November 9, 2010

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Series Review: X-Factor Visionaries Peter David Volumes 1-4

Written by Peter David
Illustrated by a bunch of folks, including Joe Quesad and Al Milgrom
Marvel

Generally speaking, I'll follow a favorite comic writer onto any project they're working on. Peter David had written some great comics over the years, so when I saw these on sale awhile back, I grabbed them.

Unfortunately, these are not some of Peter David's great comics.

I'm not quite sure what goes wrong here. Certainly there's the problem of needing to link up with the other X-Books. David likes to create long-term plot threads and use pages upon pages bit by bit to build up characters who need it. When you have to keep cycling in people who were so thinly designed in the first place, this doesn't work well. In addition, because the characters and villains are so often shared, it's hard to work your own magic. Over and over, these four volumes show David trying to do what he does best, but continuity needs are strangling him.

This reaches its nadir when David has to write part of the X-Cutioner's Song crossover. He's clearly not into it, as all of the characters, both his and those from the other X-Books are wooden and stilted, as though they're stuck in a 3-movie deal they didn't plan to agree to. David left the book shortly thereafter, and that's probably for the best.

A second problem is the needs of 1990s comics. Everything has to be edgy and as violent as possible. Characters must kill to become unbalanced. Villians must increase the ante every time they show up. The Hulk needs two huge guns to fight his battles with.

Yup, Bruce shows up, and he ends up wielding two cannon-sized weapons and some other arms along the way. If you had any doubts this was a 1990s comic, that should cure the problem for you.

I can't tell if David is being ironic or not in his use of 90s tropes. I'd like to think he is, but if so, they just didn't work very well, looking back. There's nothing undercutting the scenes that shows the writer is in on the gag.

However, that might be the fault of problem number three. With the exception of Quesada, the art in these books gets worse as you go along. Given the sloppy work of the first few trades, it's really saying something that books three and four are worse. We are living here in the age of Rob Liefield and his ilk, and these comics show that on every page. It doesn't help that a lot of the players being used are from the same time period, so their designs are absolutely laughable to begin with.

The idea that I spent a lot of allowance money on comics that look like this saddens me.

Whatever the problem, the normally reliable David just doesn't get going here, though he tries hard. David's signature puns and jokes are scattered in, but not as many as I'd like. The result is a book that has two great characters, Guido and Jamie Madrox, one character I hate that David turns into a gem (Quicksilver), and a lot of people who just don't thrill me at all.

If this comic were the comedy stylings of Quicksilver, Strong Guy, and the Multiple Man, I think I'd have liked it a lot better. Unfortunately, no one else from that time would have agreed.

David's handling of Quicksilver deserves a mention. He gets the full PAD treatment, with a new attitude that fits the personality we're familiar with. Pietro has always been a jerk, but now he's a witty, dry humor jerk. That's fun to read. Beneath this exterior, however, David shows that Quicksilver has problems that he's only starting to fix. I wish that had been developed more over time.

Overall, these X-Factor Visionaries books are only for those who really liked 1990s comics or are a Peter David completist. For me, they read like peering into history. This was like a trip to a site you wanted to see but found the attraction a bit wanting. It wasn't an unpleasant visit, but I don't see any need to return. You can probably just skip the trip.