X Marks the Spot

And after coming over all Wolverine, we obviously need a touch of X-cess.

X-Factor – Super Unnatural

Written by Peter David, illustrated by Leonard Kirk, & Valentine De Landro

The X-Factor team returns to the home town of leader Jamie Madrox for a routine assignment, but then a young boy they met goes missing and his mother is killed only to return as a zombie. The team has run into the demon Bloodbath, and dealing with him costs the life of Jamie Madrox, who controls clones of himself. It is also revealed that when team member Layla returns others to life, they come back minus their souls, all of which is the prompt for some internecine strife regarding the morality of what she does. This is an interesting book, though not one that initially grabbed me. The whole framing story with super heroes just popping in to visit the woman who lives in a house that belonged to one of them struck me as a highly contrived way to usher us into the main story. And that narrative too seemed a little bit forced, a battle against demonic forces that didn’t really serve any purpose beyond being a battle against demonic forces. Nonetheless it was entertaining enough, with characters who were entirely new to me, with well-defined powers and diverse personalities. In short, these people were interesting, and the controversy that arises within their ranks only adds to that, with the case both for and against a soulless revival being presented fairly and in a way so that the reader doesn’t really know which side to fall on. Some excellent artwork throughout only adds to the rewards of the book.

X-Factor – They Keep Killing Madrox

Written by Peter David, illustrated by Emanuela Lupacchino

This is a follow on from the previous volume, with Madrox’s body in a freezer while Layla agonises over whether to bring him back to life at the cost of his soul, and his spirit moves through various other worlds at the behest of a mysterious bearded mystic. In one world Maddox finds himself in a hotel room next to the dead body of Layla on their wedding night. In a second world most of humanity has been wiped out and Tony Stark, with an army of Iron Man robots, fights a losing battle against this reality’s mutant overlords. In a third world Madrox finds himself up against a hybrid of Dr. Strange and Dormammu. Back in our world, Wolverine is trying to revive the spirits of the X-Factor team and various internal arguments are playing out. While the previous book felt almost minimalistic, there’s a cosmic scale to this one with Madrox passing through all these dimensions, each brought to vivid life on the page, with some breathtaking artwork. Each one seems to offer a variation on events that took place or will take place in our world, but at the end we’re no nearer a solution to what it all means or the role of the bearded mystic who seems to be influencing events, spelling out very clearly that this is part of an ongoing story and not a standalone adventure. Events in the real world add an element of poignancy and serve to ground the cosmic aspects, with the heroes hanging with each other and arguing about religion and faith, and the presence of Wolverine giving a certain gravitas to it all. I enjoyed this book, though in the end the lack of any real resolution was disappointing. I feel that if you’re going to publish several issues of a comic book in the graphic novel format, then they should be self-contained, more or less.

X-Men – Secret Invasion

Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Cary Nord, & M. A. Sepulveda

It’s called ‘Secret Invasion’, and from what I’ve been reading elsewhere I understand that there is a ‘secret’ dimension to the Skrull invasion of Earth, but what happens here is all pretty much in the open, with a Skrull armada attacking San Francisco and the X-Men defending. Cyclops leads the defenders, battling an army of Super Skrulls, while Emma Frost penetrates the enemy’s psychic defenses. Finally, with civilian lives on the line, Hank/Beast comes up with a biological weapon that will negate the threat, but raises moral questions as it could result in genocide. From an artwork perspective, all the panels seem done in muted colours and with almost misty imagery, though at the same time nothing that isn’t clearly delineated. It’s extremely effective in conveying the madness and confusion of warfare. Similarly the story works well, showing the various moves and counter moves that take place as the conflict unfolds, with the Skrull commander abandoning concepts of honour to achieve his aims and ethical questions raised regarding the X-Men’s solution. Primarily, this is an action packed book, and not one where any personal matters are moved along, and as far as that goes it stands alone very well, with a gripping and engaging story. The book also contains “X-Factor”, a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Fantastic Four #250, and being an anniversary issue it’s stuffed full of guest appearances (and I believe I have this very issue, bagged and boxed in the garage). Gladiator, Praetor of the Imperial Guard of the Sh’iar Empire is on Earth to capture some Skrulls. He thinks they are masquerading as the Fantastic Four, but in actual fact the Skrulls have taken the form of the X-Men, which makes for some interesting fights in a sort of free for all, with Spider-Man and Captain America also wading into the action. It’s all good fun, though what struck me most about the story is how dated the artwork feels, with its clear lines and poster bright colours.

X-Men – Five Miles South of the Universe

Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Steve Kurth & Khoi Pham

Rogue leads a small team of X-Men including Magneto to the other end of the universe to rescue another group of X-Men, trapped aboard a colossal space station where a war is being fought between the Shi’ar (note different spelling) and the insect like Grad Nan Holt. Complications are added by the presence of the Starjammers, a threat to the stability of the station, and the mutant Friendless, whose mind power succeeds in turning the X-Men against each other. It gets complicated. Back home personal decisions are made, with the X-Men dividing into two groups, each with competing agendas. It’s a big scale adventure, one where you pretty much need a score card to keep track of who is who and what they are supposed to be doing. There is some sumptuous artwork, with a sense of wonder underlying the action, but at the same time it all felt a tad rushed, as if there was a clock ticking away in the background (and actually there was with the space station being drawn into the star it orbited). I think greater familiarity with the large cast of characters would have enabled me to get more out of the book, but as was I enjoyed it purely for the spectacle.

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