Best X-Title of 2009: X-Factor
Like a select few other Marvel titles, "X-Factor" officially returned to its original numbering with the recent release of issue 200. Along with the renumbering came all the double-sized goodness one could hope for: character sheets, a reprint of a classic tale, in this case "Madrox" #1, and a good jumping-on point for new readers to pick up what has quietly become the best X-comic in years.
In 2004, Peter David and Pablo Raimondi produced the five-issue "Madrox" for Marvel Knights, a taut detective story about Jamie Madrox, the so-called Multiple Man, a mutant with the ability to create duplicates of himself. The series received high praise for its clever blend of noir and humor, and clearly established that Madrox was a character deserving further exploration. Shortly after came the "X-Factor" relaunch, in which Madrox, Siryn, Strong Guy and others ran X-Factor Investigations out of Mutant Town, a ghetto for mutants depowered after the "decimation" of M-Day.
The book set itself apart from the rank and file immediately, slinging thought-provoking mysteries and complex character dramas with irreverent humor in David's comfortable voice. Dealing primarily with issues of identity – human or mutant, good or bad, gay or straight or otherwise – the book explores subjects as relevant and diverse as religious zealotry, gentrification, and the corrupting influence of power, all driven by finely-tuned dialogue and one of the most intricate plots in comics.
Genre comics law clearly states that everything needs a twist. Not just in the concept, but for every story, every issue, hey, preferably every page. Unfortunately, in some books this attitude has led to a lot of perplexing developments, surprises that have no explanation, and shocks that don't shock. But over the course of fifty issues of "X-Factor" and the "Madrox" miniseries, David has orchestrated a series of twists and revelations so bat#### crazy, you'll #### in your own ########## #######.
What follows is a list of the best twists before issue 200, with a giant SPOILER WARNING in effect.1. Madrox's Dupe Tries to Kill Him
Some time before "Madrox" #1, Jamie started sending "explorer dupes" out into the world. At any time, he might have dozens of copies active at once, learning Kung Fu, lockpicking, escape arts, new languages...whatever suits his fancy. While he's become exponentially smarter and more dangerous, he's lost some control over his duplicates. Physically, they're exact, but mentally they're all different – aspects of his personality amplified and given free will. Most of them are helpful, but some come out cowardly, duplicitous, or worse. In investigating the murder of one of his own dupes, another tries to kill him. If that weren't enough, there's this guy named Clay who seems to have the same ability as him, and it's implied that Jamie's not actually a mutant. Who's the real dupe here?
2. Layla Miller Knows Stuff
After correcting the Scarlet Witch's reality in "M-Day," Layla Miller is depowered, but imbued with remarkable prescience and foresight. She insinuates herself into X-Factor and subtly manipulates those around her into her agenda, whatever that may be, and she's as dangerous as she is unpredictable. She dispatches an intruder from Singularity Investigations by arranging his electrocution, then mails the corpse back to SI. Jamie likes to think he's the spanner in the works, but everywhere she goes Layla shocks and surprises. Plus, did she just resurrect a butterfly?
3. Jamie (or a Dupe) Sleeps with Two Team members in One Night
After announcing the group's stance against the Registration Act, Jamie gets a little down and ties one on. When he wakes, he remembers hooking up with both Siryn and Monet the night before, but because of the way he absorbs his dupes' memories, he doesn't know if it was him, the dupe, or both. It's like "Three's Company" with two Jack Trippers. 4. Mr. Tryp Singularity Investigations is run by Mr. Tryp, a functionally immortal time anomaly existing as three versions of himself simultaneously. (It sounds confusing, but it's actually ingenious.) Mr. Tryp reveals that a) Jamie is not a mutant. Instead, he's a pre-mutant genetic throwback sometimes called killcrops. b) He caused the tornado that killed Jamie's parents, and c) in his future, X-Factor is responsible for repowering M-Day victims, thereby pushing the world to cataclysm.
