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X-Factor #5 (1986, June)

July 24, 2015

So apparently I will be going to Ant-Man, on Monday. My brother wants to go, so I guess I’ll be going with him. But for today, by Layton and Guice, “Tapped Out.”

Tapped Out

Frenzy is the only one of those four to actually go on to do anything else.

Some guy escapes from a rather nice chalet, and gets away in a car left for him. One of the Alliance is about to blast the car, but another stops her, since they can’t risk killing the guy. The others all figure they can catch him before their withdrawals start.

Meanwhile, X-Factor is doing some exercise. While they do, Jean expresses some doubts about the X-Factor idea, and whether they’re just making things worse. Iceman argues that they’ve already saved two mutants, but Beast says Jean has a point. So Iceman, being either an idiot or a sociopath, freezes Beast’s feet while Beast is hanging on a couple wires, which makes Beast lose his balance and fall. Angel catches him, and then they all torment Iceman for a minute.

Elsewhere, the escaped guy, Michael Nowlan, is trying to call his ex so she can get him some “dope” so he won’t be able to use his power and he’ll be useless to the Alliance. I just love how “dope” was the drug of choice in comics in the ’80s. In this case, the guy presumably means heroin, but in other cases, dope is presumably used to mean marijuana. And sometimes maybe cocaine. Honestly, writers just used “dope” as a catch-all back then. Anyway, his ex has cleaned up and stopped selling drugs, and she wants Mike to leave her alone. Then she calls X-Factor.

In Soho, Vera’s taken Beast and Iceman to a little boutique for some new clothes. The outfit she picks out for him is . . . not good. At all. She likes it, which makes me pretty sure she’s probably on dope. They get an emergency beep, and head back to HQ. There, we actually find out Jean’s enrolled in night courses at Columbia University, for a psychology program.

After a briefing by Hodge, X-Factor flies off to find Mike Nowlan. In San Francisco, the ex, Suzy, is packing up and planning on skipping town, but she’s attacked by the Alliance. X-Factor finds Nowlan in his motel room, with some needles. So, yep, the “dope” here is heroin. They wake him up, and he freaks out and hits them with some energy that makes their powers go out of control.

We get Mike’s backstory – he was in ‘Nam, got addicted to drugs, got sent home to a detox centre, met Suzy, accidentally activated some guy’s mutant power, and mutants started looking for him to augment their powers. He used drugs to block the power transfer, and he doesn’t want X-Factor’s help. Beast convinces him to let them help.

Just in time for a fight with the Alliance. They have Suzy, so Mike has no choice but to boost their powers. The Alliance kicks X-Factor’s ass, and brings Nowlan back to their chateau, and their master. It’s Apocalypse! We don’t see much of him here. Mostly just his profile, and one eye. We don’t see his face.

This is an OK issue. It’s Layton’s last issue on the book, aside from an Annual, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see him go. I wasn’t really impressed with his work here. He turned Scott and Warren into unfaithful dicks, the “mutant-hunter” premise was idiotic from the start and it defied reason that any of them would’ve thought it was a great idea, his reverting Beast back to human felt too much like trying to revert things back to the ’60s status quo. All in all, I just wasn’t impressed.

As for this particular issue, it feels a bit disjointed. The scenes of them all doing their own things were weird. The bit in the clothing shop seems like it was meant for comedic relief, but I’m not sure it was really needed, given we’d already had some comedic relief earlier, during the exercise scene. There was a scene of Rusty and Artie talking about Scott being distracted, and it didn’t work at all. I’m wondering if it was just a way of reminding readers that those two exist. I did like the idea of Jean attending night courses at college. That’s one thing I wish had been continued, but I don’t think Louise Simonson really followed up on it. It would’ve been cool to see her doing something that would both help with her superheroing and also give her the skills to build a normal life if she ever chose to. Very few X-Men would actually be able to fend for themselves outside the X-Men. Although, interestingly, Jean’s the only one of the original team who doesn’t have a specific skillset to fall back on. Iceman’s a CPA, Scott’s a pilot, Angel’s a businessman, and Beast is a scientist. They’re all qualified for normal careers. Jean’s not.

I digress. I think I mentioned it in a previous review, but Layton’s original idea for the Big Bad was the Owl. One of Daredevil’s bigger villains in the ’60s, who’d fallen into utter irrelevance with the rise of the Kingpin in the ’80s. Layton apparently wanted to re-imagine him as a threat again, as an X-Factor foe. But when Layton was removed, editor Bob Harras told Louise Simonson he wanted a big, Magneto-level villain, and Simonson (with a sketch from husband Walter) pitched Apocalypse. Apparently, Guice had even drawn in the Owl on the final page, and then they just drew Apocalypse in over him. The whole thing is talked about in this CBR article by Timothy Callahan. (The article also has Guice mention another vaguely-planned X-Factor story, where Madrox’s clones would go out of control and start hunting and killing him and each other, on the coast of Ireland. That actually sounds like it might’ve been a fun story, but also really dark.) Man, can you imagine if Layton had stayed on, and kept the Owl as his big villain? The Owl! He’s a guy who flies. That’s it. He’s just about as powerful as Angel. Less, actually – he doesn’t fly, he glides. So Layton’s idea for a Big Bad who could threaten the X-Factor team was a guy who’s significantly less powerful than Angel, and who used to routinely get beat up by a blind man, until the blind man moved on to bigger threats. The Owl was too small-scale for the blind guy. I suppose we don’t know exactly how Layton would’ve gone about it, what his exact plans were. Just the same, man, we dodged a bullet there. Instead of the lame-ass Owl, we got the iconic, major-league villain Apocalypse. A villain so awesome he got his own world where he won. And who’s getting a movie based on that world. Can you even imagine “Age of the Owl” as a thing? It’s a ridiculous concept.

The art here is good. Not so good that it’s worth spending much time talking about, though. It’s weird, actually. Guice does very, very nice work. It’s very crisp. And yet . . . I find I have trouble actually caring about it. I don’t know why. I will say that he does love his fanservice – on behalf of women and gay men. The gym scene is full of shirtless men showing off their muscles. Jean is wearing a normal leotard, along with tights. So she’s pretty well-covered. But Scott, Angel and Beast are all just wearing shorts. In Angel’s case, it’s just a speedo. Guice brought a lot of beefcake to X-Factor. One has to give him that much, at the very least.

Anyway. Decent issue.

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