by Robert Greenberger
Much of the focus these last six months have been on the core X-titles as life in Utopia grew fractious leading up to the events of Schism. These in turn led to a new title and new directions as the mutants effectively split along geographic and political lines. What few have noticed is that off to the side, a set of mutants have stayed out of the fray and have been involved in some of the most intriguing storylines of the year. In case you have missed, you can catch up now with X-Factor: Super Unnatural. The collection reprints the jumping on issue #224.1 in addition to #225-228.
Peter David has taken his collection of misfits and done some intriguing soap opera while sending the team out as a part of their private eye agency, X-Factor Investigations. They are not your normal cases and increasingly, David has been moving the series from crime to the supernatural. Never one to be shy about issues that could create interesting drama, David’s work on the series was recognized last year with the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book and those themes have continued to play a role here as well.
We open with team leader Jamie Madrox and the enigmatic Layla Miller visiting the farm where he was raised. Of course, bad things happen there and the rest of the team deals with a demon. Layla, who seems eerily precognitive, has raised more than a few eyebrows among her peers and readers alike.
“I like the concept of X-Factor constantly struggling with the learning curve and having no freaking clue what their opponents are going to do,” David said at Comic Book Resources. “But if I’m doing supernatural threats, I want them more grounded than, say, the usual array of Doctor Strange bad guys. Plus you then have this interesting disparity of superheroes with science-based powers going head to head with these beings or creatures that are utterly arcane. Layla, thanks to her time with Doom and also her foreknowledge, manages to walk both these worlds simultaneously. Which is a long-winded way of saying that the answer to ‘is she truly interested’ or is it because she knows of ‘the challenges of the job at hand’ is yes to both.
These days the team consists of Jamie, Layla, Guido, Rahne, Longshot, Monet St. Croix, Rictor, Shatterstar and Siryn. Shatterstar and Longshot have grown as characters and as friends, with David altering their speech patterns to reflect that natural development. “Yes, the more time they spend in each other’s presence, the more they start having the same cadences and rhythms to their delivery. Which is not to say that Longshot is suddenly going to start being interested in guys; that’s not in the cards. Nor is Shatterstar suddenly going to begin having luck powers. But I’m gradually drawing increasing similarities between the two, and there’s a definite reason for that. I wanted it to be one of those things where, when you look back on it, you go, ‘Ah, of course, it all makes sense now.’”
Additionally, he noted, “One of the things I enjoy about X-Factor is that the sizable cast (although honestly, is the population of X-Factor really larger than the population of Utopia?) is that I have enough different types of characters, personalities and power sets that I can tell any type of story I want to and have it flow naturally from one or some of them. That way the team always has something personal at stake, which I think is vital to keeping the stories interesting.”
There have also been conscious efforts made to tie this outlier title more tightly with the Marvel Universe with appearances by the likes of Doctor Doom and J. Jonah Jameson but the key change to the status quo – Rictor regaining his powers – actually occurred in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and David finally reflected that in this collection of stories. “I’m always a big believer in things happening that will provide good drama,” David said. “Because now Shatterstar is going to start to wonder whether Rictor became attached to him solely because he felt vulnerable without his powers, and now is Ric suddenly going to lose interest in him. And how will that impact Rahne who, believe me, is going to have her own problems.”
Rahne, of course, just gave birth after being impregnated by a god and watched as her lupine offspring ran off into the wild.
The series has strived for a photorealistic look but has been seriously hampered by rotating artists, starting this volume with Valentine de Landro and Pat Davidson. Leonard Kirk, who has worked well with David before, seems to have settled in as the new artist and is more than up to the challenging material the writer throws his way.