Comic Review: X-Factor #1

Marvel is in the habit of recycling old comic titles, probably in an effort to grasp the popularity that a particular title once had. This rule especially applies in the case of the X-Men and their numerous offshoots. X-Force, for example, was recently reintroduced as a Cyclops-condoned wetworks team with some of the X-Men's most vicious members before evolving into something...different starring the likes of Deadpool and Fantomex. I've never read the newer issues, like Uncanny X-Force (Marvel likes reusing adjectives as well) so I'm not too sure what the heck is going on there.

The newest title being reimagined is X-Factor, a team that was created by the five original X-Men and more recently became a Jamie Maddrox-led private investigation team that included Siryn, Shatterstar, and M. The newest incarnation of X-Factor, the All New X-Factor, features a shake-up of the cast, bringing some different mutants into the fray. I'll get to that in a moment.

The book opens with a pair of scientists heartlessly torturing a shadowy figure before quickly moving on to a scene starring Gambit, the X-Men's resident thief, in the middle of a heist. He is interrupted by Wolverine who is annoyed with Gambit for shirking his responsibilities at the Jean Grey School. The irony (or should I say hypocrisy) of someone like Wolverine chastising Gambit for his thieving ways was most definitely not lost on me. But, whatever, I guess. The story needed an inciting incident to get Gambit into a bar and this was it.

While in that bar, he is approached by Polaris, the mutant daughter of Magneto. They exchange banter worthy of a Gilmore Girls script for a few minutes before she convinces Gambit to join her on a trip to the headquarters of Serval Industries. Serval is "a rising corporation" with their hands in everything from online search engines to weapons manufacturing. But above all, they are in the business of philanthropy. They also have enemies, as evidenced by the missile attack as Polaris and Gambit are en route to their destination. It sounds more serious than it actually is as the attack is thwarted in the span of two panels.

Gambit is introduced to Harrison Snow, the CEO and President of Serval. Snow explains that he wishes to revive X-Factor as a corporate-led super team. At this point, Quicksilver is brought in as the third member of the team before they are quickly dispatched to rescue a kidnapped mutant who is being tortured for scientific research. Thus the issue comes full circle to the first scene.

There were quite a few things that bothered me in the issue, most of which I already snarked about above. The Wolverine scene was head-shakingly annoying with the way he barges in on Gambit with some vague excuses of "the owner turned it [the security system] off once I arrived". Their entire exchange was just a ridiculous mess as they discuss the dangerous magical artifact that Gambit is trying to steal. But it's OK because, as Wolverine tells us, "the spells that activate it have been lost for three thousand years". Clearly the issue's writer Peter David just needed an excuse to get these two into a room together without making Gambit look like a thieving dick.

Then there's the bar scene. Gambit sits drinking among a pair of unconscious men and a smoldering crater in the floor. Apparently they've angered him with their opinion that New Orleans deserved to get hit by Hurricane Katrina. This is all explained through a clumsy info-dump by Gambit who goes on to explain the oh-so-timely discussion of the matter. Yes, Hurricane Katrina hit almost a decade ago but it's still a hot topic because "we got a long memory". A scene like this could have come about in any number of ways, but again, those ways would have made Gambit, the main character and protagonist of the book, look like a jerk. Like an anti-hero, and that's clearly not what David was going for.

But here's the thing; when the scenes you write to make your hero look heroic come off as forced and ridiculous, maybe that character just isn't a hero. Gambit is a thief. He has been since the beginning. He's also kind of a jerk. That's actually why he became such a popular character to start with. The same way that Wolverine and his murderous berserker rages made him one of Marvel's cash cows. He is more likely to steal a diamond-and-emerald-encrusted pendant for the high dollar value it contains than a magic artifact that may wind up in the wrong hands. And though, yes, he would defend New Orleans if he encountered someone talking shit about the city, he would just as likely get into a bar fight with a guy he tried to hustle playing pool. And the latter would seem less contrived and more believable.

Pretty much what I'm saying is Gambit isn't right for this book. Polaris and Quicksilver both take a back seat to Gambit as he meanders his way through becoming a member of a new X-Team so it's difficult to say how their inclusion will affect the book. But Gambit, or I should say David's vision of Gambit as a righteous hero, really dulls it and makes the title laughable.

The art took my by surprise. At first I wasn't crazy for Carmine Di Giandomenico's pencils; they seemed too rigid for me, lacking life. But as the issue progress, his style grew on me and I could see the appreciation he had for the character details. He managed to make Gambit's face less punchable and put a certain smugness on Polaris. Although Polaris' permanent wedgie was a bit unnerving.

More than the pencils, I really have to tip my hat to the colors. It took me a while to see the theme but colorist Lee Loughridge did a beautiful job of maintaining specific color palettes for certain scenes. In the earlier pages, Gambit is shrouded in purple with Wolverine in blue. Later, Gambit's color palette switches to yellow, the color that encompasses most of X-Factor, signifying his acceptance of the team. The one exception is Quicksilver, who maintains the color blue, perhaps indicating that he is not entirely a team player, like maybe a traitor or a spy. No matter how this plays out, it was a nice touch by Loughridge.

I've been a fan of X-Factor in the past so I was looking forward to this new incarnation of the team. And while I can enjoy most of what's going on, I just can't get past this forced re-characterization of Gambit. I've never really liked the character but he does play well into certain situations...given his rapscallion ways. And even though he has the heart of a hero, he is not as virtuous as David is trying to portray him here. Because of this, I doubt that this All New X-Factor is for me.

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