X-Factor Volume 19: Short Stories Review

X-Factor Volume 19: Short Stories Review

There are times when Marvel’s aggressive trade paperback program feels like it’s getting ahead of itself, and such is the case for X-Factor in March, as it sees the release of not one but two trade paperback collections. Volume 19, Short Stories, collects issues #246-#249, as Peter David continues to explore the fall-out from the prior storyline, Breaking Points, as well as setting up the climactic Hell on Earth War storyline, that’s only now playing out in the monthly X-Factor issues, after a prolonged period of build-up.

Whereas Breaking Points broke the team up a bit, and allowed David to focus on particular characters and elements of the team while shaking things up, this collection of stories feels a bit more cohesive, as he pulls the team back together and sets up his next major storyline, one which he has been building to for quite a while. The first story collected is a fun little one-off featuring Pip the Troll, which quickly and surprisingly turns deadly at the close of the story. The second issue has Madrox and Layla Miller enjoying wedded bliss, by which I mean of course getting involved in a very strange and odd situation that their unique skill set and powers is well suited for. The last two issues collected here are where everything really starts to hit the fan, and David pulls the story threads together quite nicely. The team comes together when they find out that Pip has been killed, only to discover that Pip isn’t well and truly dead, as a body swap has left him and M in a unique situation. It all leads to Hell on Earth finally coming for X-Factor, with the collection ending off with “to be continued”.

I think I said it before in a prior review, but Peter David has clearly been having a fun time with this series, and that fun continues each and every month. He has his own little sandbox that he can play with, and it’s clear that there’s less and less editorial interference and edicts that he has to worry about accommodating. It’s been a while since this book was forced to take part in any actual crossover, and it allows David to tell his own stories at his own pace, without having to bend to others’ whims.

The artwork in this volume is shared by two different artists, Paul Davidson who does issues #246 and #248, and Leonard Kirk who does issues #247 and #249. It’s interesting that they both do one issue before letting the other artist jump in, and then do so again. Although both artists obviously have different styles, the tone and atmosphere of the book remains unchanged thanks to colorist Matt Milla. Because of his excellent work on the color art, although the pencils/inks might change, the general tone of the book remains consistent.

For fans of this current run of X-Factor, this continues to be a well-plotted, well-written and well-illustrated comic book, which isn’t the best book on the shelves, but is certainly one of the most consistent and well-rounded. I wouldn’t say that this is a great point to jump onto the book, however, as this volume builds up to the long-gestating Hell on Earth War, which finally explodes with X-Factor #250 (to be included in the next trade paperback volume).

 

X-Factor Volume 18: Breaking Points Review

X-Factor Volume 18: Breaking Points Review

If nothing else, X-Factor is one of the most consistently enjoyable books currently being published by Marvel Comics, as it has a consistent tone and style, much of which comes from being written by a single writer throughout its entire existence. Peter David uses X-Factor as his own personal sandbox, to tell fun, enjoyable stories about a group of characters that he clearly enjoys writing stories about. There have been moments throughout the run of the series when he’s had to bring X-Factor into line with other books in the X-line as part of a few crossovers, but for the most part he’s had little to no real interaction with the larger Marvel Universe, while still being part of it. It allows David the freedom to use what he likes and disregard story elements he may not feel like touching on.

This new volume collects X-Factor #241-245, which was originally marketed as five days that would change X-Factor forever. What’s impressive about this book and this volume in particular is that he takes quite a large cast of characters, as well as numerous ongoing story threads that he’s juggling, and deftly weaves a storyline which is really composed of five separate little stories, changing the status quo for these characters. The currently running storyline in X-Factor is the “Hell on Earth War” storyline, which starts in X-Factor #250, and is a big story bringing the entire team together. What I liked instead about this particular storyline is that it’s about taking the team apart, separating the characters, and telling important stories that are much smaller in scope, but not smaller in importance in stature. To this end, we get the reappearance of Darwin, a climactic showdown with the Deathlok Cap, more developments in the fraught life of Tier, discover the true origin of Polaris, which attempts to reconcile the many prior attempts at explaining her parentage, see Siryn make a deal that changes her life completely, and see Havok make the decision to leave the team behind, and move forward with his life (which sees him lead the Uncanny Avengers in said book).

