Essential X-Factor Vol. 3

xfactor3First Published: December 2009

Contents: X-Factor #36 (January 1989) to #50 (January 1990); X-Factor Annual #3 (1988); and Uncanny X-Men #242 (March 1989) and #243  (April 1989)

Key Creator Credits: Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, Chris Claremont, Kieron Dwyer, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Arthur Adams, Paul Smith, and others

Key First Appearances: Alchemy

Story Continues From: Essential X-Factor Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Essential X-Factor Vol. 4

Overview:  This book has a little bit of everything for the mutant fan in all of us. Sit back and enjoy the read of Essential X-Factor Vol. 3.

First up is the Evolutionary War crossover in X-Factor Annual #3. From a chronology point of view, this should have been collected in the prior Essential volume, but there was a lot going on in that book, so we get it here. In the main story, we see X-Factor trying to stop the High Evolutionary from exterminating the Moloids and others that are at the end of their evolutionary development. It’s part of the big storyline running through the annuals that year. The big take away from the annual is the back-up feature, which features the various kids in training with X-Factor, such as Skids, Boom Boom, Rusty, and others, taking off in their own adventures, which would be told in the X-Terminators mini-series – sadly not reprinted in Essential form.

Next up is Inferno, which we have talked about previously with Essential X-Men Vol. 8. The big takeaway for the X-Factor team is the resolution of the Jean Grey-Scott Summers-Madelyne Pryor love triangle. Madelyne is killed, leaving Scott and Jean to resume their lives together raising baby Nathan. As the team all catches their collective breath, the X-Terminator kids return, only to break up their band. Many of the older kids would transfer over to the New Mutants title, becoming key members for the years to come.

But I need to focus on X-Factor here, because we are quickly caught up in the Judgement War. The team is kidnapped and sent across the galaxy to a planet facing judgement by the Celestials. On this planet, everyone is ranked on a perfection scale. Jean Grey is viewed as being perfect, while some of the guys (Beast, Archangel) tend to fall at the bottom of that ranking. The team members work independently before reuniting and stopping the Celestials.

What makes this Essential?: This is a transitional volume. We see Walt Simonson’s run on the book come to an end with the Inferno storyline. The art is handled by committee, with most of the work done by the criminally-underrated Paul Smith. We do experience Rob Liefeld’s first work for Marvel – you decide what to make of that! Through all of this though, writer Louise Simonson continues to provide a steady direction for the title.

My biggest issue with this collection is that the book gets highjacked by events going on in the other X-Men or Marvel Universe books at the time. The first half of this book is given over to tie-ins with the Evolutionary War storyline or the Inferno storyline. Considering that the Inferno story has been reprinted already (see Footnotes), you almost feel cheated by paying full price for half of a volume of “new” material.

Footnotes: X-Factor #36 to #39 and Uncanny X-Men #242 and #243 are also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 8.

If you like this volume, try: the Acts of Vengeance storyline. After multiple summer events which focused solely on the Marvel mutants, this event crossed over across the Marvel Universe. Secretly organized by Loki, the villains unite and agree to change up their normal foes, in an attempt to surprise the heroes. So you have the odd combinations of the Punisher facing Doctor Doom, or Daredevil vs. Ultron. In typical fashion, the villains plans unravel due to infighting and personal agendas. Loki is revealed as the organizer, which leads to yet another face-off with the Avengers. Now, this may be a harder storyline to track down. There was an omnibus released which collected the main issues of the storyline. However, this omnibus has gone out of print, and the prices have skyrocketed in the secondary market (eBay). A second omnibus was released featuring more of the crossover issues, but not the main storyline. This omnibus is still readily found for cover price or less. This may be a case where the thrill of the back issue hunt is more fun, to track down all of the numerous crossovers, which should be noted by a triangle window in the upper right corner of the covers.

