Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Classics - X-Factor #1

It's hard to believe that there was a time when the X-Men weren't all that popular.

Hey, don't look at me - I've been a fan since the early days of yellow-and-blue school uniforms, when you could count the members of the team on one hand.

But the original series never seemed to win the kind of audience that the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man enjoyed. After about seven years, the X-Men comic was cancelled.

It would return a few years later as the "New" X-Men, and not long after that, it became Marvel's top title. It was a position the comic would hold for decades, only losing it in recent years (thanks in large part to the influx of a dozen or so X-titles watering down the brand).

But at first, the expansion of the line was gradual, including titles like The New Mutants - and in 1986, someone realized that the original X-Men team - Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, Iceman and the Angel - was going (largely) unused.

So they decided to put the original band back together under a new name: X-Factor. (Insert Simon Cowell joke here.)

The problem was, the characters were all in messy places. Jean Grey was dead (shocking, I know). Cyclops had remarried and had a child with a woman who looked exactly like Jean. The Beast was a former Avenger and Defender. Angel and Iceman were also former Defenders - and that team's comic had just been cancelled.

The solution was just as messy: Jean was still alive because the Phoenix had placed her in stasis and duplicated her body - so it was the Phoenix who died in the classic X-Men story, not Jean. (It wasn't ideal, but it was a workable solution.)

Her rebirth, and the growing antagonism toward mutants, led the team to regroup. But in an attempt to give the team a twist, writer Bob Layton stumbled. The group presented itself as a Ghostbusters-type team, pretending to capture mutants while actually rescuing them.

It was an awkward plan, and it would eventually be straightened out when the team was "outed" as mutants.

But despite those problems, I enjoyed the issue. It was a strong early effort by artist Jackson Guice and it was great fun to see the original team back together again.

It was a rough start, but there were better days ahead.

Grade: B-

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