Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#5 X-FACTOR (#207-#213) The Hela Vegas Storyline

Welcome All once again to COMIC BOOK CLASH. And welcome to the beginning to Team Book Month. For the month of April, there will be nothing but groups of individuals, conflicts of massive scales, interpersonal conflicts and looks at team book. We are gonna kick the month off with some non-traditional team books: We will deal with the mutant detective agency known as X-Factor vs. those femme (plus a guy) fatales known as The Birds of Prey.


Issues #207-213
Story (arc) name(s): Lost Souls, Strip Search, Staying In Vegas, Keeping Things (aka Hela Vegas Storyline)
Written by Peter David; Pencils by Sebastian Fiumara (#207), Emanuela Lupacchino (#208-209, 211-#212) & Valentine De Landro (#210, #213)
Marvel Comics

       This week, we start with none other than X-Factor. Now, before we go over the storyline we are reviewing, a brief history of the team and book. X-Factor was originally formed by the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey then Marvel Girl, Iceman, Angel & Beast) reunited when Jean has seemingly returned from the dead . . . for the first time. They started out as mutant hunters in order to get the hearts of the media and police while secretly helping mutants. 
    After the Shadow King forced X-Factor to reunite with the other X-Men, Peter David had become writer and formed a new team with Havok, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man Jamie Madrox, Strong Guy, Polaris and Quicksilver. They were a government sponsored team, replacing the then defunct Freedom Force, and the team gained popularity, mixing comedy with government espionage. After Peter David left, Marvel tried a few different things with the book; killed Multiple Man . . . twice actually and they were only duplicates, not Jamie Madrox Prime. Threw out Strong Guy, Wolfsbane joined Excalibur, had Havok turn "evil", forced Mystique and Sabertooth onto the team, had Wildchild & Shard join for a while, made Forge the leader of the team, forced X-Factor to go underground, mixed some characters from Bishop's XSE miniseries and then saw Havok seemingly killed in an explosion which ended the book and started the short lived alternate reality series, Mutant X. 
    Then the book was restarted by Peter David after the success of the Madrox miniseries that he wrote back in the turn of the millennium. Madrox, turned into badass mutant detective, was now leader of this new X-Factor, a detective agency in the well populated Mutanttown (who had some mutants and former mutants populating it.) X-Factor reformed featuring Madrox, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane, Banshee (formerly Syrin and a past lover of Madrox), M (who worked with Madrox during the time the original Banshee, Syrin's father, formed his own militant X-Corps), Rictor (former mutant who lost his powers after House of M and former boyfriend of Wolfsbane) and Layla Miller, a mysterious girl who was considered a mutant cause she knew almost everything. Fast forward, after 50 issues of the new series, it's numbering changed to #200 to reflect the changes within the group, as well as there were some changes to the group: Wolfsbane had left to join Wolverine's new X-Force; Syrin took on the name Banshee, Madrox had several issues with his duplicates, had moved to Detroit for a time, Layla Miller had come back from the future grown up after being lost during the X-Title crossover Messiah Complex and Darwin from X-Men Deadly Genesis fame, Longshot and Shatterstar all joined the team. Now back in New York with new outfits . . . cause I want to say costumes but at the same time, they don't look like costumes, X-Factor takes on cases for the community.

