Peter David’s run on X-Factor in the 2000s is legendary and beloved, but his run on the title in the ’90s is less well-known despite it being arguably just as good. This Epic Collection collects the end of this criminally short run, and also the rest of the series leading into #100.
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The first three issues are X-Factor‘s tie-ins to the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover. Peter David writes, with Jae Lee and Al Milgrom on pencils and inks. These three issues could feel disconnected, but the breaks between each issue have a summary of the other books in the crossover, to make the jump between issues more natural and coherent. The actual crossover itself is quite good as well. It’s a smorgasbord of X-Men characters, be they heroes, villains, or anyone in between. The four X-teams involved (X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, and X-Factor) have incredibly interesting character dynamics that get to shine throughout this crossover, and the villains Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, and Stryfe all force the teams to combine and interact in ways that make the entire story far more compelling. However, the best part of these three issues is Jae Lee’s art. While his style was not as refined as it is now, his sense of composition and skill with visual storytelling is unmatched, and with Al Milgrom on inks and Glynis Oliver on colors, this entire segment of the book is drop-dead gorgeous. It’s a bit frustrating to not get the conclusion of the story within this volume, but the issues themselves were thoroughly enjoyable.
After this crossover, Joe Quesada takes over on art for the next couple of issues. The first of them is one of the most iconic, beloved X-Factor issues to date: the original X-Aminations. The issue follows a psychiatrist/therapist talking with the members of X-Factor after their harrowing experiences to figure out where they all are, mentally. It could feel like a contrived way to establish character dynamics, but Peter David does it in such an effective way that it instead feels genuine. The issue is funny and heartfelt, and pushes the characters forward in their arcs, sometimes even establishing reasons for certain behaviors that weren’t provided before. It was a really fun issue that showcases Peter David’s strengths as a writer, and Joe Quesada’s art really worked well.
Quesada would take over art duties for the subsequent issues, the first of which which features the mutant called Random hunting down the X-Patriots, mutants under X-Factor’s charge. This is mostly an action issue that ends with Havok paying Random off to stop hunting them down. The second issue follows up on the X-Patriots, as they head back to Genosha to reclaim their homeland. Quesada’s art really had a chance to shine within these issues, as he provides a style to the book that’s more standard than Jae Lee’s but still distinctive. These two issues also contain backups by Peter David with art by Chris Batista featuring Quicksilver trying to reconnect with his ex-wife Crystal of the Inhumans, before it being sabotaged. These were two short backups but the story they told was emotional and heartbreaking, and Batista’s art fit the more romance-oriented story very well. Unfortunately, these two issues are David’s last on the ongoing series, and the book takes a very sharp turn when Scott Lobdell takes over. Lobdell finishes this arc in Genosha, and while he doesn’t do a bad job, the book’s script loses a lot of the unique style that David brought to it. The jokes are less funny when they’re there at all, which isn’t often. Joe Quesada remains on art for the remainder of the arc and carries the story, as Lobdell really just has to provide dialogue to the book for these few issues.
David comes back for the Annual, with art by Terry Shoemaker. This issue once again features Random — this time beginning with a riff on Batman’s origins, with Random being the one to kill the parents and leave the child, Charlie Ronalds. It turns out this child was one of the kids who bullied Strong Guy in the origin story he told during X-Aminations, as he ends up going through his own journey into being a villain named Charon. Charlie is sadistic from the get-go, and while it’s excused by his guardians as his troubled youth, he is clearly far beyond troubled. This culminates in his making a deal with a demon named Cloot, in return for the ability to hurt Strong Guy and mutants everywhere, who he blames for his parents’ deaths.
Aside from some poorly aged jokes, this is a fun story. The rest of the annual is written by Skip Dietz, with art by Buzz and Chris Batista. The first portion with art by Buzz is really just a rundown of all the characters’ history to be easy for newcomers. The final short story is about Strong Guy on a pretty bad day, and it’s sad with a heartwarming ending.
The next issue is a tie-in to Fatal Attractions, because 90s X-Men books couldn’t go a year without another massive crossover. This one’s by Scott Lobdell and Joe Quesada, and is Quesada’s last issue on the book, as the team finally has to deal with Val Cooper’s sinister machinations that have been hinted at since David first left the book. There’s some good character work for Quicksilver, and the conclusion to Val Cooper’s time on the team feels as satisfying as possible given the rushed circumstances leading up to it. That being said, Joe Quesada is really the one driving the book at this point, as his art is the best part of the whole experience.
The next portion of issues is fairly mundane. X-Factor deals with their personal drama, gets into hijinks, and deals with more short-term storylines while something builds in the background. Despite the inconsistent art teams and lack of a singular vision, this portion of the volume actually ends up being fairly enjoyable, likely due to J.M. DeMatteis scripting the issues while Lobdell writes the plot. Eventually, the book settles on Greg Luzniak as the consistent artist, and DeMatteis as the main writer. Unfortunately, once DeMatteis takes over, the plots of the issues also take a steep dive. There’s some decent character work but by the end of the volume the story is a chore to get through. The book really feels as if it lost direction once Peter David left, and it never really recovers, at least in this volume.
As a collection, this is a bit of a mishmash of quality. It starts off really strong with X-Cutioner’s Song, and maintains this momentum for a few more issues until the writers abruptly change in the middle of a story arc and never really recovers. The character work remains serviceable throughout, but the actual plotlines just don’t match well with the tone of the series that Peter David established, and none of the other writers do anything to establish their own distinct tone. While David’s portions are quite good, the fact that at least half of the collection isn’t very good really puts a damper on the whole experience.