Review: All-New X-Factor #5
Well glue forks to my hands and call me Wolverine, I actually liked this issue of All-New X-Factor! I’ve been pretty hard on the series so far, but I really felt that Peter David’s writing and characters were finally starting to gel in this issue. Yes, he still has them rush off to face the next big, elaborate bad guy, but the first issue is all about slowing down the pace and letting us get to know who these characters are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. That is fundamental to appreciating fiction. You can’t just throw a bunch of superheroes onto a team together and have them fight bad guys.
Yet that’s exactly what PAD did for the start of All-New X-Factor, but he’s finally getting into the substance of why these characters are together and what motivates them to be a part of this series and this team. It’s a definite step in the right direction.
Comic Rating: 7/10 – Good.
The problem with All-New X-Factor is that it doesn’t have a soul. There doesn’t seem to be any greater purpose to the comic or any larger story that PAD is trying to tell. From issue #1, it’s felt like generic superhero mediocrity. It’s as if Marvel really wanted to relaunch X-Factor but didn’t have any good ideas, so PAD just grabbed a bunch of random X-characters and threw them together on a team. Not that any of this has really been fixed in the new issue. But at least with with All-New X-Factor #5, I’m finally starting to see what this endeavor means for these characters and why they’re putting up with it.
In a lot of ways, I definitely think PAD has a good idea on his hands; several, in fact. First there’s the idea of the first corporately-owned superhero team operating in the Marvel Universe. What does that mean for all involved and for the MU as a whole? Second, and more importantly, is the idea that these characters have all been down this road before, and they know this isn’t how such things are done. What do the superheroes themselves think when they’re randomly put together on a team? Unfortunately, five issues in, I don’t think PAD has really focused on either of those ideas very well. He really seems content to just tell random stories about his random X-heroes fighting random bad guys. That’s disappointing. I think PAD either needs to start focusing on the characters and their individual journeys or he needs to reveal the larger Serval Industries plot, because random fights against the Magus or whoever aren’t going to sell comics in this day and age.
All-New X-Factor finally delivers a worthwhile issue, but it’s not without the same faults that continue to plague this series. Join me after the jump for the full synopsis and more review.
We open with Gambit asleep in his bed at the Serval Industries compound, where even though they’re clearly evil and probably have cameras everywhere, he still sleeps naked.
All joking aside, it is in one panel on the very first page that a lot of things finally clicked into place for me about this series.
There it is. That should be the mission statement of All-New X-Factor. Something is going on at Serval Industries, this big, powerful weapons manufacturer; and funding their own superhero team is only part of it. Polaris got suckered in because Polaris is in a fragile state these days, doesn’t have anywhere else to go and was easily manipulated by Harrison Snow. He’s evil and he’s taking advantage of her, but how and why aren’t exactly clear yet. When she recruited Gambit, Polaris probably just thought she was adding a valuable, underappreciated X-Man to her team. But Gambit is smarter and wilier than that. He recognized that something was going on with Serval, and he recognized that Polaris both needed X-Factor to feel like she was accomplishing something, and unknowingly needed somebody to be there to catch her when she inevitably falls. That’s why Gambit is on this team.
And it’s great! I’m ashamed I didn’t see it sooner. This isn’t just a random assortment of superheroes (well, it is), it’s a personal journey for Polaris, with Gambit taking the noble heroic route of sacrificing his own time and energy to be there to help a friend. They may not be the best of pals or have a long history together, but Gambit saw a fellow X-Man in need, and he’s doing what he thinks he must to help her out. He can’t just confront Polaris with his doubts, because she’s not ready to hear them yet. And he can’t rally Wolverine and the others to solve this, because not only are they busy, but a full-frontal assault might not be enough to figure out what Harrison Snow is doing.
No, Gambit is doing this his way. He’s going to help Polaris and stop Serval, because fate picked him to be the hero here. And that’s just kind of awesome.
What else is awesome is the possible romance between Gambit and Danger.
Good times. I think it’d be neat. I’ve long been saying that the X-franchise needs new romances and relationships. This one might be cool. Though I also wouldn’t be opposed to Polaris finding love.
Danger is having trouble figuring herself out after the damage caused by the Thieves Guild. She wants to re-establish her previous connection to human understanding, and she’d like Gambit’s help, hence showing up in his bedroom like that. But juggling Danger was never part of Gambit’s plan, so he’s not quite sure what he’s supposed to do about her.
We then get a brief cutaway to Harrison Snow, who is apparently having an affair with Linda, the PR lady. We don’t really know enough about Linda as a person or a character to care all that much that she’s sleeping with Snow. Big whoop. Heck, I didn’t even know Snow had a wife.
Then we arrive at my favorite scene of the book, where Polaris, Quicksilver and then Gambit all sit together and have breakfast. They chat and joke and banter like real people, and I highly enjoyed the scene. I even laughed out loud at one of PAD’s jokes again.
He then immediately follows it up with a lame joke about Pietro needlessly teasing Gambit, but whatever, I can’t win them all. That ‘we’re adventurers, danger is everywhere’ line just cracked me up.
Gambit tells them about Danger’s odd behavior, and the team chats about what she might want, with Polaris bringing up the possibility that she’s sexually interested in Gambit. It’s a fun conversation, though why Pietro doesn’t mention that his sister fell in love with and married a robot is beyond me. Clearly he has specific history when it comes to humans and robots being romantically compatible, but instead he just keeps making crappy jokes to tease Gambit. It’s not that funny.
