X-Factor Flashback: #70-89 (1991-1993)
Because I enjoyed the Peter David-written Madrox miniseries, it was recommended that I try his earlier run on X-Factor.
He started on X-Factor #70 in September 1991 with the wrapup to some big X-Men crossover. It’s full of lots of chatter, too many guest stars, and showy character bits, as when Wolverine swallows a cigarette instead of extinguishing it. That’s the kind of thing that would normally interrupt a story, but since there’s not really one here, instead, they’re character-defining elements that are likely to stick in fans’ minds.
The Beast quotes one of my favorite poems, Yeats’ “The Second Coming”. (The description of the worst as “full of passionate intensity” always reminds me of the downside of online communication.) An unfortunately heavy-handed sequence of visual puns drives home the conclusion. This issue isn’t necessary for the David run and should be skipped.
The group proper starts in #71. Sadly, the entertaining bits are undercut by the less-than-supportive art by Larry Stroman and Al Milgrom. It’s all sharp angles and strange close-ups, overly inspired by fashionable posters, with strange lines and colors instead of backgrounds, plus too many inset panels. As a result, David has to work in large chunks of dialogue where he can.
Surprisingly, for an ongoing superhero comic of that era, I found everything I needed about the characters in the issue. Previous plots are referred to, and I feel as though I’d know more about a character like government liaison Val Cooper if I’d read earlier comics, but I don’t need that information to understand what’s going on. Two major stories are established — Quicksilver’s powers are killing him, and Madrox is shot — while the minor running joke involves trying to get a jar of mayo open.
Those stories continue through issue #75, a giant-size anniversary issue, where the team fights Mr. Sinister and his Nasty Boys. Throughout, Madrox and his teammates learn more about his powers and the effect they’ve had on his personality and temperament, complicated by the question of which duplicate is the “real” one. There’s also the crusade of Strong Guy (named here for the first time) to have mutants renamed “genetically challenged”. With better art, this could have been a really good read. As it is, it’s historically interesting but something of a struggle to get through.
Issue #76 (cover-dated March 1992) is part two of a crossover with Incredible Hulk #391 involving the Pantheon. The ending involves two deaths, I think, but with fill-in pencils by Tom Raney and Kevin West (and possible Comic Code concerns), that was only understandable through the dialogue.
The part I found most interesting was the statement of ownership. This title printed, on average over the past 12 months, 357,642 copies to sell 265,252. The most recent issue, 484,100 were printed to sell 392,000. In contrast, the Madrox miniseries had estimated sales of 33,752 copies of #1, roughly 10%.
Issue #77 is a surprisingly timely story, with a lawyer fighting the illegal detention of the Nasty Boys. The government has locked them up without trial because they’re so dangerous. Once the Mutant Liberation Front shows up, though, it becomes a big fight issue. Man, they sure had a lot of mutant villain teams, didn’t they? It’s hard to keep them all straight.
Issue #78 deals with abortion, as the MLF attack a clinic where a doctor is working on identifying mutants in utero, so the parents can decide whether they want a “freak” child. Around the edges of the fighting, the heroes express various philosophical positions. In today’s more diverse comic market, it’s a little weird to read a story where a significant cultural issue has to be grafted onto a punch-up in order to reach the printed page.
Issue #79 is a refreshing change of page. The art is more traditional, by Jim Fern, and a lot easier to read (cover is by Joe Quesada and Kevin Nowlan). There’s more focus on the team members and their interaction as the issue starts with some downtime. Strong Guy’s out on a date while Quicksilver gets musical. Then he and Madrox head out to handle a small-town mutant problem. Although there’s a rather gripping cliffhanger, this is the best issue so far. As a relative stand-alone, it’s also a great sample of the series.
Issues #80-81 continue with more of the same, only with additional pop culture jokes and mystery. Larry Stroman’s back, as well, but it’s Peter David on top of his game that’s the appeal. Unfortunately, like most peaks, it doesn’t last for long.
Issues #82-83 feature the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and a group of Genoshan refugees, which is a bit too much X-Men continuity for my taste. Then the crossover comes. Issues #84-86: X-Cutioner’s Song.
Issue #87 is a followup with team members in counseling, which reveals Strong Guy’s origin as well as insights into all the characters. Joe Quesada (!) also begins as the book’s artist. This single issue is the summation of David’s run on the book.
Issues #88-89 are his last, after which he was replaced by Scott Lobdell. #88 has the next Statement of Ownership. This title printed, on average over the past 12 months, 546,983 copies to sell 448,558. The most recent issue, 442,900 were printed to sell 324,100. The number of issues they trashed is higher than most comic sales today.
Ultimately, if someone who enjoyed Madrox asked me what else to read, I’d tell them issues #79, 80, 81 and 87. The rest seemed too X-connected to recommend to someone who wasn’t specifically looking for that mythology.