Monday, February 10, 2014

X-FACTOR Annual #6 - August 1991

King of Pain
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Terry Shoemaker (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), Brad Vancata (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  X-Factor investigates the energy release in Edinburgh and is soon attacked by the Proteus/Piecemeal hybrid.  The team is sent to a white void, where they meet the rest of the heroes.  Marvel Girl explains Proteus/Piecemeal’s plan to recreate the world to represent mathematical structure and order, inspired by the peace Proteus found during his “death” as he witnessed the patterns created by his energy signature.  Cyclops declares that since Proteus/Piecemeal cannot be defeated, the best option is to convince him to commit suicide.  Soon, Moira makes this case to Proteus, as Harness continues to verbally abuse Piecemeal.  Repulsed by human emotions, Proteus/Piecemeal commits suicide.  Later, Harness is placed in custody while Gideon and Toad finish their chess match.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This story marks the first time X-Factor meets the New Warriors.  Cyclops, oddly enough, seems to already know the new members of X-Force.
  • Yes, Toad was the mystery chess player throughout the storyline.  According to Gideon, AIM and Genetech were manipulated into recreating Proteus.  Gideon wanted to weaponize Proteus’ powers, while Toad desired Proteus to join the Brotherhood.
  • Cable refers to Jean Grey merely as “Grey,” which actually fits with continuity, since he didn’t figure out his parentage until after the Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix miniseries.  It is worth noting, however, that Marvel Girl, Legion, nor the Shadow King recognize Cable’s limitless telepathic powers this issue…
  • Moira identifies Harness as “an AIM assassin,” although I’m not sure how she would know that.  At the story’s end, we do discover from faceless AIM higher-ups that Harness has a second mutant child, a seven-year-old girl that they’ll use as leverage if she speaks out against them.

Review:  So, that’s “Kings of Pain.”  And it turns out they were crazy enough to revive Proteus.  In all honesty, I can’t say this arc has been terrible; Nicieza has some themes of abuse and neglect to explore, and he’s developed a few ways to use Proteus as more than just a magic prop.  And even if there’s no way to really use each member of the massive cast, Nicieza still picks a few characters out and gives them little moments.  Cable is humanized for perhaps the first time, as he sides with Marvel Girl against Cyclops’ “Trick the Kids into Suicide” plan.  Beast points out that this seems out-of-character, leading Cable to snap that Beast has no idea who he truly is.  These brief exchanges are what make Cable tolerable in his early years, and it’s too bad the ongoing X-Force series drops them in favor of shoot-you-in-the-back Cable.  The closing, which shows that Moira pushed Proteus away because she knew that the Shadow King would never allow her to truly love him (and, presumably, to prevent Shadow King from possessing someone as powerful as Proteus), is also a smart use of the current status quo.  Previously, the ongoing Shadow King plot has been a nuisance that Nicieza had to ignore, but he finds a way to use it quite well this issue.  

It’s always grating to read a sequel that doesn’t match up to the original, however, and in comparison to the initial Proteus storyline, this simply lacks the heart, innovation, and sheer creepiness of the original.  The plot’s needlessly complex, there are characters everywhere and almost none of them contribute to the actual story, and Proteus and Piecemeal are never as sympathetic as I think Nicieza wanted them to be.  There’s also the suicide plan, hatched by Cyclops of all people, which could’ve lead to a serious ethical dilemma for the teams, but the debate turns out to be pretty tepid.  Plus, the ending hints that there’s a sequel coming…a sequel to a sequel that didn’t need to be told.  Please, no.

The Killing Stroke Part Three - Sacrificial Lambs
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Steven Butler (penciler), Joe Rubenstein (inker), Mike Thomas (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  Pyro and Blob fight back against Desert Sword, while Avalanche rescues Crimson Commando and accompanies him on their helicopter.  When Avalanche discovers Pyro killed Dr. Kurtzmann, he orders the helicopter to leave so that Commando can receive medical attention.  Realizing they have no options, Pyro and Blob surrender to the remaining members of Desert Sword.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Desert Sword member Veil is killed by Pyro, and the Arabian Knight is seriously wounded by Blob.
  • As far as I know, no story has explained how Pyro and Blob escaped Iraqi custody.  They soon reappear in X-Force #5.
  • Crimson Commando was supposed to appear next in Erik Larsen’s Spider-Man #18, but was altered at the last moment into “Cyborg X.”  At one point, Fabian Nicieza and Erik Larsen pitched a run on X-Factor that included a cybernetic Crimson Commando as a member.  Years later, Crimson Commando will reappear as a cyborg, just not Cyborg X, in X-Factor #102.

Review:  The end of Freedom Force, paving the way of course for the X-Factor revamp, and the return of Blob and Pyro to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  By the standards of annual back-ups, this is rather intense material, and it might even be the earliest example of a team just getting eviscerated during their final battle.  As I’ve said before, this serial seemed daring in 1991, and while not all of it holds up, there is a sense of unreality to the story that still appeals to me.  Given that most of the Freedom Force cast consisted of horrible people, maybe it’s just fun to see them meet horrible fates.  Characters getting mutilated, killed, left for dead…it’s a cheap way to close out a concept now, but I was absolutely enthralled by it at the time.

