(Note: This post was originally scheduled for June but is being stickied to the top of the main page during the week of November 27th so current readers don’t miss it! Regular updates continue, below.)
X-Men fans who know the team from cartoons and movies are familiar with that single title acting as an umbrella to all of the various incarnations of the franchise.
That’s about to change in 2018. Fans will get their first taste of a X-Men spinoff title with the release of New Mutants, a movie based on the third generation of young mutants at Xavier’s school who were spun off into their own title in 1984. Either that film or Deadpool will likely lead us to another movie named X-Force, which would show off a more-proactive, bloodier version of X-Men on film.
Those spinoff titles – “new” and “force” – are explicit in describing what their teams represent. That’s one of many reasons why the film franchise is skipping over another X-Men spinoff title: X-Factor.
We might eventually see an “X-Factor” movie or TV show thanks to a 2006 incarnation of the title, which envisioned it less as a team and more as the motley crew staffing a mutant detective agency.
What we probably will never see is an adaptation of the original X-Factor, which was dedicated to reassembling the original comic book X-Men – Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and Jean Grey returned from the dead. That’s because the film series has always been smart enough to realize that those five characters are a boring combination that’s quickly dominated by the Cyclops/Jean relationship.
If the original X-Men are so boring, why were they reassembled? And, is it worth reading about over thirty years later? Those two questions are answered by the #31 vote on this year’s Marvel’s Most-Wanted Omnibus ballot.
(Note that this post was published in November, as the originally scheduled post was interrupted by coordinating my move to my new home in New Zealand).
X-Factor, Vol. 1
X-Factor, Vol. 1 is tied as the #31 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus of 2017 on Tigereyes’s Secret Ballot. Visit the Marvel Masterworks Message Board to view the original posting of results by Tigereyes and collect all of these issue right now as detailed in my X-Factor Guide
Past Ranking: X-Factor was #13 last year, making it one of the biggest drops in rank in 2017.
Probable Contents: Fantastic Four #286, Avengers #263, X-Factor #1 to 26 or 32, plus Annuals #1-3.
Creators: Written by Louise Simonson with Bob Layton and Walt Simonson. Penciled by Jackson Guice (#1-7) and Walt Simonson (#10-11, 13-15, 17-19, 21, 23-31, & Annual 3) with Marc Silvestri (#8 & 12)
Can you read it right now? Not entirely, and what you read will be in an hodge-podge of formats. The whole run isn’t even on Marvel Unlimited! Visit the X-Factor Guide for the full story.
What’s in the X-Factor, Vol. 1 omnibus?
It was a clever solution to a non-existent problem, but also very nearly a dead-on-arrival dud. Even though it turned out to be good, I’m still convinced it was the first big misstep of the X-Men franchise.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The year is 1985. Jean Grey is still dead. Cyclops represents the “old guard” in Uncanny X-Men and is increasingly unnecessary to the team, though he continues to get pulled back into their adventures despite starting a new life (and family) with Madelyne Pryor (later decided/revealed to be a clone of Jean!). Angel, Beast, and Iceman are roughly half of the New Defenders in a title headed for cancellation.
Bob Layton, the writer-artist behind the spectacular Iron Man run we’ve just covered, decided he wanted to get the boys from the original X-Men team back together. Since there was no Jean available, he planned to fill the token-female spot with Dazzler (whose solo title would also be up for the chopping block in the near future).
That was all fine, but what if Layton could assemble the full original team – including Jean Grey? Though she had only died in 1980, five years later her sacrifice had a feeling of finality to it similar to Uncle Ben or Gwen Stacy, aided by the fact that the Dark Phoenix Saga was already considered a modern-day classic by fans.
A young writer named Kurt Busiek had a perfect idea of how to revive Jean without invalidating the tragedy of her classic death. Jean’s revival was orchestrated in the pages of Avengers and Fantastic Four and the Dazzler concept for X-Factor was promptly jettisoned. (Heaven forfend we have two women launching one team!).
