X-Factor: Genesis and Apocalypse (2017)
Reprints Avengers #263, Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1-9, X-Factor Annual #1, Iron Man Annual #8, Amazing Spider-Man #282, material from Classic X-Men #8, 43
Written by Roger Stern, John Byrne, Bob Layton, Bob Harras, Louise Simonson, Tom DeFalco, Chris Claremont, and Jackson Guice
Art by John Buscema, John Byrne, Jackson Guice, Keith Pollard, Paul Neary, Bob Layton, Rick Leonardi, Marc Silvestri, Terry Shoemaker, John Bolton, and Mike Collins
It was 1986, and for five years, Jean Grey had been dead. In a shocking development within the pages of Uncanny X-Men, she became possessed by the Phoenix Force, driven mad, and gave up her life to stop the cosmic entity from wreaking any more havoc. The original X-Men: Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Angel grew apart and left the team they started with. Then something miraculous happened, a cocoon was found in Jamaica Bay in New York City by the Avengers. With the help of the Fantastic Four, they discovered Jeany Grey inside, apparently without any memory of the tragedy that occurred. Her return would spur on events that would resonate throughout the Marvel Universe for decades to come.
The concept of X-Factor as it starts is almost entirely different from where it ended up in this run and certainly miles away from what it is today. Here the five original X-Men reunite to form a phony corporation. X-Factor Investigations. They pose as humans who are essentially mutant Ghostbusters. In reality, after humans report the whereabouts of mutants to them, the team swoops in and rescues the persecuted, finding a safe place for them to dwell. Almost immediately, this idea runs into some problems, and it is some very underwhelming storytelling. There’s a sudden pivot to undo some of the Beast’s development since the 1970s, with him being kidnapped by a contentious scientific colleague and losing all his beautiful blue fur. He goes back to his more human form from the 1960s so that they can have him believably disguised during their mutant-hunting ruse.
There’s the introduction of several supporting characters, all with varying degrees of development. Cameron Hodge is brought in, an employee of Warren Worthington (The Angel) who handles X-Factor’s PR and management side. Their first rescue is Rusty Collins, a sailor in the Navy whose pyrokinetic powers are activated during shore leave and send him into hiding. He comes into the care and mentorship of X-Factor and helps to take care of Artie Maddicks, a mutant child whose father is responsible for de-furring Beast. Artie has a form of visual telepathy that lets him project another’s thoughts so people around him can see it as a film. These two feel very awkward as X-Factor is so often out on missions that don’t seem to do much with their charges.
This collection includes material from Marvel Age, a fan magazine produced by the company through the 1980s and 90s. These are previews and interviews surrounding the launch of X-Factor, and it is fascinating to see how the concept was already changing before the first issue was published. I would never say this period of X-Factor is enjoyable to read because it is undoubtedly some messy, rough material. Bob Layton has one direction he wants to go, and then suddenly he’s off the book, and Louise Simonson is given the writing duties. Her approach is much more in line with what Claremont was doing with the X-titles, so the book begins to feel like an X-title.
I can say handily that I am not a fan of what Layton was doing in the book. The whole mutant Ghostbuster-schtick is a premise that doesn’t work for me. It feels like the premise of a bad television adaptation of the X-Men, creating a “mutant of the week” scenario instead of an ongoing narrative. About halfway into Layton’s run, we start to see a group of evil mutants working for a shadowy figure they refer to as Apocalypse. Layton’s Apocalypse is not the character comic book readers now know. It falls on Simonson to fully introduce the villain, and he, much like all of the mutant characters during this time, is far from being the final version we now know. This Apocalypse is a very generic arch-villain, scheming up some master plan that shouldn’t be examined with too much scrutiny lest it falls apart. The En Sabah Nur we now have is a much more layered and complex character thanks to the many writers who have come after.
A significant element to note is how awful a person Scott Summers (Cyclops) is. At this point in his history, Summers had married Madelyne Pryor, a woman he met in Alaska that bore a remarkable resemblance to Jean, who was dead at the time. They had a child together, Nathan, who was a baby as X-Factor began. Summers takes off to New York City to see Jean and wrestle with their unrequited feelings. All the while, he abandons his wife and child, and the comic makes it very clear this is what he has done. Madelyne’s story would become more tragic as time went on, with Claremont truly putting her through the wringer.
I wouldn’t recommend you read this collection unless you are chomping at the bit to see how X-Factor began. I have only read bits and pieces of this series, so I can’t say precisely when or if it gets good, but these opening issues are certainly not it. The success of Uncanny X-Men was leading to more spin-offs with The New Mutants and Wolverine as the two big ones at the time. The idea of reuniting the original five X-Men is not a bad idea, but the way it is executed here leaves so much to be desired.