Eric: I was a bit surprised with the book I ended up picking for this week’s POW! It came out in a week with other titles that are usually strong and X-Factor has been on a very slow climb to the top of my favorites list. In fact, after the first two months (four tissues since it’s published biweekly) I was about to drop it from my pull list. But then it started getting really interesting and, this week, beat the competition to be my POW! choice.
Dan: I’ll agree that this was a surprisingly clever and fun book from the get-go.
Eric: In fact, I actually missed one of the most clever things they did until you pointed it out to me. In the intro page where nearly all Marvel books contain a summary of the current story arc and a list of the book’s characters, they had changed it so that every character was Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man.
Dan: Witnesses claim that I did, in fact, laugh out loud.
Eric: I don’t know if it’s funnier that they used the same image over and over or if it would have been funnier with a bunch of different images.
Dan: We’re splitting hairs on that one. It made me wonder if the X-Factor actually was just Jamie Madrox.
Eric: Before I continue, there’s one interesting trend I’ve noticed in the 616 X-Men and I don’t know if it’s being used in the 1610 X-Men as well, but they’ve switched from using codenames to using real names. Maybe I’m just used to the cartoon, but I thought they used to call each other Wolverine and Cyclops (etc) a lot more often. (This was lampshaded in some semi-recent issue of one of the X-Men books where they mentioned they should use codenames while on a mission) Nowadays, I don’t know the codenames of any of the characters I didn’t know from before. So when you said he’s Multiple Man, I thought, “really?”
Dan: Ultimate X-Men used to call him both, I dunno. I just used that as a codifier to explain why he occupied more than one character square. I like the switch away from codenames. They’re kind of stupid, when you think about it. At least when you’re not in the field.
Eric: Yeah, especially with a lot of the characters on both ends of the spectrum. The old characters have dumb names because that was acceptable back then. The new ones because all the good ones were taken by then. But what about other characters in general in Ultimate? Is it Jean Grey or Marvel Girl?
Dan: I believe you’re referring to Karen Grant. She doesn’t even go by Jean any more. Dyed her hair black too. Your point still stands, though, almost no one calls Kitty Shadowcat (it always takes me a minute to realize that’s her mutant codename) or Bobby Iceman.
Eric: Actually, the funny thing is that Kitty’s actually had a few codenames, which makes for a joke during Whedon’s run.
As far as this story arc, during a recent Point One issue the team investigates a murder/ghost story. Long story short, one or two short story arcs later, the murderer from that story ends up killing Madrox, setting off this story arc. This story arc involves Jamie moving around, Quantum Leap-style across different parallel universe versions of himself. Of course, as Dan reminded me – the Quantum Leap guy stayed in one universe and went into different people.
Dan: Oh boy!
Eric: Also, he doesn’t jump because he solved the problems of that universe’s Jamie Madrox. He gets to jump when he dies in each universe. And he jumps into a Jamie that has just died, resurrecting him. Strangely enough, it works better in execution than it sounds.
Dan: So, yeah, Jamie’s in a new universe and…
Eric: A GIANT Iron Man is about to destroy him. As we quickly find out, in this universe, the mutant-hunting Sentinels look like Iron Man.
Dan: Which is definitely scarier. Iron Man has a much better track record of success.
Eric: Luckily, just as in the recent (for a given value of recent) Marvel past, these Sentinels are piloted by humans so when one of them notices he’s “out of phase with this world”, he decides to take him prisoner to go see Tony Start rather than crush him on the spot.
Dan: Sentinels are people? Huh, the more you know…
Eric: No, Dan. They aren’t corporations. (Hurray for relevant jokes?!?)
Dan: Be sure to read DC’s new series, Before Sentinels, to learn more. (I can make current events jokes too!)
Eric: Since at least the time of House of M, Sentinels have been piloted by humans – probably a good thing since the original sentinels seemed to really be missing out on the I in A.I.
Dan: Funny you mention House of M…but I suppose we’ll get to that later. Jamie gets dragged to Stark Tower to be interrogated.
Eric: And, apparently he’s a Parker-level wise cracker. The henchmen don’t appreciate his jokes any more than anyone ever appreciates Spidey’s. So Tony starts up his mostly monologue – it is punctuated by comments and questions here and there by Jamie, but it’s mostly standard comic book verbal diarrhea. We find out that this universe is almost the same as 616 (as opposed to the Age of Apocalypse or even the Ultimate Universe). Tony supported the Super Hero Registration Act, Tony is an alcoholic, and, most importantly, a version of House of M happened. Only this time, the famous words were “no more humans”
Dan: Which, I think, was a universe that was explored or mentioned before. I’m not sure, but I know this is not the first appearance of the “no more humans”-verse.
