Variant Cover of X-Factor with Rachel Gray walking the Krakoan version of the red carpet.

X-Factor & Comic Book Reviews 6/30

While the Hellfire Gala comes to anticlimactic and insulting close with X-Factor, Titans rise with their 2021 Yearbook issue. There’s nothing but surprises this week, with the comics I’m reading. For the most part, that’s a good thing, but X-Factor’s horrendous decisions threaten to taint it. It’s likely best, to talk about the worst book out this week first.

X-Factor #10

The entire cast of X-Factor dressed up for the Hellfire Gala.
If only this issue was as fabulous as this cast looks.

Written by: Leah Williams & David Baldeon

Art by: David Baldeon, David Messina, Lucas Werneck

Coloring by: Israel Silva

Lettering by: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Design by: Tom Muller

Disclaimer for this X-Factor issue, it talks a lot about sexual violence geared particularly at the black queer community. It doesn’t show anything graphic, but speaks of it in open detail which may trigger some people. I will talk about it from the point of view of a black man, but not as a queer man since I identify as straight. 

Throughout X-Factor, there has been a lingering plot thread regarding the death and resurrection of Prodigy. It’s clear by the way this issue struggles to juggle and wrap up several storylines. Prodigy’s plot thread more than others, and this issue on the whole is deeply affected by an early cancellation. 

It starts off using that same X-Factor humor and found family connections developed between these characters to garner the open dialogue that I love, but it comes off as disingenuous. Several times, moments that would feel like par for the course for X-Factor feel forced. Whether it be Akihiro and Aurora’s inopportune flirting or the team’s inappropriate handling of a sexual predator, this is not the ending the series deserved. 

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that X-Factor has been left responsible for closing out the Hellfire Gala and setting up the Trial of Magneto. It all goes to show that this issue is packed in the worst ways.

As many will talk about, the issue’s problems are most clear with its handling of Prodigy’s assault and racial/sexuality driven murder. While I can’t speak as to whether the writers of X-Factor are queer, neither credited for the story are black. It shows with how Prodigy himself reacts to discovering an assault he metaphorically repressed and the way he deals with it. Everything feels disconnected, not because Prodigy is disconnecting himself, but because this event feels disconnected from the story. 

Characters don’t react properly, and the art that I usually love, doesn’t fit an appropriate tone for these scenes.

This is one of if not the biggest loss the X-Men has taken since Dawn of X, and it’s a rather egregious one. I feel as if this issue wouldn’t have happened the way it had if X-Factor hadn’t been cancelled. I surely hope the writers, editorial, and Marvel learn better from it.

Black Widow #8

Black Widow is falling out of a city window on her cover.
Somebody better catch her.

Written by: Kelly Thompson

Art by: Elena Casagranda, Rafael De Latorre

Inking by: Elisabetta D’Amico, Rafael De Latorre

Coloring by: Jordie Bellaire

Lettering by: VC’s Cory Petit

I recently caught up on this series, with the series review going out tomorrow (hopefully). I have to admit that I’ve been sleeping on Kelly Thompson. I’ve only read one volume of her Hawkeye: Kate Bishop series, and have purposely slept on her Captain Marvel and Deadpool series. They’re just not characters I love. Well, now she’s got her hands on a character that I do, and she’s killing it alongside her creative team. 

Between X-Men’s fate of the mutant race, Guardians of the Galaxy fighting god after god, and Daredevil’s unending existential crises, it’s nice to have a good book that’s just about a hero taking care of normal people. You would think that it wouldn’t fit Black Widow, being that she’s a spy, but the creative team brings the character down to basics. They have made a story where Black Widow brings herself down to understand the victims and criminals around her to truly make a difference.

While the first arc was a tragic tale about a tragic hero, this is some classic superhero vs supercriminal conflict that’s enjoyable moment to moment. The characters here have excellent rapport, the stakes are appropriately handled, all in this absolutely beautiful art style. Its detailed enough to capture each character’s emotions, and lacking in enough detail that it basks in being a superhero comic. 

