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

22 April 2011

X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime

Collects: X-Factor #46-50 and X-Factor Special: Layla Miller (2008, 2009)

Released: April 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785138372

What is this?: Madrox’s sojourn in the Summers Rebellion ends, and the present-day team deals with the mysterious Cortex.

The culprits: Writer Peter David and penciler Valentine de Landro

The third volume of X-Factor is a title that has changed a great deal from its original concept. In the beginning, writer Peter David made the X-Factor into the name of a detective agency helping those in Mutant Town, a sort of mutant noir book. And then Mutant Town went away when Scarlet Witch made mutants go away. And then even dealing with former mutants and whatever crap was going on with Sentinels and the like in other X-titles wasn’t part of the book either.

So I’m up to X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime, and what do we have? Time travel. Layla Miller. A dystopic future. The Summers Rebellion — a plot idea dropped by Bishop in the early ‘90s, for Magneto’s sake. As Madrox might say, time travel isn’t very noir.

X-Factor, v. 8: Overtime coverOvertime’s story is spread over two threads in two different time frames. In the future, Madrox tries to find out why one of Scott Summer’s soldiers vanished from time and space for a few seconds. This is quickly forgotten once Madrox enlists the help of the near-senile Victor von Doom; Doom tinkers and the interpersonal dynamics mark time until the climactic fight scene. In the present, an assassin from the future toys with the team during a big fight scene … until the fight scene in the future needs one of the participants.

I’m selling the present-day fight scene short, actually. It features David’s usual wit, and it gives each character something to do against Cortex, an assassin who annoyingly is invulnerable to physical damage. These kinds of fights tend to have unimpressive resolutions — there’s a scientific device that works against the villain’s weaknesses or the heroes eventually punch the villain enough or there’s some sort of cheat. In this case, David combines the first and last of these in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheat or a cheap resolution. Cortex’s invulnerability does give the fight scene a reason to continue through four issues, and it allows some great character moments from M and Siryn. On the other hand, the revelation of Cortex’s identity, while unexpected, isn’t one of the top reveals I’ve ever seen; it feels like a clichéd resolution, even if it isn’t. I’m also not too wild about giving Shatterstar a new power — teleportation doesn’t fit too well into the power set of an otherdimensional gladiator, but these things happen in comics all the time.

The future storyline feels padded, although there are a few parts that are affecting. The reader feels Madrox’s frustration after he realizes he’s meeting mass murderer Trevor Fitzroy before he became evil yet can do nothing to stop Fitzroy’s dark future. Watching Victor von Doom slide into and out of senility was both sad and amusing, but fortunately, David elevated his appearance above that of a one-note joke. The romantic scenes between Layla and Madrox mostly worked from Layla’s point of view, but it seems a little soon after Jamie accepted Siryn’s marriage proposal (which, to be fair, was implicitly rescinded) for another romance. I sympathized with Layla’s frustration at watching events play out as she remembered them, feeling helpless to change anything.

When you have a character like Layla, who “knows stuff,” you have to make sure everything fits together at the end. And it does — the villain’s motivation is tied up with his origin, Fitzroy has a reason for the terrible things he does, and Layla’s knowledge and abilities are explained. The Layla Miller one shot takes her story from when she made Madrox abandon her in a mutant concentration camp during Messiah CompleX until she shows up at the end of X-Factor, v. 7: Time and a Half. I’m surprised how this issue ties everything together; looking back over the character's history, it’s amazing how David has managed to take Layla Miller from a plot device in House of M into an actual, breathing character. Now, if he could only do the same with some of the adversaries he comes up with …

The art comes from Valentine de Landro, who has been the title’s regular artist since the end of v. 6: Secret Invasion. I find it hard to get worked up about de Landro’s work. It’s good, professional quality work, and it generally tells the story well. On the other hand, it frequently makes Madrox’s dupes unrecognizable as dupes. In a couple of scenes, his “angry M” looks more like “middle-aged M.” Still, I have no overall complaints about his work, and any artist I don’t have a few nitpicks about probably doesn’t have a style.

I’m still not convinced by this direction — this time travel and Summers Rebellion stuff — but parts of it were dictated by line-wide crossovers, and most of it ends with this book. (Unless you count the Layla Miller plotlines.) David has done a good job with what he has been given — especially the Layla part — and now we can shuffle it into the background and not have to worry about it again.

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

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