In “X-Factor” #238, Peter David’s plotting feels a little thin as he ties up threads from previous story arcs while giving all twelve team members a little screen time. Worse, this issue leads into a new story arc and introduces readers to a new villain, yet the new plot developments themselves aren’t especially gripping.
David’s strength as a writer is his leisurely back-and-froth quippy dialogue and warm characterization of X-team dynamics. The camaraderie and buddy-dialogue between Strong Guy and Multiple Man was enjoyable, but it also felt pat. I think I’ve heard the same back-and-forth rhythm many times with different characters slotted in. Don’t get me wrong, David’s distinctive authorial voice hasn’t lost its charm or humor. The rare ease with which he smoothly unrolls a story is always a pleasure — but he is playing it safe in “X-Factor” #238, taking few risks with character development or plotting.
It is lucky that the members of X-Factor are well-known quantities, because Paul Davidson’s art in “X-Factor” #238 doesn’t do much to distinguish them from each other. With the exception of Strong Guy, all the men have the same chins, eyes and body and all the women have cookie-cutter features and bodies as well. On the plus side, Davidson’s facial expressions are evocative and his visual storytelling never lost me. The sequence with Shatterstar at the beginning of the issue had a good sense of suspense and menace.
However, Davidson’s backgrounds aren’t particularly detailed and his camera angles aren’t very dynamic. There is nothing about his panel compositions that is off, but nothing particularly strikes me as being especially elegant or memorable. He draws a nice whorl of spiral stairs on the next the last page, but they read as flat and spatially unconnected to the scantily clad figure at the foot of the stairs. The last page is very flat, considering that this is supposed to be the “dun-dun-dun” moment of suspense as the next month’s villain is shown in full profile for the first time.
The cover art by David Yardin is a melodramatic, retro-style shot. The main image of Banshee with her hands bloody isn’t something that actually occurs in the issue. The bloody hands seem to be a Lady Macbeth guilt reference, but the cover falls flat if the reader realizes very quickly that (1) not only does no hand-bloodying occur, but (2) does anyone on any of the X-teams actually doubt Theresa’s innocence? Certainly the reader doesn’t feel much suspense, since it’s obvious that we’re seeing the mysterious real killer on the last page.
“X-Factor” is coasting on the chemistry between its well-established characters and Peter David’s writing style. Perhaps the new threats of Morrigan and Jezebel will drive up the suspense level in future issues of this story arc; otherwise, it will continue to suffer from predictability.