Writer Peter David is Marvel’s secret weapon. Heck, he’s the comic book industry’s secret weapon, with lengthy stellar runs on a variety of characters from both Marvel and DC as varied as Aquaman, Supergirl, Young Justice and Spider-Man. So many of the things that creators like Joss Whedon are praised for, the deft combination of character, plot, pop culture references and snarky humor, have been at play in David’s work since the late eighties. A veteran of the comics industry now for nearly thirty years, Peter David may not get the recognition that some of his peers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller ended up getting, but unlike them, he knows how to still have fun while writing within the superhero genre. And also unlike them, he still comes off as not crazy.
One of the books David has most been associated with over the past twenty years is Marvel’s X-Factor, which he has guided through various incarnations of the team. Back in 1991, he took over the book when the original five members of Xavier’s School left the title to rejoin the X-Men. He was left with a group of C-list mutants, who became the United States government’s answer to the X-Men. Although he only worked on that incarnation of the team for twenty issues, they were maybe the best twenty issues that book had during that entire decade.
David returned to X-Factor in 2005, when he re-imagined it as a mutant detective agency run by Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man. Almost all of the characters that were members from his previous X-Factor run returned, with the addition of a ton of mutants that the ’90s had left behind, and he gave them new leases on life. How many of us really cared about characters like Rictor, Shatterstar, and Darwin before Peter David made us care? It might be David’s greatest strength as a writer to make lemonade out of super-heroic lemons. So after eight years, Peter David ended his run of X-Factor, on his own terms, once he told the story he set out to tell. But the end of the old just means the beginning of the new, as All New X-Factor drops this week, once again with David at the helm. Some of the characters are the same, but it’s an all new premise, and judging from the first issue, it’s a premise with a lot of potential.
The first issue opens with a group of your standard variety evil scientists performing some kind of experiment on an unseen mutant, who are promising him/her that all her pain and suffering is for the greater good. (In a typical David moment, the evil scientists then decided to go grab some Starbucks.) We then cut to Remy Lebeau, AKA Gambit, everyone’s favorite Cajun mutant thief (And yes, I realize that “Cajun mutant thief” is a very short list), doing what he does best — stealing something. In this instance, it’s some kind of mystical artifact that can make the world end. Or something. Maybe. It might also just be valuable. Cue Wolverine, who not only stops him in his tracks but reminds Gambit that as a teacher at the Jean Grey School, he can’t keep on with his life as a part time thief. Wolverine may have become “tame” and kind of a sell-out, becoming both a headmaster and an Avenger, but Remy just isn’t cut out to become domesticated in the same way, as this issue shows us.
Which is where Lorna Dane, AKA Polaris, comes in, offering Remy a better gig; join the all new incarnation of X-Factor. This version of the group is a corporately sponsored superhero team for a large powerful company called Serval Industries. Serval is a run by Harrison Snow, a handsome CEO who is “the next Tony Stark,” and his logic for having a superteam at his disposal is hard to argue with- “Countries have them. The United Nations have one. Why not a corporation?” Indeed, it’s kind of hard to think that there hasn’t already been a successful comic super team with this premise, it’s such a no-brainer. Serval bought the name and copyright for X-Factor from Jamie Madrox, by the way, if you’re wondering what the connection is to the old team. They literally got their IP bought out, and that’s pretty much it. Polaris assures Gambit that she has done all her digging and fact-checking, and that Serval Industries is a company that’s about helping people and doing good. And sometimes making weapons, but, ya know… mostly doing good deeds.
Gambit ultimately says yes, not one to resist new and pretty shiny things, and pretty soon he and Polaris are joined by Polaris’ half brother Pietro Maximoff, a/k/a Quicksilver. This alone should be enough reason for any fan to start buying All New X-Factor, because Peter David simply writes the best version of Pietro of pretty much any writer at Marvel, ever. His issue of the original X-Factor (#87) has maybe hands down the best Quicksilver moment, where we see him unleashing his trademark venom during a therapy session with Doc Sampson. Polaris is convinced her brother is evil like daddy Magneto, Gambit thinks he’s a spy for the Avengers, but before they can all hash it out, Serval sends them on a rescue mission, to save the mutant we saw being tortured at the top of the issue. While I’ve just told you the whole plot of issue one in a nutshell, I haven’t told you the best parts, which are all the small character moments and off-the-cuff humor that Peter David excels at. Those are the best parts, and the ones for which you really are paying money when getting a book like this.
There’s a fair bit of Joss Whedon’s television series Angel here, especially that show’s last season, where Angel and his team signed up to become employees of Wolfram & Hart, a powerful (but very evil) company that had their fingers in every pie across this and other dimensions. Peter David is definitely a Whedon fan, having written the Spike Vs. Dracula mini-series a few years back, so some influence on him from the Buffyverse isn’t far fetched. (Besides, Whedon himself must have been clearly influenced by David’s writing.) So far, Serval Industries seems on the side of good, but everything about that seems too good to be true, something with which our characters are going to have to eventually deal. Have all these former X-Men (and one former Avenger) signed a deal with the proverbial Devil? I imagine that will be the main plot thrust of the series going forward.
The first issue runs at a brisk pace, filled with all the usual witty banter that Peter David can do in his sleep at this point. But just because he can do it in his sleep doesn’t make it any less amusing. Still, for a first issue, it more than gets the job done, I’m intrigued by just what is the true purpose behind Serval Industries, and why they do what they do. As readers (and as human beings) we’re just not programmed to believe a large corporation can be anything but evil. But the whole set up has me intrigued to return for future issues. Future members scheduled to join the team are former New Mutants Doug Ramsey & Warlock, and Danger (a/k/a the sentient Danger Room from Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run), but none of these characters were in this first issue, despite being on some of the variant covers. Italian Artist Carmine Di Giandomenico has a nice style that is neither too flashy nor too pedestrian, a little too nineties for me at times, but also reminiscent of artist Bart Sears, and that is definitely a good thing.
All New X-Factor looks like it’ll be a fun ride, and I am certainly looking forward to the second issue at least. While there is certainly the potential to go off the rails here, from where I’m sitting it looks like the beginning of another long and satisfying run from Peter David. Recommended.