Corporatizing Heroes: “All New X-Factor #1”

[21 January 2014]

By Jack Fisher

Corporations have gotten a bad rap in recent decades and to be fair, they’ve earned that rap. For many people, they embody the materialistic greed and narcissistic excess that feed the egos of every Gordon Gecko wannabe. But those same people probably will never admit to all the good that corporations have done for them. The same burned out hippies that protest corporate greed often blog about their outrage on computers sold to them by one corporation while wearing clothes sold by another. It’s a very soft kind of hypocrisy. It’s like a vegetarian that likes to wrap their carrot sticks in bacon.

Contrary to popular belief, corporations can actually do a lot of good. Apple, Google, Starbucks, Boeing, and Amazon all help people by providing them things they can’t get on their own. They’re not heroes because they don’t do it for free. Sometimes, corporations want to be seen as heroes. But corporations can never be heroes in the same way a thief can never be honest. That’s not to say corporations can’t provide the basis for heroics. Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are the most well-documented cases of a rich corporate leaders using their wealth and power to serve the greater good. But these are two tales that were forged from the bygone era created by Howard Hughes and Thomas Edison. Now in All New X-Factor #1, a new team of X-men attempts to forge a new tale in the era of Bernie Madoff, Enron, and Goldman Sachs.

It’s a dramatic shift from other recent X-men titles and that’s actually a good thing. At a time when the X-men are divided between Team Cyclops and Team Wolverine, there needs to be a third alternative where characters can take a more novel approach to being X-men. Historically, X-Factor has functioned in its own unique way. It exists in its own little corner of the X-men world, so much so that it has become somewhat detached at times. In that sense All New X-Factor #1 is perfectly positioned to take such a novel approach.

As the first issue of this new era in the annuls of X-Factor, it spends a fair amount of time establishing a new cast of characters for this team. Many of these characters are not D-Listers or complete unknowns either. Gambit, Polaris, and Quicksilver have all had prominent roles with the X-men in the past. However, their roles have been diminished in recent years. Some had their solo series get canceled. Some got kicked off their other teams. And some just went crazy, which is to be expected from time to time in the Marvel universe. This series provides them a new platform to contribute to the X-men.

But in the same way Batman can’t run the Batcave on determination alone, X-Factor can’t be competent heroes without a few resources. This is where their new corporate sponsor comes in and in this new series, it is basically presented as its own character. The corporation that enlists X-Factor is called Serval Industries. It may sound more generic than 95 percent of the companies on the New York Stock Exchange, but they have their hand in weapons manufacturing and internet search. So in a modern context, they probably have more than enough money and resources to provide X-Factor with everything they need, except for maybe a dental plan and inexpensive health care.

There’s still the question of why a corporation would want to support a superhero team. Many corporations go to great lengths to never be mentioned in the news except when it involves their stock price. But Harrison Snow, the CEO of Serval, claims he wants to help X-Factor because they’re in the business of helping people. On some level’s he’s not wrong. Corporations need to help people if they’re to make their money. They’re not like the IRS in that they can just barge into peoples’ houses with guns and demand their money, although some corporations probably wish they had that power. But corporations still have to turn a profit and it’s not clear how supporting X-Factor will help Serval.

Harrison Snow draws some comparisons with Tony Stark, but doesn’t convey the same charisma. He’s certainly no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs either. But he makes the argument that if countries and international organizations can support heroes, then why can’t corporations? They already own some governments so in some ways, Snow is just skipping a step. He never mentions profit and he never mentions business either. Maybe in a different era, he would have been given the benefit of the doubt. But in this era of government bailouts and overpaid CEOs, it’s hard to get a feel for who this character is. And that’s exactly what makes him and this new setup for X-Factor interesting.

While Harrison Snow is a mystery, the new cast of X-Factor is both familiar and satisfying. Gambit, Polaris, and Quicksilver say outright in some areas that they don’t fit in with the other X-men anymore. They need to find their own place and X-Factor is giving them a chance to do just that. They even have a new threat to deal with in AIM. It’s a threat that’s as generic as the name of the company that supports them, but maybe that’s the point. Like NASCAR drivers with company logos painted on their racers, they know where they stand and what they’re getting into.

At its core, All New X-Factor #1 sets up a new business plan for X-Factor. It’s like a company that is being restructured in order to enter a new industry. Apple did it when they entered the cell phone business. Now X-Factor is doing it with Serval. It brings together several characters that are in need of a new outlet for being X-men while not getting too bogged down in emotional baggage. As a business model, it remains to be seen whether it will be profitable in a literal or figurative manner. But it succeeds in presenting a novel approach into a series that has already distinguished itself in that field. X-Factor is still a long ways from being the next iPhone, but it’s off to a good start.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/178399-all-new-x-factor-1/