There’s something instinctively fun about this series, especially in this new arc. The only complaint I have is one I’ve had throughout the whole series. Whenever they do this classic action motif of having the hero appear in multiple places of one big splash page, I have a hard time following the action. This team hasn’t perfected it yet. At least this issue had one that was better than the previous ones. 

Technically, that at least means the series is improving on even my nitpicks. I really can’t recommend this series more. I foresee it continuing to be one of the best series of the year.

Daredevil #31

Elektra in her Daredevil identity beats up a room full of criminals.
She’ll take you all on.

Written by: Chip Zdarsky

Penciling by: Mike Hawthorne

Inking by: Adriano Die Benedetto

Coloring by: Marcio Menyz

Lettering by: VC’s Clayton Cowles

It’s amazing how the creative team(s) on this series can make Daredevils like Matt Murdock and Elektra seem so capable, and then turn around make their villains feel unstoppably terrifying. 

Matt Murdock and Elektra both reach their breaking point with the system. Murdock with the prison system, and Elektra with the superhero system. Murdock hates the fact that he’s being given preferential treatment but also not. Finally he decides to go after the warden, and reminds the tool that he’s goddamn Daredevil. It’s time for war, since that’s the only way things are going to change. That gets me pumped and excited. It’s tackling problems in a way only superheroes can, acting as an allegory for how we can only fix something like the prison system by attacking the problems head on..

And the creative team makes the same point with Elektra about superheroes. At some point, being a metaphorical fireman and putting out the metaphorical fires is pointless. Sometimes you have to kick in the doors of the rich and the guilty, of the murderers and drug kingpins, and make them afraid. You have to make the people who terrify the innocent, afraid for once in their lives. Elektra does that, and its glorious.

At the same time, the moment Murdock and Elektra are making monsters feel small, the true monsters, the true villains, come back and make them feel small. What is Murdock’s victory compared to the Kingpin, who can kill police officers and get away with it? What is Elektra’s victory over Izzy Libris, when Bullseye is randomly headshotting people in the streets? 

This series builds up hope, and rips it away in the same moment. It’s jarring in the best way. The time to catch up and jump on was years ago. Get on it if your not.

Teen Titans Academy 2021 Yearbook

Characters from Teen Titans Academy appear in the lettering for "2021" and "Yearbook." Characters like the Bat Pack, Nightwing, Raven, Red-X and the class of Titans Academy.
I wish my yearbook was this good.

Written by: Tim Sheridan

Art by: Bernard Chang, Marco Santucci, Darko Lafuente, Rafa Sandoval

Colors by: Marcelo Maiolo, Michael Atiyeh, Miquel Muerto, Alex Sinclair

Inking by: Jordi Tarragona

Lettering by: Rob Leigh

Of all DC’s Infinite Frontier books, Teen Titans Academy is the one on my pull list that has improved the most. The series spent a good amount of time developing and fleshing out these new characters, spending each issue focusing on some, and hinting at others enough that no page feels wasted. Each new issue, I have a new hero that’s going to be a future favorite. I truly hope DC does take the characters here and turn them into their own fully-developed heroes. Please don’t forget about them once this title is finished.

I also love the format of this special to tell stories for a bunch of characters. DC has done a lot of these lately, and I hope they keep doing it. None of the shorts miss here.

What this special issue’s first story does with Stitch is an example of this book at its best. They make this character down-to-earth, despite being a quilt person. They’re just enough abnormal that they’re adorably quirky. At the same time, the creative team uses tried and true tropes to make the character tug on the heartstrings. The one problem is that Stitch so far is the only nonbinary character, and they’re also not human. This is a common criticism I’ve heard iterated in the LGBT+ community. For some reason nonbinary characters are always othered at the core of their character. They’re commonly represented as aliens, robots, and non-human entities, like Stitch. They’re such a likable character, but this is the one trope that becomes more of a cliché, and could use a nice retcon to fix. DC Pride did it right, so DC clearly can if they try.

