Thursday, June 17, 2010

X-Factor Forever #4 Review - Awesome in Any Era

Usually, I'm not one for nostalgia. When people reflect about how great things were in the past I tend to roll my eye and fight the urge to point out the past always seems better because the damn present involves so much more work. So when these X-men Forever titles have come out, I've been just as cynical. Not that I don't have a fondness for the past, but when I read Chris Claremont's X-men Forever I actually felt for the first time the editors were important because if this was the direction he was going to take then the comics I've known and loved would have been fucked like a five dollar whore long ago. Then Louise Simonson came along with X-Factor Forever, taking the concept Chris Claremont established and running with it to the very peak of Mount Awesome.

X-Factor Forever has been a blast from the very first issue and X-Factor Forever #4 doesn't just continue that tradition. It raises and overshoots the bar into the exosphere, telling an awesome story while doing justice to these awesome characters. Simonson proves once and for all that she knows these characters and every other writer of this and other eras can suck it. There's no lull in the awesome from the very beginning. At the end of the last issue Apocalypse showed up and stole Scott's son, Nathan Christopher Summers, while they were battling a Celestial. As if that wasn't bad enough, another Celestial showed up and looks to have a hard on for exacting a heavy judgment on Earth. Think every crazy death cult only with god like powers and you'll get a feel for how bad that is.

Apocalypse, being the sneaky bastard he is, teleported away before X-Factor could even try and wrestle Nathan from him. But this isn't your normal made-for-TV movie style kidnapping. Apocalypse does state there is a purpose behind this. In fact, he seems to imply this child is the key to saving the mutant race. It's a different take on a guy who usually has a ten foot hard-on for destruction, but in a good way.

To add yet another twist to the plot he doesn't even take his right-hand man, Caliban, along for the ride. He just leaves him with X-Factor, who are understandably pissed. Now normally when this happen it's the bad guy just trying to save his own skin. It's a classic way to make the big villain look like an even bigger douche bag than he already is. Leaving his loyal henchmen behind? You really can't get much more douchy than that. At first it seems this way because X-Factor are about as hospitable to Caliban as North Korea is to the rest of the world.

But there's a reason for it and surprisingly, the reason is pretty darn interesting. Caliban may be a minion, but he's not the mindless type. He does have some sense of what's going on and he demonstrates this by asking some profound questions. Why is it that so few mutants have healthy children? Why is it that most of the mutants that are born are either barren, require some extra help, or are utterly fucked up? He mentions mutants like Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who had a powerful witch for a mother. He also mentions David Heller, Xavier's son, who's as nutty as a fruitcake and twice as ugly. The one that sticks out most is Madelyn Pryor, Jean Grey's clone who bore a healthy Nathan Summers. This is the one X-Factor is most familiar with and the one that leads them to some answers.

Now at this point readers who followed Chris Claremont's X-men Forever series will get a sense of "Wait...haven't we seen this shit before?" It's true. Chris Claremont originally came up with a very novel and powerful concept in his series. Mutants as a species have a serious flaw. They burn out in a sense and rarely live past their twenties. It's radical idea that really sets the story apart, but Louise Simonson takes it several steps further. In her world mutants don't necessarily burn out. They just have a hard time making viable offspring. And a number of those that do occur require the aid of cosmic forces or an off-his-rocker mad scientist type. It's that last notion that leads X-Factor to go after the only guy they have more reason to disembowel than Apocalypse, and that's Mr. Sinister.

The real kicker is that when they arrive at his base they find out he's been a busy little mad scientist. In the X-Factor series prior to this one, Sinister made his mark on the X-books by creating Madelyn Pryor from Jean Grey's DNA. Following the philosophy of "if it's worth doing it's worth overdoing" he didn't stop there. He made a whole army of clones. He made clones of every shape, size, and age. Now all of X-Factor get the same mindfuck Jean Grey had when she found out about Madelyn. If the looks on their faces are any indication, their eyes are ready to shoot out of their sockets.

This fucked up setting provides the perfect setting for pasty faced Sinister to make his big entrance and fuck them up even more for good measure. He adds to the fucking that he's been acquiring genetic material for these clones for some time now. Apparently, he doesn't have too many hobbies and nobody showed him the joys of internet porn. He used this material to not just make clones, but make entirely viable mutants with their own personalities and identities intact. The man didn't go for the traditional zombie army. He went for full fledged duplicates and even threw in some variations.

