Peter David is a writer with a strong authorial voice and, as such, the amount you enjoy his work really comes down to how much you enjoy his sense of humor — and, in particular, his wry acknowledgment of the in-jokes and issues affecting the titles he writes, which inform his work in a way few other writers would dare to imitate.
This one-off sees David’s voice coming through stronger than ever, as he uses the opportunity of the X-Factor team being invited to Utopia to have a bit of fun at the expense of the other X-Men characters, reuniting various former team-members for the kind of amusing conversations only superheroes can have with one another, amusingly phrased as only David can manage. In addition to the amusing asides, we also get to see more important payoffs, such as Cyclops meeting the future version of Layla, following events that originally unfolded back in Messiah Complex.
This story isn’t all about the sly winks and continuity patches, however; There’s a fairly good point at the heart of it about the ghettoization of mutants living on Utopia and the fact that, as a venture, it seems intrinsically doomed to fail . It’s just a pity the point couldn’t be made with something better than a rather abstract villainess claiming to be the “spirit of ghettos,” which provides a light-hearted fight scene, but one with some rather contrived motivations. Although the book serves its role in X-Factor continuity well, giving them a good reason not to live with the rest of the X-Men, removed from that context — or that of its in-jokes — it loses much of its charm as a story.
One major concern about the issue is its place in continuity. X-Factor’s recent relaunch means that the book is barely getting going with its first storyline, but this issue takes place after that, with the entire cast of X-Factor reunited – including Layla and Terry, neither of whom is even involved in the plot of X-Factor right now. It’s a little disappointing, and suggests that, much like the X-Men’s original San Francisco base, Utopia won’t actually survive long enough for this book to have been published at a more appropriate place in its parent title’s lifespan.
This is just the latest example of Marvel playing fast and loose with its own continuity, and although it’s easy to accuse detractors of nitpicking, ultimately this kind of thing harms both the story and the reader’s experience by sucking all the dramatic tension out of titles; “X-Factor,” still on the fringes of the X-Men franchise, is a book which works best when it thrives on that tension, rather than deliberately sabotages it.