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Aug 3

X-Factor #6-10

Posted on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

X-FACTOR vol 4 #6-10
by Leah Williams, David Baldeón, David Messina & Israel Silva

Well, that was sudden.

Abrupt cancellations used to be a fact of life at Marvel. For a while they even had a fun little experiment with cancelling new ongoing titles before the first issue had shipped. But before that there was the sudden cancellation, where a series ended out of the blue with a final issue in which the writer was blatantly scrabbling to tie up as many loose ends as possible and vaguely hoping that anything else might get picked up in Marvel Two-in-One.

The second volume of X-Factor is just that sort of old-school cancellation. It’s an odd thing to encounter in a line that, in the Krakoan era, has generally felt quite masterplanned. Sure, Fallen Angels was quietly taken out behind the woodshed and put out of its misery after one arc, but that was a book that obviously didn’t work, and it ran to a somewhat natural break point. X-Factor is just a guillotine.

And books like this are tricky to write about, because inevitably the stories don’t achieve their potential. We can speculate about how they would have played out at full length, but there’s a risk there of wishful thinking.

But let’s start with the positive. There’s a lot that X-Factor does very well – or at least idiosyncratically – even in these closing issues. One of the book’s great strengths is its use of offbeat detail to make the characters feel more rounded. Prodigy and Eye-Boy sitting around reading about nineteenth-century beekeeping? Sure, why not! An entire body farm being set up in the back garden so that Prodigy can study decomposition? Absolutely. Of course, it’s a zombie supplier for the Morrigan arc. But it feels like it was going to be more than that. X-Factor is the sort of book where characters can decide to take up the study of corpse decay and it feels natural.

It doesn’t exactly have a traditional team dynamic – the characters tend to pursue their own subplots in units of one or two – but there’s a convincing sense of everyone living together. The Boneyard stands out on Krakoa as a location that’s really been designed – it’s distinctive, it’s recognisable, it’s a home. These details matter in bringing a story to life. David Baldeón is a good artist for conversation – and this is quite a talky book – but he also makes great use of conventional storytelling as a baseline so that he can save the visual fireworks for strange visuals that convey a sense of someone that sees the world in different terms.

All this is great. But, through no real fault of the creative team, you’d struggle to say that this book delivers a satisfying story. It has a whole bunch of plotlines in the air, some of which clearly weren’t intended to come to fruition just yet. The A-plot over most of these issues is the Morrigan arc, which calls back to an old Peter David X-Factor arc in which Siryn became the host for the Morrigan. This isn’t a particularly well remembered story, it’s a good few years old, and I’d have thought a rather fuller recap of it would have been a good move. But fair enough, the broad thrust is there. And the basic idea works: the death god is stuck on an island where nobody can actually die, but then again maybe it’s also an island where people are dying all the time. The mystery of why Siryn keeps dying is nicely set up and the initial investigation phase works. I could live without Trevor’s cutesy “tiny secrets” schtick – how does Daken put up with this kid? – but the intrigue is there. And the horror sequence that dominates issue #8 is very nicely executed.

But… then there’s the bit where the pay off should be. After the Morrigan spends most of an issue taking out X-Factor one by one, she gets beaten by the unified team in a sequence so fast that it seems like an afterthought – and that’s in issue #8, before the cancellation news seems to have come down. Issue #9 then goes into overdrive in an attempt to tie up the storyline, racing in pages through what seems suspiciously like a whole planned arc in order to get Shatterstar back from Mojoworld, so that he can defeat the Morrigan. It’s hopelessly rushed, and whatever point the story was really trying to make with the Morrigan gets lost.

Issue #10 – which has the additional task of being a “Hellfire Gala” tie-in, and dealing with the murder of the Scarlet Witch – then tries its best to resolve a storyline in which Prodigy investigates the circumstances of his own previous death. A lot of time had been spent on setting this storyline up, so it’s absolutely understandable that an attempt was made to resolve it. But the upshot is that the book races at warp speed through what seems to have been a planned story about a serial killer. This story doesn’t work on a number of levels. It has no space to say anything about this guy beyond the fact that he’s very bad and we should cheer for him getting taken down. The plot mechanics are confusing: if Prodigy was deliberately leaving a message for himself, why did he do it in such an obscure way? And if he knew resurrection was an option, does that mean this death happened after the Krakoan era? In which case, why does he think he died earlier than that, when the X-Men were still based in New York? And on top of that, Prodigy’s arc sort of gets trodden on by Trevor showing up to show us that he’s powerful now.

That’s all assuming you don’t get the topical reference (which, if you live outside America, you’re unlikely to). The villain is very obviously intended as a reference to Ed Buck. Buck was convicted on various charges about a month after the issue came out. I have to admit to being deeply uncomfortable with the idea of using something so recent as such an obvious template for a story, all the more so when it winds up coming out in this superficial fashion.

