Wednesday, February 06, 2013

X-Factor, reminding me why I like superheroes

It should come as no surprise that there was another heated discussion behind the scenes here at Comicsand. It was the usual state of comics and the need for change in characters. The details aren’t important but I came to conclusion that's what I hate about superheroes; I get older, they stay the same age.

So how did I come to this conclusion? It started when I read X-Factor 241 -246, which comprised the ‘Breaking Points’ storyline.  I realized that while there was nothing wrong with the story, there really wasn't anything really new either.

Was it good? Yeah, for the most part it was. Peter David needed to reset the team so it’s a 5 issue arc kicking out the deadwood and streamlining the membership. Did I enjoy it? Eh, not really. Why? It starts with Peter David. I’ve been reading Peter David for over 25 years now. I know the cadence of his dialogue and the rhythm of his storylines. I know the tics of his plotting and characterization.  It’s like putting on an old pair of underwear. It’s still snug in all the right places and just loose enough in the areas that need it. But, at the end of the day, it's still an old pair of underwear. I felt I could replace Havok with Captain Marvel, or the Hulk, or Aquaman and it would be the same story.

Past the writing, I realized these are the exact same characters from 20 years ago going through the same motions.  Sure there are some changes, but I am not sure they were for the better, nor could I tell you why they happened.

In X-Factor #241, Strong Guy gets the boot. Apparently he’s no longer happy go lucky guy. Now he’s moody and depressed guy because he sold his soul. When? Couldn’t tell ya. Why? Couldn’t tell ya. The book neither explained it, nor gave me a hint as to where to go look to find the answer. Honestly, I liked old Strong Guy better. There's enough grim and gritty in the real world, I really don't need yet another hero acting that way.  And then the villains were just alternate universe versions of the core characters. I know creators don’t like to give up intellectual property but this is the best they got?  So, I had character growth which was good, but in a direction I didn't like and I had villains that were only sorta new. 

In X-Factor #242, Rahne gets the boot. Apparently she’s had a baby and Darwin tries to kill him. It was well executed but since we’re writing characters out it’s really hard to care. Not to mention, it appears to be variation #247 of Days of Future Past.

In X-Factor #243, no one gets the boot but we set the stage for Havok to go. Polaris learns she may have been responsible for killing her parents, freaks out, and starts the break up of the Havok/Polaris relationship.  I’ve been reading about their relationship for 25 years now, it's great their breaking up.  This feels like a change.  The problem is that I don't have a great deal of love for either character.  Nothing wrong with them but nothing all that exciting either.  It's another fine issue.

In X-Factor #244, Banshee gets the boot. Something occurred and she made some sacrifice that was supposed to save someone I guess. I mean this was supposed to be M-A-J-O-R. Now, here’s my snit about continuity, I have no idea the importance of what she did because David offered no explanation and the event was mired in continuity. Who was the villainess? Couldn’t tell ya. What was the big deal? Couldn’t tell ya. The book neither explained it, nor gave me a hint as to where to go look.  Honestly, unless you've been reading the last 5+ years of X-Factor, this issue was a waste of time.

Finally, X-Factor #245, the final team members leave, old ones return and.... I felt a great big nothing. 

Granted, this probably wasn't the place to start reading X-Factor after a long hiatus.  I have to say that all the issues were well executed in terms of art and story. 

But, this story didn't feel any different than Peter David's X-Factor issue #71 from October 1991.  It was the same characters.  It was the same team.  The only thing that changed were the villains... and they weren't even new villains!  If I were to say, in over 20 years, the only thing that changed were the costumes and the haircuts.
As a critic, I would say the storyline was fine and it achieved the desired task, reseting the team.  As a long time fanboy, I gotta say I wasn't thrilled.


  1. Yeah, that sums up a lot of it. Then again, I don't think DC and Marvel care. They're working on the next crop of readers who haven't read The Phoenix Saga the first time, let alone the never ending reiterations and variations. If they can hold onto new readers for 20 years, that's probably all they want, then churn it over to the next bunch. They can get us old timers to check in every now and then, or in Jim's case, with an almost masochistic regularity, but really sell us on the movies that are far more profitable.

  2. It's all about the illusion of change and when the illusion has become too familiar the thrill is gone. I tried X-Factor again and had similar issues as you did.

  3. It's interesting, I've been reading about the origin of the "illusion of change" comment back in the 70's, but I don't think many of the creators really adhered to it.

    I think the bigger root cause is the fact that the creators don't own the characters.

    Why would anyone give up an idea and see the company make millions yet you get nothing. It doesn't take much to figure out that Carl Burgos (original Human Torch), Siegal & Schuster (Superman), Kane & Fingerman (Batman), and even Kirby got screwed out of millions and millions of dollars.

    If no one is giving you ideas, then you are left with rehashing old story lines and plots.

  4. Lee - I would disagree to an extent. I think whether the statement was said or not, once you are winning you are hesitant to change. Many creators were still adding villains and new characters, I don't think until the last 15 - 20 years the lack of change was due to creators holding back. It wasn't until the advent of Image that it become apparent that there was money in holding onto your characters. And now I would think as a creator you almost have to be nuts to make up a potential character and just give it to Marvel or DC.

    Of course the flip side of that is all the many, many Golden Age and Silver Age characters that have faded into obscurity. The guy's family who created The Black Terror is not screaming about all the money he lost.

  5. Jim - I would disagree with your disagreement to an extent. I think creators have been holding back for a long, long time.

    Roy Thomas talks about holding back new characters in the late 60s. Kirby's New Gods series... they didn't appear overnight. They were made before he left Marvel. He held them back.

    Let's look at some of the most revered runs. Starlin's Warlock... modified Kirby character. Starlin's Cap'n Marvel... just adding to the history of a new character.

    The only *new* characters from the 70s that have amounted to anything would be the new X-men, Colossus, Nightcrawler, & Storm. From the 90's would be Gambit, Cable, and Deadpool. And you could argue that Gambit has since lost his luster.

    The amount of new character creation has been very slight for a very, very long time.

  6. My forays into Marvel and DC since the early '90s have been sporadic. It's been more DC than Marvel, too, which I didn't read much as a kid, so I can't tell if the characters are new or old a lot of the time. The way things are, though, I figure they're old. Now, the two best books from Marvel and DC, to me, are Thor and Wonder Woman. The former might have a new villain, as I've never heard of Gorr, but that doesn't mean he's new. There seem to be a lot of new diety pantheons being created, though, even if he's not new. Granted, most of those pantheons are dead, but that's only a temporary condition in super hero books. Wonder Woman is using the ancient characters of the Greek gods, but there are a lot of new ones who are half siblings to Diana.

    That's my limited sampling. Animal Man and Swamp Thing are nothing but old characters, so if that's reflective of books more aligned with continuity, then probably there are not many new characters.

  7. Lee - You are picking and choosing what one you want, but New Gods is owned by DC.

    I would say that it has progressively gotten worse, but even today we see the Court of Owls being added and Marvel is dropping in some New Mutants.

    What has become more prevalent are some big name talents not producing for DC/Marvel. Rucka, Brubaker and Vaughn, Ellis, Ennis, Millar and others have decided to produce work that is there own property. Now the career path is work for an indy, get a Marvel/DC gig , build up your now - go back to the indy work with a following.

    Tomato - Ta Mato