Starting Block: X-Factor #240 Reviewon July 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm
There are many comics fans who just don’t get into Marvel’s X-Titles, and I am one of them. Which is a strange thing for a 35-year inveterate superhero comic geek to admit, but the team, and its 927 spinoff teams, generally just never grabbed me. You’ve got a bunch of heroes with no origin story beyond, “born funny,” a huge and nearly impenetrable backstory, and two of its lead characters – Professor X and Cyclops – are simply unlikable cocks. And considering the applause poll conducted at Marvel’s SDCC Avengers Vs. X-Men panel that fell squarely on the Avengers side, a lot of people of there agree with me. Not an issue of that book goes by without my deeply wishing that we eventually see Spider-Man yank Cyclops’s eyes out with some well-placed webbing, turning the prick into a normal person, qualified only to be the biggest douche selling pencils out of a tin cup.
With that said, I am a huge fan of Peter David’s X-Factor. I don’t know whether it’s because the team is smaller and easier to keep track of, or because the characters spend more time in small scale, street-level action than in preventing apocalypses (Seen Madrox taking on Ms. Marvel in Avengers Vs. X-Men recently?), or because the characters feel relatable and human than, say, a dude whose father is a Starjammer and whose girlfriend, depending on decade, either reads minds and turns into diamond or destroys entire planets… although I should be able to relate, because think I dated the second one. But I digress.
And X-Factor #240 is a perfect place to get your feet wet in the title. It’s a one-and-done, focusing on Layla Miller (who is one of the most interesting characters in the book), and examining her power – she “knows stuff” about the future – in a way that would be perfect for explaining Dr. Manhattan’s point of view if Alan Moore’s characterization allowed Manhattan to have free will. Free will and a nice rack, but you get my point.
The greater plot of this book is pretty simple: Layla Miller, who has a limited ability to see the future, is running through the streets of New York to save a teenaged girl that she foresees is in danger. However, due to bucking the inevitability of the future she’s seen since she was a child a few issues back to save the life of Strong Guy (and that’s part of why I like this book: their tank calls himself “Strong Guy.” Perhaps the code name “Roid Dude” was taken), Layla now has free will over her future. Which means she sees conflicting possible futures as she runs through the streets, trying all the while to choose which course will not only allow her to save the girl, but will do the least damage to the people she meets along the way. Which is how I see the world, but I always choose the course that includes bourbon anyway. But I digress again.
On it’s face, it’s a pretty simple story. But David, in conjunction with penciller Neil Edwards’s panel layout, does a hell of a job demonstrating Layla’s perception of events and potential future timestreams in an extremely effective and engaging way. The creators lay out each timestream in parallel vertical columns, each with a different color wash, to delineate the possible outcomes that Layla sees. And David makes the device interesting and more compelling by showing Layla seeing not only potential aftermaths to violent interventions, but also to something as simple as whether to pass a stranger on the left or the right. In fact, David makes a point to showing the violent encounter ending up all right no matter what choice she makes, while passing a stranger has potentially fatal and catastrophic consequences.
The multiple timestream conceit accomplishes a few things simultaneously, the first being that it visually demonstrates the nature of Layla’s power in a way that clearly illustrates its nature, and shows its pitfalls in a way that I’ve not seen similar future-telling power demonstrated in a comic book before. It clearly shows how that kind of power would potentially fuck with someone, and how it would be a constant burden that could really do a number on you. Which simultaneously provides an insight into Layla, a historically enigmatic and mysterious character who is best known in X-Factor for entering a room, telling the team what’s about to happen, and that she “knows stuff.” The storytelling serves the plot as well as the character, and is damn well executed.
The art by Edwards is notable most specifically for the storytelling, particularly in the multiple timestream areas of the story. Stylistically, he does pretty straight-ahead comic art: detailed, with a medium line and a tendency toward crosshatching for details. There’s not a lot of action to speak of in the story – it’s basically Layla running like hell and seeing the future – but the storytelling is easy to follow, and the pacing excellent. By making all the panels of the various timestream views a constant size in a grid, it forces the pacing to remain consistent as well, forcing the reader to take them all as equally possible. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but the execution of the story conceit works very well.
X-Factor #240 is a damn entertaining one-off story that’s a good place for someone who isn’t familiar with the book to jump in. It focuses around a storytelling gimmick that demonstrates the nature of seeing the future better than most time travel or precognition stories, it fills in a character’s internal struggle extremely well… and it teaches my that I should never date a girl who can see the future. Because you can show as many timestreams in as many color washes as you want, but it’s only gonna end in tears when she sees me drunkenly prematurely ejaculate at the end of all of them.