Thursday, 20 March 2014

X-Factor #71: or, a gonzo con report

Sadly there weren't any Oubliette
cosplayers for me to fold my arms at.

As I write this, I'm still vaguely recovering from London Super Comic Con, the weekend of the 14/15 March. Con-going is a very different experience now I have comics mates.  On the Saturday a bunch of us cosplayed as the Young Avengers and ran around accosting others for pictures.  It was a lovely experience, and some of the results are here. I highly recommend it, especially as a group.

I don't know if I'll ever write about Young Avengers for the blog.  I feel it's the sort of thing I should cover (I'm planning to broaden out in the 2000s and cover lots of general Avengers stuff - particularly the crossovers - because of interlinking - I mean how on earth can I write about Decimation without having done House of M, and how can I do Utopia without Dark Reign and Secret Invasion?), but it'll be a long way down the line if I ever do, and I doubt I'll have anything to add beyond what Hazel will say in her highly-anticipated mega-post (she was playing the role of my stupid space boyfriend on Saturday, being Noh-Varr to my Kate Bishop; the other of us is Clara, doing a highly-excellent Wiccan.)

I had to skip out early on the Saturday evening to get to my friend Steve's 40th birthday party, which was kind of a shame because I was enjoying the pub, but it was a fun enough day, apart from the bit where a small child misgendered me and I froze and had to sit down and have a little cry.  It was pointed out there were plenty of people being perfectly pleasant at us and me, and the Other Kate even asked me specifically for a solo photo.  In other words, the play was fine.

After the con closed on the Sunday there was further pubbage and then karaoke.  It went a bit wrong, as karaoke tends to.  I was left with a strong conviction that the food was nice, that several songs I had previously thought were OK were problematic (this is what happens when you get several socially aware creator-types in a room together), and that I had paid my share of the bill.  After the karaoke we went back to the pub, and then back to Al Ewing's hotel, where the bar was still open.  I didn't get home until Monday afternoon, after having spent the night (well, the brief couple of hours before it got light again) on Kieron Gillen's sofa.  That's the real reason I can't write about Young Avengers right now, of course.  It's too close. Not that that's an ethical judgement, it's just that saying the things I need to say about it would feel too close to exposing myself.  Maybe I'll do that down the line.  For now, I'm glad I'm in 1991.

Peter David totally signed my comic!
Usually I systematically do the rounds at cons but it was a lot more haphazard, especially on the Saturday (apparently the last Seb and James saw of us was the three of us shouting "THERE'S A WICCAN!" and vanishing at high speed in high heels, which sounds about right.)  The Sunday was a bit calmer and I managed to hit some tables and catch up with an artist and chat about Secret Project 10.  And I got this comic I am not writing about now (X-Factor #71) signed by its writer, Peter David.  As I have written before, I have been a fan of Peter David's work for oh just a couple of decades, and it was properly terrifying going up to him, even though I had been assured he was nice.  And I've  really looking forward to reading this particular issue of this comic throughout the latter stages of the Claremont era.  Much as I was dreading X-Force, Peter David's X-Factor, that was going to make it worthwhile.

I've been writing this post for an hour now, and I still haven't read the issue.  It's sitting in my scanner.  This is new.  I've never been too nervous to read a comic before.  What if it sucks?  There's nothing for it.  There's only so many cups of tea I can make.  There's only so many games of 2048 I can play. (That bit's not true, I expect I could do that FOREVER.)  I'm going to have to sit down and get cracking.  You know what, I'll liveblog this, page by page.

Page 1: One big panel of Guido saying "excuse me, you got any grey poupon?" to an unspecified person. I'm not quite sure what grey poupon is.  Googling tells me that it is a brand of mustard known in the United States.  But what sort of brand?  High-end, low-end?  This is important.  It's owned by Kraft, so I'm guessing not exactly gourmet.

The credits box reminds me that I don't talk about artists enough.  This issue is pencilled by Larry Stroman and inked by Al Milgrom.  Now that I've started to draw faces a bit I am starting to actually look at the strokes in comic art properly in a technical sense rather than just the overall aesthetic, a mental breakthrough like that week in 2004 when I suddenly started hearing individual parts in music.

Guido's face here is drawn very stylised, with a radiator grill for a mouth, his pink face and hand amid a sea of purple that represents his shirt but extends far beyond the area that is plausibly cloth.  Is that the background?  What's going on here.  We'll see on...

Page 2:

But before I get to page 2 I am interrupted by a twitter notification.  Charlotte, who is another of our little Young Avengers collective, is replying about my suggestion that she use a MUD client for talking to MicroMUSE.  I try and log into the MUD myself, with my own client, just to check that it can work.  It does.  I muse (see what I did there) for a bit about the energy I was feeling when I wrote that versus the energy I have for comics now.  It's similar, but I'm in a better, more driven and more capable place, now.  MUDs and comics are at once almost opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, but they share commonalities.  MUDs are basically the ultimate in indie games - back in the 1990s everyone was making their own MUDs, and only a few ever were commercialised.  Everyone can make their own comics and even the biggest event book at Marvel or DC still has a bit of an artisan feel to it, because it's predominantly the work of a handful of people.

MUD writing was fun, but I was never able to achieve the intellectual conversation I wanted out of them, and I drifted away from them in around 2003/2004, about the time I got into Wikipedia.  I am still proud of the body of work I produced for the Cryosphere, and it pains me that it is so inaccessible.  And one day the worldbuilding (my spin on a mashup of 2300 AD and Warren Ellis's Ministry of Space, something that I never got around to reading until 2005) is going to emerge in a comic, probably the one about the stupid space captain.  I try to persuade Charlotte to log in to the Cryosphere, but she is resistant.  Fair enough, one MUD at a time.

