galvanizing character moment for what was previously only a minor leaguer…

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Strong Guy’s transformation from nebbishy nerd child to monstrously mis-proportioned mountain of muscle is tragic, but is also the first attempt to explain how and why a man who is built like Steroid Popeye could have ever existed.  The only real complaint I have is that S.G.’s flashback is the one hurt the most by Joe Quesada’s overly-stylized art, as the schoolchildren shown are nearly as misshapen as Guido himself, in slightly different ways.  The cartoony art pulls me away from the story, something that is even more amplified as we hear the tale of the Multiple Man’s lonely upbringing.

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Madrox’s story is another heart-breaker, but the emotional heft is muted by his cartoon floppy hair and vague resemblance to Norville Rogers throughout his two pages.  As for team leader Havok, he relates his inability to relax, his feelings of hyper-awareness to keep his team members safe, always trying to live up to the example of big brother Scott “Cyclops” Summers…

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The real kicker to all of this comes as Samson interviews government liaison Valerie Cooper, to get her assessment of the heroes under her care…

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…and Valerie getting it all 100% wrong.  20 years ago, I thought this made Val look like a self-serving idiot, but in re-reading the book, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter was once again giving us a look into a real character, showing that, yes, Val doesn’t really “get” these people, but also that nobody really has an entirely realistic view of what goes on in someone else’s mind.  So often in fiction (especially in comics), the characters soliloquy about every thought and emotion that comes into their head, but X-Factor’s team consists of people with secrets, internal lives and what Neil Gaiman famously called “worlds undreamt of.”  This issue takes six minor league characters, and gives us a peek into their world in ways that most comics can only dream of, to the point where I still feel affection for Quicksilver, Multiple Man and Strong Guy to this day based on this 20-year-old run.  X-Factor #87 has some problematic issues with the art matching the tone of the writing, but given the vintage, it could have been much worse (*coughLiefeldcough*), and delivering characterizing moments that are still being felt today, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★½