Essential X-Factor Vol. 2

Essential X-Factor Vol. 2

First Published: January 2007

Contents: X-Factor #17 (June 1987) to #35 (December 1988); X-Factor Annual #2 (1987); and Thor #378 (April 1987)

Key Creator Credits: Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Rictor, Death, Infectia, Orphan-Maker, Nanny

Story Continues From: Essential X-Factor Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Essential X-Factor Vol. 3

Overview:  Get comfortable, friends! This is a must read volume of the original X-Men’s ongoing adventures as members of X-Factor. As you may recall, X-Factor appeared to be mutant-hunters, but they are secretly bringing in their captures to train them on how to use their powers.

When we left off, it appeared that Warren Worthington III, aka the Angel, had committed suicide in despair over the loss of his wings. In all actuality, Warren survived and was brought back to life by Apocalypse, who outfitted Warren with a new suit and a new attitude. Taking on the name Death, he joins up with the other minions (War, Famine, and Pestilence) to form the Four Horsemen serving Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen take on X-Factor, who are shocked to see their former friend and team-mate squaring off against them. Warren is eventually able to overcome Apocalypse’s influence, and rejoins his team. He uses a variety of code names such as Death or Dark Angel before settling on Archangel.

With Warren’s death, that left a hole in the team line-up, which was filled by the mutant Caliban, whose power is detect mutants. Caliban starts to despise his passive power, as he wants revenge against everyone who has done him wrong. Caliban takes advantage of the hole in Horsemen’s roster, and promises his loyalty to Apocalypse in exchange for the ability to gain the vengeance he seeks. Thus, Caliban becomes the new Death, once again replacing Angel.

As much as we like the Angel storyline, there are other members of the team in this book. Cyclops still has to deal with the emotions of Jean Grey returning to life while at the same time dealing with his estranged wife Madelyne Pryor. That entire storyline will come to a resolution in the Inferno storyline, so stick around for Essential X-Factor Vol. 3.

The Beast is really roughed up in this volume. During the battle with the Four Horsemen, Hank comes in contact with Pestilence, whose touch brings pain and infection. With the Beast, whose genetic formula is anything but normal, it reacts in the worst possible way, causing Hank to lose intelligence each time he uses his abilities. Bit by bit, Hank goes from the smartest member of the team to the dumbest, but his heart remains true to this friends. He protects Iceman from being kissed by the deadly Infectia, who can manipulate molecular structure through physical contact. However, given the previously mentioned screwed up genetics of the Beast, this causes adverse affects, eventually stabilizing his body into his blue beast form with his full intelligence returned.

What makes this Essential?: This is a really good volume. From the storyline, we finally have a set of core characters that run through the issues in this volume. All of the characters are put through the ringer physically and emotionally. Not to demean either format, but this really feels like a TV soap opera. The stories may seem outrageous, but the goal is to bring you back to read the next issue (or watch the next episode) and it works. Based on the creators, this is the Simonsons at their best. This is some of Louise (Jones) Simonson’s most solid writing, and Walt Simonson shows why he is a modern master of the comic art form.

If you like this volume, try: the Fall of the Mutants omnibus, which collects all of the issues of this “event.” Or maybe non-event. What makes this interesting is that even though the Fall of the Mutants banner was on the covers for X-Factor, New Mutants, and Uncanny X-Men, the events in the stories did not cross over with each other. We see the struggles that X-Factor goes through in this volume, and the “death” of the X-Men can also be read in the Essential X-Men Vol. 7. But to read the New Mutants story, you need to pick up this omnibus. While visiting their friend Bird-Brain, the New Mutants get into a battle between the Ani-Mator and the Right organization. During this battle, one of the New Mutants is killed. (As with all comic book deaths, you should add the words “for now” into the sentence.) This volume is a great way to read the events of the mutant books going on at one time, without the obligation of having to read all of the issues to understand the full story.