Leonard Kirk is the ongoing artist on X-Factor these days, and he brings a consistency to his artwork that is mirrored in what Peter David himself brings to the scripting. These are varying types of stories, in terms of the action component as well as the pathos component, and yet they feel perfectly weighted for how the stories unfold for the reader. As it appears that X-Factor might soon be ending this summer, I’m glad that we’ll at least have over twenty volumes to enjoy going forwards, a testament to Peter David as a writer, for keeping the book going strong for such a long time in an increasingly more competitive marketplace. This isn’t a bad place to jump in to the series, and the fact that you get a series of character specific storylines instead of a giant team story makes it easier to decipher just what’s going on. Recommended!

Injustice: Gods Among Us #1-10 Review

Injustice: Gods Among Us #1-10 Review

There is perhaps no genre of game less known for its storytelling acumen than that of the fighting game. So, you would be forgiven for discounting a digitally-published comic book based on such a game. Yet, to write off Injustice: Gods Among Us at face value would be a mistake, because what could have been an easy cash in is actually an intriguing, if flawed, “what if” tale of superheroes gone wrong.

The narrative of Injustice: Gods Among Us poses an interesting quandary. What would happen if Superman was pushed so far that he decided the best way to save the world was to conquer it? How would the nations of the Earth react? How would other heroes respond? Just how far would the Man of Steel go to achieve his goals?

There are a lot of big ideas at work in Injustice, but writer Tom Taylor is able to ground the story by making it about the personal relationships of these characters. There is an intriguing dynamic between Wonder Woman and Superman and some hilarious banter between Harley Quinn and Green Arrow, but the true heart of this comic lies in the friendship between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Taylor does a masterful job of communicating the bond of these two heroes in very little time, and this makes their developing feud all the more dramatic.

The DC Universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us takes its cues from the current New 52 continuity, but Taylor sets up enough of a divergent timeline to keep the story from falling under the weight of continuity. I’m not saying you won’t get more out of the comic if you know these characters backwards and forwards, but Taylor gives new readers enough so they can thoroughly enjoy only what’s on the page. The writing itself is generally very solid with an admirable tonal consistency. However, there are moments when this commitment to the “dark” tone takes the book over the line from serious to silly. Thankfully, those moments are brief and the title doesn’t suffer very much from them.

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The true weakness of I:GAU is its art. The book employs a revolving stable of pencillers to try and keep up with its weekly release schedule and this leads to an uneven and schizophrenic visual feel to the title. This could be forgiven if the ever-changing look was solid, but out of a group that includes Jheremy Raapack, Axel Gimenez, Mike S. Miller, Bruno Redondo and David Yardin, only Yardin’s art stands out above the pack. His Wonder Woman, Superman and Ares are all finely detailed and his action brings a kinetic sense that’s lacking from the others.

Outside of Mr. Yardin, the other work is not just visually unappealing, it’s also lazy. For example, there is one set of panels that depict a close up of Superman with an unshaven face, and then in the next panel we see a wide shot of Superman without a beard, and then when we come back to the close up where his face is once again adorned with stubble. This is shoddy work that makes the book feel cheap and that’s a disservice to a comic that is otherwise high in quality.

Injustice: Gods Among Us should be lauded for taking what could have been an utter waste of time and making it into a thoroughly enjoyable comic book. It is first and foremost a great tool for those excited about the game who want to go into it with a better understanding of the plot. But it’s also an entertaining standalone tale that I think will tickle the fancy of a reader looking for a different kind of Justice League tale. Writer Tom Taylor writes both the  well-known – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – and the not-so-well-known – Raven and Mirror Master – of the DC Universe very well. Sure, Injustice’s art suffers from inconsistency and poor attention to detail, but the story is strong and the price point is low, so I say this is a story to check out.