In the previous issue of “X-Factor”, Darwin — traumatized by recent events with the team — took a leave of absence to come to terms with the ways in which his assumption of Hela’s powers had altered him. Rather than simply using this as an excuse to get him out of the cast for a while, writer Peter David instead takes the opportunity to give us an entire Darwin solo issue, as he heads out into the desert and ends up encountering a strange town that may or may not be entirely imaginary.
An entire issue of Darwin is an unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome move (although, to be honest, the solicit for this issue — which can be found online — sounded far more likely to be a Peter David classic, based on past form.) In a series that has rehabilitated several of the X-Men’s blanker slates into well-realized individuals, Darwin has covered the least distance, and clearly David is changing all that.
Over on his blog, David asserted that when it was written, this issue was intended as a “Dark Tower” crossover (David being a writer on the various “Dark Tower” miniseries published by Marvel) but that the permissions could not be obtained. In light of that, it was scaled back to stand alone and be entirely comprehensible even without any understanding of the Dark Tower.
At least, in theory. In practice, it’s all a bit too surreal. Perhaps readers of “Dark Tower” can glean a little more about what’s going on, but although the foreshadowing for upcoming storylines is obvious, it doesn’t really work beyond those terms. It may be that in a few months, this’ll look like a work of structural genius, but right now it’s hard to take more away from it than the idea that Darwin has some kind of mystical, wild west-themed vision in the desert for no apparent reason (well, except the peyote he probably picked up the cactus he drank from).
The issue’s artwork is, at least, strong, and while the plot is a bit ponderous, the dialogue is sharp and the ideas presented – for instance, how Darwin’s immortality might affect him long-term – are intriguing. The problem is that it just doesn’t come together at the end. Certainly, the more mystical elements of “X-Factor” don’t feel like a particularly good fit for the series, especially when the idea was to take the book back to basics with its relaunch.
It’s rare that an issue of “X-Factor” isn’t uniformly above-average, but honestly, that makes it all the more disappointing to find an issue that’s merely average. Let’s hope David’s plans come to fruition sooner rather than later so we can claw a little back from what we just read.