Thursday, 16 May 2013

Review: X-Factor #256

Writer: Peter David
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Publisher: Marvel Comics

After capturing all the remaining Lords of Hell, Mephisto has declared himself the winner of the Hell on Earth War. But victory may be premature, as Rahne's son Tier seeks to embrace his destiny and end the threat once and for all!

The "Hell on Earth War" has been brewing for a long time in the mind of writer Peter David. So on one hand, it must be freeing to have this story finally told. However, on the other hand, it's largely read as incoherent demonic gibberish. I'm the biggest X-Factor fan possible, so it genuinely pains me to say I haven't much enjoyed David's masterwork. Even with all the foreshadowing, I've felt the team wildly out of place dealing with the mystical side of the Marvel Universe. I much prefer the series when it focuses upon it's characters with personal stories in a noir detective agency setting. As a regular super-team battling the hounds of Hell itself, the premise loses a lot of it's luster. Here's hoping the final six issues bring the series back around to where it all began.

That's not to say it's been a complete loss. There have been a few noteworthy beats strewn throughout this muddled arc. Most notably the transformation of series lead Jamie Madrox into a mute horned demon. While it's sad to lose the central character for so long a time, there is a palpable sense of fear as to his eventual fate. His demonic dupes play a huge role in the eventual defeat of the villain, but upon vanquishing, our hero is swept away with all other magical beings to god knows where. I very much look forward to the team attempting to reclaim their lost leader and the end of his role as detective as the series wraps up.

Another big payoff contained within the issue comes in the form of Guido's ascension (or fall) to become the King of Hell. He's traditionally been a great source of humour amongst the many misfits of X-Factor, however in recent months, it's come to light that a brush with death left him a soulless husk of the man he once was. As a result, he's become a huge wildcard in the team's ongoing work, never quite knowing whether logic or reason will win out over simple opportunism. This issue serving as the perfect example, as Guido abruptly kills the supposed saviour Tier and takes the power of Hell for himself. David had spent so long building Tier up as the begrudging hero, I don't think anyone was expecting his life to come to such an unfulfilled end. Similarly, Guido was off to the side dealing with Monet for so long a time, it simply didn't occur to me he'd have a major role in the conclusion. It was not a selfish act however, as Guido took the power simply to resurrect the fallen Monet. Just how soulless the big lug is, remains to be seen.

I'd be remiss without mentioning the cold dismissal of X-Factor mainstays, Rictor and Shatterstar. They both perish in similar fashion, with Mephisto vaporising the pair in a blaze of glory. For David to get within sight of the proverbial finish-line of the series, yet still be able to casually murder two long term characters in a matter of panels, is damned impressive. Their sudden deaths at the hands of a mystical being leave the door open to a quick and painless reversal in future issues, however, I can't help but feel as though leaving these cruel acts in place may be the preferred option. How often are we, as readers, disappointed to find a character's death reversed within a ridiculously short amount of time. It's far ballsier to admit beloved superheroes could perish at the drop of a hat in the most unspectacular way possible.

This particular arc may've not been to my personal taste, but the writer Peter David has earned such good will over the course of these 100+ issues, I'm happy to give him a free pass on this occasion. The character beats of the story are as poignant as ever, I simply believe the team were out of their element on this case.

7 out of 10

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