Today’s Super Comic — X-Factor #39 (2009)

The best plot twists are the ones you didn’t see coming but, in hindsight, they should have been obvious.

X-Factor #39 executes exactly that. I don’t want to give this one away—really, if you haven’t already, you need to read Peter David’s phenomenal X-Factor run (both of them, actually). The series that began in 2005, which focuses on Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man leading a terrific ensemble cast, is the greatest X-Men spinoff series I’ve ever read. And I have read many.

I’ll give away the basic setup, though. A while earlier, Madrox had a one-night stand with two women at the same time (his power is he duplicates himself, so he can literally be at two places at once). One of those women got pregnant. Issue #39 is the delivery. And in comic books, childbirth is seldom without complications.

David foreshadows the ending superbly, and yet it still blew me away. Absolutely fantastic storytelling.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Valentine De Landro

Inker: Craig Yeung

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Factor vol. 7: Time and a Half (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — She-Hulk #8-10 (2014)

She-Hulk has always thrived when interacting with the broader Marvel Universe, and a fairly recent story took full advantage of that shared setting to excellent effect. It also took full advantage of its protagonist’s legal acumen.

In She-Hulk #8-10 by writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido, She-Hulk is hired to defend none other than Captain America himself in a wrongful-death civil lawsuit. In recent events outside this title, Cap had been aged to his true 90-some years. Even with the super-soldier serum, he doesn’t have a long life left, so naturally an old enemy would try to tarnish his legacy in his final days.

With Cap being Cap, he wants She-Hulk (or more specifically Jennifer Walters) to win the case fair and square, exploiting not a single legal loophole. No technicalities allowed. He wants a righteous win, not an easy one. So he asks Matt Murdock (Daredevil) to represent the plaintiffs to the absolute best of his ability, pulling no punches.

So Jen’s got to be at her lawyerly best to save Captain America’s legacy. There’s hardly any superhero action in sight. This is pure legal drama with Marvel flourishes (and nice bits of comedy, too). For all her incredible strength, Jen needs to be clever more than anything else as Marvel’s preeminent attorneys clash in court.

And if that’s not enough, the story also includes Patsy Walker (Hellcat) and, quite randomly, an eccentric duplicate of Madrox the Multiple Man.

The Marvel Universe is a bustling place indeed, and She-Hulk is right at home in the thick of it.

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Javier Pulido

Cover: Kevin P. Wada

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in She-Hulk vol. 2: Disorderly Conduct (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Factor #14 (2007)

X-Factor_Vol_3_14The X-Men titles weren’t in their strongest state a decade ago, but hands-down the shining light of the bunch was Peter David’s superb X-Factor. And the book continues to hold up as one of the best X-series since the late ‘70s/early ‘80s glory days, largely due to David’s masterful scripting.

X-titles excel when they focus on a core cast, rather than an ever-sprawling society of mutants, and X-Factor showcases a specific grouping of underutilized second-stringers. David finds the untapped potential in each one, especially the ostensible lead, Jaime Madrox, the Multiple Man. The result is a fantastic ensemble that drives multiple ongoing storylines.

Issue #14 exemplifies the book’s strengths. It kicks off a new storyline in which Madrox resolves to track down his various duplicates who have gone astray during his quest to accumulate diverse knowledge and life experiences. But as it sets up that storyline, it checks in on the various subplots, mining ample humor from a soap opera situation involving Madrox, Siryn, and Monet and resolving a Guido subplot in an unexpectedly touching way.

It’s a book with tremendous tonal agility. Artist Pablo Raimondi paces the “talking heads” scenes perfectly, as he skillfully uses silent panels to allow the comedic beats to land.

While #14 is a great example, you should really start with the Madrox limited series that piloted the book, proceed to #1, and read through the end. It loses a little bit of steam in later storylines, but David’s entire run, regardless of artist, includes not one bad issue. Truly one of my favorite X-books of all time.

Writer: Peter David

Artist: Pablo Raimondi

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Factor vol. 3: Many Lives of Madrox (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Madrox #1-5 (2004-05)

Madrox_Vol_1_1Before 2004, if Marvel were to put out a miniseries focused on Madrox the Multiple Man, my first thought would not have been, “Yes, I must buy that!” But Peter David excels at finding approaches to often-overlooked characters that make them incredibly interesting.

Jamie Madrox, longtime bit player among the numerous X-Men titles, can create a seemingly endless number of duplicates of himself. So you could use him as a one-man army, or perhaps kill off one of his duplicates to demonstrate a villain’s power. But David went with a more imaginative take.

If a man can create independent, sentient copies of himself, then those copies can go off and pursue paths the original man would otherwise never have time for, all those “roads not taken.” Those duplicates can then reintegrate with the original, who can benefit from their memories and experiences. Madrox isn’t just the Multiple Man—he’s the multiple-choice man who can almost always select “all of the above.” And of course, “all” doesn’t necessarily mean only good choices.

In this storyline, Madrox is trying his hand at being a private eye, and one who’s as noir as he can manage. He’s not exactly a hardboiled kind fellow, so opportunities for humor abound.

Beginning with this miniseries, David turned Madrox into one of Marvel’s most fascinating characters, mutant or otherwise. This story served as the pilot for a new X-Factor ongoing series, which maintained the superb quality for years. Fantastic stuff.

Writer: Peter David

Artist: Pablo Raimondi

Inker: Drew Hennessy

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Madrox: Multiple Choice (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up