X-Factor Annual #1 (1986, October)
Another X-Factor comic. And not a good one. By Bob Layton, “Grand Design.”
It starts with a TV ad for X-Factor. Then a double-page spread of X-Factor on missions around North America. They return after a long string of missions that has them exhausted, and Hodge tells them a pair of Soviet Ambassadors are waiting for them. They want to study X-Factor’s mutant hunting techniques. X-Factor is ready to turn them down, but Hodge says he’s gotten a call suggesting the lives of mutants inside the USSR might be in danger. Inside the USSR, a mutant is trying to escape a prison, but is stopped by the Crimson Dynamo.
X-Factor meets with a Senator who’s secretly on their side. He shows them photos smuggled out of the USSR, showing mutants dissected. They want to find a way to replicate the X-gene so they can breed an army of mutant soldiers.
X-Factor arrives in Russia a week later. As they’re being led through the airport, a pair of mutants attack, and one tries to grab Bobby, but gets shot in the back while escaping. X-Factor heads to the hotel, and after disabling any surveillance bugs, they talk. Angel’s searching for the facility, while the others wait for his signal so they can join him. He gets spotted by a couple helicopters, and he quickly takes them out.
At a meal, X-Factor is joined by Dr. Heinreich, the guy they’re there to abduct. Heinreich realizes they’re mutants. Then they go to give their presentation. At a later reception, Bobby’s led into an ambush. Heinreich assumes his form, and his powers. As Bobby’s being taken out to be killed, more mutants show up to rescue him. He’s taken to a secret hideout, where the mutants start to interrogate him, but he ends it by icing up.
At the hotel, X-Factor gets the signal they were waiting for from Angel, and head off to the prison. They start their infiltration. They find a lab where mutants are being experimented on. Then Heinreich makes his move. He takes down Scott first, then lets in Crimson Dynamo to help with the other three. They run away, and Scott blasts Heinreich and Dynamo from behind. Dynamo chases the other three while Heinreich fights Scott.
The Russian mutants bust in, and Iceman goes to fight Heinreich. The Russians free the prisoners. Angel gets grabbed by Dynamo because Angel is useless. Sadly, Scott is able to blast Angel free. Heinreich is losing to Iceman, and in his anger, he creates so much ice that the floor collapses beneath him. It was awfully convenient for there to be a pit right beneath the lab. But then again, there’s always a pit. Anyway, there’s a plan for beating Crimson Dynamo, and it involves Beast teaching Iceman some quick Russian phrases. Good thing Beast speaks Russian. All the mutants escape.
Father Garnoff uses his hypnotism to force X-Factor to turn him in to the Russian authorities. Then X-Factor hops a plane back home. Dr. Heinreich happens to be on the plane. You’d think this would lead to something down the line. Nope! He never shows up again.
This was OK. Pretty much everything about it was simply OK. The plot, the writing, the new characters, the action, the art – there was little that was bad, and little that was great. The Russian mutants aren’t particularly compelling, especially since they don’t get much to do. They get very little characterization. Truthfully, X-Factor actually gets surprisingly little characterization, too. This annual is mostly about the plot. Unfortunately, the plot isn’t all that spectacular. Superheroes go into the USSR to stop terrible experiments. That was the plot of a solid chunk of the ’60s and ’70s. And in general, the plot ended up feeling like it had way too much padding. Most of it was necessary, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like padding.
The art was OK. Layton was a talented enough artist. Conventional, and not one of the best conventional artists. But it was OK. It got the job done.
This first X-Factor Annual serves as a nice reminder of why it was good to have Layton off the title.
By the way, I should have mentioned this yesterday. But X-Factor was also in the Iron Man Annual #8, by Bob Harras and Paul Neary. It features Willie Evans, a young black mutant who previously appeared in Fantastic Four #203. He uses his reality altering powers to play a rather mean prank on his teacher. That night, a group comes in and kidnaps Willie. His father heads to X-Factor HQ, thinking they took him, and pulls a gun on Hodge and a secretary. He thinks X-Factor took his son. He’s taken to meet with X-Factor, and explains the situation, and Willie’s previous encounter with the Fantastic Four. A year after that, Willie’s mom died in a car accident, and Willie started acting out. After the meeting, X-Factor debates a bit about their little charade, then Beast says he knows where Willie’s been taken.
They head to Project: Pegasus, where Iron Man’s already located. After a brief fight, Beast tackles Iron Man over a cliff so he can talk to him. With the situation explained, Iron Man takes X-Factor’s side, just in time for Willie to start trying to kill everyone. He beats everyone up and walks out. Iron Man and X-Factor find him again in a small town. They team up to try to overpower a force field Willie creates. Eventually, his dad shows up, but stuff happens, and Willie dies. It’s an OK story. A bit weird, a bit sad. A nice follow-up to what I felt had been a relatively weak earlier story. Neary’s art is good. It’s a pretty OK story.