Peter David has been fairly public about his goal to triple the sales on “X-Factor” over the course of a year. One suspects that he’s fully aware that the likelihood of any book — let alone an X-Men spin-off — hitting that target is incredibly unlikely, but you can’t deny that he is, if nothing else, writing like he believes that it’s possible.
Over the last few issues, “X-Factor” has tightened itself up in every possible area. Gone are meandering, multi-issue plots about fifth-tier X-characters like Darwin and Longshot. Gone are the ugly, loose pencils of Larry Stroman. In their places, we get an increased focus on Madrox, the ever-engaging heart of the title, and the moody, precise pencils of Valentine De Landro.
Readers are also treated to yet another issue of brilliantly unpredictable plotting. While this issue relies less on a jaw-dropping climactic twist than previous issues, the story still promises to turn on a dime, and you can’t help but be entertained by the sheer force of the storytelling. After a few issues following Madrox almost primarily, David now drops in scenes that help re-establish the status quo of the ensemble cast, and despite being unexpected, it still feels natural.
And yet, even though the book’s plot feels like a virtual roller coaster, David still manages to pack in surplus characterization with the kind of skill only an industry veteran like him can. The sexual tension between two lead characters is masterfully crafted, almost from thin air, and you can’t help but be impressed at how immediately believable it is regardless of how absurd it might previously have seemed.
In an industry where any increase in sales at all would be bucking the trend enormously, “X-Factor” seems almost capable of making such a turnaround. There was a time when the title was routinely described as “the best X-book Marvel is publishing” — whether David got complacent, or the rest of the line simply improved to match his standards is a point for debate. A point that is indisputable, however, is that over the last couple of issues, David has placed the series back on top of the pile. Masterfully written, entertaining to read, it’s one of those comics that should delight anyone who thinks they’re a fan of superhero soap-opera, or those who cry out for single-issue stories instead of plodding, decompressed arc. If either of those sentences describe you, pick it up immediately. Don’t let the hard work of these creators go to waste.