“The Messiah Complex” crossover had a surprising level of impact for X-Factor, who are on the periphery of the X-Titles at the best of times – by design, of course – so it’s proof if any was needed of Peter David’s experience with plot-derailing crossovers that he makes this 3-month interruption feed so easily into the ongoing character arcs of “X-Factor.”
With Layla stranded in the future, Wolfsbane gone to secretly join X-Force, and Madrox punishing himself over all of this, the X-Factor team is utterly lost for direction. Indeed, their status as “protectors of Mutant Town” is an increasingly moot point as the inhabitants, many of whom are no longer mutants, simply up and leave. At their lowest ebb, the team has found themselves under the attack of… Arcade! The fairground-gimmick X-Men villain you love to hate.
Leave it to Peter David to find the metaphor worth clinging to. Arcade’s entire thing is that he’s something of a Marvel Universe Joker – unpredictable, unfathomable, and about the last thing the team needs to deal with right now. He’s trying to kill Rictor for some unknown party, and truth be told he’s doing pretty well at it, with the X-Factor cast running rings around themselves trying to figure out what’s going on. There’s an especially neat scene where Madrox mistakes one of Arcade’s robot duplicates for one of his own dupes, with painful consequences. Meanwhile, a recently-electric shocked Monet provides comic relief by being incredibly angry and ready to punch Arcade’s teeth down his neck despite being so disoriented that she’s calling people by the wrong name.
When the heroes finally find out who’s behind Arcade, it actually turns out to bring some payoff to the Purifier’s role in “Messiah Complex,” as well as Rictor’s infiltration of them. The disappearance of the Purifiers about a third of the way into “Messiah Complex” irked me a little, so I’m definitely glad to see those threads given a proper conclusion. The ending cliffhanger of Mutant Town about to explode suggests that X-Factor might just be about to experience one failure too many – and in all credit to Peter David, I genuinely can’t predict which way it’s going.
As ever, David’s “X-Factor” is, even in light of recent shuffles, setting the standard for the entire X-line to follow with its blend of modern superheroics, soap-opera plots and complex character interaction. An utter must-buy for any mutant fans.