That Certain Mystique
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Steve Epting (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Glynis Oliver & Digital Chameleon (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering)
Forge tests the inhibitor chip in Mystique’s brain to make sure she can’t impersonate any members of the various X-teams for more than thirty seconds. She tries to antagonize the team, but Val Cooper is adamant that they’re the only thing keeping her out of jail. Havok yells at Forge for adding Mystique to the team while he was incapacitated. As Havok gets angrier, his powers begin to flare up. Polaris calms him down by manipulating the iron in his brain. Upset that he might be a danger to his friends, Havok walks away. Mystique watches the incident through X-Factor’s security cameras. When Val Cooper chastises her, Mystique gets angry and grabs her. Wild Child responds by slamming her into a wall. Mystique is actually pleased, because she’s learned that Wild Child has a weakness for a “pretty face”. Havok visits Guido in the hospital, while Wild Child informs Val that he won’t be going back to Canada. After watching Forge run a holographic film of his Vietnam experience, Mystique begins to suspect that something’s wrong with him. After he dismisses her, she’s even more determined to learn his secret. Meanwhile, Fatale’s mysterious employer plans to send another agent to capture Havok.
Fatale’s employer (later revealed as the Dark Beast), lists her as one of the “soldiers of the new world” he’s created. She refers to the Sugar Man as her “old friend in Genosha”, which is the second reference to Fatale having some history in Genosha.
After such a chaotic start, Moore shifts in the opposite direction with an issue dedicated almost entirely to character interaction. It works for the most part, making this the strongest of the post-AoA issues so far (not that it really had any competition, though). I was afraid that Havok was already being set up to “go bad”, but Moore thankfully writes a more sympathetic version of the character as the story progresses. Adding Mystique to the team still feels like an arbitrary editorial mandate, but Moore spends a lot of time in this issue trying to justify the decision and show the reactions of her teammates. Mystique’s characterization had been all over the place by this point, so Moore really could’ve gone anywhere with her. He seems to have settled on playing her as a nasty manipulator, ignoring the crazed psycho-killer interpretation that showed up in Lobdell’s stories. Adding her to the team does create some drama in a series that had grown stale in the previous year, so I can’t say that her presence is actually harming the title at the moment (assuming that you buy the fact that the government wouldn’t have just thrown her in jail, of course). I like the final scene between Forge and Mystique, as she observes that something’s wrong with him by examining “nuances, mannerisms, the inflections…the subtleties that define character”. It makes sense that she would have to do those things in order to create convincing impersonations of people, so that’s a nice insight into her character that Moore (I believe) was the first to make.
Not all of this works, though. While Moore makes an admirable effort trying to rationalize Mystique’s inclusion, Wild Child still stands out as a pointless addition to the team. Moore tries to set up the idea that he’s latching on to X-Factor (and possibly Val Cooper), but it feels forced. Having him suddenly yell, “You think I’m a coward, don’t you? You think I’m running away from my problems? You’re wrong!” in the middle of a conversion for no reason emphasizes how awkward the dialogue gets in a few places. The concept of this incarnation of X-Factor is also started to get muddled. The government-sponsored X-Factor created in the Peter David run was supposed to be the happy, courteous face of mutants that reassured the human mainstream. Apparently this idea is still around, since Forge tells Havok that he can’t “represent the team to the public” in his current state. Havok can’t, but Mystique can? Unless she’s supposed to be some sort of a secret member, there’s no way a group concerned about its image would allow (or, more accurately, force) her to join the team. I can’t complain about the art, though, since Steve Epting does his usual quality work. It feels like the title has more stability with his return, even if this is technically his first issue of the series, since his previous work was on Factor X.