While Jean was being revived, there was also the case of Cyclops. Chris Claremont had freed Cyclops from his commitment to the X-Men in his classic duel with Storm in Uncanny X-Men #201, which sent him packing to live with his wife Maddie and their newborn son. Pulling him away from that and into a new team would be one thing, but to have that team include Jean was something totally else – casting him as an an family-abandoning adulterer rather than just a trustworthy husband with a case of wanderlust.
What Layton quickly runs into is that these five characters together don’t immediately yield thrilling stories outside of the tension inherent to Scott and Jean. The Uncanny X-Men were already being X-Men, and the New Mutants covered the school angle, so why did this new team exist? They were old school friends from the 60s with a built-in romance, and not much else. Beast, Iceman, and Angel had forged their own bonds over the years in other team books, but having the Cyclops and Jean relationship as the book’s central concept quickly relegated Angel to being “the money guy” and Iceman and Beast to being lightweight third wheels. Plus, Scott’s early appearances in the title are poisoned by him being a terrible person for leaving his wife and child.
Layton has Angel suggest that the team impersonate a sort of anti-mutant Ghostbusters – the “Who ya gonna call?” when you’re having a mutant problem. Secretly, they’d also double as a team of mutant revolutionaries who would protect and train the same mutants they were sent to capture.
The concept matches up well with Claremont’s pushing the mutant race to extinction in his pair of titles, but in execution it comes off a bit hokey. Layton does his best to make the quintet dynamic, but the book is nothing special despite some terrific artwork from Butch Guice. Layton’s last issue ends with a cliffhanger – the team’s defeat is being celebrated by a shadowy figure who calls himself “Apocalypse.”
Except, that’s not what Layton wrote. Layton wrote the celebratory figure as Daredevil bad guy The Owl.
Seriously. Not so scary.
Incoming writer Louise Simonson re-pitched the shadowed villain as a new character named Apocalypse and Guice redrew the page more ambiguously to match the full reveal he would draw in issue #6, Simonson’s first issue as writer.
Louise Simonson had been Chris Claremont’s editor for years before writing the junior adventure series Power Pack. She shared Claremont’s sensibility for soap opera drama. Simonson continued the Scott and Jean tension, but set up the team for a lot more angst. She also created a timeless villain in Apocalypse, showing off his power and ruthless “survival of the fittest” ethos across this run while leaving plenty of mystery for further writers to explore.
Simonson’s most masterful, operatic turn was to transform Angel, the most-boring of all X-Men. She stripped Angel of his wings as part of Mutant Massacre, saw him betrayed by one of his closest confidants, and had him fall into the grip of the mysterious Apocalypse to be reborn as murderous angel of death. He became something dark and thrilling.
It was the third time a big transformation was meant to shake up one of the dull, white-bread original X-Men (the trope already having hit Beast and Jean), but this was the first time it happened while the team was still assembled. They had to grieve for their friend and fight against him at the same time, and then learn to work alongside him and trust him again – all while he resented them for not coming to his rescue sooner. It’s a terrific arc, made even more compelling by Walt Simonson’s stunning artwork.
Perhaps recognizing the limits of the original five X-Men, Simonson developed a cast of supporting characters who have shown tremendous durability over the years. She created Richtor and picked up Boom Boom from her debut in Secret Wars II. She makes great use of Rusty, introduced in X-Factor #1, and gives him a counterpart in Skids. She also creates Trish Tilby, formed the lovable due of Artie and Leech, and plucks Caliban from the fringe of Claremont’s rogue’s gallery for further development.
By the end of this run, Louise Simonson is effortlessly weaving this dozen-strong cast through every issue. Along the way, she also pens some subtler moments for Beast and Iceman that continued to pay off in the rest of her run on the title.
Given all of this goodness, how can I feel that X-Factor was a misstep?
First, it represented Marvel circumventing Claremont’s direction for the franchise (even if that was warranted at the time given Claremont’s refusal to write any kind of conventional team book). Despite saying “fans demanded it,” this title wasn’t an organic outgrowth of existing stories. It was a cash grab, and also the start of the idea that any X-Men team you can assemble ought to have its own book. That created repercussions through the present day.
