Friday, August 2, 2013

X-FACTOR #63 - February 1991



Family
Credits:  Louise Simonson (plot/script), Whilce Portacio (plot/art), Homage Studios (art assist), Michael Heisler (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary:  Iceman’s girlfriend Opal is kidnapped by Cyberpunks serving her grandfather, Tatsu’o.  After speaking to her adopted parents, Iceman learns that Opal has been hidden from her grandfather her entire life.  Meanwhile, Opal learns she is expected to sire a child with one of Tatsu’o’s Cyberpunks.  Iceman travels to Japan with Marvel Girl, and with Mariko’s help, attends a sumo match Tatsuo is observing.  When Iceman impetuously reveals himself, Tatsu’o’s Cyberpunks attack Mariko’s ninja guard.  Two of the Cyberpunks are killed, but none of Mariko’s men survive.  Tatsu’o teleports away with Opal, as Iceman vows to rescue her.

Continuity Notes:  

  • Opal discovered she was adopted in X-Factor #59.  Her adopted mother is actually her birth mother’s distant cousin.  Opal meets her birth mother, Shizu’ko, at Tatuso’s compound.  
  • Hiro, the only noble member of the Cyberpunks, debuts here.  He’ll go on to have a pretty forgettable death scene during the early Scott Lobdell issues of Uncanny X-Men.
  • Jean Grey meets Mariko Yashida for the first time.  Simonson doesn’t play the scene for any drama, she merely has both women mentally acknowledge why Wolverine could be attracted to the other.  Years later, Chris Claremont will have a drastically different take on Mariko’s opinion of Jean in X-Men Forever.
  • Ship is undergoing minor malfunctions.  This is an ongoing subplot that will be resolved in a few issues, after Louise Simonson is gone.  I believe the official explanation didn’t match her original plan, which saw its conclusion in X-Factor Forever.
  • Finally, this issue establishes that Opal’s birthday is close to Christmas.  This is bound to come up again one day, so try to keep that straight, Marvel.

Review:  I was a sporadic reader of X-Factor during my early years of collecting, but rarely felt it was required reading within the X-canon.  (Actually, in those days, Uncanny X-Men really was the only X-book I felt obligated to buy, unless a crossover was going on.)  While both X-Factor and New Mutants spent years overshadowed by the main title, New Mutants had clearly jumped ahead of X-Factor in popularity in 1990 following the debut of Cable and the assorted Liefeld insanity.  After seeing the boost New Mutants received with a heavily stylized artist and an “edgy” ‘90s cyborg protagonist, I imagine editor Bob Harras wanted to duplicate some of that success in X-Factor.  Hence, the debut of Whilce Portacio as the new regular artist, and somehow, co-plotter.  And cyborgs.  Lots of cyborgs.  Any lapsed readers brought back by “X-Tinction Agenda” had to at least give this issue a try, right?

It’s hard to judge this issue in retrospect, because I’m not sure how tired all of these Japanese family/honor/cyborg ninja clichés were in early ‘90s.  I do remember reading Opal’s first appearances when she debuted, and even as a kid I liked the idea of a superhero falling for this kind of frumpy, average girl in glasses.  Revealing that she’s actually the secret granddaughter of a Yakuza crimelord doesn’t add an awful lot to her character, (frankly, it’s beyond ridiculous) and it’s hard not to view this portrayal of Japan as rather simplistic.  There’s a ninja vs. cyborg fight set at a sumo wrestling match at the issue’s climax.  All it’s missing is Mothra.

I will say that this is fairly subdued by Whilce Portacio’s standards.  None of his females have that weird, anorexic body type he sometimes reverts to, and most of the faces look fine.  He’s also got a flair for page layouts, which I’m sure impressed many of the readers bored by traditional six-panel grids in 1990.  Louise Simonson is also able to add some humanity to the story, giving Opal fairly plausible responses to the situation she’s faced with.  And someone actually remembered Mariko, a character that was oddly languishing in obscurity at the time, even though Wolverine had been headlining two books for years.

10 comments:

Edward said...

I used to like WHile Portacio's art from his early Punisher era, but not so much in his X-Factor run.
It was good to see Iceman as protagonist for a change though.

Teebore said...

I was a big X-Factor guy back in the day, mainly because, as I've said before, the back issues were a lot cheaper than contemporaneous issues of Uncanny and New Mutants, and I was definitely one of those who enjoyed Portacio's run simply for the way he blew up the traditional six panel grid (heck, barring the Paul Smith space story, X-Factor had a pretty rough go of it art-wise between Simonson and Portacio. Portacio has his issues, but at least he brought some energy to the artwork).

One of the things I like about this story is the way it features just Iceman and Marvel Girl, both because you didn't often see the cast paired down like that and because you didn't often see those two characters working together.

Years later, Chris Claremont will have a drastically different take on Mariko’s opinion of Jean in X-Men Forever

Do you recall what it was? I read it, but I'll be damned if I can remember it...

This is bound to come up again one day, so try to keep that straight, Marvel.

Haha!

I’m not sure how tired all of these Japanese family/honor/cyborg ninja clichés were in early ‘90s.

Even by then, I think they were pretty tired, though maybe this story sneaks in just before the breaking point. Making them CYBORG NINJAS certainly seemed mildly fresh, even if it was just a mashup of two wildly popular devices that were nearly, it not entirely, overused at that point.

There’s a ninja vs. cyborg fight set at a sumo wrestling match at the issue’s climax. All it’s missing is Mothra.

Haha again!

cyke68 said...

Well. How's that for service?

