Wednesday, October 30, 2013

X-FACTOR #65 - April 1991

 

Endgame Part 1: Malign Influences
Credits:  Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio (plot), Chris Claremont (script), Whilce Portacio (penciler), Art Thibert (inker), Steve Buccellato (colors), Michael Heisler (letters)

Summary:  Hard-Drive, a member of the Riders of the Storm, uses his powers to hack into Ship’s network.  The Riders of the Storm spy on X-Factor’s training sequence, preparing for battle.  Later, Iceman and Archangel visit their respective girlfriends, as Beast watches footage of Trish Tilby.  Suddenly, Ship is attacked by the Riders.  Psynapse invades Marvel Girl’s mind, forcing her to relive the death of her childhood friend.  When Iceman and Archangel return, the battle goes in X-Factor’s favor, until Apocalypse appears.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The next issue identifies Apocalypse’s servants as the Riders of the Storm, who will later go by the simplified title of “Dark Riders.”  As of this issue, however, they don’t even have a collective name yet.
  • Following the ending of Uncanny X-Men #273, Guido has informed Cyclops that Lila Cheney teleported the X-Men away to save Professor Xavier.  Cyclops is holding the training session to be ready in case the X-Men need their help.
  • Psynapse’s invasion of Marvel Girl’s mind enables her telepathy to return.  The creators drop hints this issue, but this isn’t confirmed until later.

Production Note:  The “Apocalypse Files” listed on the cover is a text piece of Apocalypse narrating profiles of three X-Factor members, written by Fabian Nicieza.  The back-up feature is actually called the “Apocalypse Manifesto” inside the issue.

I Love the '90s:  Trish Tilby is filing a report from the Persian Gulf regarding the possibility of super-powered beings entering Operation: Desert Storm.  Beast’s VHS copy of the broadcast is labeled 1/24/91.

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership has average sales at 268,307 copies, with the most recent issue selling 228,800.

Review:  Chris Claremont has said that he agreed to script X-Factor for a few issues in order to get a feel for Whilce Portacio’s art before Portacio moved over to Uncanny X-Men.  He need not have bothered, as it turns out, but as a reader at the time, having Claremont lend his name to X-Factor felt like a mini-event.  Claremont’s famous for reinventing Marvel Girl as Phoenix, and Cyclops was a steady presence for the early years of his run, but there is no definitive Claremont interpretation of the three other founding members of the X-Men.  For various reasons, Iceman, Angel, and Beast rarely if ever played a role during Claremont’s extensive Uncanny X-Men stint (even when Angel joined the team at John Byrne’s prompting, Claremont wrote him out as soon as possible), so it’s fun to see what how he handles mutants not normally associated with his writing style.  

Of course, the actual plot is being handled by Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio, a plotting duo that will be responsible for some truly terrible Uncanny X-Men issues in just a few months.  This issue shows some hints of the incoherence to come, but for the most part, it’s an effective opening chapter.  The Dark Riders have absolutely bizarre designs, but that’s probably why I have some affection for them.  The villains are each given an opportunity to show off their powers, as insane as some of those powers are, and there is some effort to work in some personal life scenes.  Those “check in on the girlfriend” scenes aren’t particularly imaginative and arguably slow down the story’s momentum, but I’m glad these romantic subplots are even acknowledged.  Those are the only slow scenes during this brief stint, as the book is about to enter a multi-issue fight scene involving the Dark Riders, the Inhumans, and Apocalypse.  I’m sure the fights thrilled the target audience at the time, but in retrospect, it’s a shame that this will be the last issue for several months, maybe years, to acknowledge the three long-running romances developed by Louise Simonson during her stint.

14 comments:

Formiga Atômica (Cesar R. Pontual) said...

"The “Apocalypse Files” listed on the cover is a text piece of Apocalypse narrating profiles of three X-Factor members, written by Fabian Nicieza."

Which members? Here in Brazil all the five X-Factor members had their profiles published in the same issue.

Thanks for the information and continue with these great reviews.

wwk5d said...

"it’s a shame that this will be the last issue for several months, maybe years, to acknowledge the three long-running romances developed by Louise Simonson during her stint."

I think Trish is the only one featured semi-regularly. Charlotte appears less frequently, and Opal the least, I think.

Are you planning on covering the Muir Island Saga as well? It's worth it, if only for the epilogue issue Peter David wrote and keeping track of Rogue changing costumes off-panel literally between each issue lol

cyke68 said...

