Thursday, May 13, 2010

X-Factor Forever #3 Review - Apocalyptic Awesome

As excited as I am about the next chapter to Second Coming, I've been much more giddy by the new issue of X-Factor Forever. It has me more stoked than a sadist in a Medieval torture museum. Louise Simonson has rekindled my love for old-school X-Factor except when I read this book it doesn't feel too old school. It feels as fresh as a baby's scrotum. X-Factor Forever #3 continues that freshness, picking up right where the last issue left off and being pretty damn awesome in the process.

It literally continues from the final page of the previous issue. A Celestial has landed right in the middle of New York City and even for New Yorkers, a giant space god is cause for concern. His presence causes a hell of a lot of destruction and confusion. X-Factor knows it's coming from the Celestial ship and are prompted to return to it. They hesitate to go because this Celesital being is so huge that the mere act of scratching itself is enough to cause widespread damage. Lucky for them and for the readers, some of the other major Marvel heroes make an appearance and offer to help out.

You get to see Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Luke Cage, and the Fantastic Four. It's an embarrassment of riches that Simonson is all too willing to share. While the Marvel heroes are keeping the city from crumbling, X-Factor heads into the ship to find out what's been going on. It makes for a fun Scooby-Doo moment as they make their way down the dark bowls of the Celestial ship. The art here really shines and you can't help but admire the ambiance at times. It's enough to make the Queer Eye for the Straight Guys squeal with joy.

The mystery unfolds pretty quickly. They had no idea that Apocalypse snuck in and used the ship to uncover the secrets to the Celestials. This was all covered in the previous issue. Apocalypse has been caught up in the Celestial's agenda for a while now and he's not too happy about it. In some ways it's a little strange because usually Apocalypse is the one with the agenda. He can dish it out, but he can't seem to take it so he's out to find an edge. It seems like he has one and when X-Factor catches up with him, he's all too willing to share because it just so happens they're a part of it too in more ways than one.

This is where the action really picks up. Warren doesn't care for an explanation and goes right in for the kill. This is where Caliban shows his worth and fights back, putting on a pretty impressive display to hold X-Factor off while Apocalypse makes his case. This is where he shows some unusual depth. Apocalypse has historically been this overly evil bad guy who just wants to destroy. That's not so here. He has a logical agenda here. He sees X-Factor as being caught up in something they don't understand. They see his ways of promoting war and strength as barbaric, but there is a reason for it. He sees this as a means to fight back against the Celestials, who he resents for making him their pawn. He actually comes off as giving a damn for humanity. For some that's like seeing the softer side of Joseph Stalin, but Simonson makes it work here. This leads to one of the most memorable lines in the series.

Apocalypse boldly states that "What passes for truth is less about what is said, than about what people choose to believe." This is a provocative statement because what Apocalypse says is easy to make out. He talks about destruction, evolution, and survival of the fittest. Anybody with a general understanding of cops and robbers can make sense of that. But when it comes to belief, it's a bit more complicated. It's not just what he says, it's why he says it.

This leads to some interesting revelations. Apocalypse talks about how the Celestials interfered with human development for the longest time using him as their pawn. Even when they left, he continued to push humanity into the direction he thought it would go. Technology that emerged from war was just part of the equation. It was the act of human mutation that seemed to hold the most promise. On this, he says that mutants are like a barren tree. He cites how few mutants have children, even though Scott's son Nathan is right there with them. All this still seems lost on X-Factor. They keep on fighting him and Caliban, throwing in a few classic moves like a fastball special while they're at it.

This is mind-blowingly cool on it's own. Then Apocalypse makes his move that leads to the most dramatic moment in the issue. He reveals that Nathan may be something more than a mere child for Scott Summers. If Madelyn is a construct of Sinister, could Nathan not be the same? It's a potentially powerful revelation. But before the truth is revealed, Simonson goes into cliff-hanger mode. Apocalypse steals baby Nathan and flies out to meet the Celestial that arrived earlier. This Celestial is here to judge humanity and somehow Nathan holds the key to that judgment. Apocalypse is willing to sacrifice this child and all Scott can do is watch in horror. It leads to a powerful image at the end that seems to be taken from Scott's point of view as he reaches out desperately for his son.

This alone would be an awesome way to end a comic, but Simonson isn't content to just give us one kick ass moment like this. She throws in yet another installment of the mini-story that tells of Apocalypse's history. Just as she did with the last issue, she reveals more about how Apocalypse played a part in human civilization over the centuries. He is shown taking part in war, using it to spur development in humanity in the form of technology and culture. Even after the Celestials leave, he continues to push the human race to new limits. That's when mutation enters the picture and he picks out someone to help him.

Who could possibly fill this role? Well Simonson doesn't stray too far from the source material here. She brings Sinister into the picture, giving him a different background in this and revealing he was a low life in 19th century England who had little humanity. This was perfect for Apocalypse so he sought him out, making him a deal that would eventually lead him to becoming the Sinister figure X-men fans know and love.

Between this story and the Apocalypse story, there's enough to go around to leave any fanboy satisfied and gasping for air. It's like an orgy of awesome and all the supermodels on South Beach are invited. But Simonson STILL isn't done. She goes onto make an old-fashioned letters to the editor page, which hasn't been seen in comics for nearly half a decade. She replies generously to the letters and wouldn't you know it? One of the letters I wrote got posted.

Need I say more? Simonson has hit the trifecta of awesome here. A great story is coupled with a great series of bonuses that make this comic one of the most enjoyable pieces of work to come out of Marvel in a long time. That's not to say it's without it's faults. Throughout this comic, there's a lot of action and Apocalypse has himself some powerful moments, but at times X-Factor themselves seem to be negated. A lot of the major relationship issues like with Scott and Jean or Bobby and Opal weren't really touched on in this. Nobody shares any personal words or inner thoughts. It's all business and in that sense it feels a little bland for the characters. However, that's not nearly enough to bring this comic down. That would be like saying the Mona Lisa has a smudge and that in no way takes away form the book's overall brilliance.

X-Factor Forever #3 is ball-busthingly awesome. There's no other way to say it. I can give it nothing less than a perfect 5 out of 5, and A-plus, a golden star, and whatever other title perfection can display. Now with Mr. Sinister poised to make an appearance in the next issue, my excitement for this series grows. My only remorse is that it's still just a mini. Simonson does everything right while Chris Claremont does so many things wrong with X-men Forever, yet he gets a biweekly series. It's completely unfair and bogus, but for what it's worth. X-Factor Forever kicks the ass of every major X-title and deserves nothing but the highest of praise. Simonson has done it again. X-Factor Forever kicks ass! Nuff said.

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