Wednesday, July 28, 2010

X-Factor Forever #5 - A Celestial Monument to Awesome

Today is a sad and euphoric day for X-fans like myself. For the past few months we have been graced by return of one of X-men's most celebrated scribes, Louise Simonson. For a mere five issues, Mrs. Simonson has demonstrated once again that she knows how to handle the Original Five in a way that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (may he rest in peace) can be proud of. She did it in the late 80s during he memorable X-Factor run that helped forge the path for X-men for decades to come. She did it once again with her modern incarnation, X-Factor Forever.

Now as I've said before, I approached these Forever series with a healthy bit of skepticism because Chris Claremont's take on his Forever series was so fucked up you could pass it around like a joint and end up hung over as if you chugged a gallon of two parts tequila and one part battery acid. But Simonson took that concept and did something amazing with it. She didn't just show it could work. She showed it could be awesome. X-Factor Forever has only been five issues long, but she's made each issue count so that they can do in five issues what Chris Claremont couldn't do in 24 (26 if you count the Giant Size and Annual). With the final issue coming out today, X-Factor Forever #5, Louise Simonson makes her case and the prosecution rests. I won't be coy this time. This comic fucking rocks! It is the best mini to come along in decades and it almost makes me wish this book came in pill form so I could save money on my Prozac perscription.

The final issue does not waste an ounce of ink. The very first pages jump right into the action that began at the end of the previous issue. X-Factor was on a mission to attack Sinister, who had unleashed an army of clones bent on either killing everything in their path or making everybody that saw them barf through their nose. Add to that he can command them and you don't just have an uphill battle. You have the fucking Great Wall of China if the wall were made out of adamantium.

Aside from being creepy as fuck about it, his leads his clone army in an all out assault against X-Factor. He's not subtle about it. He's not nice about it. It's hard to tell if he's just fucking with them to prove that he can. A dog licks his own ball for the same reason. X-Factor are forced to take on their own clones as well as clones of their friends and loved ones, some of which actually look pretty awesome so you feel somewhat bad when Cyclops blows them to hell. But sympathy aside, the battle is still working against them and they need a miracle. But since lady luck is riding the red tide at the moment, they get Apocalypse instead. Yeah, Lady Luck is that much a bitch in this issue.

Now not only does Apocalypse show up, he has Nathan. Cyclops and Jean are understandably pissed. They instinctively go after him because heavens knows Nathan doesn't need to grow up with nightmares of Poccy's ugly mug. If this were any other comic, you would think X-Factor is fucked. But if you've been following this book, you know that this isn't your daddy's batshit crazy if not somewhat bland super-villain. He's a bit more complex for once and he has an agenda of his own. Only this time, that agenda requires him to actually save X-Factor and oppose Sinister. Seriously, where else besides X-Factor Forever would you get something like that?

So Apocalypse for once decides not to be a douche-bag and tips the balance in X-Factor's favor. He's even nice enough to give Cyclops his son back. I know using nice and Apocalypse in the same sentence is tantamount to a Jewish Nazi, but Simonson makes it work. Now that X-Factor has Nathan in hand, Apocalypse instructs them to give Nathan to the Celestials that have decended on New York. Somehow that's supposed to make this shit all better. X-Factor is understandably skeptical, but Apocalypse continues his non-douche-bag run by teleporting X-Factor out of Sinister's lab and then blowing it to kingdom come.

At this point some fans may be rubbing their eyes and checking their blood pressure. Did Apocalypse just do something noble? Did he just play hero for once? It may seem that way, but come on! The comic isn't even half over yet. If you're making those kinds of assumptions now then you're just being a dipshit. Luckily, the scene is awesome enough for anyone to enjoy no matter how many flawed brain cells they may have. For a guy like me, that's like Christmas at the Playboy Mansion.

So X-Factor is free and now they can turn their attention to the Celestials, who in issue two descended onto New York with the intent on judging the world in their own special way and by judging I mean flat out destroying. Since these are fucking space gods they're dealing with, X-Factor knows they can't fight them. All they have to go on is what Apocalypse told them. He said that if they gave them baby Nathan, then this shit would somehow all work out. That may be like getting sobriety advice from Amy Whinehouse, but they give it a try. Needless to say, it doesn't seem to pan out.

Now this could have been a grossly macabre moment. A space god takes a baby and crushes it in his palm? Seriously, unless you're pro-infanticide then it should make you cringe on some levels. But before the comics code authority completely loses their shit, the Celestials reveal that all is well. They give Cyclops and X-Factor a cosmic thumbs up. Whatever judging they did, Nathan passed the test and they returned him to the team without a scratch on him. But judging by the look on his face he's going to need a fresh diaper.