Second, X-Factor as a franchise never really stood for anything the way New Mutants, Excalibur, and X-Force did. Like Fantastic Four, it was a book about a specific cast – but that cast were and would always be “X-Men.”(Luckily, Peter David amends this issue later by making X-Factor synonymous with Havok, Polaris, and Multiple Man.)
As for the idea of pitting mutants against mutants, the team’s mutant hunting cover story was soon cast aside. Especially as Simonson’s run wears on into the 50s and 60s, it becomes increasingly hard to understand why this team must exist, and why it matters that we have the chance to read their adventures.
Louise Simonson makes it easy to forget these complaints while you read this first half of her run, which is a testament to the strength of her plotting. X-Factor is where the original X-Men finally got to be adults together for the first time, where Jean finally grew a personality that wasn’t just about being Pheonix, and where Angel and Iceman experienced some much-needed development. It even eventually rehabilitated Cyclops into a caring father.
X-Factor was ultimately a victim of Simonson’s success. She made its characters so strong that they merited being X-Men again, and she gave up the best of her supporting cast (Boom Boom and Richtor) to New Mutants. While Simonson’s run is too understated to call a “mic drop,” she definitely achieved more than anyone could have ever hoped for this lowly X-Men spinoff.
Will we see an X-Factor, Vol. 1 omnibus in 2018?
Marvel finally reprinted the start of this run in color with a recent Epic Collection. If there’s any recently-Epic’d line that could be heading for an omnibus it’s absolutely New Mutants and not this run. It missed its moment to be released as a tie-in to X-Men: Apocalypse.
It also likely needs to wait for Marvel to decide how to handle further Uncanny X-Men Omnibuses (and if they will recollect material like Mutant Massacre) before it gets released.
Would I recommend buying X-Factor, Vol. 1 omnibus?
Yes, if you don’t already have this material in Mutant Massacre and Fall of the Mutants, because that’s where Simonson’s writing really heats up.
However, if you have those books and are just missing the dozen issues that they don’t pick up, you should just buy the Epic Collection of the beginning of this run (and the eventual second Epic, which will finally fill in the color reprint gap starting at issue #12). The X-Factor Guide can help you find portions of this run in both oversize and standard size permutations.
The 2017 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus Secret Ballot Results
- #60 – What If? Classic Omnibus, Vol. 1
- #59 – House of M Omnibus
- #58 – Captain Marvel by Peter David, Vol. 1
- #57 – X-Force by Kyle & Yost
- #56 – Namor, The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1
- #55 – X-Force, Vol. 3 AKA Cable & X-Force, Vol. 1
- #54 – Conan The Barbarian, Vol. 1
- #53 – Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron
- #52 – Incredible Hercules by Pak & Van Lente
- #51 – Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 1
- #50 – Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch, Vol. 1
- #49 – Captain America (Silver Age), Vol. 3
- #48 – Doctor Strange by Roger Stern
- #47 – Marvel Horror of the 1970s
- #46 – Killraven
- #45 – Captain America by Mark Gruenwald, Vol. 1
- #44 – Runways by Brian K. Vaughan
- #43 – Superior Spider-Man
- #42 – The Punisher by Rucka & Checchetto
- #41 – Black Panther by Christopher Priest, Vol. 1
- #40 – Avengers West Coast by Roy Thomas
- #39 – Amazing Spider-Man by JMS
- #38 – TIE:
- #37 – X-Factor by David & DeMatteis
- #36 – Generation X, Vol. 1
- #35 – The Micronauts, Vol. 1
- #34 – Alpha Flight, Vol. 2 AKA by Mantlo, Ross, & Lee
- #33 – TIE:
- #32 – Silver Surfer, Vol. 1 AKA by Steve Englehart
- #31 – TIE:
- X-Factor (1986), Vol. 1
- Daredevil: Shadowland