Coming at the end of a sub-par arc, this issue feels like something of a return to form for X-Factor. The book’s speciality is placing relatively conventional X-Men plots in a more realistic setting, and Peter David imbues the story with a real sense of pace as Mutant Town collapses in the aftermath of Arcade’s appearance. The adjustment that the writer makes to his team’s status quo here is one of the most obvious that could be implemented; yet his constant fake-outs and red herrings make the result feel like anything but a foregone conclusion.
It’s a misunderstanding to say that X-Factor has been derailed by its eagerness to participate in Marvel’s crossovers. In part, the concept seemed tailor-made to show such events form a different perspective. The book managed to thrive during its Civil War story, providing an interesting street-level look at the conflict, but the hasty curtailment of its Huber arc in time for Messiah Complex left a bad taste in the mouth. What sets this issue above its immediate predecessors, in addition to some superlative art from Valentine De Landro, is the way David allows Jamie some victories, however fleeting. The bleakness of the present story, with Mutant Town burning and Madrox overcome by despair, felt slightly odd when placed alongside the comedy that has always characterised the book. The easier tone here is a great relief. Another part of this success is the resolution of the slightly forced grievances between the cast members, and the appearance of a familiar face. The manner of Layla Miller’s partial return to the book should irritate, but the sheer check of David’s approach eventually wins the reader over. Her new status as Madrox’s imaginary friend allows the reader to enjoy some of David’s sharpest dialogue, and allows us to hear the main character’s thoughts without the sometimes-clunky use of narration.
A slight fly in the ointment is the confirmation that Val Cooper will be an ongoing part of the book’s furniture. Despite her longevity, she’s a character who has acquired remarkably little depth, and the sheer number of anti-mutant bigots she’s worked with makes it hard to accept her claims a responsible approach to mutant affairs at face value. David uses this in an excellent gag during her first meeting with Rictor, and it’ll be interesting to see if the writer is finally able to imbue her with a more rounded personality. The final page makes explicit her role in X-Factor’s pseudo-noir world. She’s the all-powerful mob boss, whose dirty work the team will occasionally have to do to stay in business. The agency’s relocation to Detroit gives a strong feeling that David has finished his adjustments, taking the strongest elements of the concept’s original incarnation, and transplanting them to a setting more compatible with the X-Franchise’s new direction.