Well now. Glad to see this arc getting its due! It's an all-timer for me.

(Far from the best thing I've ever read, but high on the list of personal/sentimental favorites.)

Love, love, love Portacio's art throughout. He was one of those early artists to go mainstream in striking the right balance between distorted/weird and visually appealing. Very prototypical of Leinil Yu, Joe Mad, and Carlos Pacheco in that sense. The Dark Riders really didn't look right under anyone else and just come off so generically in subsequent appearances. They might be pretty one-dimensional here, but that's made up by the fact that they're interesting to look at.

Admittedly, he's a bit of a crap storyteller.

I never understood quite why Claremont scripted these issues, but the Portacio connection makes sense. In that regard, I guess I'm glad he didn't know it would be moot. I'm sure scripting duties would have otherwise fallen to Simonson (unless she was too fed up) or Nicieza (more likely; he was doing a LOT of work for the X-office at this time). Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of affection for both of them, but Claremont was more appropriate, for reasons both material and symbolic.

Claremont lends a lot of weight to what is a transitional story designed to close the book on this era of X-Factor and move the characters into place for their reintegration with the school. That involves making some pretty sweeping changes for two of them in particular, but Claremont manages to finesse it all with his usual skill and professionalism. With Jean, the ramifications of her psychic trip down memory lane are exposed gradually in the issues ahead. It's a major development for her, though one that only reveals itself in retrospect. As for Scott, well, I've read much (too much?) into the voices Claremont gives his characters and the extent to which they serve as the author's proxies. Where Claremont conveyed his anger and frustration once before by contributing to the utter dismantling of Scott's humanity, here we have the most explicit example of Claremont making peace with forces beyond his control by inviting Scott back into the fold.

@wwk5d:
Are you planning on covering the Muir Island Saga as well? It's worth it, if only for the epilogue issue Peter David wrote and keeping track of Rogue changing costumes off-panel literally between each issue lol

Not to mention Colossus teleporting from Westchester to Muir Island between issues.

I wonder if Nicieza had as much fun writing those Apocalypse files as he did the X-Cutioner's Song trading cards?

wwk5d said...

Well, technically, Colossus teleports from Washington DC to Muir Island ;)

"Where Claremont conveyed his anger and frustration once before by contributing to the utter dismantling of Scott's humanity"

When was this?

cyke68 said...

Referring to Uncanny #201. I read that as Claremont saying, "Fuck you Jim Shooter, and fuck this character." It's still a softer take on Scott's character than the fiasco of early X-Factor issues, but it sure does a fine job of setting him up as a bastard. I know that wasn't what Claremont wanted, absent the creation of X-Factor - but "credit" to him for doing some fine place setting. Presentation is everything. Had it merely been an exercise in terrible writing, I think this characterization would be a lot easier for fans to dismiss (see "Nightcrawler really is a demon spawn"). But Claremont just did too good a job of slotting Cyclops into the role, to the point that it dogged the character years after the fact.

Can't say I blame him, mind you. He couldn't help but get a little attached to these characters, nor the fact that his word was God in 1985. I mean, he'd only been writing them for ten years.

Yeah, I'm gonna second that recommendation for the Muir Island Saga.

G. Kendall said...

The “Apocalypse Files” this issue features Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and Archangel.

And Muir Island Saga won't be in the immediate future, but likely someday.

cyke68 said...

Sounds like a plan. Whenever that does come to pass, I might also gently nudge you in the direction of the "Kings of Pain" annual crossover as a companion piece. Fabian Nicieza writes all chapters, it's the first real mission of X-Force as X-Force, and you've got some early Tom Raney art. The thing is, I read this for just the second time the other day, and it's... completely fucking mental. Like, to the point that I can't believe it made it out the door in that form in 1991. Not bad or Morrisonian mental, but really kind of sick and mean-spirited. Not to mention off the mark in its characterizations. Anyway, just one of those very under-reviewed stories, apparently due to sneaking past everyone's notice at the time.

Teebore said...

Like cyke68, this story is a nostalgic favorite of mine, probably because of the focus on Cyclops and my one-time obsession Cable (thus making this a pretty significant story for the character). It also seems fitting, with the actual end of the original iteration of the team coming amidst a crossover, that the final story featuring this team involves Apocalypse, considering he's pretty much been the book's main archenemy since the beginning.

Psynapse’s invasion of Marvel Girl’s mind enables her telepathy to return.