   Which takes us, more or less to the beginning of #207, where the storyline begins for this review. A mysterious woman dressed in green with a revealing outfit walks through the door We get inner monologue from Madrox, talking about the woman in a fashion similar to classic noir detective novels with a hint of levity. As the woman walks in, Longshot is mesemerized which is hilarious as Madrox points out that it is usually the other way around. Madrox goes finishing for info as the lady know as Ms. Halja ask them to look for another copy of a pendant called "Thor's Hammer" that a man, who Halja gives a picture of, stole. Madrox takes the job. Halja . . . dressed in green . . . hmmm.
   After that introduction, we get Monet (aka M), Strong Guy, Darwin and Monet's father looking at the old, decrepit body of Baron Mordo in . . . a very cold room. Almost like a morgue. The three men are arguing with Monet cause she agreed to allow some of her life energy to be asborbed by the mystical baddie who is dying of Cancer. Layla enters with a pillow and Monets ask why, stating that if Layla isn't going to smother herself with it, then she'd better leave. They argue as Layla points out that Monet is agreeing to help Mordo but should instead look like the future Dr. Doom, decrepit and weak in a previous storyline. After a quick stare down, Monet proceeds to do it and Mordo is "revitalized." Mordo knocks down X-Factor, leaving Monet a husk and teleports off. Mordo goes to a window of a story, saying how young and strong he looks but his reflection showed that he was still the sickly, weak old man to the readers. Back in the room, Strong Guy asks why Mondo just walked off when Monet revealed that she gave him an illusion of him being well.  When Strong Guy suggested Monet get the idea from Layla, she proclaims that she does not need help only to fall onto the pillow Layla had brought into the room.
   Rictor and Shatterstar are at a shooting range and Shatterstar is wondering why Rictor suddenly has an interest in guns. Rictor says to defend himself. After Rictor does ok but gets completely outshined by Shatterstar the first time using a gun, Rictor starts going into their relationship and where they stand. Shatterstar goes into a whole deal that he is on a path and wants Rictor to be there but Rictor is overly sensitive at this point because that was not a straight answer.  . . LOL. Shatterstar explains that all these emotions and physical expressions of love are very new and alien to him and wants Rictor to be his guide which pushes their arguement out into the street.Shtatterstar is so overwhelmed and he admits to Rictor that he is relying on him to deal with them. The arguement ends with Shatterstar admitting to Rictor that he needs them and they kiss. AWWWWW . . .
    Back to the case, Madrox and Banshee track down the man who stole the "Thor's Hammer" necklace to a bar. After the man they are after is about to start a bar fight for flirting with a guy's girlfriend, Banshee actually uses her sonic based abilities to enchant the guy and stop the fight. She then takes the "Thor's Hammer" off of the man and he transforms back to Pip, the Troll who was once a member of the Infinity Watch. Pip yells how  it is his fault he is going to get caught and does get caught as Halja reveals herself as the Asgardian Death Goddess Hela, taking Pip away. Madrox, feeling guilty for Pip's cruel fate, decides that the team needs to go after Pip in order to save him.
   Back in X-Factor headquarters Rictor and Shatterstar share a tender moment that was about to get . . . freaky when it gets freaky in a whole different way . . . as Wolfsbane, looking very pregnant opens Rictor's door to find Rictor and Shatterstar almost ready to do the nasty. Rictor is shocked, Wolfsbane is furious and Shatterstar asks smart, only to have the werewolf like mutant attack him, crashing through a window.  Longshot and Darwin are walking back with some women readers get to see and get told that X-Factor's latest headquarters is in an abandoned morgue. Then are joined by Shatterstar and Wolfsbane fall through a window. Wolfsbane decides to be all religious and navie by blaming Shatterstar for turning Rictor, her former boyfriend, gay. Longshot's luck powers and a fire hydrant spray on Wolfsbane stops the fight with Rictor saying that it is not mind control or anything. Rictor asks if it's his and Wolfsbane answers "Ah wasn't with anyone else seven months ago."
    Jamie and Banshee (aka Siryn aka Terry) return from their encounter with Hela to get the rest of the team as Jamie talks to Rictor about Wolfsbane (aka Rahne) being back. As Madrox hints that he thought she was back due to her time as a member of X-Force, he walks into Rictor's bedroom  and goes into shock at the very pregnant Rahne. When Rictor confronts Madrox to ask if it is his, Wolfsbane comfortably answers that there is no way she would have sex with Madrox. After which, Madrox takes the majority of the team, scans Rictor, Wolfsbane and Monet, to Las Vegas. After some monkeying around by Shatterstar, Longshot and Layla disappear on the rest of the team in Vegas. Madrox orders for the rest of the team to find Longshot, only to find Layla and Longshot gambling. Madrox reminds them of their mission and Layla tells him that having Longshot gamble and win is to get attention from Hela. Madrox fumes but Layla points out that being close to Longshot will give him luck in his search, using a photo of Hela in her guise to ask two patrons. The first is a dud but the second turns out to be Dr. Jane Foster, a supporting cast member of Thor. After a warning to not find Hela and that Hela only goes for people who attract a lot of attention, Madrox decides for Longshot to start going crazy, winning big in every casino in the city. The plan works too well as dead vikings from Hela are sent to collect Longshot while he is alone with Madrox and Shatterstar.