Eric: The interesting thing is that Marvel has given themselves some wiggle room on what “no more mutants” (the 616 version) did. I’m pretty sure I remember reading in the “Ghost Box” arc in Astonishing X-Men that she affected all but two universes with her words. I’m pretty sure that the Age of Apocalypse world wasn’t one of the ones left OK, but we’ve recently seen people try to recreate the effect over there. On the one hand, I found it funny that something like 5-6 years later she’s suddenly everywhere – on the other hand she appears to be the second central character (after Hope) of Avengers vs X-Men. So….it’s not surprising at all. X-Factor has usually been left out of most of the X-Men problems but this issue has the feel of the reveal of something big.
Dan: Well…now I’m sorry I brought that up. This is way more knowledge about the X-Men than I ever wanted. I’m beginning to think that Comic POW! was set up just to turn me into an X-Men fan through some bizarre form of overexposure and Stockholm Syndrome.
Eric: Then we cut to Mr Tryp and a mysterious dude breaking into Tony’s office as Tony tells Jamie he wants to leave his universe and go to 616. What we don’t get the answers to in this issue at all is why Tryp and his associate want Jamie. They just do.
Dan: I try not to worry too much about motivations when I’m right in the middle of a story arc, but now that you mention it I find myself wondering that exact thing. Perhaps they’re trying to piggyback into 616 too? I dunno.
Eric: I skipped ahead a few pages and all we’re told is that the worlds are going to blend together and Jamie’s being given a preview. It sounds more and more like it has less to do with Avengers vs X-Men and more to do with the plot of something from The Defenders. Then again, maybe Scarlett Witch is going to muck about with reality again? Finally, and maybe it’s just DC trauma, sounds almost like Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Dan: All I know about A vs. X is that it has to do with the Phoenix Force. Anything beyond that is, well, beyond me.
Eric: Then we get the reveal that the guy along with Mr Tryp was Captain America – but he goes by Deathlok. Did you end up checking what’s up with Deathlok on Comic Vine?
Dan: Nope! I remain blissfully ignorant of anything having to do with Deathlok. Perhaps you can enlighten me.
Eric: Of course, my curiosity simply came from the fact that he recently appeared in Wolverine and the X-Men. This’ll have you REALLY wanting to know more about him:
“Deathlok arrives just in time to save Fantomex who is being pursued by Deathlok Troopers that have stolen the World from Fantomex. Together they are able to steal it back from Captain America-lok and are picked up by X-Force. Deadpool immediately assumes Deathlok is like one of the other troopers but Wolverine vouches for him based on their previous experiences. Deathlok plugs into Captain America to get more information. They learn the Deathlok Troopers are from a future where super heroes have gone too far and have been hunted down and merged with Deathloks for their own good.” – Comic Vine article on Deathlok
Dan: Yeah, sure. Sounds plausible to me.
Eric: You may have blocked him out, but there was an Ultimate Deathlok in Ultimate Spider-Man.
Dan: I’m sure I read him way back when, but he didn’t really register for me.
Eric: Anyway, the rest of the comic is essentially a fun fight between Cyborg Captain America and Iron Man while Mr Tryp shares his knowledge with Jamie. After that Jamie dies and reappears in another non-616 universe.
Dan: One with people who talk with Eldritch fonts
Eric: OK, onto your book.
Dan: Because I’m all about firsts, I thought I’d take the opportunity to do my first sequential pick. I swear that was it and it wasn’t that I disliked most of the other books I bought this week. Honest!
Eric: So we return to the Mooreiverse and Rachel Rising. The book begins with Rachel in bed, waking up, and declaring that the crazy events of the past four issues were indeed “not a dream”.
Dan: She was sleeping the sleep of the dead. Aunt Johnny confirms that it was a 36 hour period, which is a pretty epic night.
Eric: Also, as in almost all fiction – the dog does NOT feel comfortable around the walking dead.
Dan: Jet shows up a little later to talk to Rachel about her predicament.
Eric: While I still maintain the book has the look and feel of a web comic, I also still maintain that’s no dig against Terry Moore. He is a master at facial expressions. I’d say he’s probably in the top five of all the artists I see on a weekly basis at portraying feelings through facial expressions.
Dan: I’m absolutely in your camp there. All his characters look natural and at ease and I dig that. Speaking of look and feel, the black and white pages and ink are made of different stock, which gives the book a unique scent as well.
Eric: As well as making pages stick together. There’s a key part that stuck together for me that you know about. But I just found out there’s another key part that stuck together for me yesterday. When Jet and Rachel are talking, the page after we learn they are childhood friends was stuck to the following page. So I didn’t read about how Rachel found her self buried alive and had to go Kil Bill style out of that grave.
