‘All-New X-Factor’: Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss But Not Really [Review]
Besides the obvious one, it’s hard to think of a writer more connected to an X-book than Peter David and X-Factor. (Chris Claremont and Uncanny X-Men being the obvious one, obviously.) After a two-year stint in the early nineties that remains a fan favorite, David relaunched X-Factor in 2005 and made it the most consistent X-book on the racks for his entire run. For eight years, X-Factor was routinely funny, inventive, filled with convincingly human characters, well-delivered messages, and twists that could knock you flat on your ass. The title wrapped in September of last year, shortly after David suffered a well-publicized stroke, and just a few weeks later, it was announced that the title would relaunch again as All-New X-Factor, which dropped this week. With Carmine Di Giandomenico on art, Peter David is again writing one of his most popular titles, but even with David at the controls, the new book has a lot to live up to. Does it?
In David’s previous two runs on X-Factor, he went with two completely distinct concepts. In his first go-round, X-Factor was a government-sponsored mutant organization; in the most recent incarnation the group was a private detection agency/official guardians of Mutant Town. In All-New X-Factor, the group is rebranded again, this time as the first corporate super hero team. (Which…are they? My memory is terrible and I don’t know much about Marvel canon, but if this really is the first completely corporate super hero team in the universe, seems like a long time coming.)
In issue #260 of the old series, Polaris is offered a job by an unseen man named Harrison Snow, “CEO of a rather large company.” When All-New X-Factor rejoins the story, the company is revealed to be one Serval Industries, and Polaris is already in their employ, with access to a private jet, an official bodysuit, and the job of putting together a team. For her first recruit she goes after Gambit, because he’s been out of work since his series was cancelled.
The thing that really gave the second volume of X-Factor its oomph was the voice that David found with his lead. Established in the Madrox mini-series (sorely overlooked and very recommended), Jamie Madrox’s quirky, noir-ish, self-hating inner monologue was the foundation that the rest of the book was built around, and in Gambit, David might have found his next Madrox. The voices are nothing alike (especially in one balloon where David can’t decide whether Gambit’s Creole or Irish; don’t worry, he gives up), and there’s not really that much narration, but like Madrox’s voice, there’s something novel about it. David writes Gambit in a way I can’t recall seeing before: not too bright and a little insecure, worried that people don’t take him seriously. A little meta for a character considered hot stuff in the nineties and pushed to the periphery in the aughts?
Gambit is naturally skeptical of any corporation that wants its own superheroes, and so is the reader, and one can already see David playing with our preconceptions. When Gambit expresses his concerns to Harrison Snow (who introduces himself by saying the media compare him to Tony Stark, but doesn’t think he deserves the comparison, thereby comparing himself to Tony Stark), Snow responds with “We just want to help, Remy. Is that so terrible?” a line that immediately calls back a similar one uttered by the villain, “I swear it’s for the greater good.” By the end of the first issue, we know what kind of ride we’re in for: one where lines of morality are not so clearly drawn.
Speaking of clearly drawn (hold applause), Carmine Di Giandomenico brings a nice mix of energy and elegance to All-New X-Factor that sets it apart from the other volumes. He has a very slick style, with unique-looking European characters and an easy precision in his lines, not unlike Salvador Larrocca, and though there’s not a whole lot of action in the book, he knows how to capture it, with dramatic tilts, pronounced speed-lines, and kinetics that seem to come from nowhere. The storytelling is good, a little clunky in some areas; there are panels that make you wonder why he chose that angle or that framing when everything else on the page looks smoother than silk sheets.
But those are minor quibbles, and Di Giandomenico makes up for them with ridiculously beautiful backgrounds. If we’re to buy that Serval Industries is a megacorporation with enough cash and ingenuity to back its very own ragtag group of superheroes, then Serval Industries actually has to look the part, and it does at that. Di Giandomenico has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into designing the environs of the new team, and Serval Industries is cold, sharp, and almost egotistically beautiful. With the perfectly-matched Lee Loughridge on colors and Manny Mederos on production design, All-New X-Factor is a chic-looking product that befits the series concept. If this team stays intact, the book will definitely stand out from the rest.
Whether it will stand out from the rest in all the other ways is still up for grabs. It’s a good, solid start to a new series, even one from half the creative team of the old series. David has new characters to explore, new jokes to tell, and a premise that gives him a good source of mystery and conundrum; with Di Giandomenico and the production, it has a good deal more style than previous incarnations. Will All-New X-Factor fill the void left in fans’ hearts? God no. The ending of X-Factor was so sudden, amid so much drama, with a last arc that felt so rushed, and so much more of Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller’s stories to tell (and hopefully David will get to that some day), nothing’s going to take its place.
Lucky for you, All-New X-Factor doesn’t want to be your new dad. It’s got its own thing going.