Monday, August 18, 2008

X-Factor #34

What's that, another Secret Invasion tie-in? Yes indeed, with Skrull mania sweeping the nation it would seem that no series, no matter the shape or size, is immune to a special appearance from the green-skinned, wrinkle-chinned shape shifters from outer space. X-Factor's involvement comes in the form of Darwin, a mutant whose father has charged the team with locating and returning his prodigal son. The good news: they've found him. The bad: he's sitting tight with Longshot, who just so happens to masquerade as the Skrull named Talisman. It gets worse – the She-Hulk and her partner, Jazinda, are after Talisman, too. And we all know how well superheroes typically mingle when their plans unexpectedly coincide.

Long story short, the team is already brawling with She-Hulk in the city streets when the issue begins. As usual, Peter David does a great job of blending serious action with tension-splitting narration. He keeps the book's individuality at the forefront, even when the team's getting their ass handed to them. As Madrox is hurled through the air, he quips "the whole 'She' part tends to make you overlook the 'Hulk' part," and suddenly I completely understand his frustrations. David has had a connection with these characters for so long (he first wrote for the series way back in 1990) that their little personality quirks and individual peculiarities can be taken for granted. Peter David knows Strong Guy like no one else knows him, and while I'll admit that sounds absolutely ridiculous, its importance in this series can't be overstated.

But the writer's best days with the book are behind him. When the series was at its best, it would match a biting wit with a set of legitimately moving storylines and themes. He could balance the jokes with serious moments that brought his readers closer to the characters themselves, instances of humanity and weakness that made them endearing, relatable, real. These days, the series has ramped up the goofiness and lost touch with those subtle, honest undertones. David remains a compelling author, and his writing here is no exception, but perhaps I've been spoiled by his earlier run(s) with X-Factor.

Artist Larry Stroman certainly gives the series a personality, although it's not one that I'm particularly crazy about. While his work has a quick, sketchy nature and persistent lightheartedness, his compositions often seem unfinished and underdeveloped. His renditions of She-Hulk were so far from the mark that I couldn't tell if this was supposed to be Jennifer Walters or some other nameless, green-skinned, purple-garbed behemoth of a woman. The character in this issue has a different hairstyle, different body language and the face of a middle-aged Asian woman.

That's not to say Stroman doesn't have his moments. When he pulls himself together, quits with the deliberate sketchiness and really sets his mind to delivering something cool, he can get the job done. Talisman's first appearance this month looks like something Jim Lee put together between issues of WildCATs in the mid '90s. For that matter, almost every moment Talisman is in the panel, Stroman's work shows marked improvement. Pity he couldn't be around from start to finish.

I remain a fan of Peter David's work, although he's lost a bit of momentum over the years. While the modern form taken by X-Factor doesn't compare favorably to its brightest moments, the series is still more entertaining than the majority of its modern competition. Larry Stroman's artwork provides a stumbling block, but the issue's worth borrowing in spite of that.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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