Dan: Ah, important details! That whole conversation gives a lot of depth to their relationship. I thought the moment where they reminisced about their promise lasting beyond the grave was particularly warm.
Eric: Then they get called in to dinner with a weird, old dude who, manga-style, has no eyes since he’s wearing glasses. Right after he tells her she’s not Rachel but Ma Malai the Angel of Death, we skip to the creepy girl who crashed the car while wearing bunny slippers last time you used this for a POW!
Dan: We are being pretty nonchalant about the revelation. It’s the closest we’ve come to an explanation or reasoning behind what’s going on in this book and it makes me wonder about the nature of another figure who is invisible to some people.
Eric: Well, Terry Moore definitely seems to be in for the slow burn to the start. We’re five issues in and even after this revelation we don’t really know what’s going on. We don’t even have a clue (although I guess we could be close based on what you said above) how Rachel and Zoe’s stories intersect.
Dan: I’ve gone back and read some of the other issues in the series, but that’s not really fair to bring into this and they’re not that much more explanatory. I’m a fan of Rachel Rising mostly for the atmosphere, art, and dialogue. The story’s just there to further entertain me.
Eric: Well, she’s basically being put in a foster home with a couple who’s been very supportive of the foster system. Here’s a GREAT example of how good and subtle Terry Moore is with his art and lettering. When Mr Boyle looks at Zoe and says “Hello, Zoe”, I got the feeling that he was a really creepy dude. That he has had ulterior motives for being a foster parent. And even though the next two pages were stuck together and I missed them, I still had that impression when I read the pages that followed those. I saw her as running away because she just got a bad vibe from him – which remains kinda true, but it’s made much more explicit in the pages I missed.
(image of Hello, Zoe panel)
Dan: The evil foster/step parent is an overused trope, but I didn’t mind it too much. He got what was coming to him pretty quickly. We also had a flash of a figure who appears when death is near. An angel of death, some might say. There have been other women who show up before evil or murderous acts occur in this book, but the true nature of them has yet to be explained.
Eric: Within those pages I missed she mentions having a friend who shows up before people die. I just remembered the last issue I read that she told her friend to take a hike. I guess her friend didn’t listen. And she certainly did warn Zoe that her help would be needed again.
Dan: And how! Definitely one of the more interesting decapitation scenes I’ve ever seen. Gruesome stuff, for sure.
Eric: Zoe’s section of this issue could definitely fit nicely in a horror or suspense movie. From the look on Zoe’s face when she pressed the elevator button did you see her as being semi-possessed or entirely conscious of what she was doing?
Dan: I don’t exactly remember the art, but I have a feeling she knew what she was doing…although there has been possession-style murdering in this book before. Maybe she was possessed…
Eric: I only asked because her told her friend “you make me do bad things” or something like that before.
Dan: Hey, you may have caught on to something I missed.
Eric: I guess you can review it when I give you your book back. Another thing you can do when you get your book back (unless you have a really good memory) is check and see if the final page (with Terry’s contact info) is different each time. I know it’s of the riverbed where The Creepy Dude and Zoe buried the bodies. In this issue the grave is dug up and Rachel is crawling out. I remember staring at that page for a while in the last issue and I think I would have noticed a body.
Dan: Could be. I’d have to reference the books to be sure. I’ll check up on it as homework.
Eric: Could end up revealing a bit of meta-story-telling for you. Alright, let’s battle!
Eric: We have, once again, a self-published book vs a Big Two book. While X-Factor is ostensibly part of the X-Men universe, it’s definitely not a flagship book. It tends to be off on its own – even more so ever since most of the mutant population moved to the West Coast. So Peter David has a bit more freedom to be extra creative. His characters don’t have to be involved in all this crazy crossover canon.
Dan: He makes excellent use of not being bound by all of that X-drama. I don’t read X-Factor regularly, but there was not even a slight reference to Schism or the school or anything at all in the current X-books, far as I could tell. I dug it for that. I also dug that it was able to do something pretty creative with almost zero mutants. I mean, Jamie’s about it. Stark isn’t really part of the X-Men. That other X-book I liked, the one with Phalanx, had to shoehorn in the whole X-Team at the end. None of that here. Just lots of Jamie.
Eric: Yeah, and the team is actually pretty complex – I almost wish I’d chosen their last or second-to-last issue for a POW! because David does a great job on dialogue. He’s up there with what Waid did in Spider-Man and, of course, Daredevil.
Dan: Oh man, I was waiting to see who you’d claim was an excellent dialogue writer. Waid’s a good choice. He’s pretty good.
