All-New X-Factor #7-12: Change of Decay
When you’ve been reading superhero comics for decades, many of them start blurring together. It’s easy for creators and readers to settle for the usual supervillain challenges, where costumed, powered characters duke it out without much real-world connection. But after a while, when you’ve read more than your share of those stories, it all becomes familiar and boring.
That’s why I was so surprised and pleased to see what Peter David was doing with the recent run of All-New X-Factor, beginning in issue #7 and running through the latest #12.
The X-Factor team — made up of leader Polaris, carefree Gambit (who for some reason is usually surrounded by cats), prickly Quicksilver, the robot Danger, Cypher (Doug Ramsey), and the alien robot Warlock — has gained corporate backing. They come across a video blog by the teenaged Georgia about how depressed she is about being home schooled and unable to see anyone. Her father runs an ultra-conservative news network that’s also anti-mutant, and his home is a desert bunker. The team debates whether they should “rescue” Georgia and how much their dislike of her father might be affecting their decision.
This is fascinating, a premise with the possibility of true heroism but reaching far beyond the usual costumed good guy/bad guy violent dispute. David tackles universal themes, such as parent/child struggles during adolescence, with complex dialogue and detailed characterization. If a teenager wants out, how bad does the situation have to be for others to get involved? How much absolute power should a father have over his offspring? Does it matter if his ideas are bigoted and repellent? These are questions that have direct relation to the modern world, even outside the exaggerated superhero universe.
Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art has a nicely European flavor that’s not afraid of detail or expression. His thin lines aren’t smooth or clean; they’ve got plenty of angles and edges, which feels more real-world. Plus, the covers, by Kris Anka and Jared Fletcher, are so distinctive and eye-catching, very nicely designed.
The father’s militarization of his home allows for a certain amount of action and suspense, particularly once things quickly escalate out of control, but what kept me reading these issues was how real Georgia felt. She doesn’t realize what she’s caused, having a teenager’s self-obsessed “whatever, it’s all ok now” attitude and no sense of consequence. Part of that is a naiveté caused by her solitude. As the story progresses, we learn more about why dad has the two of them (and a private army) in such a secluded location.
The character of Danger is new to me, but I really like such a straight-talking robot. My understanding is that she’s the former danger room computer turned walking personality. She feels at times like a modern incarnation of Marvin the Paranoid Android, but her plain expression of observations others have likely made at times reads as sarcastic. For example, when someone asks about what the school for mutants trains its students to do, Danger replies, “To fight evil mutants. And risk your life and possibly die. Sometimes repeatedly.” It doesn’t sound like such a great choice when put that way, but one can’t argue with the truth of it.
Peter David does amazing work with outsider characters of this type, allowing comments on the overall dynamic that make the book more friendly to someone who hasn’t been living with the rest of the cast and other mutants for years. Danger reminds me of the previous great work he did with Layla Miller, an omniscient girl created as a crossover plot device to whom David gave real personality and purpose in the previous run of this series.
It amazes me that, at this point in the fifty-year history of the mutants in Marvel comics, that someone can come up with something new to say about the problem, but by exploring in depth what it means to have a child who’s part of a tribe you despise, David has made the conflict fresh. It helps that he’s layered on the fraught complications of money, media, and power. I’m also very thankful that David, as the story progresses, remember that this child had a mother. So many stories about family struggles in the superhero comic genre act as though the father was the only important parent, as though his decisions are what the child is shaped by and/or rebels against, but remember, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” The mother is as or more important in most people’s lives.
Over the six issues that make up this story, David continues throwing curveballs and cliffhangers at the reader, following up previous hints that turn the story in new directions that continue building the theme. Plus, there’s his trademark humor, livening up the fight sequences, as well as a good dollop of soap opera. Poor Warlock, as everyone asks if the human characters are doing ok but don’t seem to care about his wellbeing. And poor Gambit, who gets left behind as part of a grudge.
The final, epilogue issue of this storyline, #12, gives the team a press conference and returns to the question of superheroes being proactive instead of reactive. The team took initiative, which started this whole sprawling conflict encounter, but it seems that that’s not going to be used as evidence that they should have waited for the fight to come to them. I’m glad. Continuing down this path, of seeking out ways to take positive action to make the world better, is a neat approach and a great way to set the team apart. Helps live up to the “all-new” branding, too. I’m eagerly looking forward to more. These issues will be available in a collection, All-New X-Factor Volume 2: Change of Decay, at the end of October.