   Oddly enough, before that continues, Issue #210 goes on as an interlude from Vegas. A woman struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and nightmares from her time as a soldier. She ends up going to X-Factor, mainly Monet, for help. Monet reluctantly helps the woman not feel pain or remorse about what had happened. So much so that the book ends with her killing a man in a graveyard, where the issue starts. The rest of the issue is devoted to Rictor and Wolfsbane going to a doctor who specializes on super powered beings who are pregnant.After dealing with a bigot of a cab driver, Wolfsbane goes on to ask if she was the reason that Rictor turned gay. Before a full answer, they see the doctor who informs Rictor and Wolfsbane that the baby is mystical . . . after the ultrasound picks up absolutely nothing but darkness.
      Back in Vegas, and #211, a dead viking that hulks over the three members of X-Factor picks up Longshot, informing him that Hela wants him and wants him now. Longshot easily takes a blade on his side arm holders and proceeds to chop off the hand of the viking warrior. The fight ends up getting brutal for the three members of X-Factor till Banshee, Darwin and Strong Guy join the battle. Layla states out of the battle and with a gauntlet she made with Dr. Doom, she uses it to save a small family with a force field. More dead vikings come out, wanting Longshot and X-Factor holds them off til Thor.
      Back in Hela's lair, Hela reveals to Pip that there was more to her plan than just getting her but not necessarily dealing with X-Factor. Thor decides to help X-Factor although mocks them for going through all this trouble to get a troll. Layla decides to hang back, much to Banshee's chagrin. X-Factor and Thor have a show down with Hela, asking Longshot that she wants him and is impressed by him. Longshot takes the compliment till Strong Guy smacks his head. Hela asks Thor why go through the trouble of saving a troll when Banshee answers that Thor answered the prayers and will be long remembered for it. Hela then mere drops Pip and tells X-Factor and Thor may level with no resistance . . . till they reach a force field. Banshee tells Thor to combine their powers in order to break free through a wall. Yet, the wall turns out to be nothing by Nieflhel, the realm of the dead that is ruled by Hela. Pip promptly teleports out.Infested with her dead vikings, Hela informs X-Factor that the only way out is through Nieflhel. Shatterstar, in excitement, charges in. Madrox leads the others in as they all face off against a legion of undead vikings. During the battle, Shatterstar, Strong Guy and Banshee end up fighting a werewolf creature, the wolf God known as Hmirhari. Hmirhari reveals to Shatterstar and the others that he is the father of Rahne's baby and outrage at her sent on Shatterstar.
         Madrox faces off against Hela. Madrox comments how much Noir femme fatale Hela is. Hela retorts how annoying it is to deal with X-Factor's interference. Hela goes in to personally kill Madrox with her bare hands when Darwin comes in, according to Madrox plan says Madrox's inner monologue, and lets himself get touched by Hela. For those of you who do not know, as Madrox also explains, Darwin's ability is to evolve to the point where he does not die. And Madrox thinks of doing this against the Asgardian Goddess of Death. Darwin evolves to the point that he becomes the New God of Death. Darwin then orders the legions of undead  to stop fighting X-Factor and fight their former mistress after ripping her cloak, the source of Hela's power supposedly, away from her. Hela has one side of her body decompose as she is engulfed by a sea of her former underlings as her lair begins to explode. Layla comes in with her gauntlet, creating a force field and a way out for Thor and X-Factor, with Darwin reverting to his normal self . . . mostly.
            Issue #213 opens to Darwin wearing shades as he and another man are playing poker. When Darwin inches on the guy to frustration, the man shoots him. Darwin's abilities save him with ease and shows his eyes to the guy, telling him to report all his sins to the police or he will take his soul Of course, this happens after Darwin flips the guy onto a craps table in anger. Madrox quickly intervenes and takes Darwin outside for a talk. Darwin states that the whole ordeal with Hela has changed him. Madrox tries to comfort him but Darwin does not let him. Darwin tell Madrox not to blame himself then leaves the team, giving his X belt buckle, which also has a GPS, back to Madrox. Darwin walks off. Madrox reports this to the others and Banshee begins to tell him that he should have done more. Yet, after several suggestions of what to do was given by Banshee and Madrox states he has tried them, she relents and X-Factor leaves Las Vegas.
          When they return, Shatterstar, Madrox and Banshee go to see Rictor; who is piss-ass drunk. Shatterstar tells Rictor that Hmirhari is the father of Wolfsbane's baby. Rictor fumes at the revelation which confirms his own doubts. Wolfsbane was still out and Rictor did not care less after the deception. Layla states that Wolfsbane probably only said what Rictor needed to hear. Shatterstar adds that even though her methods were bad, they should all still stand by her. Pip shows up, teleporting to X-Factor's base in hopes to work with them in order to repay them for helping him. At first, the team is against it. Yet Madrox uses Pip to find Wolfsbane for Rictor. Rictor and Wolfsbane have a heart to heart; with him thank her for always caring about his soul but him being gay is part of who he always was.Rictor also states that the rest of the team will help her with the baby. Wolfsbane agrees as the two head back to X-Factor headquarters. The book ends with Pip answering phones for X-Factor as their receptionist when he gets a call that tells him to remember why he is really there. Pip promises not to disappoint the caller and the caller threatens that he'd better not.