Tribute the Third
Credits:  Peter David (writer), Guang Yap (penciler), Joe Rubenstein (inker), Steve Buccellato & Marie Javins (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary:  As Mystique prepares to spread Destiny’s ashes, she flashes back to their previous cruise on the ship.  Mystique recalls Destiny’s futile desire to hear her laugh.  In the present, Mystique releases the ashes at the precise moment Destiny asked her to, which results in the wind blowing the ashes directly in her face.  Mystique finally laughs, as she sings the lyrics to the Beatles song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”

Continuity Notes:  Mystique is actually believed dead at this point in continuity, which means this story must predate her “death” in Uncanny X-Men #266.

Review:  I wonder how Marvel got away with using copyrighted Beatles lyrics.  I know we were a less litigious society twenty-three years ago, but this would seem like something a lawyer would’ve caught even then.  Regardless, this is Mystique’s farewell to Destiny, running in the X-Factor annual because…why not?  The idea is to contrast Mystique’s perpetual anger over mutant oppression with Destiny’s peaceful view on life, a perspective her precognitive powers give her as she sees the world from a much larger perspective.  The major problem with the story is Mystique’s portrayal, since I seem to remember Mystique acting like a fairly well-rounded individual when around Destiny.  Destiny didn’t have to go through some elaborate plot to get Mystique to laugh; that seemed to happen naturally (even if her “laugh” might occasionally be an evil cackle).  This wouldn’t be the first inconsistent Mystique portrayal, however, and David is able to use Destiny’s powers in some creative ways over the course of just a few pages.  As a simple story about two friends (and that's still the official line at this time) saying goodbye, it’s enjoyable.


cyke68 said...

There are some decent ideas in here that make the story more readable than its plot summary would suggest, it's just that Nicieza isn't really able to go anywhere with them. The role reversal in Cyclops and Cable's respective positions is interesting, though illogical in context. Oddly enough, it's entirely consistent with both their characters today - Cable, as the enlightened mutant messiah, and Cyclops as the "by any means necessary" ruthless pragmatist. However, the Cable we'd come to know up to that point was the militant drill sergeant who, at best, showed a glimmer of humanity from time to time. He might acknowledge the distasteful nature of their actions, but I can't see the Cable of 1991 having any serious qualms about killing the Proteus/Piecemeal hybrid if the opportunity presented itself. Cyclops, meanwhile, was still towing the "heroes don't kill" line pretty hard. I could see him freaking out if we were strictly revisiting Proteus, but there's a also Piecemeal to consider, a guiltless, confused, horribly abused child. It ought to resonate with Archetypical Hero Cyclops, or cause him some conflict at least.

Early hints at the Cable as Nathan Christopher mystery, then? The issue does kind of foreshadow Scott's... ummm... willingness, to dispense with a child when backed into a corner. And Cable, obviously identifying with that abandoned child as an explanation for his reaction otherwise flying in the face of his usual methods. I wonder if this was Nicieza playing off of X-Factor's "Endgame" wrap-up. In any event, the whole thing simply reads a lot better in light of subsequent developments. (It make me curious to think of other stories for which this is true.)

The lack of any real comeuppance for Harness is also problematic. I'm not saying I needed to see her head lopped off, but... some catharsis beyond, "Gosh, she was his mother. Child abuse, it's a cryin' shame" would've been appropriate. Or hell, go in the opposite direction and have her get away with everything, to the consternation of all and the system that failed poor Piecemeal, etc. Ultimately, this was heady subject matter to drop in without exploring beyond the surface elements.

Between the composite Proteus-Piecemeal going kablooey and Legion losing his shit, Muir Island sure caught hell in 1991, didn't it?

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

While I would never advocate bringing Proteus back, I will say that I don't think his return here bothered as much as it could have simply because he came back but was put down again in the course of the story (and really, was only "back" for one issue), which is a lot better than bringing him back then leaving him alive to become a recurring villain.

Scott's whole suicide plan does seem really out of character, especially considering he'd just sacrificed his own kid, something which you'd think would have him arguing the other side of things, and in general, I don't recall Nicieza taking much advantage of the parallels between that story and this one.

As far as I know, no story has explained how Pyro and Blob escaped Iraqi custody.

I could have sworn one of those X-Force issues mentioned that Toad broke them out, which is why they're working with him. Maybe it was somewhere else. Maybe even the first X-Men Forever.

Harry Sewalski said...

At one point, Fabian Nicieza and Erik Larsen pitched a run on X-Factor that included a cybernetic Crimson Commando as a member. Years later, Crimson Commando will reappear as a cyborg, just not Cyborg X, in X-Factor #102.

If memory serves, the concept and design of X-Factor!Commando was reused by Larsen for Ameripatriot from Savage Dragon. (I forget what his name is; I've never actually read Savage Dragon. Superpatriot, maybe?)

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