Credits: Scott Lobdell (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Mark Buckingham (inker), Buccellato & Electric Crayon (colors), Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
While on a field trip, Generation X encounters a SWAT team surrounding a school. The townspeople believe that a young mutant has taken a classroom hostage. By talking to the crowd, Jubilee discerns that a teacher tried to enroll the boy, Eliot, into the school but the community fought against it. The town now thinks that he’s turned against the teacher who wanted to help him. Synch tries to concentrate on Eliot’s mutant signature, but only senses one in a nearby ice cream truck. While Jubilee sneaks into the school, the Orphan Maker emerges from the truck. The team tries to keep him away from the boy’s parents as Jubilee confronts the suspected mutant inside. As the student hostages escape, she discovers that the teacher died of a heart attack. He helped Eliot out because he knew what it was like to be different due to his weak heart. The Orphan Maker leaves the battle, deciding that Eliot’s parents have already orphaned him. Jubilee breaks the news that the teacher is dead, and Synch’s power reveals that Eliot was never a mutant, he was only born disfigured. Meanwhile, Husk spies on Chamber and Penance in the Biosphere, as Emma Frost comments that Husk reminds her of herself at a younger age.
The Orphan Maker is a villain from the early issues of X-Factor. He kills the parents of young mutants so that his concierge Nanny can look after them. The gimmick is that the Orphan Maker is a young boy in a hi-tech suit, which is redesigned in this issue. When Banshee stops his bullets, he discovers that they’re bone fragments, something I've never understood (is this supposed to be his mutant power?)
There’s an ad for the infamous Street Fighter movie, which remains a popular target for online ridicule to this day. It’s funny that comic book movies have gotten so much better over the past 10 years or so, but video games movies are still pretty awful.
With one issue to go before the massive “Age of Apocalypse” event, Lobdell does a self-contained story that doesn’t make much of an effort to advance any ongoing storylines. There’s a very brief moment where Husk considers the possibility that she’s following Emma’s footsteps, but that’s essentially it. The cover claims that Emma is now her mentor, which is only overstating things by a thousand percent (and why is Emma still being called the White Queen at this point?). Cutting this series off at issue four in order to make room for the next event doesn’t do the title any favors. The cast is still being introduced, and due to the leisurely plotting so far, you get the feeling that the series hasn’t even gone anywhere yet. By the time the AoA storyline is over, half of this series’ run will have taken place in an alternate reality with warped versions of the main characters. The fact that this series was still so new was the biggest clue to me at the time that the X-books were not being cancelled. I just knew that Marvel wouldn’t have gone through such a huge effort to push this book and then kill it after four issues.
This issue’s story is passable, with a decent twist at the end, but it does feel like Lobdell’s marking time until the crossover starts. Bachalo’s layouts are fairly quirky, with little cartoon elves hanging out on the margins of most of the pages. They don’t really contribute to the actual story (which has nothing to do with Christmas), and I get the impression that they’re added to distract from the pedestrian plot. They do add some charm to the comic, though, and it’s nice to see some of Bachalo’s cartooning. Bachalo’s unique style doesn’t do any favors to the new Orphan Maker design, though. Not only is not an improvement on the original design, which had a straightforward look that any artist should’ve been able to work with, but it looks too much like Emplate without the giant nose. The Orphan Maker’s treatment in this issue isn’t that great, either, as he gets beaten on for a few pages and then just decides to leave. I suspect that Orphan Maker was being set up as a recurring villain for this series, which would tie into his gimmick very well, but I don’t think the idea ever went anywhere.