Unlike the confusing jumble of b-list mutants and former villains currently cluttering Adjectiveless X-Men and Uncanny X-Men(“Karima Shapandar?” “Korvus?” “Darwin?” “Lady Mastermind?” Who the hell are these people? Who cares?), Whedon’s team is an intriguing, psychologically complex bunch of fully-realized human beings first, and a team of superheroes second. Until recently, I believed that Whedon was the only current X-Men writer capable of artfully balancing character, plot, and continuity.
Then, on a whim, I picked up Peter David’s current run on X-Factor, and was completely blown away.
Originally a direct X-Men spin-off in the 1980s and 90s, X-Factor was never a must-read book for me—probably because I didn’t have enough allowance. David, who apparently had an acclaimed run on the title during the 1990s, recently revamped reluctant hero and fan favorite Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, as a Philip Marlowe-esque detective in the limited series MadroX. Now, on X-Factor, he’s returned to reinvent the b-list mutant team as a noirish private investigation agency. The dark, gritty look and feel of the book, created by pencilers Ryan Sook and Pablo Raimondi, is unlike any other title in the X-Men franchise, and its sexy, dark humor is a welcome respite from the X-brand of super-confusing superheroics.
The team at X-Factor Investigations—originally “XXX Investigations,” until Madrox was told that it sounded like he was investigating porn—is a ragtag bunch of mutants. First time team leader Madrox, who possesses the bizarre ability to create a clone of himself whenever he bumps into anything, is feeling more than a little scattered after his self-proclaimed “great odyssey of learning,” in which he sent several “dupes” all over the world to study Buddhism in Tibet, attend law school, and become an Olympic gymnast. Upon reabsorbing the “dupes”—each of which manifests a different aspect of his core personality—Madrox gains whatever knowledge and experiences they’ve acquired during their time away from “Jamie Prime.” As a result, his mind’s a fractured, indecisive mess. Or as he puts it: “I see all the options, and I want to do all of them.”
Rahne Sinclair, a.k.a.Wolfsbane, the shy Scottish werewolf best known for her tenure as a New Mutant during the 1980s, has returned as a streetwise, somewhat punky field operative, torn between her religious convictions and her canine nature. She’s joined by the goofy Strong Guy, formerly of X-Factor, and Rictor, a recently depowered X-Force mutant who’s very angsty about losing his ability to cause earthquakes. Monet St. Croix, a.k.a. M, the superstrong, rich Algerian know-it-all from 90s teen hit Generation X, provides a steady stream of sarcasm. And Siryn, the sonic-screaming spitfire daughter of Irish X-Man Banshee, is strong, beautiful, and a hilarious foil to the bemused Madrox, who seems to harbor a slight crush.
Rounding out the team—and providing much of the comic’s mystery and intrigue, is a strange 12-year-old girl called Layla Miller. She, apparently, “knows stuff.” Her powers seem to work on chaos theory, and her personality, according to Siryn, is “Nostradamus meets Wednesday Addams.” Most of the book’s plots seem to hinge on Layla’s random actions, which range from unscrewing a water faucet to throwing a rock at the back of someone’s head.
Together, X-Factor work to discover the cause of the “Decimation,” Marvel’s recent company-wide decision to reduce the number of mutant characters in the Marvel Universe. Any Marvel fan worth his salt knows that it was all caused by the reality-altering powers of Magneto’s insane daughter, the Scarlet Witch, but apparently nobody bothered to tell Jamie Madrox.
Meanwhile, the United States government is pushing an initiative to force all super-powered beings to register themselves. The X-Men are for it, for some odd reason. And Madrox totally tells Cyclops off, in a move that definitively sets X-Factor apart from the impenetrable glut of X-Junk on the newsstands. Wisely, David has limited his team’s investigative area to the borders of Mutant Town, a mutant ghetto located in New York City. The small location makes for tight, fast-paced storytelling, connected to the Marvel Universe without introducing plot elements that will confuse non-Marvel readers. X-Factor: The Longest Night collects issues 1-6 of the series.
All in all, the new X-Factor is a must-read for anyone even the slightest bit interested in superhero comics or classic hard-boiled detective fiction. David succeeds in putting a new spin on the stale, spandex-clad superhero format, and injects much-needed variety into the current X-Men universe.