5. Jamie and Layla Married?
In X-Factor's first meeting with Tryp, he shows Rahne Sinclair – Wolfsbane – a vision of a future in which she murders Jamie and an adult Layla on their wedding night. Layla also hints that she sees them married, and this possible future weighs so heavily on Rahne that she leaves to join X-Force.
6. The Isolationist
The group comes into conflict with Josef Huber, a silent partner in Singularity Investigations, who has the abilities of every mutant on the planet. Unfortunately, it's nearly driven him insane, and he plots to eradicate them in one fell swoop, but for some reason cannot directly use lethal force. He also has Clay at his disposal – the assassin with duplicating powers from "Madrox" – and it's possible that an explorer dupe committed suicide by cop because he discovered the truth about Jamie's relationship to Huber.
7. Siryn Pregnant
As a result of Jamie (or his dupe) sleeping around, Theresa Cassidy is pregnant, keeping it, and not telling him yet.
8. Layla Stuck in the Future
After the birth of the first new mutant in "Messiah Complex," Cyclops asks Jamie to send two explorer dupes into new timestreams to investigate possible outcomes. As the second dupe is shot through time, Layla jumps into the portal with him, marooned in time with no way back. Interred in a mutant concentration camp, they discover that Bishop is a traitor, and Layla kills the dupe, sending the information back to Jamie. When Jamie absorbs the dupe across the timestream, he inherits the "M" tattoo given in the camps. It remains to this day.
9. Baby Blues
Shortly after X-Factor moves to Detroit, Theresa gives birth to a healthy baby boy, naming him Sean, after the father she still refuses to believe is dead. As Jamie holds his son for the first time, his body automatically absorbs him, the baby nothing more than an embryonic dupe. Theresa breaks Jamie's finger, and promises to one day break his neck. I almost threw up when I read this issue. (okay, not really)
10. Layla Legal
On the brink of suicide, Jamie is dragged into the future by a 21-year-old Layla Miller to solve a mystery for the Summers Rebellion, led by a cybernetically-assisted Scott Summers and daughter Ruby (who should get their own series immediately, by the way). As mutants eighty years in the future seem to blink in and out of existence, in the present, a mysterious assassin tries to kill a woman in X-Factor's protection. And of course Layla and Jamie got down. She's Layla Miller. She knows stuff.
11. Serious Boy on Boy Action
Rictor and Shatterstar make a physical display of their affection. An affection they shared for a long time. People freaked out, because that's what ####### people do. This is happening, bozo. They're here, they're qu-actually, that doesn't work. Say hi, they're bi! Deal with it!
12. Doctor Doom: Senile Badass
Eighty years in the future, Jamie's investigation into the disappearances leads him to consult Dr Doom about timelocks. Doom is very old and sometimes delusional, but he's still evil enough to have secretly aligned himself with Mr. Tryp, providing him with the Doomlock to send his assassin Cortex back in time to kill the parents of future mutants. By the way...
13. Cortex is That Other Future Dupe
When Jamie agreed to help Cyclops during "Messiah Complex," he sent two dupes into two different timelines, the second being the one Layla hitched a ride with. The first was intercepted by Tryp and altered into a type of super-sentinel to eradicate mutantkind. No plotline goes dangled in "X-Factor."
14. Layla's Power Revealed
Layla can raise the dead. In the future, Ruby Summers begs Layla to resurrect her love Trevor Fitzroy. She does, and it's his hand that ends Cortex, but it's been predicted that Fitzroy helps to one day slaughter the mutants. Doom's time portal sends Jamie back to present-day X-Factor, and Layla to meet her younger self at the orphanage, where she uploads all the "stuff" she'll need to know about the next few years.
15. There's More
We're barely skimming the surface. These are just the biggest revelations so far. As I said, no plotline is left dangling, and there are many questions yet to be answered. Is Jamie really a killcrop? Is his task to save the mutant race or destroy it? Does he turn Scott Summers into a cyborg? Even after fifty-five issues, it feels as if "X-Factor" and David are just getting started, and issue 200 is a perfect opportunity for new readers to get on this crazy train. There's a lot left to be discovered in this book. We didn't even talk about Longshot.