Snap Bad Decisions: X-Factor #245 Reviewon October 22, 2012 at 9:31 am
With God as my witness, I will never understand what possessed writer Peter David and artist Leonard Kirk to open an issue of purely talking head non-action with a giant splash page, complete with Kirby Krackle, of Jamie Madrox heroically calling Havok a fuckup douchebag. It is a big, overblown, bombastic start to an issue that focuses itself on human moments rather than action – even if some of those moments are particularly heated – and on running far more than action.
This issue is all about running. Most of the primary characters of X-Factor’s current incarnation are in the process of trying to run in this book, be it trying to run toward something or away from something. The book eschews basic action in favor of characterization, but that characterization shows characters in real pain, trying to find a way to alleviate the pain of the aftermaths of the X-Factor Breaking Points event that this issue concludes, as well as the Avengers Vs. X-Men event, and it shows it a way that is almost more satisfying than seeing Cyclops clapped in irons and abused and denigrated by all comers… and if you know how I feel about that sanctimonious ruby-lensed hipster shaded douchenozzle, you’d realize what high praise it is indeed to call X-Factor #245 as satisfying as seeing Cyclops beaten, chewed and fucked by prison gangs.
Even if the issue does open with an image that implies that the most important thing in the book is Madrox’s hippocampus apparently violently exploding from the back of his head.
We’re at the end of Breaking Points with this issue, and things have changed for X-Factor: Strong Guy has bolted. Banshee has become some kind of Irish goddess to help Polaris from going batshit nuts. Wolfsbane is off the team to raise her son with Jack Russell, Werewolf By Night, and I will let you add your own “doggie style” joke here, since I am one classy motherfucker. And all this happened while Havok was leader of the team, and Madrox is, understandably, pissed off, to the point his rage looking like his brainstem is going full Three Mile Island on the splash page. So the leadership of the team is most definitely in question, as Havok questions whether he should even be in X-Factor, let alone leading it, and Madrox, feeling the loss of such a huge part of his team, makes a… questionable decision about his future.
So again: there is next to no action in this issue; there’s an explosive argument between Havok and Madrox at the beginning that looks like it’s about to come to blows, but once that’s diffused, this issue is all talk. And the talk is relatively compelling, particularly the conversation between Havok and Polaris, which seems to make up the bulk of the book. Havok is in an interesting situation, having fought with the mutants on behalf of his broker Cyclops during Avengers Vs. X-Men, and now finding himself not only on the wrong side of history, but the leader of a disintegrating team. Now, there are practical needs for Havok to leave X-Factor at the editorial level – Marvel has decided that he will be the leader of Uncanny Avengers, and not being Wolverine, he can clearly only be on one team at a time – and it would have been very easy for David to just have Havok say, “Got a call from Captain America! So long, losers!”
Instead, David shows us a character very much in disarray. He is in conflict over what his brother has become, we see that he has a possible inferiority complex in relation to Cyclops that has prevented him from being an effective leader of X-Factor, and he is just generally falling apart. David depicts Havok as not leaving to lead the Uncanny Avengers – that team is never mentioned here – but instead just feeling lost, and wanting something else, anything else. Which gives Havok a depth that would be very easy to gloss over, and instead makes his situation compelling and empathetic. I don’t generally give a hoot in hell about Havok – as a reader, I didn’t think he had a place on this team to begin with, and based on this story’s conclusion, I believe neither did David – but as presented here, I found myself sucked in and understanding of his obviously wayward feelings. It’s good stuff.
And then there’s Madrox, who gets somewhat shorter shrift in the story – David has him wander off for lunch with Layla and Longshot while Havok perseverates – but we see him feeling equally lost over the slow disintegration of X-Factor. And in the face of the same ambiguity over the future, we see him make a concrete and snap decision, without apparently thinking about it, that could have some pretty large unforeseen circumstances. The decision is as ill-planned as Havok’s, albeit serving to lock him into X-Factor rather than running from it, but the parallels are obvious and somewhat heartbreaking.
So what we have here is a story about a team very much in transition, but depicted with strong character work rather than fisticuffs, that is damn satisfying… and David prevents it from being too oppressive by liberally sprinkling the story with humor – Pip’s snark at all comers keeps any X-Factor story from becoming too heavy and maudlin – and with, via Polaris, the best description of why I like X-Factor better than any other X-title, bar none:
I like these people. They don’t hide behind walls or on floating cities. They say, “Hi, humanity. Here we are, ready to provide a service that can help you. Call if you need us.”
Being a mutant isn’t the be-all, end-all of who they are. It’s nice. They’re nice.
The art by Kirk is… well, it’s okay. His figures are generally realistic, albeit with kind of an angular look to my eye, and with realistic facial expression without generally being overblown, provided you believe that your spinal column erupts into thermite fire when you’re angry enough. His panel layouts are pretty clear, and he moves the camera around enough to keep the talking head action from becoming boring, but there just wasn’t anything here that set my world on fire. Granted, it’s a hard dollar to earn to make people talking too exciting, but overall, I found the art to be serviceable, if not exciting. With that said: that opening splash page? Utterly unnecessary. I suppose it serves to show the level of Madrox’s anger, but it felt really out of place. It showed me far more of Madrox’s dental work than was required for a page that depicted a guy yelling at his boss.
If you’re looking for an action-packed followup to Avengers Vs. X-Men featuring Cyclops’s brother, this isn’t the issue for you. This is a Bendis-style talk-em-up, which won’t be what the discerning action fan will be looking for. However, if the idea of a character study of two guys left feeling adrift over personal losses, making snap decisions just to feel like they’re doing something to be in control over the events of their lives sounds interesting? You’re not gonna do better than this book this week. It is well-written and heartfelt, and it will speak to anyone who has ever made a quick, bold decision without thinking about it, if only to feel like you’re doing something. It’s a good character-driven book, and worth checking out.
If only to see what looks like Madrox’s head being set on fire by Galactus.