Snow shows up and asks X-Factor to attend a business meeting he has today with Lemar Smaug, an up and coming business genius type that Snow is thinking of buying out. Once again, Gambit is oddly revealed as the pop culture savvy member of the team, by recognizing the name ‘Smaug’ from The Hobbit. He even refers to Smaug as ‘the Tolkien dragon’. And again I have to ask, when has Gambit ever been this big into movie references? He quoted Star Wars, he referenced Air Force One, and here he comes with a shoutout to J.R.R. Tolkien specifically. It’s weird! Gambit is a lot of things, but I never expected ‘geeky film buff’ to be one of them.
After getting the news about the meeting, Quicksilver sneaks off at super speed to pay a quick visit to Havok to tell him about Smaug. Havok wants Pietro to stick with it until he’s confident that Polaris is safe. And this scene reminds us why Quicksilver is on the team. He too wants to help Polaris, albeit for entirely different reasons than Gambit. This should be the focus of the series, or at least get more attention paid to it, but instead PAD is more interested in random, disconnected bad guys like Lemar Smaug.
Also, apparently the members of X-Factor have to share a single, co-ed bathroom.
Pietro had used the bathroom break to slip away to see Havok. But he returns without Polaris noticing he was gone. Though as he’s leaving the bathroom, Danger notes that his pulse is racing, as if he’d been running. She wants to know where he went, but Quicksilver tells her that she’s simply mistaken.
Smaug arrives and Snow goes to meet him outside, while Linda takes X-Factor to the conference room. Danger stays behind and notes that Linda is filthy with Snow’s DNA, and the only answer for that is because they were intimate. Linda tells Danger that she’s mistaken.
In the meeting, Snow and Smaug discuss who is going to buy who out, both of them being super smart, rich guys. Then Snow introduces X-Factor so that he can flex a little muscle over the conference table, but the moment Danger enters in the room, she can see that Smaug is not even remotely human. He gets offended at the remark and stands to leave, while everyone else tells her that she’s just mistaken.
Badass moment, but she’s still being a little reckless. So what if he’s not human? Plenty of non-humans are running around the Marvel Universe. And plenty of them conduct business deals.
But Danger is right on the money. Lamar Smaug is really the Magus, the leader of the Technarchy, a classic X-Men space villain from decades ago. He transforms into his giant, evil alien self, so once again X-Factor finds themselves fighting some big bad monster. Why can’t we have an issue where they really do just engage in office politics? Where do these big, bad evil monsters keep coming from?
So everybody starts fighting the Magus, taking the fight outside to the city streets. Everybody tries to take a shot at the Magus, to varying levels of success. When Quicksilver makes his attempt, he’s blocked by Warlock, an ally of the New Mutants.
Quicksilver gives us all a quick wiki reminder: Magus is Warlock’s father, but they hate each other, so why is Warlock helping him?
Warlock and Magus teleport away while X-Factor regroups. They continue the info-dump on the Technarchy and the past relationship between Magus and Warlock. Polaris tells the team that their wikipedia-based knowledge of X-history isn’t going to be enough, they need to go to the expert on all things Warlock:
But something’s totally wrong with his eyes!
Everything before the fight with the Magus was great. Like I said earlier, I think I’ve finally figured out what’s really going on under the surface and why these characters are on this team together. I feel kind of foolish for not seeing it earlier, but then PAD isn’t really putting any effort into telling that story. He really does seem content with just having superheroes fight super-villains. But that’s not enough to sustain a comic, or at least my interest. I want to know more about what Polaris is doing to hold herself together, or Gambit’s selfless attempt to help her out simply by supporting her current dream of a cohesive superhero team. It’s a fascinating story. There are so many ways someone could try and help Polaris, but Gambit has picked his path, and I think it works for him. Quicksilver, likewise, has a solid, unique reason for being on X-Factor. All of it is coming together, and that scene over breakfast was a good example of the team coming together.
I just wish there was more focus on that and what it means for these characters and the story. PAD seems to be underestimating scenes like that, as if we should already expect these characters to be this comfortable around each other. But I think he really needs to focus on what this means for all of them right now and going forward. This is a big, grand experiment, and it’s all going to blow up in their faces someday. PAD really needs to invest some energy into what that’s going to mean for all of them. Will they just move on to the next comic they get placed in? Or will this series really establish a new sort of friendship between Gambit, Polaris and Quicksilver? I can only hope for the latter.
I think PAD is definitely going to make Danger work for this series. I like the complications she adds to Gambit’s plan, and I like the potential for a romance between them. I think it would just be neat. I don’t give two licks about any romance or even sex between Harrison Snow and Linda. I don’t even remember her last name, she matters so little to this series. Harrison and Polaris hooking up would be a twist. Harrison and random supporting character employee is not.
This Lemar Smaug/Magus thing isn’t very interesting, unless you’re a big Warlock fan, I guess. I assume this is just PAD’s way of finding a more interesting way of adding Warlock and Cypher to the team then just having them show up in the first issue already members. If he can pull off another successful issue next time, I’ll be happy. Frankly, I’m still kind of surprised I was happy with this one.