Thursday, February 26, 2009

X-FACTOR #131 – February 1997

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (lettering), Glynis Oliver & GCW (colors)

Summary: Inside the remains of the Morlock Tunnels, Havok makes plans to form his own Brotherhood. Elsewhere, the Dark Beast is assaulted by two of the guards looking over him in custody. A female guard named Barnes orders them to back off, even after the Dark Beast severs one of their thumbs. Soon, Havok breaks into the facility, searching for the Dark Beast. Barnes takes him away in an escape pod, which Havok blasts to the ground. He recruits Fatale, who is also in custody, to teleport him to the craft’s location. Havok frees Dark Beast from his restraints, and offers him a role in the new Brotherhood. Dark Beast shows his gratitude by attempting to kill Barnes, but Havok stops him. He claims that the new Brotherhood won’t kill humans, but will take the initiative to help mutants.

Review: We’ve now arrived at my final issue of X-Factor, ending a complete run of over sixty issues. Like most issues of this era, this one is a poorly written mess that can’t hold up to any real scrutiny. After a dream sequence, Havok decides that he’s lived as the pawn of other people for too long, and is going off in his own direction. It’s an odd characterization shift that never worked for me, and it’s an extremely weak rationalization for making him a villain. Havok’s insecurities about living up to his brother’s reputation, and his past experiences with mind control, are used to justify the new characterization. The mind control angle seems silly to me, as comic book heroes are often mind-controlled, and Havok was never been under someone else’s influence for more than a few issues, so it’s never defined him in the past. His insecurities involving his brother are just normal human emotions that were supposed to make the character seem more real, not drive him towards villainy. It’s extremely forced, and even though last issue’s letter column promised that this story would explain Havok’s new motivation, it’s just as unconvincing as the previous chapters of this storyline.

It seems as if Marvel’s already responding to negative fan reaction to Havok going bad, as he backs off of the maliciousness he’s exhibited in the more recent stories. According to one of the extensive narrative captions, Havok was still under Dark Beast’s influence when he tried to crash a commercial airplane a few weeks earlier in Uncanny, which is obviously a quickie way to dismiss that story (even though that issue went out of its way to sell the idea that this was the “real” Havok). Now we’re really really seeing the real Havok, and Marvel means it this time. Even if he’s not an outright villain now, it’s obvious they’re serious about making him an ongoing antagonist, so his actions end up making even less sense than usual. Havok now claims that he doesn’t want any humans to die, and prevents Dark Beast from killing his guard. Even if you buy the retconned explanation for his behavior in Uncanny, it’s hard to justify why he would recruit the bloodthirsty Dark Beast as a teammate. What does he think is going to happen? And if he’s so angry about being manipulated so many times, why is he recruiting the man who brainwashed him just a few issues ago?

Even if you have a lax attitude towards continuity and characterization, I don’t see how this issue can work. The scripting is often bland and clunky (Havok apparently can’t use contractions, giving us lines like this: “Everything that has happened in the past month is going to give the world even more reason to lash out at mutants all over again!”), many of the pages are bogged down with too many captions, and most of the characters are devoid of anything resembling a personality. Matsuda’s artwork works in a few places, especially in the opening dream sequence, but the storytelling and anatomy seem to deteriorate as the issue goes on. His manga-influenced designs also go too far when he gives Barnes, the morally superior guard who risks her life to protect Dark Beast, a bizarre hairstyle that resembles Bugs Bunny’s ears. I can’t imagine why Marvel thought this art style was appropriate for the darker, grittier tone they wanted for the series. Of course, it’s hard to justify anything Marvel did to the title by this point.


HardtravelingHero said...

I concur.

rob said...

I too concur but I at least liked this one marginally as a change of pace (b/c none of the increasingly whiny and annoying X-Factor members were in it).

And if anyone should complain about being defined by mind control, it's Polaris, not Havok.

Fnord Serious said...

Lucky I missed out on this whole period as Havok is one of my favorite X-Men and I doubt I would have enjoyed seeing him dragged through the muck like this. I have thought about picking up the Mutant X series that Havok stars on following the end of X-Factor, but given that it is also written by Howard Mackie, I doubt it is much of an improvement.

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