Reading a superhero comic written by Peter David must be like having seen Babe Ruth play baseball or Leonard Bernstein conduct an orchestra: you’re watching a master in his field at the top of his game amazing all who watch. At least that’s the feeling I got after reading his first arc of X-Factor.
Of course, David is no stranger to X-Factor, having written a number of issues for the first incarnation of the title. He has carried over some of the same characters from that run, but this latest X-Factor series is quite unlike the previous one. It is not your typical superhero book, owing more to the works of Raymond Chandler and film noir than Lee and Kirby.
The series is a sequel to not only last year’s Madrox limited series but also the House of M event. Madrox set up its main character as a detective in the “Mutant Town” section of Marvel’s New York, an area inhabited primarily by, you guessed it, Mutants. The aftermath of House of M leaves this part of town full of ex-mutants, and this plays heavily in this series.
As a matter of fact, there is a lot that plays out in this arc. The main storyline of these four issues is about a client of the agency that is implicated in a murder. But there is also a subplot about X-Factor becoming the ipso facto protectors of de-powered residents of Mutant Town, which may become an issue later on in the series. Also an underlying thread about the agency’s evil competition, Singular Investigations, is introduced. This plot will eventually become the main focus of the book’s first year.
In the hands of a lesser writer, all these plots—not to mention the size of the cast and the need to be beholden to the goings-on in other Marvel books—would have made the title an incomprehensible mess. The arc would have been bogged down and the story would have dragged. But David weaves everything together quite well. The reader never feels lost or overwhelmed. David know exactly how much space to give each plot line, understands when to bring the next one in, and advances them all spectacularly.
You would expect mystery to be a big part of any book revolving around a detective agency, and X-Factor has mystery in spades, not only in the overall plot but also in the characters and their true motivations. There is a secret to writing a good mystery—let the audience know just enough about what is going on so that they are curious about the rest. David employs this tactic to the hilt which draws the reader in and involves them in the characters and the plot.
One of the biggest weapons in David’s arsenal has always been humor and that is on display in the book as well. He uses it in just the right doses to enhance the mood instead of destroying it. He also juggles the enormous cast, seven members in X-Factor alone and numerous periphery characters, quite well. Each character is well developed and unique. Most of the aforementioned humor comes from the way these individuals interact with each other and the world around them.
Ryan Sook’s artwork is a perfect match for the noir-ish tone of the book. His use of shadow and light sets the mood very well and adds to the story. Unfortunately, he was only able to complete one full issue (issue one) before his lateness required Marvel to get him some help. His relief artist, Dennis Callero, seems like he’s trying to ape Sook’s style to unify the tone of the book. He comes close, and definitely gets better as the arc progresses, but his art is still a jarring contrast from Sook’s. You get the feeling that Callero’s art suffers from trying to conform to the artwork around him. He will take over full penciling duties for the series for a couple issues at least. It would be interesting to see how his art changes when it doesn’t have to imitate anyone else’s style but his own.
All in all, this does not take away from the enjoyment of these issues. The story, and the hints of what is yet to come, makes this a book that you should pick up when it hits trade paperback. After all, when is the next time you are going to see a master at work?