Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

26 September 2008

X-Factor, v. 4: Heart of Ice

Collects: X-Factor #18-24 (2007)

Released: March 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9780785123606

X-Factor gives me hope for the future of She-Hulk.

Peter David writes both titles, and although there’s a great deal of difference between the two — solo book vs. team, title that’s new to David vs. a return to an old critical triumph — X-Factor is yet another example of what David is capable of. X-Factor, v. 4: Heart of Ice shows off the wit, plotting, and long-term thought that made David’s decade-long run on Incredible Hulk so enjoyable.

X-Factor, v. 4: Heart of Ice coverThe first part of Heart of Ice is top-notch stuff. Spinning out of the virtually ignored consequences of House of M / Decimation, a group of depowered mutants called X-Cell are using terrorism to get answers, revenge, and power. Jamie Madrox’s X-Factor, self-proclaimed guardians of New York’s Mutant Town, set out to stop X-Cell. Not only does David shape a plot that logically flows from ideas other Marvel writers created but were unwilling to touch, but he manages to further his own plots and characterizations with it. The banter is sharp, especially between arch teammates M and Siryn. The reaction of Layla Miller, whose only power is to “know stuff,” upon discovering something she doesn’t know is hilarious, and it makes the year and a half suffering through the smug character worthwhile. Rahne wars with her instinctual wolfen side, and Richter deals with another beating he could have prevented if he had his powers and a romantic subplot that is almost 20 years old (just after X-Tinction Agenda, although if you don’t know about that loose end, it won’t affect your enjoyment of the scene).

The main plot for #21-4 is less successful, revolving around Huber, a man who can hear the thoughts of all mutants and has all their powers. When there were thousands, the cacophany of thoughts in his head drove him mad. Now that there are fewer than 200 mutants, his plan is to draw them all together and eliminate them all, ending his torment. Although his plan is interesting, I never warmed to the character — it seems like a cheat for a character as afflicted and powerful as Huber to pop up out of nowhere, and his design is somewhat lackluster. In the end, Huber seems like a distraction for more interesting things: the essential wrap up of Quicksilver’s and Layla’s stories, a pregnancy scare, a pair of anti-mutant child vocalists called the Purity Singers, and a child-custody investigation. The dialogue is good, the action keeps the story moving, and the revelations keep coming, but in the end, Huber seems too much deus ex machina and too little personality or wit to carry the story.

I’m not sure what to make of Siryn getting shot, making this at least the third time she’s been severely injured since X-Factor’s relaunch (and the second time in this volume). I don’t know what David has against her, although if you were to pick a target to hurt repeatedly, you’d have to choose between her and Wolfsbane (Richter is human and thus too fragile, Madrox’s duplicates do get killed frequently, Layla’s a child, and M and Guido are too resistant to small-arms fire).

Art duties are split between Koi Pham, who pencils #18-20, and Pablo Raimondi, who draws #19-23. (It’s unclear who’s responsible for #24; it looks like Raimondi but the credits say “art assists” were given by Valentine de Landro and Drew Hennessy.) Both do good work, and although their styles are distinct, they mesh well enough Heart of Ice avoids the usual penciller-switch whiplash. Pham’s style is rougher and not as detailed, but his flabby, depowered Blob is especially memorable. Raimondi has a smoother style that takes advantage of shadow with excellent effect, although at times the shadow seems a little too pronounced. As I mentioned above, I think he could have established a more striking visual for Huber; Colossus with a cloak and one of Cyclops’s eyes doesn’t seem as quite as interesting as it could be.

I enjoyed this volume, and though I’m looking forward to more X-Factor, I know it won’t be this team; Messiah CompleX put an end to that. But I’m sure it will still be entertaining.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (3 of 5)

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