Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver (colorist)
Polaris has a vision of Magneto helping her fellow prisoners in the Pens escape to freedom. Cyclops and Havok meet with Apocalypse, who thinks that Cyclops could potentially replace Sinister as a Horseman. Angered, Havok later tells his human lover Scarlett that Apocalypse will reward him when he sees his “strength and cunning”. Meanwhile, Angel warns Cyclops and the Bedlam Brothers about the rumors of a war with Europe. On Havok’s orders, McCoy experiments on Polaris, hoping to learn what she knows about the recent escapes. Cyclops orders him to stop, telling McCoy that he’s violating the Kelly Pact. That night, a cloaked man helps Polaris escape. They’re confronted by Northstar and Aurora, who were reassigned by Havok at the last minute. They manage to defeat the twins and escape before Havok arrives. Later, the mystery man drops Polaris off with a member of “The Underground”, Val Cooper. The mystery man removes his cloak to reveal that he’s Cyclops.
The AoA version of Polaris is given an origin. Her powers emerged after her parents were killed in the first Midwest cullings. Traumatized, she convinced herself that she was actually Magneto’s daughter. This (somehow) led to her pairing with another mutant, and losing half of her powers to Rogue. If Rogue is supposed to be the mutant she paired with, this issue isn’t clear on that. X-Men Chronicles #1 claimed that Rogue permanently absorbed a portion of Polaris’ powers during “a previous abduction attempt”. I can’t tell if Rogue was attempting to abduct Polaris, or if she was actually her aforementioned partner. It’s worth noting that more than one character says that DNA tests prove Polaris is not Magneto’s daughter, which contradicts future stories by Chuck Austen.
According to a mystery person Scarlet is talking to on the phone, she’s secretly working for the Human High Council. She thinks that things are too “hot” in Heaven, especially after Karma’s abduction (in Amazing X-Men #2), and she wants out.
Instead of telling one large story like most of the AoA titles, Factor X focuses on a series of subplots at this point. It makes for a much denser comic, which almost feels like some of Claremont’s X-work in the ‘80s. There’s a sense that there’s a lot going on, with various characters scheming against one another and following their own agendas. It helps the series to survive on more than just the novelty of seeing established characters in twisted roles. Moore tries to do something with the political maneuverings established early on in the AoA event, but the Kelly Pact has to be the most moronic aspect of the entire storyline. Apparently, experimenting on Polaris violates the Kelly Pact, which would anger the humans. As opposed to…keeping humans in slave pens and conducting mass exterminations in large American cities? To be fair, most of the characters in the story refer to the Kelly Pact as a farce, but the idea that any human governments are negotiating with Apocalypse and creating treaties with him is beyond absurd. I get that the creators are trying to insert some realistic politics into the new world, but the reality they’ve established is already so far over the top it’s impossible to believe that any humans would be dumb enough to create treaties with Apocalypse. Maybe it’s revealed later that the human governments are stringing Apocalypse along, just as he’s doing to them (I don’t remember how this thread plays out), but it still seems too ridiculous to me.
After dropping a few hints in the first issue, this issue confirms that Cyclops isn’t a true villain after all. The twist at the end is handled well enough, although it opens up a “nature vs. nurture” question that doesn’t reflect too well on many of the other X-characters. If Cyclops is inherently good and able to fight against his upbringing, what does it say about Havok and Beast that they cannot? What’s strange is that Marvel did seem to use this storyline to justify relaunching Havok as a villain in the mainstream reality, yet Beast was able to stay a pure hero. If this storyline somehow reveals the true dark natures of the characters, why wouldn’t Beast turn out to be just as evil as Havok? Even though I liked this series in the context of the AoA, it did lead to the “Is Havok truly a villain?” nonsense that dominated the later issues of X-Factor (I think the final resolution turned out to be “Nah, he was just faking”, which couldn’t be reconciled with any of the previous stories).