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

20 June 2009

X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion

Collects: X-Factor v. 3 #33-8 and She-Hulk v. 2 #31 (2008-9)

Released: May 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785128656

What is this?: X-Factor! She-Hulk! Skrulls! Darwin! Longshot! Try and contain yourself.

The culprits: Writer Peter David and penciler Larry Stroman (along with three others)

The math, at least, makes sense: She-Hulk is a second-tier title that had a reason to do a Secret Invasion (a subtle invasion by the shape-shifting aliens, the Skrulls) tie-in despite having little connection to the main plot. She-Hulk is written by Peter David. David also writes X-Factor. Since neither sell phenomenally well (She-Hulk has since been cancelled), make them cross over!

It makes sense, but the final answer, X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion, doesn’t quite come out right. It’s a shame, really.

Jazinda, a Skrull, is She-Hulk’s sidekick. She and She-Hulk bull their way into Detroit (X-Factor’s new home town!), where the talisman of Skrull victory, a figure just below the Skrull gods, is hanging out, waiting for the war to begin (or end, perhaps). Why Detroit? you might ask. Why not Detroit? Not everything has to happen in New York … admittedly, everything does have to happen in America or within 100 miles of its northern border.

X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion coverWhat’s amazing is what David manages to get out of the crossover. Admittedly, I expected nothing good to come of it, and he’s writing both ends of the story. But given how his story seems shoehorned into the cracks of the Secret Invasion event, it’s very readable. Not the plot, so much; that feels as if David said, “Plot? Who’s concerned about plot at this late stage in Secret Invasion?” No, it’s the characters that make the story readable and fun. The characterization of the X-Factor members doesn’t feel forced: it feels like a normal issue. The same goes for She-Hulk and Jazinda, although I’m not a big fan of Jazinda, and She-Hulk is in a “not playing well with others” stage. Darwin, introduced in Ed Brubaker’s wretched X-Men: Deadly Genesis, seems to flail around, but that seems to be his role: the person confused by everything as the plot revolves around them, and unable to do much about it.

What doesn’t help is Larry Stroman. He teamed up with David on his acclaimed ’90s X-Factor run. Unfortunately, it’s not the ‘90s any more, and his distorted style makes the characters look more like refugees from Marvel Apes, at times, than humans or Skrulls. It’s … not good, not good at all. Figures are distorted, exaggerated, twisted, and stripped of their differences, and not in a good way. It’s impossible for me to evaluate the work of Valentine de Landro, Nelson, and Vincenzo Cucca, who each contribute an issue; after Stroman’s work, anything looks good.

The second half of Secret Invasion is much better. The real Longshot, from Chris Claremont’s long X-Men run, is dropped into the cast, and the team’s reactions are both funny and spot on. The story is mainly an excuse to drop him and Darwin into the cast and see what happens; meanwhile, subplots aplenty advance satisfactorily, and there’s an unexpected twist at the end. Madrox’s development in particular is going in directions I didn’t expect.

Secret Invasion is a poor jumping-on point for new readers, not so much because it would leave them confused but because they would be put off by Stroman’s art or grow attached characters who might not be around for much longer (Darwin and Longshot). Even She-Hulk readers are unlikely, I think, to jump over to X-Factor, even if it’s continuing after She-Hulk has been cancelled. But it’s another of those books that reward the readers, the ones who are watching the development of the characters and appreciate all those character jokes.

The value of Secret Invasion lies not so much in its intrinsic qualities as it does in how Peter David manages to get excellent returns on a cast and idea I wouldn’t have bet would last a year. And that’s so amazing we lose track of how amazing it is.

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

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