During The Holidays one of my favorite comic writers Peter David suffered a stroke. I was already planning on taking a look at his title X-Factor, and so I am now moving that up to the top of my list.
I of course wish Peter a speedy and full recovery and am glad that he is getting good care. More on that later.
In the last couple of years I have not been very happy with Marvel comics. I know it seems that I complain more about DC these days, but that is because I have been following more of their books. At one point I reduced my Marvel comics to one title. Why this is I will go over at another time. As for the one title I kept, well it of course is Peter David’s X-Factor.
Before we get into the current run however let’s take a look at the history of this title.
As should be obvious from the X in the title, this is technical a book in the X-Men franchise. In fact when the title was originally launched in 1986 the team line up was the original five X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, Beast, and Jean Grey. The theme of the book was that the original X-Men were posing as a group of mutant-hunters that people could hire to deal with perceived mutant threats. In reality they were rescuing said mutants to secretly help and train theme. So basically they were pretending to be the mutant equivalent of the Ghostbusters.
This line-up lasted for five years. After a shakeup of the X-Books the team was given a new roster and recast as a government sanctioned mutant team. This was also the first time that Peter David took on the writing chores and the book was known for its more lighthearted tone compared to the rest of the mutant titles. David only stayed on the book for two years. The series kept going, keeping the government team angle until it was canceled in 1998.
The series languished for a few years, with just a four issue miniseries of no real note being produced.
In 2005 Peter David brought the series back, spinning it out of a mini-series he wrote featuring Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man as a private Detective. The New X-Factor was a private investigation firm specializing in cases involving super humans. The cast was drawn largely from David’s 90s run on the title giving him characters he was familiar with and also allowing him to build on plotlines he had started back then.
So what is it about this title that has kept my attention when I had basically dropped the rest of the company’s line? Let’s take a look.
First off as should be no surprise is David’s writing. His specialty is characterization. The book has the same lighthearted tone that he established in the 90s and has become the books trademark. This is not to say it doesn’t get serious at times, or deal with heavy issue, but it is not weighted down with unnecessary angst like so many x-books, or really Marvel books in general. In the end like all good fiction you care about the characters and thus get engaged in their stories.
And there is the next point, the cast of characters. The unlikely lead of the series is the previously mentioned Jamie Madrox. Jamie was never really a main character before. His superpower is to make duplicates of himself. Other than being able to create an over whelming force or be the ultimate multitasker writers didn’t have much use for him. But then David did something great, he thought like a fanboy and asked what the other angles of self-duplication are. He hit on the idea of Jamie sending dupes out into the world to learn a variety of skills. Once a dupe mastered a new skill he would come back and be absorbed back into Jamie prime. This meant Jamie was able to master multiple skills in a relatively short amount of time. David followed that up by asking what the downside was. The answer there was that as people grow they change. Each dupe grew in different, sometimes conflicting ways. The result was a Jamie that was himself not sure who he was, and new dupes having varying personalities upon creation.
That is the kind of thinking that goes into this book.
Another great thing about the case is its diversity. They include a gay couple, one of whom is a genetically engineered warrior from another dimension, and the other a mutant who had, until very recently, lost his powers. You also have an ex-girlfriend of Jamie’s who can shatter walls with her voice, a powerful mutant named M, who is Muslim, but really they periodically have to remind us of this as it is not her defining characteristic, an alien troll, and a large super strong mutant whose hero name is Strong Guy, because he doesn’t feel like being pretentious. And best of all is Layla Miller, a young girl whose power was first presented as “I know stuff.” This meant she knew what was going to happened before it did and could take small actions to affect the outcome. Her code name is butterfly. It later turned out that the knowledge was implanted via time travel and her real power was to bring the dead back to life, but that she needed to conceal that power for a long time. A trip to the future led to her coming back as an adult and ultimately marrying Madrox.
Yeah, that story does get a bit soap operaish, but the dialog is usually more witty than melodramatic.
A really big factor for me liking this book is that while it clearly is in the Marvel Universe it is telling its own story. As such none of the big crossover events that Marvel constantly throws at us really have much effect on the book or the ongoing story. So as someone who doesn’t follow those events I do not feel like I am missing important parts of the story.
When Rictor, the depowered mutant, got his powers back it actually happened in a crossover. It was the one time I did fell that Marvel editorial had done wrong by Peter David. However Peter did manage to write the follow-up to that event in a way that covered the gap and was highly entertaining.
When they do interact with the Marvel Universe it often feels correct as they are usually being hired to investigate something, such as when the children of Reed and Sue Richards hired them to find their mother.
There is one other detail that I have always enjoyed on the book. The first page of every issue has a listing of the team’s roster, a recap of the recent story line, and then a quick update about Peter David and his family. Yes, the writer will keep us updated about his family in the text of the comic. Try and tell me that is not cool.
Obviously the future of the book is currently up in the air due to Peter David’s health. Of course my hope is that he is able to recover and continue writing, or at the very least advise on the plot. A recent post from his wife on his website indicates that he is still working on the book from his hospital bed, and that it is helping keep his spirits up. No other announcement has been made about the future of the book yet.
One other note is that the David family, while having medical insurance, is facing some big medical co-pays. As such they are asking fans for help. For more information on this please go here to visit their web site.
As a final recap X-Factor is my favorite Marvel title and Peter David my favorite writer working for them.
I gave the X-Factor Series a solid A grade.