Monday, 26 October 2015
XFA #3: "Regression Obsession"
("A useless, futile thing...")
So far in my still-new coverage of the X-Factor title, the overwhelming theme has been the book's obsession with the glories of the past, and how they can repackaged, replicated and reordered in the present. This book, as is obvious simply from its cast list, has one foot defiantly planted in the 1960s.
This in and of itself is no vice, at least not necessarily. But in issue #3 a sense of dread is beginning to descend. By all appearances, this is not an issue interested in riffing off the past. It is interested only in restoring it.
The most utterly obvious example here of course is Henry McCoy's reversion to his original appearance. As an unrepentant Beast fan I must confess to enjoying the idea of him finally escaping the consequences of a single mad impulse half a decade or so earlier. But from a writer's perspective, the immediate question raised is what we actually gain by having Henry be no longer blue and furry. What potential does a restored Hank have drama-wise? The possibilities of furry Beast were obvious and wide-ranging, hence why those few Amazing Adventures issues in which he was introduced were so powerful. A genius forced to look like an animal by their own arrogant hand. A peaceful intellectual warring with animal instincts and violent rages. These are not in anyway original concepts ("What if Dr Jekyll ALWAYS needed a haircut?" would seem to be the elevator pitch), but they were at least there. What does a reverted Hank get us, other than one more way in which this title can claim to be resurrecting the past?
(Speaking of resurrection; note how Beast is shown on the cover: wrapped in the standard visual shorthand for an Egyptian mummy. A nod to those whose time is long past but might yet rise as pale fractions of their former selves, unable to face their irrelevance in the present day? Given what Layton is doing with this issue, that's a pretty hilarious sight gag.)
The sense of what we might call a "traditional" approach to comics were we feeling generous - and a "dated" one if not - continues throughout. The rather interesting interplay between the X-Men's identities as X-Factor and rebel mutants (in effect, attempting to run two conflicting secret identities at once, which must get confusing) that we had last time round is swept away in favour of an utterly standard plot template: the X-Men need to rescue their friend, so they attack a base filled with gun-wielding goons. There's nothing in the A plot that couldn't have been written back before Jean Grey first died. This feeling of a comic out of time is only strengthened by moments like Dr Maddicks' page-long exposition explaining his plan. It's a clunky sequencein any event, but it jars all the more for coming at the issue's conclusion, robbing the story of any momentum whilst we view a psychic slideshow of his life following his appearances in AMA. I'd have thought it would be obvious to almost any professional writer that the right place for this would've been at the start of the issue - why not have him explain he was searching for a way to regress his son Artie's mutation (which left Artie mute, an interesting wrinkle in the "is a 'cure' for mutants morally acceptable?" debate) to Beast at the top of the issue? Could Layton really have been so incompetent?
Well, who knows, but there is an alternative explanation which helps Layton to come off rather better - perhaps Maddicks reveals his plan so late so as to delay the audience guessing that his genetic meddling might give us back the original, far less hirsute McCoy. But whilst that's an argument that makes sense, it's hardly one that gets Layton off the hook, because it immediately suggests the entirety of this story exists for no other reason than to return Hank to his pre-Brand Corporation days. Maddicks' desperation to "save" his child and Artie's horror at what his father is prepared to do become more or less irrelevant, no more than a nostalgia delivery system. A pointless tale to justify a pointless character cleanse.
Viewing the issue like this makes one suspicious even of what otherwise might be strong material. The revelation that Cameron Hodge has a friend inside the government looking out for mutants is a very interesting one, and his arrival to tell Hodge what a mistake he's made with X-Factor might have given hope at the time that the whole ridiculous idea of the original X-Men abducting their fellows under the guise of mutant hunters was going to be dropped. Coming as it does in this issue, though, readers could be forgiven for fretting that this was similarly an attempt to sweep the present away to allow a return to the past; that as with the tale of Carl and Artie Maddicks, X-Factor was just scaffolding to allow the construction of "The X-Men" 2.0. Hell, even Jean and Scott's interactions here feel just like the good old days. Scott's refusal to open up might now be because of secretly having an estranged wife and son, but the basic dynamic is unchanged; Jean wants to engage and Scott won't do it, or tell her why. Needless to say, the fact they're interrupted before the conversation can progress absolutely doesn't help matters.
There is, obviously, a hard limit to how long this rush backwards can last. Sooner or later - and it'll be sooner - the reset will be complete, and XFA will have to start moving forwards again. The sooner it does so, the better, but the fear remains that we've already seen the only direction Layton is interested in.
The narration states this issue begins just five minutes after the last one ended. The story itself continues into the following day.
Friday 12th to Saturday 13th April, 1985.
X+7Y+41 to X+7Y+42.
Transgender model Carmen Carrera is born.
"So why didn't you just float us up over the fence?!"
"I was showing off!" - Iceman and Marvel Girl.