X-Factor Forever #s 1-5, $3.99 US, published by Marvel Comics
Writer: Louise Simonson; Art: Dan Panosian, Eric Nguyen, Aluir Amancio & Terry Austin; Covers: Dan Panosian
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars
Much like the ongoing X-Men Forever, the five issue miniseries X-Factor Forever takes place in a timeline that branches off from the regular Marvel continuity. It sees Louise Simonson returning to the point where she left the monthly X-Factor book in 1991 with issue #64.
When I started reading comic books regularly in 1989, one of the first series I followed was X-Factor. Around that time, Simonson was penning the “Judgment War” story arc which involved the mysterious, towering “space gods” known as the Celestials, originally created by Jack Kirby in The Eternals. As time went on, I picked up a number of back issues to Simonson’s run. Between these and the 1989 edition of the Marvel Handbook, I quickly got caught up on the backstory of X-Factor, a team made up of the original X-Men: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Archangel, Beast, and Iceman.
X-Factor Forever picks up immediately after the events of X-Factor #64. It deals with the intersection of two major subplots. The first is the return of X-Factor’s arch-enemy Apocalypse, a mutant obsessed with natural selection, whose actions have directly or indirectly affected the team for much of its existence. The second is the fallout from the encounter with the Celestials during “Judgment War.”
As the miniseries opens, Cyclops and Marvel Girl are still attempting to reconcile their feelings for one another. It is a complicated state of affairs. Jean Grey only recently returned from the dead, and found that Scott Summers had married Madelyne Pryor, a woman who was eventually revealed to be a clone of Jean created by Apocalypse’s mad apprentice Mister Sinister. Madelyne gave birth to a son, Nathan Christopher, and was then corrupted by the demon N’Astirh, becoming the evil Goblin Queen, eventually dying during the “Inferno” crossover. Jean is now unsure of her feelings for Scott. The two are also left to care for Nathan Christopher, a child who is biologically Jean’s son, but who she did not actually give birth to. And you thought your life was complicated!
Meanwhile, Bobby Drake, a.k.a. Iceman, is continuing his romance with Opal Tanaka, with the pair visiting her parents and discussing the possibility of marriage. Warren Worthington is in a growing friendship with policewoman Charlotte Jones and her son Timmy, all the while struggling to come to terms with his transformation from Angel to the dark Archangel by Apocalypse. And Hank McCoy, the bouncing blue Beast, is trying to work out his on-again, off-again relationship with reporter Trish Tilby, who is thinking of adopting an orphan child.
Seeing these couples again, moved forward in new & interesting directions by Simonson, was enjoyable. I really liked what she had done with them the first time around, that Iceman, Archangel, and Beast had these connections outside the team. I was disappointed that each of these three relationships were broken up by subsequent writers. In the mainstream Marvel, once X-Factor rejoined the X-Men, this trio either ended up dating female teammates, or they had absolutely no social life to speak of. Either way, it was very insular, and the interesting supporting cast that Simonson had spent time establishing just up & vanished.
The X-Factor Forever miniseries is as much the story of Apocalypse as it is the original five X-Men and their friends & family. Through Apocalypse’s own journal, we get an in-depth examination of the immortal mutant schemer. Born 20,000 years ago to a tribe of primitive humans, the man who would become Apocalypse was a freak anomaly, the world’s first mutant, gifted with shape-shifting abilities. As the X-Men would discover in the present day, so to did Apocalypse learn in prehistoric times: his abilities were a double-edged sword. When he used them to serve as his tribe’s protector, they reacted with fear & hatred, driving him out.
Wandering the Earth, Apocalypse came across a monitoring device left by the Celestials. Exploring it, probing its secrets, he eventually learned how the Celestials had genetically experimented on humanity, creating the offshoot races of the Eternals and the Deviants, while leaving a third unaltered group to evolve naturally. Apocalypse reacts to this revelation to outrage, convinced that the Celestials have condemned ordinary humanity to genetic inferiority, prey to the whims of the superior Eternals and Deviants. And so he sets out to follow in the Celestials footsteps, to manipulate the development of humanity, hoping to cause it to one day reach the levels of the Eternals and Deviants.