   I am going to doing this backwards today. That means I will discuss the art first then the writing. Artistically, this book is pretty damn hot. It maybe inconsistent artistically but not in a bad way. What I mean by that is that the three pencilers we have during these issues really show different facets of X-Factor's personality while  displaying gripping stories and dynamic characters. For example, Sebastian Fiumara has a darker style that was very much in touch with the noir aspects of the team and story. This book is about a group of mutant detectives and the opening pages were classic with Hela beautifully rendered as a femme fatale unlike any other. His expressions on the characters were priceless as we got the grim and gritty along with some of the funny. His style was very easy to fit with the tones of the plotlines and really made great impact during the entire issue. From going to the outlandishness of Baron Mordo, to the personal and emotional driven scenes with Rictor and Shatterstar were a fest for the eyes, conveyed emotion so well while keeping up with the tone of the book. The scenery was also particularly drawn well as it really helped suck you into this weird, noir world that has become X-Factor's great niche in comics.
      Next the team of Emanuela Lupacchino and Pat Davidson. Lupacchino's work is more traditionally super hero but works to fight the element into the book well. Still conveying action and ranges of emotion very well, Lupacchino's kind of toony look for the team fits their more comical side of their personality. For example, there is a scene where Rahne, who looks 8 months pregnant is preaching to Shatterstar and how he turned Rictor gay. Shatterstar takes the accusations with ease giving a smart answer to one of Rahne's questions with a sickeningly whimsical ease and Lupacchino captured it perfectly. The action sequences seemed a bit too comical looking in comparison to the other two artists but Lupacchino's art shines through and grows on it. While it feel that it is a bit lighter in comparison to the other two artists, Lupacchino's art with Pat Davidson's inks do a great job will fleshing the story that Peter David has given them; looking supremely fantastic during the battle with Hela and the transformation of Darwin to Death God was awesome and slightly chilling. Overall, I like Lupacchino's art but just felt a little off with the more dark styles of Fiumara and De Landro.
        Finally, artist Valentine De Landro was absolutely marvelous. His style, along with Sebastian Fiumara, are similar enough to get them slightly confused at first glance. Grim, gritty and expressive, De Landro gives us a feast for the eyes in his issues where action was nearly cinematic, shadows were just right to give face expressions the emotions they were suppose to have and beauty and ugly lived up to any descriptions they were to ever aspire to. Not a single character looks like they were a model that was copied for the other. De Landro conveys emotion that is on part with artistic masters of this industry: Perez, Jimenez, J.H. Williams . . . Particularly in issue #210 where Monet goes inside the mind of her client and is dragged through the war torn nightmares and children that haunt you with their finger pointing at you. Shadows and colors rendered by both De Landro and issue colorist Jeromy Cox breathed so much life with the dark reds, oranges and greys and blacks that it really brought the nightmare to reality. Some of the best paneling and art I have seen in the last two years, De Landro is a triumph. Speaking of Jimenez, there seems to be an almost slight Jimenez influences with his faces and shading. And his scenes with Darwin at the table at the beginning of #213 were chilling as you felt that the Darwin that we knew when this book started was NOT the same man anymore. This Darwin was definitely darker than the former personality that had been introduced to us. I pray that De Landro stays on this book for as long as possible. On that note, Jeromy Cox, Chris Chuckry and Matt Milla did an excellent job with coloring each issue, which they had split the issues up well and did a fantastic job with the colors to help the art flow and show the action and emotion of the characters. Kudos to Cox who did the De Landro issues in particular which will stunning.
    And now on to the writer extradonaire himself, Peter David. I am gonna start with an apology. I am sorry, Mr. David, that I did not keep collecting this book after I bought the first issue when you resurrected the book. I am sorry that I did not stay hooked with the book the whole time. That will not be the case now. Peter David did what he has done his entire career, give interesting stories that were both epic in scope but still filled with so much emotion that you felt for nearly every single character. He took a team of 2nd and 3rd tier characters (to most, not me) and made such interest magic that it is nearly hypnotic. And Peter David is using characters that were, for the majority, long established. Yet, David respected what the other writers did before them and slowly and surely brought out more and more of their characteristics so that any person of any race, color, creed or sexual orientation would find something or someone to enjoy about this book.