X-Factor had particular problems in trying to wrap up its stories quickly. It’s a very dense book at the best of times, which doesn’t leave much scope for further compression. It had multiple storylines on the go, some of which clearly needed months to get to their intended destination. The one that resolves most satisfyingly may be the Aurora / Northstar plot, which didn’t need all that much done to get them to a steady state.

But with hindsight, these last two issues were trying to cram too much in, even in the circumstances. The Shatterstar thread doesn’t have enough space to work, so the book would have been better off dumping it and just having X-Factor deal with the Morrigan themselves. Perhaps Shatterstar was needed back for Excalibur, but it seems unlikely they were expecting him just yet. The Eye-Boy elements in issue #10 could have been dropped as well – the plot about him becoming increasingly powerful had only just begun to move into the foreground and it could have been parked for someone else to pick up in due course, leaving Prodigy’s arc to play out solo. But at the same time, I can see why they want to resolve as much as they can.

It’s an underwhelming finish for a book that had a lot of promise. But that’s what happens when stories are cut off.

Bring on the comments

  1. Tim XP says:

    Part of me wonders if the rushed conclusion of X-Factor is an indication that whatever Hickman has planned for Inferno will take the resurrection protocols off the table or at least change the Krakoa setup in a way that renders this book’s remit obsolete. Though if that’s the case, editorial really could have done a better job of coordinating things.

  2. Mathias X says:

    “Though if that’s the case, editorial really could have done a better job of coordinating things.”

    Without sarcasm, what the hell does Marvel editorial even do? That nobody pumped the brakes on the last two issues of X-Factor and asked for rewrites tells me they’re either asleep at the wheel or think Hickman left them with a driverless car. Nobody was able to hit pause and go “let’s think about this further” on the Franklin retcon? Nobody was able to say, “I’m not sure if Phoenix being Thor’s mother is appropriate”? I hate to be so disrespectful, but as near as I can tell, the only thing the line editors do anymore is give interviews, while letting their writers sink or swim.

    The way X-Factor ended was disgraceful, and I understand why people don’t want to give Leah Williams the benefit of the doubt. But we should be asking where the hell the editors were.

  3. The Other Michael says:

    And it’s a real shame because this book, unlike some of the others, was actually dealing with some of the more interesting and weirder implications of the whole resurrections process.

    Leah Williams isn’t my favorite writer, but she’s still leaps ahead of Tini Howard when it comes to characterization and coherent plotting, so it sucks that her series got axed so quickly when she was clearly writing old school, setting things up for longer storylines.

  4. Loz says:

    It’s odd that they killed it quite so quickly when there’s a gap between the Gala and whatever happens next of a few months so they could have had one more tie-in issue. But I suppose the trades are five issues now rather than six so editorial probably thought they’d reached their arbitrary page count and didn’t have to do any more.

  5. sagatwarrior says:

    They just keep cancelling X-Factor. The previous volume was also prematurely cancelled as well. It was going for the same business theme that the current X-Corps is going for. While exploring the resurrection process and all the implications and intrigue that goes along with it, I just don’t think having an entire ongoing series was the right idea. Digging in the weeds of previous continuity such as Shatterstar’s time in Mojoworld or Siryn’s life as the Morrigan just was not appealing enough.

  6. El Bryanto says:

    How much role are the characters from X-Factor going to play in the Trial of Magneto? It seems like that would be a natural transition for them to get involved in that.

  7. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Well, they are in the beginning of the trailer for that miniseries and later they gradually make room for more central X-Men.

    Which I bet is what will happen in the book as well.

  8. Evilgus says:

    I was genuinely sad this one was so swiftly curtailed. The writer seemed motivated by genuine investment in the characters, using continuity while still playing in the new Krakoa sandbox for interesting ideas. Bah!

    And yes, editors seem all over the place sometimes. I don’t like how they seem to enjoy their own cult of celebrity. I see more interviews with them then I do writers. If they are on the book, I don’t want to know their favourite characters or ones they want to chop – they should be publicly agnostic.

  9. Thom H. says:

    I’m a sucker for a dense read with allusions to other stories I may or may not have read. I enjoy the feeling of being a little bit in the dark, and I think that kind of storytelling is something comics can pull off really well.

    So I liked this series a lot, at least until the wheels fell off at the end. Good point about the individual issues already being packed with plot — not a lot of room to play with when you need to hastily wrap up a handful of storylines.

    Why editorial couldn’t have allowed at least one oversize issue at the end is baffling to me. The first five-issue trade has a double-size issue in it. Why not the second one? Money, I guess. Such a shame it ended this way.

  10. Dave says:

    “The A-plot over most of these issues is the Morrigan arc”.

    That was the biggest problem for me. That’s two volumes of X-Factor now that were bogged down with this dullness. If ever something was asking for the ‘character is resurrected and previous status is forgotten about’ treatment…

  11. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the truncated strengths of Leah Williams, David Baldeón, David Messina, et al’s X-Factor #6-10. […]

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