Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chronic Non-Review: X-Factor # 40

Peter David continues the best "non-event" event book on the stands with the latest edition of X-Factor. The man himself has once again asked that readers not spoil the surprise, and I won't.

PAD promised that X-Factor was going to offer heart-stopping shocks and a return to noir. This issue had both, while specializing in the latter.

After the events of X-Factor # 39, Jamie Madrox is in a bad spot emotionally, and hits the road to seek out one of his dupes, John Maddox. Maddox is a priest with a wife and child, living exactly the life that was essentially ripped from Jamie in the previous issue.

This is an issue of angst and dramatic speeches, rendered with skill by David as usual. The beauty of these recent issues is that the surprises are impactful because they flow so well from what came before. These are not parlor tricks, this is the beauty of establishing a continuity and then bringing the marrow of storytelling possibilities out.

The downside I suppose is that if you haven't been following X-Factor from the beginning, you can't feel these punches in your molars. Well, a new reader might still fell the shock in # 39 even as an outsider. But the suprise in # 40 will not even be understood unless you're familiar with the book.

A special flair that Peter David added to the mix: a Michelangelo reference. On the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel is a very famous painting by Michelangelo, a creation scene with God and Adam:

In X-Factor # 40, John Maddox sends out a prayer of thanks to his creator, and Jamie responds. Which is poetic, of course, since Jamie did create Maddox.

John wants to know if Jamie has returned to reneg on his promise to let him continue his life and ministry. Jamie can reabsorb John with a single touch, which Jamie threatens here:

And that's the difference between PAD and your garden variety drone writer. It isn't that David is so very clever for knowing that painting and working it into a comic book.

It's the fact that it works so perfectly in a completely inverted way. In the Michelangelo painting, which hangs in a church, you have an omnipotent God creating life. This is juxtaposed with a very imperfect Madrox, broken finger extended, threatening to take life back. In a church.

Any hack can work a reference into their work, it takes a real writer to use a symbol naturally to enhance a scene. PAD is obviously fully invested in this title and at the top of his game.

Oh, and the surprise? It's a good one. Last issue ended on a major downer, this time our shocker leaves room for hope. And just like last issue - cannot wait for the next.

Secret Six

Quincy has been trying to get me to read this series for some time, and I finally caved in. And what a guilty pleasure it is.

Gail Simone is scripting, and has more of a flair for depicting darkness than I would have thought. You can sense how much she's enjoying pushing the boundaries here. These are not heroes, and the rules are that there are no rules.

One thing Secret Six does right is keep it simple. You've got your Big Bad in the form of Junior. And Junior is really bad.

You've got your MacGuffin in the form of a metallic card. Written in Aramaic on that card is the phrase "Get Out of Hell Free". And some folks in the know are pretty convinced it works.

An anonymous client has hired the Secret Six to transport that card and Tarantula, the woman who stole it from Junior to Gotham City. For some reason the group is required to make a few pitstops on their road trip along the way.

Why don't they just take a non-stop flight to Gotham? Why do they have to stop at checkpoints along the way? I don't know, and you shouldn't care. We need a road trip filled with twists and turns, man, don't you know that?

Check your suspicions at the door and just run with it, and the book pays off very nicely. Simone has crafted very singular and interesting personalities for all of them, including turning Bane of all people into a likeable father figure for the group.

And to top it all off, I couldn't be more impressed with Nicola Scotts pencils. This is what comic books should look like.

If you want depth, go find some Grant Morrison or Brian K Vaughan. If you want a high-impact joyride with some laughs and darkness, go back and pick up Secret Six.


1 comment:

Chronic Insomnia said...

I knew you would like it. It's simple and straightforward, but very cool and vivid at the same time. It's like a cross between "The Boys" and "Fantastic Four". It's probably one of my favorite series going right now. Bottom line with most comic books, at least for me, is they need to be fun, and these are definitely fun.