I cancelled my subscription after the last run of the comic ended with the end of the world. As I discussed, I thought the writing was good but I wasn’t sold on the direction the story arcs. I wasn’t inclined to pick up the new series, but a friend of mine was feeling generous towards the writing team. He brought me over his issue of the new X-Factor #3 because, well, he thought I would find it something worth looking at. And why he brought me issue #3 and not the two earlier issues will hopefully be made clear as well. Also, this is a looooong rant, so I suggest getting comfy.
Let’s start with the cover. This is my first attempt to actually include a picture in my blog because I think it is so very important to show this cover. But I’ll also provide a link to a picture just in case my laggy connection screws up the upload.
Anyway, behold the cover in all its pastel purple glory (although oddly many images have the background color as yellow; it honestly doesn’t matter). And please, if you do not recognize the guy on the cover, please don’t look it up. I’ll tell you, I promise, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise… So, yes, this is an absolutely awful cover. The purpose of a cover is to be, well, eye-catching. That is, in a sea of covers, a comic must have something that truly stands out to catch the eye of a potential buyer. This doesn’t. This doesn’t stand out at all. This is lazy. This is unbelievably lazy. Did the publisher run out of time and send it off before the background got filled in? Hell, the background isn’t even all purple; there’s some white area behind the dude like he’s standing in an empty room that the painters didn’t quite finish up. This is just the title, issue number, a tagline, and a dude holding three cats on a purple background of nothingness. Listen, as much as I HATE “One More Day,” I will say that the mini-series had interesting and eye-catching covers. This is just sad. Depending on the shelving structure at the comic book store, maybe only a fraction of the cover would be visible. If only a third of this cover was visible, I’ll I’d see is the title, the tagline, and empty pastel purple. How is that going to attract my attention? Hell, if I was looking for X-Factor I’d probably overlook this on the first pass because it just doesn’t stand out.
Okay, fine, let’s assume I see the whole cover that features a dude I don’t recognize with three cats and no context at all. Let’s look at the tagline. “Let me go first, Lorna, I’m their freaking king.” Well, I know that “Lorna” is most likely referring to Polaris, who was in the last X-Factor comic and neither died nor ended up a god. I concluded that the new comic included Polaris. This sort of belies the claim “all-new” but I’m not against keeping some continuity from one story arc to the next. Presumably the dude on the cover is the person saying this to Lorna, although there is no crown, staff, scepter, or gold to indicate he’s some kind of royalty. But hey, this is issue #3 so perhaps this has been more fully explained in the previous two issues. On the other hand, if I am a potential new reader, I shouldn’t be expected to know that and therefore any association with this dude’s royalty should probably be made more evident on the cover if that’s supposed to be a reference to some kind of plot point. And if the tagline isn’t relevant to some kind of plot point, why is it there?
Next, the dude on the cover. He’s wearing some kind of uniform I don’t recognize and there’s nothing particularly distinctive about him. I didn’t recognize this person at all and first thought was that this was a new character made up for the new series. My second thought was that this could just be an X-character I wasn’t familiar with. The X-titles have a huge assemble and I don’t pretend to know all of them. Many of those have been afflicted with Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, although sometimes they come downstairs after all. I finally just concluded this was a character who one way or another was new to me.
As for the cats? Mostly I was just confused. The presence of the cats did not help me identify the dude as I couldn’t think of any X-character known for keeping cats, liking cats, or hell even having a pet at all. The cats aren’t really doing anything and the dude isn’t really doing anything with them except let them crawl on him and awkwardly hold one up. “Are the cats relevant to the story?” I thought. “Or are they irrelevant cover art?” Then I thought, “Do I really want a bunch of cats to relevant to the story?”
Finally, the bottom which contains the usual barcode, the “Marvel NOW” logo, notification of a digital edition, and the odd, “Sponsored by Serval Industries” with a logo of a cat. So does this tie into the cats the guy is holding? This really only confused me more. I kind of guessed this guy probably worked for the fictional corporation Serval Industries and maybe that dull orange and brown thing was their uniform. I’ve never heard of Serval Industries and I really don’t like crowding an already crowded universe with more antagonists that only show up in one specific book when in theory they should show up in a lot more (I find that to be a kind of fridge logic). Of course, I’m not much up on Marvel, so maybe Serval Industries is an integral part of the universe and not something made up strictly for this title (DC’s New 52 has a huge problem with totally secret semi-government agencies serving as antagonists that should overlap and conflict all the time but never seem to).
Overall, if my friend hadn’t handed this comic to me, there is no way I would have picked it up amongst the sea of covers in my local comic book store. It’s unlikely I would have even seen the whole cover, and if I had, my thoughts were basically, “Hm, dude I don’t know with cats for no reason and an artist that couldn’t be bothered with a background. Eh.” I wouldn’t have even opened the comic, much less purchased it. Again, maybe #1 was totally awesome. But #3 is hardly too late for a reader to come into a series. That would actually correspond with regular readers starting to give opinions on the series and maybe entice an ambivalent reader into seeking out. But if that were me, and I saw that lazy-ass cover, I’d pass it right on by.
And then it got worse. So much worse. For those of you waiting in breathless anticipation, I shall now reveal the identity of the gentleman on the cover.
Yeah, that’s supposed to be Gambit.