Eric: Of course, Terry Moore’s no slouch when it comes to dialogue. We probably mentioned this last time, but he does a great job with natural-sounding dialogue. It’s like Seinfeld, but without trying to be funny.
Dan: I felt that Jet and Rachel’s relationship felt lived in and genuine. There were also great subtleties to Zoe and Pedo-Man’s lines.
Eric: Indeed. While I felt he was a Pedo the first time I read it – the second time I wasn’t sure if he was just violent, until I read the one like that really changes the whole tone. “You’re a pretty one”. That’s it, just that one line changes him from physically abusive to sexually abusive.
Dan: I’ve also seen enough creepy kid movies to be more than afraid of the line about people getting hurt that Zoe throws out there. This is a girl who, it’s strongly hinted, burned her own house down. She’s scary.
Eric: Especially with that blank look that Terry draws her sporting nearly all the time. Of course, this issue makes it explicit that she’s just seeing the presence of spiritual forces, but it would be ever so creepy in a movie.
Dan: The thing with Rachel Rising is that, yeah, it’s a great book, but it’s slow. It feels like it’s over before it starts, in terms of how much happens.
Eric: Yeah, I still feel that we’re going to find out this story isn’t exactly being told chronologically somehow. But it could be because I’m missing the context of a bunch of issues. One thing’s certain, you’re definitely left wondering if there’s going to be consequences for Rachel being that demon or if, as you say, all the excitement has already happened and we’re seeing the aftermath. While that’s usually how the beginning of post-apocalyptic books work, they usually get on to a story. Never saw The Postman, but from what I have heard of it, maybe it’s similar to Rachel Rising. Still, I think if that’s where Moore is going with this book, he’s in a very small club and it could be nice – if for no other reason than the different feeling of experiencing a story that’s all post-climax.
Dan: I don’t know much about the plans for this series. No clue how many issues Moore intends. Echo was about six volumes, so maybe that’s all he wants for Rachel Rising? That kind of knowledge affects thoughts about pace, but at this point I feel like speculating on where the story is going without knowing how long he intends it to run might be premature.
Eric: I agree. That’s why it feels odd to argue in favor of X-Factor simply because it appeared to move ITS story along a lot more than Rachel Rising did. Of course, the current arc ends next issue and Peter David’s not one to dilly-dally. On the other hand, this arc stems from the previous two and probably leads right into another. I guess one thing that IS in favor of the book is that I actually enjoyed the action. It was well choreographed and well-punctuated by dialogue. Usually fights are either too chaotic for me to follow on the printed page or they adhere to the trope that’s goes something like “Talk is Free in a Battle” where people jabber on way longer than you realistically could without getting your jaw torn off.
Dan: I was surprised that X-Factor grabbed me at all, but first impressions are always huge for me. That’s why I try and read things twice. I like to get a feel for what my true emotions on a book are. Still, there’s something about that first page that is so hilarious and not-Marvel that I really dig it.
Eric: Yeah, in addition to that joke you caught, I think it’s funny that this is the only book that uses the intro page to update you on the writer’s life. In this case, it’s usually something he’s done with daughter in the past two weeks. There’s almost (but not quite) the feel of a creator-owned book that just happens to get to play on the Marvel playground and with all THOSE kids and so it’s really the best of both worlds.
Dan: Beyond that there’s nothing particularly impressive about X-Factor. It’s got good art and good writing, but nothing about it or Rachel Rising really calls out to me to say one is truly better than the other. Rachel Rising is comfortable for me to read. It feels unpretentious (not an easy thing for an indie book) and the characters seem like normal people in a weird situation. X-Factor is fun and not bad for a cape book, but it’s not ambitious either. It’s a real toss up for me.
Eric: Should we have our first ever draw? I kinda feel the same way as you. I really, really enjoyed X-Factor. It definitely was more fun for me to read, but a LOT of that hinges on the back story, not on the strength of this particular issue. NO! We shall not have a draw. I think I will give it to Rachel Rising for the hard left turn it took at the Foster Home. I loved her standing up to Mr Boyle (even if she DID know she was backed up by a spiritual force) and I loved her decapitation of the dude. Sometimes you really want an escape fantasy and it’s nice for the bad guys to get what’s coming to them, even if it’s wish fulfillment rather than the way things work in the real world.
Dan: That hard turn at the end is why I picked this book over the others in my pull. I’m more than happy to abide by that verdict.
Eric: Alright, enjoy it while you can! I have a lot of great books coming out next week – the cover for Wolverine and the X-Men #5 alone should make it a winner.
Dan: HA! We shall see…