So is that it? Is that the end? Well remember how this little advice came from Apocalypse? Thing is, he left out one minor detail that reminds the reader that he's still a devious douche-bag. Once Nathan is judged and deemed fit, the two judges teleport to Genosha and start attacking. And when the Celestials attack, it's not just one-sided. It's like the Harlem Globe Trotters vs. the Washington Generals. It's a slaughter.They judged Genosha and Genosha has to go. That's where X-Factor has to come in once again and save the day.

It looks like all the mutants on Genosha are fucked. But once again, Apocalypse shows that he can still do good by being the cunning son-of-a-bitch he is at heart. As has been revealed through the Apocalypse journal's at the end of each issue, he's been messing with the Celestials for ages. He knows he's on their shit list and he knows that intervening with mutant evolution will earn their wrath. Since he doesn't want all his hard work to go up in cosmic dust, he does the next best thing. He tricks them. See? Still a douche-bag. While there's no way to save the island, he did drop a brief hint to the mutants so they would know enough to get the fuck out of the way when the Celestials showed up.

A quick round of teleportation and X-Factor does the rest. Genosha is in ruin, but the mutants are saved. Ship becomes a much more awesome version of Noah's Ark and once the island is gone, the Celestials finally leave. They've done enough judging it seems and they don't need to become giant space dicks looking to fuck any planet they come across. So Apocalypse came through in his own unique way and X-Factor came through. It's a perfect heroic triumph with a few interesting twists with an A-list bad guy. For a five issue mini, you can't ask for much more other than having it tattooed on the breasts of Pamela Anderson.

So the day is saved. X-Factor has once again triumphed in a big way. Simonson could have ended it right here and I still would have had every reason to give the book a perfect score. But she swings for the stratosphere with this one and throws in one last nice shot of our heroes. She's even nice enough to have a little family moment with Scott, Jean, and Nathan. If you're an Original Five fan or a Cyclops/Jean Grey fan, this ending will bring tears to your eyes that you probably haven't shed since Bill Clinton was president. That alone should make this issue worth it's weight in gold-encrusted diamonds woven into the thong of Carmen Electra. Considering how 616 insists on fucking up these classic characters by doing little things like killing Jean Grey and also considering how offshoots like Ultimate and Forever can't resist fucking up their characterization beyond all recognition, this is more than refreshing. It's like a hit from the bong of the gods.

Yet Simonson still isn't done. She goes onto add one more entry to the Apocalypse journals that have been bonus stories for each issue. This one isn't so much a bonus as it is an epilogue. It essentially retells what happened with the X-men to this point in the continuity and clears up why Apocalypse did what he did. It's heroic in some ways and a bit of dick move in others. He wasn't being all that altruistic. He was basically trying to save his own skin and all his hard work. It didn't bother him that his buffoonery was earning the wrath of the space gods and that everybody on the planet could pay the price. But at least he managed to put that cunning to good use and weasel his way out of ultimate judgment.

He's not going to get a monument to commemorate his sacrifice, but he at least deserves some street cred. This little extra helps make him a far more complex and interesting character than he is in any other incarnation. From here on out, it's probably going to be a lot harder to read Apocalypse and other books and not reflect on how much more awesome Simonson's version is and how awesome he could have been had she been allowed to stay on.

So now it's over. X-Factor Forever has come to an end and oh what an ending it is. There's no downer here. There's no sudden urge to self-mutilate or go on stronger meds. It's a nice, clean, complete ending in an era where every fucking book has to have some dark ominous sub-plot meant to draw the reader in for future issues. It's like finding a unicorn that shits chocolate. It's too awesome for words.

Now does that mean this series and this issue are without flaws? Even I'm not that generous. There are some shortcomings. This issue was a little melodramatic at times with Cyclops having the same crazy "NOOOOO!" reaction on more than one occasion. There also weren't as many memorable lines as there were in previous issues. But what it lacked in dialogue it more than made up for with story. There are far greater flaws with other comics of this nature and they don't come close to bringing down the overall awesome. Plus, Simonson is nice enough to once again include a letters page. You can't get much nicer than that.

For the final issue of X-Factor Forever, I give it a perfect 5 out of 5. It simply has too many awesome elements to give it anything less. While I loved this issue and this series to death, I'm also somewhat saddened because once again I'm left without an outlet series of X-men I can indulge in when I'm disappointed by the others. Now only 616, Ultimate, and Forever are left. 616 will always be the main universe, but Ultimate and Forever have sucked horribly and are almost beyond saving. So without X-Factor Forever, what more is there? I suppose that makes it all the more precious. Hopefully one day Simonson will be given another shot at the X-men and she'll further prove her legacy to the X-men saga. Until that day comes, X-Factor Forever will continue to shine with a special kind of awesome. Excelsior!

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