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 Comic — X-Factor #13 (1986)

x-factor_vol_1_13Comics have been playing the nostalgia card for a long time. The first X-Men spinoff series to reunite the original five members was the original X-Factor in the mid-80s. It was fun from the start, as it’s always enjoyable to see these five X-Men together, but the initial premise had some major problems.

Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and the recently resurrected Jean Grey (then Marvel Girl for the last time) were posing as specially trained humans who hunted mutants. Their marketing was anti-mutant to the point of contributing to the public’s fears, but of course, instead of “capturing” their targets, they were actually saving and training them. Still, not the most well-thought-out plan.

And then there was the fact that at this time, Cyclops was creepily married to a woman who looked exactly like dead former lover, and he had a son with this woman, but when he learns his dead former lover is no longer dead, he skips out on his wife and kid to join a team with her. Scott has never been more of a jerk, and that’s saying something.

But soon, to save the book from itself, the wife-and-husband creative team of writer Louise Simonson and artist Walter Simonson took over the title, and they began to rectify these foundational problems. By issue #13, characters are already getting some comeuppance for their bad judgment.

Millionaire Warren Worthington III, who is publicly known to be the winged mutant Angel, has been outed as the financial benefactor of the mutant-hunting organization, which raises some questions. And Cyclops finally returns home to his wife and child…only to find them missing, with hardly a trace they ever even existed, while the evil giant robot Master Mold is on a warpath toward him. (Not really enough comeuppance for Cyclops.)

There’s also the whole Scott/Jean/Warren romantic triangle thing going on. You know it’s not the ‘60s anymore, because the triangle has an extramarital element this time around. (So maybe it’s a square?)

It’s the X-Men at their most ridiculously soap operatic, but damn if it isn’t fun.

Writer: Louise Simonson

Artist: Walter Simonson

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; included in Essential X-Factor vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 10 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 Comic — X-Factor #87 (1993)

X-Factor_Vol_1_87One of the most memorable issues of X-Factor, and it’s just a bunch of talking heads. But it’s a bunch of talking heads written by Peter David, so rest assured it’s going to be entertaining.

The premise requires a great writer to pull it off—the members of X-Factor individually meet with a psychiatrist, and each character’s vignette spells out what makes him or her tick.

It shouldn’t work. It could easily have become 22 pages of dry, on-the-nose descriptions. But David builds clever conversations that illustrate each character in an engaging way. And in this manner, Quicksilver explains his arrogance, Strong Guy explains how he hides his pain behind jokes, the Multiple Man explains his fear of loneliness, and so on.

All this telling is what any writing class would tell you never to do, but X-Factor #87 proves to be the exception due to the exceptional execution. It’s about how the characters go about explaining themselves, not just the explanations themselves.

David’s original run on X-Factor ended much too soon. Thank goodness he got another shot years later.

Writer: Peter David

Penciler: Joe Quesada

Inker: Al Milgrom

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in X-Factor Visionaries – Peter David, vol. 4 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 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