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X-Factor #1 (2020) Review

Let me start off by saying this is actually the second review I had to do for X-Factor #1. It turns out you can't just hand in a recording of yourself making pterodactyl screeching noises and call it a day, so this time, under contractual obligation, I guess I'll try it again with words.

The most difficult part of that is deciding where to begin, because incoherent excitability aside, I do in fact have a LOT of words for this book. Do I talk about the gorgeous, flowing artwork by David Baldeon, or the vibrant, eye-catching colors by Silva? Do I discuss the virtually unprecedented LGBT+ presence (solidly half of the entire founding team!), or the fact that we get queer characters being helmed by an actual queer writer? Do I talk about the inherent awesomeness in getting the mutant version of Unsolved Mysteries, seeing a plot built off of intrigue and brainpower instead of just the supernatural brawling hour?  Each of these are strong enough points in their own right to speak highly for this inaugural issue, but personally, my biggest draw to a story is in the strength of the cast itself, so let's dive in.

The book starts us off focusing on Northstar and wastes no time launching you into the thick of things with a powerful sense of urgency. Now, please keep in mind, Jean-Paul Beaubier has been my absolute favorite comic character since Alpha Flight #113; to spare you the math, that's been 28 years. I'm committed to this guy. And to see him frontlining a comic again, finally getting the attention he deserves, absolutely made the devastating 3-month hiatus this title got put on worthwhile. I could spend this entire review gushing about how well Leah Williams handles his complex personality, how refreshing it is to see a creator with an intrinsic understanding of the duality of his nature, her uncanny (no pun intended) ability to capture his arrogance as well as his softness, etc. etc. But it would be an absolute crime to ignore the myriad other factors (still no pun intended) that made this comic the best thing I've read this year since Marauders.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Wiliams face-to-face this past March at C2E2, where I fawned in a most fangirlish manner over her work on X-Tremists and told her that her writing made me like Betsy Braddock for the first time in history. The reason I bring this totally unrelated work up is because, as thrilled as I was for a book with Northstar in, I was somewhat less enthused about other members of the cast. In particular, Rachel Summers has never interested me, and Daken has always made me bristle, especially since Sina Grace's 'Winter's End' after the way he hurt my dear Iceman.

What a fool I was to doubt.

After a brief, amusing exchange with Sage- who I'm glad to see is another underappreciated gem getting some fair attention- we get a cameo appearance from Blob, still rocking that sweet mustache from the aforementioned X-Tremists run, and the story brings in Polaris, another old favorite of mine ever since I first saw her in the original X-Factor series.

And then there was Daken.

I would be well within my rights to be very cross with Leah Williams for having the AUDACITY to make him so effortlessly likable. Funny. Immediately relatable. His introduction made me laugh so abruptly, there wasn't even time to remind myself of the rigid dislike I had cultivated for him. She robbed me of that with her clever, snappy dialogue, exacerbated by Baldeon's bright, expressive art, which is consistently excellent throughout. She blessed us with the line, "You're such a potent concentration of 'disaster bisexual' that I fear your chaos is contagious," which might be the single greatest collection of words strung together into one sentence I've ever read in my life. I didn't stand a chance as I turned the page to Rachel's brilliantly unconventional first appearance, either, which stole another ill-gotten laugh from me.

I have to point out, Rachel is not very Rachel-like in this book. The chip on her shoulder from ye days of olde has been replaced with a rather Tabitha-Boom-Boom-Smith-esque laissez faire attitude, and while I could complain about the drastic change in personality, why would I? This is, as far as I'm concerned, exactly the kind of new life that needed to be breathed into young Miss Summers to make her interesting, and frankly, I can't imagine how she would have fit into the dynamic of this particular group any other way. And not only does Williams get how to improve on a boring character, she goes the extra mile to make sure she's including the wasted potential certain writers before her didn't bother to address. Who remembers Rachel's chrono-skimming powers? Leah Williams remembers.

It's exactly that attention to detail that has me so hyped up for this title. We're getting an honest-to-goodness murder mystery serial by someone who has demonstrated an obvious talent for set-up and pacing, and knows how to use every element of the characters she's been given control over, both in regards to personality as well as ability. I will admit, the first issue is a little heavy on dialogue, but the exposition doesn't feel spoon-fed, and it's interspersed well between moments of activity and movement. I have seen some complaints floating around about it, but here's why I think it's actually brilliant: I was able to hand this book to my best friend, a delightful woman who was familiar with a grand total of 2 people in the whole cast and has functionally zero knowledge of Marvel history, and she was able to follow along without having to ask me to explain anything. That's IMPORTANT. So many people I've met who are interested in comics are simply intimidated by not knowing where to start. The idea that they'll come into the middle of something that they don't understand isn't fun for anyone, and Williams uses her penchant for quick wit and cutting banter to give casual fans all the pertinent information they need to keep up without having to face the daunting thought of catching up. We need more books that are sympathetic enough to throw a bone to newcomers and smart enough that comic veterans don't feel like we're being talked down to.

In every way, X-Factor #1 delivers- in heart, in humor, in atmosphere, in representation, in satisfaction. It fills the plot hole left open regarding the Resurrection Protocols. It's visually stunning. It gives the limelight to underutilized characters who otherwise could have been left to obscurity. It gives us colorful, animated interactions, both sympathetic and sarcastic (seriously, every exchange between Northstar and Daken in this book is pure gold. Grab yourself a spoon because you're going to eat them up).The ending doesn't just open the door to untold possibility, it kicks the damn thing out of the frame and sets up shop. It's ambitious, unpredictable, and leaves you wanting more, excited to see what comes next, and I promise if you go read it, it'll make a true believer out of you, too.

Ainsley Hargus

 

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