Then the Beast Boy and Raven short story is especially cute. I’m one of the few people who particularly likes this pairing, especially now that they’ve moved Beast Boy away from his once creepy characterization. I really do buy their relationship and why Raven would like Beast Boy. While the funny guy warming up the cold girl’s heart is an old and tired trope, Beast Boy has become less a funny guy, and more of just an overly charming one. Raven too, is less cold and more so layered. What this story and series has done is prove to me that these two fit together. The creative team shows that Beast Boy and Raven are both full of empathy, and that’s perfect for a relationship.

The next story about Matt is straight up sweet. Again, it’s comforting to just read about heroes saving people. It’s also even more comforting to read about people being thankful for those heroes. There’s not much to it. Matt is memory-less and family-less, so after one good act, it’s cathartic that he now has someplace where he’s always welcome to call home. 

I just love that okay, I’m a bit of a sap.

Of course though, the story everyone will be talking about will definitely be the one about Red X. It not only finally gives a meaningful, albeit generic and cynical motivation for the old Red X, but gives a bit of an origin for the current one too. Asides from somehow making one of the coolest costumes even cooler, Red X becomes a halfway point between Red Hood and Deathstroke. He has all of Slade’s cynicism and Red Hood’s good intentions. He makes for a badass to admire, and an interesting mentor for who’s Red X now. With previous issues, Red X has been a lot like Boba Fett, cool to look at with nothing underneath. This story was a step towards fixing that.

Vampire: The Masquerade #9

There's a vampire skull out in the with a Santa hat on.
Somebody stake Santa.

Written by: Tim Seely, Tini Howard, Blake Howard

Drawn by: Stephen Molnar, Nathan Gooden

Colored by: Addison Duke

Lettered by: Andworld

After just finishing These Savage Shores, this series really needed to wow me. I just finished reading one of, if not the best vampire story in comics, and one of the best vampire stories of this century. Vampire: The Masquerade is not one of the best books to pickup this week, nor is it particularly making the most of vampires, but its good. 

I prefer the artists they brought on this week to the ones they’ve had before. This art style makes the vampires appear all the more vicious, but the humans appear equally vicious too. I’ll admit, my favorite vampire stories are when the vampires fall from the top rather than struggle at the bottom. This new story arc was fundamentally never going to really vibe with me, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t objectionally good things going on.

The main character, Cecily, gets to cut loose in expert vampire fashion, and we see several vampires actually act like vampires. I just wish there was more of it. For the most part, the majority of the vampires here feel like fodder, completely helpless to humans. I understand that this is when they’re at their weakest during the daytime, but some of these vampires have been around for hundreds of years, they should have planned for this. 

The setting could be more horrifying, and the vampires could be more intelligent to make the humans feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle. There are ways this could be a better vampire story, but a book can’t be changed once its out. This book is good, but it could be better.

When X-Factor Fails, the Titans Don’t

It’s an incredibly strange week to say that Teen Titans was better than the X-Men output this week. X-factor suffers so much from behind the scenes trouble, that it’s easy to tell from a surface level reading. The series deserved a better ending, and so did the Hellfire Gala. 

But then again, at least we have the Teen Titans. Teen Titans Academy is really bringing the teen superheroes back to form. They’re bringing in new characters and new ideas. It’s truly beginning to embody the best of what Infinite Frontier should be offering. DC clearly decided that if there was only going to be one book from them on my pull list this week, they were going to knock it out of the park. To be honest, they really did, and somehow they made Red X’s outfit even cooler. I don’t know how they did that.

It also helps that Marvel backed themselves up with other books that aren’t X-Factor that are well worth everyone’s time. This week was sparse, but overall, rather worth it.

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