What. The. Hell? Listen, I know Gambit can’t wear the outfit that was made iconic in the ’90s cartoon his whole life (and proved bad-asses can wear pink), but there should be something about this cover art that makes me realize this is Gambit. The stupid glasses cover up his distinctive black and red eyes. The hairstyle is generically modern. The hair color is generic. And frankly so much bad art is out there I don’t think his facial structure is particularly identifiable either. Where’s the bowstaff? Where are the cards? That’s his schtick! How could the creative team let a cover go out that doesn’t even have a character’s iconic elements? There are way, way too many X-characters to put any of them in some new uniform and stick them on the cover with no context and expect someone to recognize them. And this is Gambit! I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to recognize him, right? I never cared for the guy (I would have tossed him out of the X-mansion on his first day because he’s a [Denis Leary] to say the least), but I understand he’s pretty popular. He got a cameo in Wolverine’s origin movie just to see if he could carry his own movie. Shouldn’t the presence of Gambit be a selling point?! Does Marvel not really want my $3.99??
Then I actually read the comic and concluded that no, Marvel really doesn’t want my money (although it does turn out the cats are in the story, albeit briefly, and Gambit actually says the tagline). I thought Peter David was a good writer, but I’m starting to wonder here. There are a couple of big problems, and one probably stems from me.
1) My problem – I’m genre savvy. I know how plotlines typically play out in comic books because I’ve read so many of them (tangentially, this is also a problem I’m having trying to get into Agents of SHIELD). This can cause me to not enjoy stories for two reasons. One, I can see where the plot is going and the twists aren’t really surprising. Two, I expect the characters to be somewhat genre savvy as well. The last X-Factor series even played around with this. For example, Siryn was not getting over her father’s death, and when the others told her hanging on to the hope he would come back was foolish, she retorted that she’d known a number of people who came back from the dead. The others honestly couldn’t debate that, and a few issues later Strong Guy was killed and brought back from the dead. No, it’s not fair to expect the characters to be genre savvy, but there are just some situations that come up so often in a comic book world that the characters should recognize them as bad, or at least, potentially bad.
So how does my problem ruin the comic? Serval Industries is so obviously evil their motto might as well be, “Obviously Evil.” They hire superhumans in direct defiance to the government, they use those superhumans to break the law (the fact they’re plundering A.I.M. doesn’t make their actions legal), confiscate a whole bunch of technology for their own nefarious ends, incarcerate the captured scientists (instead of turning them over to the authorities), they inject Polaris with nanobots so she can unwittingly film all the X-Factor missions for them, and they have workers who hang out wearing weird shapeless robes and masks. Despite that, Havoc’s Avengers’ connections can’t bring up dirt on the company. Right.
2) The second problem – so much comes across as contrivance, or at least huge lapses of logic. Perhaps the creative team is playing a very long game with their story line and I just have no patience. However, again, an individual issue is supposed to be good enough to make me want to finish the story. I have little to no patience with contrivances and lapses of logic like this.
a) While I can’t reasonably expect the characters to be as genre savvy as I am, I cannot begin to fathom why Quicksilver and Gambit, possibly two of the most paranoid characters ever to grace the X-titles, would be so remarkably blaise about the true motives of their employer, especially one that is so clearly asking them to act illegally. Especially an employer that would hire Gambit and Quicksilver in the first place!
b) There is no way in the current climate of the Marvel universe a corporation could hire a bunch of alpha level mutants/known terrorists as a public team without a hell of a lot of backlash from pretty much every quarter.
c) If Gambit is the King of Thieves, why the hell is he working for anyone? Shouldn’t he, you know, be king or something?
d) Quicksilver is working for humans?! Yeah, I know he was an Avenger, but reluctantly, and because of Captain America. But Quicksilver is working for the Man? What?
(Okay, I’ll admit maybe this is me again. Characters can obviously change in extreme [and I think uncharacteristic] ways in a short amount of time. Perhaps Quicksilver is one of them. But still, it’s quite a shock to me since I remember how Quicksilver used to be).
e) Polaris is insane. Utterly, completely, insane. This isn’t exactly a contrivance or a lapse in logic except I read the last X-Factor series and Siryn became a goddess partially to save Polaris and keep her out-of-control powers from killing everyone. My take-away from the scene was that Siryn-as-Morrigan healed Polaris’s insanity. But based on this, apparently Siryn-as-Morrigan just healed that one instance of Polaris’s insanity leaving the underlying insanity intact to again be a threat to everyone around her. So Siryn is a lousy goddess apparently.
f) Why did Serval inject the nanobots into the character with magnetic powers?! Shouldn’t the use of her powers destroy the nanobots? She’s fried electronics plenty of times before. Hell, even if nanobots are somehow protected, every time she uses her powers it’s going to interfere with whatever signal the nanobots are sending. All Serval is going to see of the battles is static.
g) Why does Gambit have pet cats?
h) Also, I think the uniforms look stupid, especially the “glasses” which are basically lenses magically stuck to their noses, and Quicksilver doesn’t wear them anyway.
Conclusion – The cover is bad and lazy. The story I read doesn’t make me want to pick up issues #1 and #2 to try to figure out what I missed. The story also doesn’t make me want to pick up issue #4 to see what happens or who the three remaining members of the team will be. The corporation is evil. The characters will eventually, albeit nearly too late, figure that out and just barely thwart Serval’s evil scheme. Polaris will go crazy and I’m putting even odds that she’ll take out her own nanobot infected eye (this has already been done before, by the way, just read up on Psylocke’s sad history). One or more characters will likely die, but probably not Quicksilver because the creative teams seem to really like [Denis Leary] characters. And my friend who brought this comic to me because he wanted to find out if I was having the same issues he was (and I am), is cancelling his subscription.