“The End of X-Factor” continues to feel rushed yet be full of good ideas.
In part three of this six-part arc—not really an arc, thus far, but a string of one-shots focusing on different characters—we check in with Rictor, Shatterstar, and Longshot (sort of). It’s an issue that reminds the reader how badass Rictor can be, has Mojo as its primary villain, and finally reveals the connection between Longshot and Shatterstar that writer Peter David has been teasing for ages. That’s a mighty fine list, and though I like the separate details David has cooked up, as a complete issue X-Factor #259 was somewhat lacking. The information it provided was interesting and unexpected, but the execution was oddly paced and unnatural. It felt very much like the bare bones of what should have been a longer story, an amount of material that David would usually spread over several issues. I don’t know if that was originally the plan or not, but either way, that’s how it came across. It was too much ground being covered too quickly, and it made the ending abrupt and anticlimactic.
Evidently, during the “Hell on Earth War” storyline that preceded this one, Mephisto hit Rictor and Shatterstar with some kind of energy blast. I do not remember this, but it says so on the first page, a well-placed recap considering HoEW was somewhat scattered and confusing. Rictor starts this issue as a prisoner on Mojoworld, where he apparently found himself transported after Mephisto’s attack. It’s a jarring opening, but one that surprises and grabs attention. That’s actually a good description for most of the things that happen in this issue. It consists of rapid-fire shocks and twists, moments that baffle the reader and Rictor alike, are hurriedly explained, and then get interrupted by the next one. The script moves at dizzying speeds, and though it’s not hard to follow, the reason for that isn’t so much strong writing as expositional dialogue. Because Rictor is totally new to Mojoworld, he asks a lot of questions of the characters who have more experience there, and they answer him as directly as possible. Another good way to describe the events of the issue would be, “There’s a bunch of fighting on Mojoworld while people explain stuff to Rictor.”
The art from penciler Carmen Carnero and inker Jay Leisten is not a great help, though not because it is necessarily bad. It’s not bad, it’s remarkably middling. Except for a two-page splash early on, most of the pages have 5-6 panels, and most of those panels are fairly rigid. The layouts vary, but there’s no particular flow from one panel to the next, and often no sense of motion within them. Carnero’s style is strange. There are moments where the detail is fairly heavy, lots of small expressive lines in the characters’ faces. Then other panels can’t even get the basic shapes of their skulls right, sometimes on the same page as the more precise images. Some of this may be Leisten, it’s hard to say, but even harder to pin down is exactly what Carnero’s strengths and weaknesses (or even tendencies) are as a comicbook artist. In addition to the varying levels of detail, I can’t tell for sure if Mojo is meant to be intimidating or amusing. The character is always a blend of the two, but it’s unclear what balance Carnero’s aiming for; it’s inconsistent at best. Similarly, some of the action seems whacky, and some of it more brutal. Not just from fight to fight, but within a single combat. This jumping around in visual tone does little to improve the already jumpy narrative.
The art’s never unclear, though, and has a moment or two of true greatness. Shatter’s entrance has some exceptional beats, and I dug Spiral’s brief appearance, which also marked the only real experimentation with panel shapes and page composition. And Carnero did a good job of aging Rictor and Shatterstar slightly based on how long they’ve been trapped on Mojoworld. Shatterstar has marginally longer hair, while Rictor’s is noticeably grown out and has an accompanying beard, a subtle reminder that the two are not the same species. And even though he bounced between scary and hilarious, Mojo always looked excellent, and fittingly larger than life.
Plus that David Yardin cover, per usual, is delicious. He is the perfect choice to be this title’s cover artist, and I’m glad he’s riding it out until the end.
The ties that bind Shatterstar and Longshot are certainly not what I had anticipated, yet at the same time they have elements that are exactly what I anticipated. I like that, and Peter David deserves credit for pulling it off. But by the time all the details of their relationship have come out, whammo, the issue is over. I almost would have preferred getting the explanation more quickly for the sake of having a fuller or more exciting conclusion. As it stands, the final pages peter out a bit, with Shatterstar’s history lesson lecture distracting and detracting from the present tense of the story. It puts the story in context, this is true, but still…the script feels like it wants one more scene, some extra space so it can stick its landing. And if “The End of X-Factor” doesn’t manage to combine its many seemingly disconnected threads by the time it wraps up, if this is in fact the last we get to see of these characters in this series, then that’s going to be thoroughly disappointing. Rictor and Shatterstar are stranded in a fascinating and dangerous place in the middle of an insane situation with a lot of work to do. I’d really like to see if they do it and how, so I hope I get another chance.