Wednesday, May 12, 2010

X-FACTOR #136-#137, August-September 1997

Nothing Lasts Forever

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Jeff Matsuda (penciler), Art Thibert w/Sean Parsons (inkers), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Mystique continues to explore her powers, and antagonize Wild Child. When Forge attempts to lecture her, she kisses him. Meanwhile, Val Cooper learns that people within the government know X-Factor is still alive, and that Sabretooth was a sleeper agent of the Hound program. She sends word to Forge, but he receives it too late. Sabretooth has broken free of his collar and attacked X-Factor. Val arrives to see an angry Mystique standing over the unconscious bodies of X-Factor.

Continuity Notes: Government agent Bowser is back, after disappearing in issue #134. He’s apparently behind the Hound program and is shocked Sabretooth has broken free and is seemingly working on his own. Sabretooth later tells Mystique that the offer he was given is still available to her.

Review: I hope you wanted more shadowy government conspiracies in X-Factor, because that’s what you’re going to get. It was inevitable that Sabretooth would turn against the team, just as it was inevitable that he would break out of the X-Men’s basement and attack them, also. The story goes for dark and scary, but there’s no way you’re going to get that out of Jeff Matsuda. His extremely cartoony style might’ve been appropriate for something like Generation X, but he’s the last guy who should be drawing a story about Sabretooth ripping through his teammates during a blackout. Overlooking his personal style, many of the pages just seem rushed. Sabretooth’s fight with Polaris in particular just looks like a page of rough sketches that were inked and colored. The dialogue is as awkward as usual, hitting its low point when Sabretooth clumsily declares that maybe in “a different time, a different world” Wild Child would’ve been a great partner for him. Geez…

It Was a Dark & Stormy Night

Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Kevin Somers (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Val Cooper calls her ex-husband, Major Edmund Atkinson, for help. With Atkinson’s troops acting as support, they arrive with X-Factor at a local hospital. Val fears that either the Hounds or Operation: Zero Tolerance is coming to abduct X-Factor. Atkinson sends his troops away, but vows to stay and fight with Val. She sends a message to X-Factor’s headquarters for Bowser, offering to surrender. According to her plan, Havok intercepts the message and arrives with Fatale. They teleport away with X-Factor, although they arrive too late to save Atkinson from a laser blast to the chest. Meanwhile, Sabretooth arrives at Trevor Chase’s home. Another Hound, Stone, stops him from killing Trevor. Sabretooth instead targets Trevor’s family.

Continuity Notes: Shard is now missing after “depixelating” during Sabretooth’s attack. Apparently claw marks are fatal to holograms.

Review: You would think X-Factor would’ve been the ideal title to deal with the events of Zero Tolerance, but it seems like an afterthought Mackie had to slip into the book. The Hounds have been the generic government conspiracy against mutants for over a year in this title, and now we’re supposed to be worried about OZT, too. Val Cooper throws in a reference that essentially reads as “We’ve got to protect X-Factor from the Hounds! And, yeah, I guess Zero Tolerance, too.” All of the OZT material could’ve been incorporated into X-Factor’s never-ending conspiracy months earlier, but I guess the X-books are too fractured by this point to really pull that off.

Every issue of X-Factor needs some nonsense, so I’ll compile this month’s checklist. 1) Val Cooper’s ex-husband (a character briefly impersonated by Mr. Sinister during Peter David’s run) suddenly appears in-between issues. Previously, he was a federal agent who wore nice suits and performed lie detector tests. Now, he’s a platoon leader gifted by Andy Smith with ridiculous ‘90s anatomy. He’s also such a brilliant tactician that he sends away his troops as the bad guys arrive. Showing that Atkinson is willing to fight for Val but doesn’t want to put his troops in the unenviable position of fighting fellow soldiers could be a nice character bit, but instead it just comes across as a foolish decision. Mackie also tries to give Val and Atkinson Moonlighting style banter, but it’s incredibly awkward. 2) Mystique now declares that she hates Val for allowing Sabretooth to join the team. Val spends a few pages berating herself over what Sabretooth’s done. Aside from the fact that Val fought against his addition, Mystique didn’t seem to mind having Sabretooth around when they went off on their own adventures together. 3) Val’s plan is ridiculous, since she’s just inviting the Hounds to come on the off-chance that Havok might be monitoring their communication frequency. She really couldn’t think of a better way to contact Havok? 4) Havok also brags that he isn’t a killer, which is amusing given his willingness to kill everyone on a commercial airline, and the near-lethal blast he gave Polaris a few months back. 5) By the way, since when is Sabretooth working with the Hound program? Originally, the shadowy government agents behind his placement in X-Factor sent him to kill one of the Hounds.

To Mackie’s credit, at least the pace of the book is starting to pick up. Some of the inevitable events, such as Sabretooth turning on the team, are now out of the way and it almost seems as if the endless conspiracy subplots are headed somewhere. Even Havok, who seems to be undergoing yet another personality revision, is given something to do. This is still mostly terrible, but there is a small amount of momentum now.

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