X-Factor #33

Written by Peter David
Penciled by Larry Stroman
Inked by Jon Sibal
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

I freely admit that when someone mentions “the Peter David X-Factor“, the first comic to jump to mind is not his current series. Instead, it’s his and Larry Stroman’s collaboration from the early ’90s, taking six characters that no one else really cared about (Havok, Polaris, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man, Quicksilver, and Lila Cheney’s bodyguard Guido) and turning the book into a fan-favorite. It was a really memorable book, not quite like anything else on the market, and something that I still think of fondly. With Stroman joining the current X-Factor as its new artist, can lightning strike twice?

Jamie Madrox’s X-Factor has pulled up stakes, leaving New York for the city of Detroit and going under the name XF Investigations. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they’ve tried to hide from Val Cooper and the rest of the government, they’ve been discovered. And if being blackmailed by Val Cooper to collaborate isn’t bad enough, the Skrull invasion of Earth has reached Detroit, with shapeshifters infiltrating the area. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that the team’s been hired to find a missing mutant, or that two former X-Men have just arrived in town. Plus there’s also the super-powered bounty hunter…

First things first, and that’s Stroman’s pencils on X-Factor. I was amazed to see that almost two decades later, all of Stroman’s visual tics are still on parade. The problem is, it’s all of the negatives that I remember, and very few of the positives. People still look misshapen and malformed, like they were formed out of a cheap plastic that was then left out in the sun all day to melt. When the book opens, why is Darwin’s neck so long? What is going on with Longshot’s face and why is one of his eyes almost entirely missing? The art goes downhill from there, frustratingly. Val Cooper has one of her legs propped up on a desk so far it looks like she’s visiting her OB/GYN. Scenes set in the same room don’t flow properly, with Jamie Madrox’s office suddenly expanding to contain three more characters, a game table, and a haircutting station. Characters often appear to be randomly dancing across the panel, like Monet pulling her hair out on either side of her head and staring at a wall while delivering exposition to characters behind her (who at least are either looking at her, or tying their shoes). And there’s one panel with Theresa that reminds me of a friend’s comment that when Stroman used to draw Polaris, her hair looked like “a cloud of chlorine gas slowly escaping her head.” The gas may now be red instead of green, but otherwise it’s a dead-on comment here.

It’s frustrating because there are little flashes of entertainment from Stroman’s pencils; his drawings of the woman spying on Darwin are remarkably consistent and well-composed, for instance, and his crowd scenes have some of the most diverse people in comics. But generally speaking, it’s horribly inconsistent. One panel will look great, and then the next three appear to have been doodled on a napkin and faxed to Jon Sibal for inking. And that’s not even including the really strange things, like Longshot and Darwin suddenly (for one panel only) having a wilderness behind them (yet somehow with tires near their feet) complete with a cat stalking an eagle, before the backgrounds reverting back to the streets of Detroit. I really want to like Stroman’s return to X-Factor, but all this makes me really feel is that Stroman’s been away from comics so long that he’s forgotten how to draw them.

As for the story, it’s a little lost in the shuffle of bad and confusing art. It’s a shame, because once you get past the visual cacophony, David’s doing a nice job of incorporating Secret Invasion into X-Factor. There’s a nice early fake-out regarding the changing of the cast of the book, and for a story that focuses at least in part on Jamie and Val not trusting each other, it’s the perfect time for shape-shifting aliens to show up and really throw everything up in the air. With a stronger artist, I can’t help but think that this start to a new era of X-Factor would be more exciting and grabbing, but right now David’s script is left in the lurch, struggling to tell its story in spite of the visuals.

It’s been a while since Stroman’s regularly drawn comics, so hopefully next issue will see an improvement in Stroman’s handling David’s scripts. As it is, right now this new collaboration not only doesn’t come even remotely close to their old X-Factor, it’s easily the weakest that this current incarnation of X-Factor has ever been. David and the readers of this book deserve better than this.

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