The first panel of page 2 answers my question about Guido.  He is being drawn huge and that colour fill really was supposed to be his shirt.  He's with Lorna Dane and another chap, and they are having a bit of a back and forth in a style that is instantly familiar, because David is still writing those characters just like that.

Lorna is worried about the guy they are bringing in to head this new X-Factor.  This would be the new incarnation of Freedom Force that #70 trailed, then, but that link is implied, so far.

Page 3:

Four-panel page, the most we've had so far, with only a tiny bit of dialogue on each page really, compared to say, Claremont.  You can tell who says each line even without the attribution of the speech bubbles.  The second and fourth panels are head-shots of Lorna Dane (Polaris) from unusual angles - one showing her chin and jaw, and the other a profile from below.

Lorna is worried about Alex Summers (Havok) being the team leader.  Not because he's her ex, but because she doesn't know what she is, they've been mind-controlled and that so much, what's even is the state of affairs of their relationship?

Page 4:

Guido hits on Lorna in that way he does.  Eew.

Page 5:

And the other person at the table is named as Madrox (in case you couldn't tell before from the knocking and duplicating).  Jamie Madrox is the main character in the 00s David's X-Factor.  Will he arrive as well-constructed as Guido has?

Something is going on with the jars. Particularly the mayo.

Page 6:

And now Val Cooper is in Genosha, recruiting Havok.  He'd ended up rebuilding Genosha after the X-Tinction Agenda crossover.  In having Cooper the linkage with the new Freedom Force is made explicit.   Alex is a hard sell.  Cooper probably isn't helping by denigrating something he really believes in rather than trying to

Page 7-8:

Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair) saves Havok from a falling girder.  Our first action scene.  Val uses it as a mind-game.  Did she set it up?

Page 9-10

Change of scene, and we're with Quicksilver.  Quicksilver who has of course, deep Young Avengers connections, being the template for Speed (Tommy).  He's looking for the X-Factor HQ in Washington (not New York!), and being impatient.

Page 11/13

Alex's brother Scott Summers arrives, with Professor Charles Xavier, to persuade Alex personally.  Alex is a very reluctant leader here.  More recently, he is reluctantly persuaded to lead the Uncanny Avengers team, in the wake of Xavier's death and Cyclops's rebellion; they argue that he would be a good example for human/mutant relations, something that apparently will stick with him.

Page 14-15

Back at the HQ.  Pietro has arrived and is in a bit of a state.  Lorna is surprised to see him not on the West Coast with the Avengers; has she not heard of his power?

Page 15 (right) is odd.  It is out of place.  It is perhaps funny if you know the context, but what is essentially a launch of a comic it is a terrible mis-step.  I suspect I only understand it because it came up in a CBR column.  What appears to be going on here is they're trying to shut down the "Lockjaw is a sentient being and an Inhuman who was just really quite badly mutated by the Terrigen mists" concept.  That I probably need to explain what Lockjaw and Terrigen is, because they've never really come up before, demonstrates the lack of relevancy to this issue.

But in context, it's Quicksilver in a bit of an addled state, so it manages to get away with it very slightly.  His power, in case you are wondering from the page, is killing him.

Page 16

Alex and Rahne on the plane to the US.  Looking forward to the future and considering their team-mates.

Page 17-19

Pietro clarifies exactly what he means. Using his power is ageing him.  He is being blackmailed, of sorts (well, taunted anonymously by postcard with no specific demands, but eh.)  This smells a bit.

We get the punchline on the mayo jar (not the mustard jar, oddly... I'd have made it the mustard).  They've all used their powers to try and open it, and in the end Val Cooper manages it by "rap[ping] it a few times."

Page 20-22

EXCEPT it turns out that Madrox made a fake jar with remote control lock as a practical joke.  This is not the 2005 Madrox, is it?  The animosity between Multiple Man and Quicksilver starts as... a series of practical jokes???  I did not see that coming.

And then someone shoots him.  Who?  We just don't know.

Steve links the portals. Don't ask.
I can't quite call this a disappointment. I am going to keep reading, for sure. We can see the pieces, even though it's in fragments. But it's not a story, nor even really the start of one. And there's no sign of David being about to provide us with a fresh new look at mutants, at what that can be a metaphor for. Can he do that? Absolutely, we can tell that from his work on the Hulk. Is he going to? We shall see...

Now, it's getting on for 3.30pm and I've been writing about this comic for several hours. I didn't really have lunch because it would have felt like procrastinating. I'm heading into town for... comics, and then to Steve's house to ninja-decorate everywhere with tiny cakes for his birthday.

Did I mention I'd started drawing? I did the pencils
in about half an hour, then inked and shaded it while
Clara and Hazel discussed Sarah Ditton's recent article,
which now, god help me, I am reading.
Let me assure you, I am not doing it for the boys.

I'm back in the house at about 9.30pm and am now frying lamb and potatoes.  I was unexpectedly diverted via the pub, which Hazel summoned a few of us to at short notice, and which I'm now not able to go back to before they leave.  I hope, with all my heart, that we cheered her up a bit.


  1. X-Factor #71 is a issue I have fond memories about. That's your best review I've ever read, I really hope that you adopt this model in the next reviews. :D

  2. Grey Poupon is a French mustard made and distributed in the US by Kraft (they eventually bought the company that bought the US rights from the French company that makes it). It's a Dijon mustard usually marketed as being more upscale than the traditional yellow mustard that grew popular in the US in the late 80s/early 90s (up until then, yellow was pretty much the main mustard outside of traditional delis).

    There was a whole ad campaign around that time that involved two fancy cars pulling up to each other at a stop light, and the rider of one car asking the other if he had any Grey Poupon, to which he answered that of course he did, and the mustard was passed between the cars. It got parodied all over the place for awhile there, including in this issue.