Though he knows it will take literally tens of thousands of years, Apocalypse patiently sets himself to the task of influencing evolution. He usurps the Celestials’ technology and tricks the Eternals and Deviants into conflict with one another to keep the two groups occupied. He manipulates humanity into a cycle of wars so that it will become stronger, and over time develop advanced technology that will effect the environment, forcing mutations to take place.
Fast forward to the present. Mutants are now being born all over the globe, possessing awesome powers & abilities. It appears to Apocalypse that he has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. That is, until he makes an alarming observation: mutants are not reproducing, at least not in any significant numbers. Apocalypse is forced to admit to himself that his millennia of manipulations may just have caused humanity to evolve into a sterile, non-viable species. And, with the Celestials turning their attention back to the Earth in the aftermath of the “Judgment War,” Apocalypse fears that the space gods will perceive mutants as a genetic dead end, and wipe out humanity. In his monumental hubris to play god and reshape mankind into a “superior” form, instead he may have doomed it.
The primary artists on X-Factor Forever are Dan Panosian and Eric Nguyen. Panosian pencils & inks the first issue himself. From issue #2 on, he and Nguyen roughly draw half an issue each. The back-up feature, “The Apocalypse Journal,” is penciled by Aluir Amancio, with inks by the legendary, superbly talented Terry Austin. (Too bad Amancio’s name is misspelled in some of the credits. Um, oops.)
Panosian’s work on X-Factor Forever is amazing. He has come a long, long way from his start in the comic biz. I remember that when Rob Liefeld abruptly departed from X-Force in 1992 to form Image Comics, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian were quickly brought onboard to draw in a very Liefeld-ish style for several issues while Marvel tried to figure out what to do next. A year later, Panosian was over at Image himself, drawing the initial issues of Liefeld’s Youngblood spin-off series Prophet, still working in a very Liefeld-influenced style.
But an interesting thing happened. Gradually, over the course of the 1990s, as subsequent work appeared from Panosian, you could see him developing as an artist, moving further and further away from his initial Liefeld-inspired beginnings. Now, nearly two decades later, Panosian’s artwork on X-Factor Forever is very distinctive and individual. In fact, it reminds me a bit of Kieron Dwyer’s work, but with its own unique identity. I really have to give Panosian credit for working to develop and refine his style over the years, something that a number of artists who also started out around the same time failed to do.
I’m not familiar with Eric Nguyen, but he also does nice work here. It is easy enough to tell where Panosian leaves off, and Nguyen picks up in each issue. But at the same time, their styles aren’t totally dissimilar, so the transition is a smooth one. And I’m sure that having one colorist, Jim Charalampidis, helps maintain the atmosphere throughout.
Amancio’s work is of a more cartoony nature, which suits the back-up stories perfectly. Although the origin of Apocalypse is of a serious nature, Simonson ties it quite intimately to the backstory Kirby established in The Eternals. So it’s fitting that “The Apocalypse Journal” has a Silver Age feel to it. Amancio did a great job illustrating the sweeping backdrop of vast history and cosmic events taking place throughout Apocalypse’s life. And I certainly enjoyed his collaboration with Austin. The two go together very well. I actually sent Aluir a message on Facebook complimenting him on the collaboration, and he reminded me Austin had inked his pencils before. That’s right, I now remember they did some nice work together on Superman Adventures.
I found it very helpful that issue #1 had a text page introduction by Simonson, as well as a six page text backup by Michael Hoskin highlighting the key points in X-Factor’s history. Those two features helped jog my memory and bring me up to speed. Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve read those issues.
My one major complaint with X-Factor Forever is that Simonson’s plot was perhaps overly ambitious. It felt like she had attempted to compress at least a year’s worth of material into five issues. This was especially apparent with the final issue, which felt rushed. I really wish this could have been a six issue series instead of five. But I believe that length was dictated by editorial, so Simonson obviously did the best she could under the circumstances. Oh, well, you certainly cannot claim that this was a slow-paced story.
In conclusion, X-Factor Forever was a quality miniseries, with solid, entertaining writing by Louise Simonson, and some fantastic artwork. If you missed this when it first came out, or cannot locate copies of the issues now, then it is well worth picking up the trade paperback collection which (according to Amazon.Com) is coming out in November.