Sunday, March 21, 2010

X-Factor Forever: How X-Factor SHOULD Be

Nearly a year ago when Chris Claremont announced X-men Forever, a novel concept was born. Give a writer who left a certain series the option of coming back and continuing that series as if they never left. Chris Claremont left X-men in 1991 after well-publicized disputes with the editorial staff at the time. Now with X-men Forever, he got to come back and finish what he started. It sounded like a good idea on paper, giving a legendary writer the opportunity to tell the story they want to tell without the editors getting in the way. Unfortunately, the series unfolded as a testament to the importance of editors. Claremont butchered the characters he so carefully crafted in his seminal run, turning Jean into a cheating skank, Ororo into a murdering thug, Logan into too much of an emo, Kitty into an X-23 wannabe, and Cyclops into a dismissive shell.

You would think the idea would have no credibility after X-men Forever, which has declined in sales nearly every week since it started. But the Forever concept has been given a reprieve. Where Chris Claremont failed miserably, Louise Simonson has succeeded. Just this past week, X-Factor Forever 1 was released and Chris Claremont should take notice. While not as extensive as Claremont's run, Louise Simonson brought to life the world of X-Factor. She reunited the Original Five and set them apart from the main X-men, making them more like a mutant version of the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Archangel weren't so much a team as they were a family. That kind of sentiment is difficult in the other titles since the lineup keeps changing. Simonson was able to recapture that feeling in X-Factor Forever, bringing readers back to a time in X-men where there was less doom and gloom and more cosmic threats afoot.

It isn't all peaches and cream. This issue brings the likes of Apocalypse and Cameron Hodge into the fold, two big time villains from the pages of X-Factor that were known to do heavy damage. They utilize the technology of the Celestials, god-like beings who greatly influenced the development of mutants and mankind. Apocalypse is showing his old-school style villainy, getting Hodge under his wing and setting the stage for his trademark badassery. For any self-respecting X-fan, it's a wet dream wrapped in a fantasy.

It all feels like a wonderful extension of Simonson's X-Factor run while also being set up for those not familiar with the series. Even someone just getting into X-men comics could pick this issue up, understand what's going on, and enjoy it. You won't find yourself scratching your head and scheduling a brain biopsy like many found themselves doing after reading issue one of X-men Forever. Nothing is forced and nothing is done out of context. Claremont's series fails due to a lack of balance where his ideas aren't necessarily too much, they just happen too fast and they feel too forced. Simonson takes a more conservative approach with X-Factor. She forces nothing, keeping each character in line with how they developed over the course of X-Factor. While it doesn't feel too bold and the reader is left wanting more in some areas, there's just enough to keep you hooked. Claremont overshot by a mile whereas Simonson undershot by a few feet. Neither title is perfect, but by comparison you have a toxic waste dump next to a half-completed structure with only minor dents in it. Some parts can still be buffed out, but a toxic waste dump is much harder to clean up.

When taken together, the Forever titles leave us with two major conclusions. It was a shame that Louise Simonson left when she did and it was a good thing Chris Claremont left when he did. Simonson still had plenty of stories to tell while the editors that chased Claremont away from X-men were more than vindicated. If Claremont had his way, Wolverine would have been killed and many characters would have been skewed beyond repair. Even though Claremont gave us some of the most memorable moments in X-men history, his vision for the X-men simply wasn't palatable. He had to go. X-men Forever shows that when it comes to the essence of these characters, he's essentially forgotten the very nature of what made them great. Simonson shows she hasn't forgotten and she can still tell great stories that speak to both old school fans and new readers.

So in the bout between Simonson and Claremont, Simonson wins with a KO in X-Factor Forever and Claremont's X-men Forever remains the ugly step-child with a cleft lip, a deformed skull, and bent spine that makes people vomit when it tries to speak. X-Factor Forever #1 is a must-have for anyone fond old school X-Factor or just a less dreary take on these classic characters. For great story, great art, and great characters I deem X-Factor Forever a title worthy of true awesome.

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