Man, I had completely forgotten it took that long for her telepathy to return (I seem to recall thinking it came book during "Inferno"). It's kinda crazy that what was essentially a plot device to keep the resurrected Jean from learning about Maddie stuck around that long.

in retrospect, it’s a shame that this will be the last issue for several months, maybe years, to acknowledge the three long-running romances developed by Louise Simonson during her stint.

I've never thought of it in those terms before, but it is a shame. I always appreciated the work Simonson did expanding the supporting cast of the book.

wwk5d. cyke68: at the risk of tooting my horn and stepping on G.'s toes, I spent some time discussing Claremont's reaction to X-Factor as it pertained to Cyclops in my review of issue #201, which you can find here, if you're interested.

wwk5d said...

I really do hope we get to see your take on the Muir Island Saga, since, even though it came out in 1991, it was really when the 80s incarnation of the X-franchise officially comes to an end, and when the 90s really does begin. A really crappy end of an era, but still.

Kings of Pain was...interesting. And given the line-ups of the X-teams present, it's in a weird transition phases between the 2 eras I mentioned above...

cyke68 said...

Simonson performed a minor miracle in rebuilding the characters, brick by brick, when she took over X-Factor. Those early issues are just so awful and misconceived. It's a rare example of a later writer blowing up a book's original high concept that worked out for the better.

Jean going without her TP for so long is pretty puzzling. There was no point to continue it beyond whenever she learned about Madelyne and the baby (which was pretty early... like right before the Massacre, yes?). Certainly Inferno would have been another good opportunity to reset her. Then they had Madelyne and the Phoenix memories floating around in her head for awhile, resolved that, but still didn't bring the telepathy back. So of all things, it comes down to this random fight with a minor henchman.

Teebore- that's a stellar blog you have, sir! Especially so since we seem to be of the same mind regarding #201. (: "Poisoning the well" is a nice way to sum up the whole affair. Beyond that, I'll leave some stale comments on your post (and play catch-up, as your reviews are pretty great!) instead babbling about an older issue from another series here.

Harry Sewalski said...

cyke68: I might also gently nudge you in the direction of the "Kings of Pain" annual crossover as a companion piece.

Seconded! I've got the entire crossover (thanks, New Warriors Classic Vol. 2!) and it's just... wow. Granted, it's been a while since I read it, but I literally had no idea why any character was doing what they were doing. Oh well, at least we got to see the brief return of the Alliance of Evil!

@Teebore: I should really get back to your blog, shouldn't I? I stopped because you started reviewing past the issues of Uncanny which I've read (I've only got Essential X-Men Vols 1 - 4) and I was wary of 30-year old spoilers, but your blog was a damn fine read whilst I was reading it.

cyke68 said...

@Harry, yeah Kings of Pain is just loads and loads of characters contributing nothing to the plot. The stances they take are baffling.

Archetypal Hero Cyclops: "We have to stop Proteus. He's so dangerous we have to kill him. He hasn't really done any harm, but trust me, dude's bad news. Problem is, he's too powerful. That's OK though, we'll just talk him into committing suicide!"

Militant Antihero Cable: "No man, that's wrong."

Not to mention some very casual code-approved child abuse that results in the perpetrator getting a slap on the wrist.

None of this bothers me per se, but it so goes against the grain of what you were used to seeing back then.

I'm not sure it's worth picking up the Essentials beyond vol. 4 due to all the crossovers and such. Much of that material has been reprinted in its own right. Or, you could try Classic X-Men for super cheap full-color reprints of the individual issues (with nifty new back-up features).

Teebore said...

@cyke68, Harry: thanks for the kind words. Harry, you definitely should come back! For what its worth, I usually try to keep the spoilers confined to the "Firsts and Other Notables" section, and even then, it's more general "this character will become a big deal" or "this artist will have a definitive run" kind of stuff.

G., sorry for hijacking the thread...

Harry Sewalski said...

@cyke68: At least the scenes after Proteus has been resurrected feel like they mean something, since it's what the arc has been building up to. The first few annuals (the first two?) are just characters meandering about for ages. Oh, and of course there's the obligatory X-Force/New Warriors fight. Can't forget that one.

As for the Essentials, I'd definitely like to get some more since I know that I'm missing out on some classic stuff, like the Mutant Massacre and Nimrod and stuff, but between having little room on my bookshelf for Essentials and mostly buying modern trades these days, it'll probably be a long time before I do so.

@Teebore: Good sir, you have convinced me! I've re-bookmarked your blog and shall continue reading through it as soon as I finish reading several TVTropes pages.

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