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Aug 13

X-Men Legends #5-6

Posted on Friday, August 13, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

by Peter David, Todd Nauck & Rachelle Rosenberg

Three arcs into X-Men Legends, we’re seeing the limitations of this format. It’s a nice idea: get some fondly remembered creators from X-books of yesteryear and give them a couple of issues to do an untold story from their run. But generally you end up with an inconsequential story, because otherwise you’d have seen the consequences the first time round. What’s more, for most of their history, the X-books have stressed long-form, soap operatic stories… so the moment you do a self-contained two parter, you’re already straying from the tone of the original run. That’s maybe not as big a problem – there have been strong X-Men annuals down the years – but it’s still an issue.

Fabian Nicieza’s opening arc found a neat solution to the problem by tying up a genuine dropped plot from back in the day. The Simonsons plugged a few continuity gaps in their X-Factor run. But Peter David seems to just be going for a standalone X-Factor story, and it’s a rather half formed one at that.

X-Factor are being questioned by a Senate committee about a recent mission at the Latverian Embassy. That’s the framing sequence. The main story is the mission itself, in which a group of Latverian mutant terrorists take over the Latverian Embassy in the name of democracy and X-Factor get the somewhat unwelcome job of dealing with them.

The recap pages place this story between X-Factor #75-76, but as best as I can tell, that’s simply because issue #75 already involved an evil senator asking awkward questions about X-Factor. That senator was taken off the board by Mister Sinister at the end of the issue, but this is the inquiry he’d already set in train. Fair enough. That’s as good a rationale as any for placing it here. But unless I’m missing something, it’s not trying to fit into the story in any more complex way than that. David is doubtless well aware that there’s no point trying to play off anything subtle from 30 years ago unless you have time to set it up, so why bother?

What you get is a straightforward story in which X-Factor deal with some one-off villains. It does recapture a lot of the voice of David’s X-Factor, and things like Quicksilver cynically dismissing everyone else’s excuses for turning down the mission work very well. The relatively competent Havok rising more or less successfully to the challenge of shepherding his team of misfits comes across nicely here too – back in 1991, this was a really odd team. Quicksilver, okay, but… the own-brand Scott and Jean, one of the New Mutants, a background guy from Muir Island and a joke character who stood around next to Lila Cheney? In their own book?

Those early nineties X-Factor issues were beloved, not least among readers who weren’t that keen on the post-Claremont direction of the line. With hindsight, the Hama/Silvestri Wolverine run has probably held up better, but X-Factor was a well written, idiosyncratically entertaining series. Larry Stroman’s angular art was a big part of its tone too, and it’s tough to recapture that aspect without him. Legends doesn’t really try, and brings in Todd Nauck – a perfectly decent storyteller, if a little bland for my tastes, but as far removed from Stroman as it’s possible to get. I suppose that’s probably a better option that hiring someone to do a Stroman impersonation – it’s not like there are many artists out there working in the style of Stroman ’91 – but it still feels a little strange.

The story, though… The Latverian Embassy is attacked by four pro-democracy mutant terrorists, who bizarrely go by the names Imbolc, Samhain, Lughnasa and Beltane. The story seems to think these are some sort of names associated with withcraft and, er, no, they’re Gaelic holidays. Which make them a linguistically odd choice of name for a bunch of nebulously eastern Europeans. Although they’re trying to overthrow Dr Doom, they’re more than willing to smash up a few innocents in order to get their point across, and so there’s never any real ambiguity that they are indeed Baddies who X-Factor should indeed be stopping.

Beyond the basic plot of X-Factor finally bringing in Doom himself to get rid of these guys, the story gestures at some themes but never really does anything with them. There’s an element of X-Factor as the unappreciated government team caught between enforcing the law and not being all that keen on Dr Doom, but as I say, it’s never really in doubt that X-Factor are right to be shutting them down. There’s an idea that Doom himself somehow gave these guys mutant powers – or maybe brought out their latent mutant abilities – in some sort of attempt to harness mystical forces and, presumably, rescue his mother from Hell. That’s usually what Doom wants magic for. But does that come to anything? Not really.

The hook of the final issue is meant to lie in the bad guys capturing and tormenting Wolfsbane, who badly injures one of them in retaliation, and then – in an epilogue – more or less hands them over to Dr Doom. I suppose that might fit somewhat into Rahne’s confused, post-brainwashing state in X-Factor at that time, but nothing of that sort is really set up in this story. It feels arbitrary and somewhat weightless, and it certainly doesn’t land as a final beat.

This has its moments, and it does hark back to the X-Factor of old from time to time. But as a story, it’s underwhelming.


Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I hadn’t even heard of it until you mentioned it.
    It hasn’t started yet, has it?
    Tini Howard and Al Ewing are joining Hickman.
    I wonder if that means they are leaving Marvel too?
    Probably not. It’s amazing how many books Ewing can write and still maintain the high quality.
    If Ewing left Marvel, I’m not sure I’d still be interested in following any Marvel titles after Hickman leaves.
    I guess it would depend on if Spurrier is going to be writing any more Marvel books going forward.

    Immortal Hulk has one more issue. The first issue of Defenders was excellent, exactly what I was hoping. I think it is only a mini-series though, isn’t it?
    That would just leave Guardians of the Galaxy for Ewing, and I could see him finishing on that series soon.

    Howard is no loss, either way.

  2. Col_Fury says:

    It doesn’t sound like Hickman is completely leaving Marvel, though. Just the X-Men. He says he’s working on a new tent-pole type project for Marvel in addition to this substack stuff.

    Or at least that’s what I read on Bleeding Cool.

    So yeah, if Hickman’s not completely leaving I don’t see why any of the others would be (writers, though. As an artist, I’m sure Del Mundo (for example) can probably only work on one project at a time).

  3. JD says:

    At this point Howard & Ewing are only credited for “world design” work on Hickman’s project, not actually writing books (and with only two artists attached, it can’t be that big).

    Spencer (who hasn’t actually announced any project and seems to be working more on the business side) and Tynion appear to be the only writers who have quit the Big Two for Substack ; and the latter is still doing some creator-owned work on the side. It’s not too surprising that many writers aren’t committing too much to the new unproven thing. (Artists are in a different situation, with the comfy advance presumably being a better deal than Image or a Big Two gig.)

    Besides Guardians and SWORD, Ewing is also set to co-write the Venom relaunch, so I wouldn’t count him out of Marvel quite yet.

  4. BWS says:

    I got bored after issue 2. Reading them reminded me of getting a random comic grab bag with a bunch of issues with characters you recognise, but of little relevance to your perception of them. If they were going to relaunch the comic styles of days gone by, they’re better off just picking a team eg 80s X-Factor and carving out a new self contained narrative over a few issues.

  5. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the underwhelming blandness of Peter David, Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg, et al’s X-Men Legends #5 & 6. […]

  6. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the underwhelming blandness of Peter David, Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg, et al’s X-Men Legends #5 & 6. […]

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