To make him seem just a bit less like a mad scientist and a hell of a lot more like a control freak, he goes onto explain that he's not doing this just for kicks. He believes he has the key to immortality. He can forge any mutant with any variation he wants. He shows a clone of Angel without his Apocalypse treatment. He shows Storm in her classic mohawk version. He even shows a blond haired Wolverine with bone claws. It sounds pretty lame, but Sinny makes it work. To him this is his answer to the poor mutant birth rate. His clones aren't just for show. They are meant to propagate the mutant species. It's sort of like fixing a problem by taking a shit ton of LSD and mushrooms and giving a lot of advanced alien technology to a guy with a messiah complex who took the same drugs. It makes for a pretty mind-blowing revelation.

But Sinister is just part of the equation. Apocalypse is still heading up this crazy plan and for now Sinister is just the distraction. Granted, this distraction is tantamount to throwing weapons grade plutonium at a charging terrorist group, but he makes it work. Using Sinister's own madness against him, Apocalypse sneaks in to learn about the secrets to Nathan's biology. For whatever reason, this kid that still shits his own pants is the key. Not too comforting when there are space gods looking to destroy damn near everything just because someone took one too many extracurricular in the field of mutant menacing biology.

As distractions come, though, this one should be patented and sold to Johnson and Johnson. Sinister goes one further than boasting about his clone army. He unleashes it on X-Factor. It's a strange way for other famous X-men faces to show up, but it makes for an awesome fight scene that puts X-Factor up against some unexpected and very rough competition. For an issue that's heavy on mind-blowing revelations, it's a nice turn.

The fight goes downhill fast. X-Factor is outnumbered and outgunned by powers they're all too familiar with and Sinister can't stop boasting like he has the biggest dick in the room. It earns him a healthy blast from Cyclops, which doesn't stop him but has to be pretty damn satisfying. But there is still a shit ton of obstacles ahead of them at the X-leader pretty much burns himself out trying to fight it. Here, Simonson adds yet another layer of icing on top of a cake that has plenty of awesome to spare. Jean Grey comes to him and shares a loving moment that is plenty worthy of the longest tenured X-men couple in the history of X-men. It's a moment many romantics will squeal with joy over because it brings together a lot of the romantic issues that go back even before X-Factor Forever takes place. Jean seemed to be struggling from the beginning with memories of Madelyn and the Phoenix still fresh in her mind. But here she's not struggling anymore. She shoves all that aside as any tough-nosed woman who survived life and death would and shows Scott she loves him. And with him, they're going to bitch slap Sinister and Apocalypse to death and get to their son. It's a sweet moment that fans of Cyclops and Jean Grey have been denied for far too long.

Now this would have been an awesome place to end the comic, but Simonson just can't seem to resist throwing more awesome into the mix. As with every issue thus far, the next part of the Apocalypse background story shows up and this time it's Sinister who takes center stage. In this it is shown how Sinister was to Apocalypse what Anakin Skywalker was to Obi Wan Kanobi had Obi Wan gotten his Force training from Darth Maul. He showed Sinister everything there was to know about mutant DNA, but Sinister wasn't content with the little stuff. He wanted to manipulate mutants on a larger scale, one Apocalypse didn't want him to. Like a three-year-old kicking and screaming at the supermarket, Sinister did it anyways and a lot of it ended up affecting the past, present, and future of mutants in a big way. It not only shows Sinister in a new more badass form. It shows that Apocalypse isn't the only one who can shine unexpectedly in X-Factor Forever.

So between this and the rest of the supremely awesome story, this is a great place to end it right? Well Simonson still isn't satisfied. She has to throw one last bit of awesome that for once vindicates nostalgia. She includes yet another letters-to-the-editor page and wouldn't you know it? My letter got published again! It's like a trifecta of pure X-men awesome.

Between the mind-blowing story, the kick-ass bonuses, and spot on characterization that ties past and present continuity together there really isn't a whole lot to criticize about this issue. Very few comics outside Blackest Night caliber ever attain this status and Louise Simonson does it masterfully. Even though there is a long list of X-men comics sucking up the competition, this one stands out as by far the most awesome. For that reason X-Factor Forever #4 gets a perfect 5 out of 5 and all the accolades a self-respecting X-men fan can dish out.

The only tragedy here is that this is just a mini. This comic has some of the best characterizations of any X-men comic and a damn nice plot to boot yet it only has one issue left. I suppose this is a case of amazing quality over quantity and for what it is, X-Factor Forever works wonderfully. Still, it leaves many readers wishing that Simonson would stay on and turn this into an ongoing or that another mini of this nature would continue. Something like this is needed to balance out the bullshit the other X-men comics have been throwing out, even if they have gotten better in recent years. It's a great series and that makes the last issue all the more precious. X-Factor Forever kicks every kind of ass in comics and it's definitely a series for the ages. Nuff said!

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