All-New X-Factor v2: Change of Decay

Cover for All-New X-Factor v2: Change of Decay

*Note: This was a review written by me for a previous website.

X-Factor is, in a very broad sense, a long-form story that Peter David has been working on for several decades now, off and on.  In the 90s he helmed the repurposing of X-Factor from a secondary title starring the original X-Men (the main X-Book at the time still featured the characters primarily introduced in Giant Sized X-Men) to a group of C- and D-listers who worked for the US government as a sponsored team.  He had a pretty impressive run going at the time, and even managed to produce some comics that are generally remembered as classics (the issue where the team visits a psychiatrist — which was drawn by current Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada — in particular).  In the 2000s he reunited most of the team, plus some new members, as agents of Multiple Man‘s detective agency, also called X-Factor.  That series ran for an impressive 114 issues before finally getting relaunched earlier this year as All-New X-Factor, which brought Polaris and Quicksilver along from the previous team, but rounded out the cast with four new members.  The link between the three volumes is largely in name only, and though there are references between the books they each stand alone as distinctly different entities.

So if the original X-Factor was about being a government team, and the second book was about being mutant private eyes, the third book is distinctively about being a corporate team.  This is not a new concept in comics, and the X-Men themselves had a public facing company called X-Corporation for a number of years.  Additionally, the second X-Factor book featured an evil corporation as its main antagonist for many of its early issues, the Singularity Investigations, so this is not even new ground for X-Factor, really.  The version from that book had a fairly singular goal, though, which was largely to prevent Jamie Madrox and his team of investigators from reversing the effects of M-Day, which got rid of most of the mutants in the Marvel universe.  The corporation itself was not evil, but instead was a means to an end to accomplish this goal, and as such it never played too much into things except as an income source for the villains.  In All-New X-Factor we are twelve issues into the series and we have already encountered two corporations headed by supervillains, and it is a safe bet that X-Factor’s own sponsor, Serval Industries, is not on the up-and-up, either.  The first corporate super-villain was Magus, who has been the antagonist of new X-Factor team member Warlock, was introduced to this series in the first tradepaperback of the series.  The relationship between Warlock and Magus has been rather played out over time, so fortunately that got dropped near the outset, and with no actual reason for them to fight the team left Magus in control of his corporate empire (he was not doing anything wrong).

Let us divert for a second and have a quick history lesson.  In the 70s, 80s and 90s the style of storytelling in comics, particularly at Marvel, was to have a core plot in play around which dozens of smaller subplots would revolve.  The subplots were independent of the major plot in most cases (though frequently the major plot would be the direct result of a long running subplot), and would continue through several stories — sometimes spanning multiple years, or even decades.  This made comics an interesting read month-to-month since you could always hope that your favorite subplot(s) would get picked up for a bit and pushed forward on its journey, but was not particularly helpful for getting them collected into tradepaperbacks since it made picking beginning and end points very difficult.  This is why a lot of those classic stories tend to get bundled in with seemingly unrelated comics which may only be there to help establish a plot point for the story you are really looking for.  In the 90s the number of dangling subplots reached absurd levels, especially in the X-Books, with writers and editors just throwing out random, vague hints about horrible things without actually bothering to know anything about what the clues were supposed to lead up to (Onslaught is an exceptional example of this).

In October 2000 the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man came out, and everything changed.  The book was written with a single plot in mind: update the origin of Spider-Man for the modern day.  Everything else was periphery and unnecessary, and although it took several issues to get there (in the unfortunate side effect of this change, decompressed story-telling), there was little doubt as to where the first story arc ended, and the next began.  Very little transferred between the individual trades except for certain, significant plot points, and the idea of long-running subplots fell by the wayside.  Now, 14 years later, the idea of “writing for the trade” is the norm, and holding to the older styles is often seen as rather archaic.  What I am leading to with all this is that All-New X-Factor is not a book designed for modern audiences trained on fourteen years worth of trade-writing, but instead is a throwback to the older days of smaller plots and incremental advances.

This second volume of All-New X-Factor is pretty good evidence of that, certainly.  Picking up shortly after volume one ends, the team are still disturbed about their encounter with Magus and go through a quick debriefing about that.  Do not mistake this for thinking that we are going to revisit the Magus right away, though, since the team has a new mission to work on.  A young girl, Georgia Dakei, is living with her overbearing and highly overprotective father out in the middle of nowhere, and she is sick of it.  There are strong hints that the team is only interested in helping the girl because her father is a well-known author of popular books, who also happens to be heavily anti-mutant.  His books do not actually push his anti-mutant agenda, but he is rather vocal in his viewpoint outside of the books.  So he is essentially a not-very-well disguised Orson Scott Card, but that is also generally irrelevant since his status as an author has no impact on the story (except for giving Danger a chance to vocalize Peter David’s view that an author’s work should be separate from his public work), and any other part of Mr. Dakei’s personality appears to be unrelated to Mr. Card’s.  I am fairly certain, for instance, that Mr. Card does not reside in a compound which doubles as a military grade bunker that has enough firepower to level a small army, and nor does he shoot out the webcams of his family’s computers when they say things he does not like on the Internet.  All of which is largely irrelevant since X-Factor can basically do whatever they want to Mr. Dakei with impunity since his defenses are child’s play to them.  It takes a break from the usual superheroics, which is nice, but the main point really seems to be to setup a number of plots which will expand out of this book and beyond.  Mr. Dakei is pretty much forgotten as soon as the arc is over and, amazingly enough, Georgia’s real mom is located (she was apparently adopted) and the team pays her a visit.

This brings us into the book’s second major corporate villain, the previously unknown Memento Mori.  He is Georgia’s real father, and has been looking for her for years, but could not find her because she was given up for adoption.  While he clearly self-identifies as a supervillain, he is more interested in corporate profits and boardroom meetings than in using his (not inconsiderable) powers to bring the world to heel.  This is largely the same approach that Magus used in book one, so we now have two villains following essentially the same path.  I highly doubt that is a coincidence or oversight on Mr. David’s part.  Considering that many of the book’s other subplots concern the mysterious leader of Serval Industries, the theme of corporate entities as the new superpowers (complete with giant forcefields and legions of rent-a-cops on segways) is pretty heavily hit by this book.  Where Mr. David is going with this precisely is still up in the air, but given his other favorite hobby — subverting reader expectations — I fully believe it will be an enjoyable ride.

As a story the second volume of All-New X-Factor is hit-and-miss, with unfortunately more misses than hits.  The entire story revolving around Georgia Dakei relies entirely too heavily on coincidences and plot conveniences.  It may be that this will come together later in the series (a common fact of those older style stories is that often subplots do not make sense until farther down the road), but for now there is just too much going on to let it reasonably slide.  While there is a certain amount of resolution to Memento Mori’s story in this book, it is clear that he is being setup as a longer term villain and we should not read much into his defeat here.  It makes the story a tad unsatisfying as a result.  But, as noted above, the major plots are not the point.  This book is clearly meant to be read as part of a whole, and it will be far more interesting to see how the plots developed here transform down the road.  There is a lot of ground yet to cover, and Mr. David has proven time and again that he is up to the challenge.

All-New X-Factor v2: Change of Decay is available now on Amazon or at your local comic shop.

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