Essential X-Factor Vol. 1

Essential X-Factor Vol. 1

First Published: October 2005

Contents: Avengers #262 (December 1985); Fantastic Four #286 (January 1986);  X-Factor #1 (February 1986) to #16 (May 1987); X-Factor Annual #1 (1986); Thor #373 (November 1986) and #374 (December 1986); and Power Pack #27 (December 1986)

Key Creator Credits: Bob Layton, Jackson Guice, Roger Stern, John Byrne, Louise Simonson, Walt Simonson, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and others

Key First Appearances: Rusty Collins (Firefist), Cameron Hodge, Artie Maddicks, Tower, Frenzy, Apocalypse, Skids, Trish Tilby, Blockbuster, Prism, War, Famine, Pestilence

Story Continues In: Essential X-Factor Vol. 2

Overview:  It’s the original X-Men, reunited once again! Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. No longer students at Xavier’s school, what do these five friends do to continue Professor X’s dream of humans and mutants living together as one? Let’s pose as mutant-hunters, and secretly bring in mutants to start training them on how to use their powers. Maybe not the soundest start to a team, but it works for X-Factor.

X-Factor started off with sincere intentions. The team did find mutants unable to control their powers, and a cast of characters developed around the X-Factor team. But once you’ve been an X-Man, you are an X-Man for life, which means you get sucked into what ever ongoing storyline is occurring in Uncanny X-Men.

In this case, X-Factor finds themselves right in the middle of the Mutant Massacre, as the Marauders go on a rampage in the Morlocks’ tunnels. While trying to defend Artie, Angel is pinned to a wall by his wings by Harpoon (X-Factor #10). Due to the extensive injuries and infection, doctors are forced to amputate Warren’s wings in X-Factor #14. Warren has a hard time coping with the loss of his wings, and (apparently) commits suicide at the end of issue #15.

What makes this Essential?: The original X-Men hold a special place in my heart. They were the first, and to see them reunited was an exciting moment in my comic reading history. While their desire to train mutants like Professor Xavier trained them made a lot of sense, and I liked that aspect of the title. The fact that they were posing as mutant-hunters just never sat well with me.

The early issues of the title seem a little stiff. It’s only when the Simonsons come on board – first Louise and then Walt – that the book seems to come alive and move forward. These are the issues that really matter, and make it an Essential read. However, if you are going to read this, you should also read Essential X-Men Vol. 6 in order to read the complete Mutant Massacre storyline.

Like a Phoenix Rising from the Ashes: Let’s flashback to Uncanny X-Men #137 (See Essential X-Men Vol. 2). The X-Men are battling the Imperial Guard for the life of Jean Grey, who is controlled by the Phoenix force. In her last moment of clarity, Jean professes her love to Scott (Cyclops) Summers, and then commits suicide. Or did she?????

Jump ahead a few years and the Avengers discover a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay in New York. The Avengers bring the cocoon to the Fantastic Four, because Reed Richards is the smartest guy in the world. During his examination of the object, it opens up and out walks Jean Grey, alive and well. Apparently when the X-Men were returning from space, they crash-landed their shuttle at JFK Airport in New York City, coming to a rest in the aforementioned Jamaica Bay. Prior to the crash, the Phoenix force placed Jean Grey in this protective cocoon, and created a new body in Jean’s image to inhabit. It was this host body that died in Uncanny X-Men #137. So now Jean is back, with no memories of what happened since the the shuttle crash

Footnotes: X-Factor #9 to #11, Thor #373 and #374, and Power Pack #27 were also reprinted in Essential X-Men Vol. 6.

If you like this volume, try: the All-New X-Men series by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. As part of the Marvel Now campaign which launched several years ago, All-New X-Men brings the original X-Men team (circa Uncanny X-Men #9) from the past to the current day, in an attempt to make them aware of what their future would look like and try to get them to change. The original team is shocked by how their lives have played out, but choose to stay in the modern times to find out more. This is the perfect jumping on book for anyone afraid of how large the X-Universe has become, because the reader shares many of the same questions as the original X-Men. This is still an ongoing title, and the early issues have been collected in multiple trade paperbacks and hardcovers.