Add me to the list of X-Factor devotees. I've always had an affinity for the original five, and yes, these back-issues were comparatively cheaper. The "Endgame" arc was my holy grail for the longest time (and to think, all that for a glorified fill-in. Whatever, I ate it up in like 1997). I already had all the issues of the series participating in crossovers, but decided for some reason that I needed ALL of it. So that was my Christmas present one year: every X-Factor issue from 1-60 that I did not own. Nothing quite as exciting as the wheeling and dealing other posters have recounted in acquiring their books, but that was my first "big" comics purchase. The haul was a little over 50 issues; crazy to think that at the height of my fandom, that would comprise my MONTHLY purchases!

I unabashedly love the Portacio issues and dare say I liked his work even more than what Lee was doing at the time. The new uniform looks for Cyclops, Jean, and Iceman were my favorite costume redesigns up to that point. I only wish he could've started his run earlier and done the X-Tinction Agenda issues. That would've given a crossover by Lee, Liefeld, and Portacio - truly a time capsule for the era. Say what you will about '90s excess, but it's kind of a shame that didn't happen. (I really think that was the original intent for what became X-Cutioner's Song... before all the artists bolted.)

Did anyone read X-Factor Forever? While she wasn't the most polished writer, I've always had a soft spot for Louise Simonson. She didn't really leave anything unsettled (well, The Twelve, but that's Claremont too) but never got an actual send-off either. Hopefully that mini was an appropriate coda; it flew completely under my radar. (Wheezie also deserves credit for pulling off a minor miracle in fixing these characters and turning the book away from its premise into something actually readable. Those first five issues under are just shockingly irredeemable. What on earth were they thinking?)

Teebore said...

@cyke68: The new uniform looks for Cyclops, Jean, and Iceman were my favorite costume redesigns up to that point. I only wish he could've started his run earlier and done the X-Tinction Agenda issues.

I also have a soft spot for those uniforms, and definitely agree that it would have been nice for Portacio to draw the X-Tinction Agenda issues. I've enjoyed Bogdanove's work elsewhere, but his X-Tinction issues just grind the whole thing to a halt for me.

Teebore said...

@cyke68: Wheezie also deserves credit for pulling off a minor miracle in fixing these characters and turning the book away from its premise into something actually readable.

Clicked publish too fast...

Meant to say I agree with this sentiment as well, and overall, I really like the cut of your jib, cyke68. :)

Anonymous said...

"I unabashedly love the Portacio issues and dare say I liked his work even more than what Lee was doing at the time. The new uniform looks for Cyclops, Jean, and Iceman were my favorite costume redesigns up to that point. I only wish he could've started his run earlier and done the X-Tinction Agenda issues. That would've given a crossover by Lee, Liefeld, and Portacio - truly a time capsule for the era."

Cyke68, there's a lot here I'm in agreement with here. For one, I've always been a Portacio man. He's a guy who definitely understands layouts and I like the way his over rendered art looks. It's a shame he doesn't draw like this anymore, the same thing happened to Howard Porter. After Silvestri, Portacio is probably my favorite Image artist, and these X-Factor issues are probably his best (I think he hits a high-point with his style in XF 69, but that's for another day).

I've also been of the opinion that X-Tinction Agenda would have been much better had Portacio started his run w/ those X-Factor issues (and if Liefled had had time to do the third issue of New Mutants). Bogdanove is a solid artsist, and his Kirby-inspired style worked great on the Superman books, but on the X-books? In the company of the Image boys? As teebore said, it grinds the whole thing to a halt.

As for this issue, it's nothing to write home about (neither is the next one), but as fun action issues starring Iceman, they were nice reads. Nearly everything from Japan here is a cliche, but it was good that Mariko got some moments to shine. I think things really pick up with 65

cyke68 said...

Why thank you Teebore, and Anonymous! (Any kin to TBD, one of today's most prolific pencilers?) We seem to be of one mind on the Image guys. Liefeld does nothing for me, Lee is Lee, but Portacio was the first real standout when I was a kid, at least in terms of immediately recognizable and preferred artists. However, the more I think about my favorite scenes or renderings of certain characters however, the more I find myself coming back to Silvestri. The Wolverine Brood cover and 'X' crucifixion, Psylocke's posing nude, early Genosha, Mr. Sinister, all that. Lee scored the iconic visuals, but it's Silvestri's work I feel is most ready for primetime. Such arresting and provocative images. I love his expressive body language and the sexiness that remains classy instead of gratuitous or pandering. He's just a lot more... presentable to the uninitiated.

I too liked Bogdanove's Man of Steel well enough, so definitely think his work on the X-books was a "fit" issue. I guess Simonson enjoyed working with him though.

See, isn't the Internet a lot more fun when everyone is in agreement on everything? :)

G. Kendall said...

Years later, Chris Claremont will have a drastically different take on Mariko’s opinion of Jean in X-Men Forever

"Do you recall what it was? I read it, but I'll be damned if I can remember it..."


Mariko's hatred of Jean lead her to join the anti-mutant villains the Consortium in X-Men Forever, as I recall.

Teebore said...

Mariko's hatred of Jean lead her to join the anti-mutant villains the Consortium in X-Men Forever, as I recall.

Ah yes, thanks. I now recall the inability of my eyes to stop rolling when I read that.

wwk5d said...

Ah, X-factor officially joins the 90s with this issue. Cyborg Ninjas WITH HONOR! Even as a kid, this cracked me up.

I was always mixed on Portacio. I like that he broke away from the standard six-panel-grid layout, but I always felt his characters tended to pose more, and he looked like he slapped together a bunch of layouts more than anything...his fight scenes were just horribly choreographed. Especially compared to Lee.

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