   Madrox was just a third rate joke till David got his hands on him and now Madrox is a very smart leader with side that will do what he can and will for those he cares about. You can believe that Madrox is a detective. You can believe Madrox is the leader of X-Factor. You can believe Madrox can and will hold his own, even kill if he has to.
   Banshee is a smart leader who is kind and is the den mother of the group but is more than happy to leave the burden of leadership over to Madrox. David did a great job of reminding us of her former alcoholism when she joked about how the smell of Rictor's room would be like her falling back into alcohol. David brings back the character Wolfsbane who we can see has suffered a lot and protesting to homosexuality based on religious beliefs and how real of a challenge that is to anyone. Strong Guy's big heart coated by his New York attitude and love for Monet is something else that is displayed subtlety during the story by his phone call to Monet. Darwin's innocence was really seen earlier during the story and the beginning of some kind of descent was vividly revealed during the storyline. Longshot and Shatterstar's uncomfortable ways around our world were shown with great conversations and little bits that brought for moments that either made you laugh or melted you heart. Rictor and Shatterstar's relationship issues were handled extremely well as these are two men who are finding their own way to each other and how a character that was created as just some kind of death machine was now a man who can admit that he needed Rictor, which I personally want to give Peter David a GLAAD award for. Monet's bitchy attitude is held up as a way for her to be strong around her friends as David displays when Monet asks about Darwin when the others return from Vegas. And GOD . . . David has done a great job of making Layla as annoying to us as she is to the others with her knowledge, ways and attitude. Seriously . . . someone just slap her. I know she knows stuff but really . . . a slap in the face once would be nice. Just once.
  This is the power of Peter David. Mixing mythical legends with action and mystery with a touch of his classic X-Factor craziness. David made sure that there was plenty of things to read and keep readers interest without  the book feeling cluttered and affecting the story to the point where it suffered. All the danging plots just made the book that much more interesting. The interplay with all the characters felt authentic and it really made me want to stay in this crazy ride with X-Factor.The inner monologues of Madrox helped the reader along with the storylines as well as just gushed with love. Even Thor's appearances did not take away from the characters and not a single cast member of X-Factor, including Pip, felt neglected because of storylines, villains or guest stars. Kudos to you Peter David and Damn you for making me an addict and advocate of X-Factor!

When it comes down to it all, this storyline was enjoyable, epic and an emotional rollercoaster than I loved from the opening moment of the first issue to the last panel to the last issue. My only real complaint, which is not big. is that one of the three artists had drawn all 7 issues. It messed with its flow but not to any big disappointment. It still carried the story very well just a little disorienting at first when you pound this storyline out Yet, David crafted very believeable characters that were so infectious to watch that you will find it next to impossible to not keep reading and wanting more. Brilliant art alongside story  and characters that beat out most other team books in the market today, including the parent X-Men books, make X-Factor a must read for any kind of comic book reader. Even if you don't like super heroes, you will find something here for you. If you love pregnant warewolves fighting homosexual, interdimensional warriors, you will love this book. If you want comments about society by people that we can all recognize but who just have super powers and want to make a difference, you will love this book. 

For that, I give X-Factor (#207-213) a rating of  World Heavyweight Contender. A first class book that honestly, more people need to read. 

And with that . . . we end this week's edition of Comic Book Clash. Next week, we see if X-Factor will stay on top as we look at some Birds as CBC reviews Birds of Prey! 

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