Louise and Walt Simonson are set to tell an X-Factor story with the upcoming X-Men: Legends series, so what better time to revisit the original, classic book than now?
X-Factor has gone through a lot of changes, from being a book about “mutant hunters,” a team of X-Men, a detective agency, and finally now, a group of friends investigating the resurrection protocols of their nation-state. X-Factor Epic Collection catches the team amidst its first big switch, opening up with Angel’s presumed death and the team feeling increased discomfort with Cameron Hodge and their “mutant catching” personas.
The first few issues definitely focus on Warren a lot and what he meant to the team of original X-Men — it’s probably the most focus in an X-Men story Angel has ever gotten outside of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. Cameron Hodge is one of those hammy ’80s villains that is just fun because of how “out of time” and comic booky his writing is. He’s great and his stuff is always fun in the kind of campy way old comics often are.
This is also the first time Apocalypse ever became a real threat to the X-Men at all. After Warren is presumed dead, ol’ blue lips takes him in and gives him a new metal set of wings and some blue skin. Him tampering with Warren’s mind and turning him into Archangel is the foundation of most of Warren’s stories for the next few decades — it can’t be overstated how important this arc is to this character. The original design for Archangel Warren seems to have a blue skull mask and it honestly looks really cool, though later issues in this trade correct that blue mask to a gold one.
Angel’s battle with the X-Men is the great soap opera-y storytelling that this team is so famous for. And seeing all the Horsemen in matching gold masks is actually a fun detail I almost wish other future horsemen of Apocalypse kept with. When Warren breaks out of Apocalypse’s hold because he fears he’s killed Bobby, it’s cliche sure, but it’s a great example of what these earlier X-Men stories were about: the humanity within these powerful people. The close-knit relationships of these five individuals is X-Factor‘s greatest strength, and playing up these moments is always worth it.
One of the weaker parts of this story just happens to be Beast, whose encounter with one of the Horsemen depletes his intelligence. It’s easy to understand what Simonson wanted to do here — strip Beast of his intelligence which had been so central to him in order to put the character in new territory — but the “dumb Beast” sections of this story have always been its weakest part.
The Power Pack segments of the “Angel of Death” saga, on the other hand, are surprising highlights. The kids are adorable and their brief interactions with X-Factor are cute. Hopefully this issue’s inclusion in this trade will convince more people to delve into the world of Power Pack, one of Louise Simonson’s best — and most underrated — creations.
Often when speaking about X-Factor, the conversation immediately goes to Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Angel, and Jean Grey, but the X-kids are also huge stars here. Their chemistry with each other is great and Iceman, in particular, has some wonderful interactions with them. At this point in time, it’s well known that early comics weren’t always racially sensitive, and oftentimes, Native characters were drawn with bright red skin. Rictor in the original series, a Native Mexican boy, often was subjected to this racist trope and the Epic Collection doesn’t really do a whole lot to correct that. Rereleases often fix those kinds of things so it’s disappointing that this trade didn’t do that. Rictor’s skin tone being red is especially glaring in the early issues, though it gets better in the later issues of the volume.
Simonson is great at capturing the voices of children, which is one reason her Power Pack is just so good. This is also why she excels at writing the X-kids in X-Factor. There’s a particularly entertaining bit where Bobby is on a date and the kids just keep interfering. Simonson tends to lean into Bobby’s “inner child” type personality and it’s why his interactions with them are just so fun at the end of the day. Bobby’s date with Infectia also becomes interesting to read with the knowledge that in modern day stories, he is written as a gay man. Reading these with that knowledge and viewing this date with Infectia through a queer lens is particularly fascinating.
There’s a bit after the “Angel of Death” pieces where the X-Men are lauded as heroes rather than villains, revealing their true nature to the world and operating as superheroes rather than “mutant hunters” at last. It’s actually nice to see the X-Men treated as heroes and loved by humans, something that almost never happens in X-books and is surely short-lived here.
From here, the title stops being about Angel and switches gears to the infamous Scott/Maddie/Jean story, setting the stage for the Inferno arc. The Christmas issue is particularly a standout, in which Jean tells her family she’s alive and deals with lingering jealousy towards Maddie and some animosity towards Scott for his actions. It’s really some great character work for Jean, examining her thoughts and trauma as a woman who was believed dead for so long. Louise Simonson is truly a pivotal writer in transforming Jean Grey into the character so many love today.
Simonson also does great work with Scott, examining his headspace during all this — which is complicated to say the least. Scott’s always been a man who wrecks himself with guilt, something he has more than enough of after leaving Maddie. She also examines his trauma as an orphan and the way he’s been duty-bound to the cause like a soldier since childhood. It’s a life he doesn’t want his own son to have.
Scott and Jean’s adventure to find his son also paves the way for the introduction of Nanny and Orphanmaker, two of the strangest characters in the X-Men’s lore.
These two are just so odd but they’re so darn entertaining for it. It’s funny to see how far they’ve come, knowing that the two are currently major players in Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia’s Hellions series. Who would have read this and thought these two would ever be prime characters in a central X-Men book?
The final few issues return the focus to Warren a little bit by having him track down the disappearance of his girlfriend, Candy Southern. And man…Candy Southern is just one of those characters who simply did not deserve to die at all. Hodge kills her and Warren finally squares off with him. Hodge and Warren’s stories were always leading towards an explosive showdown in X-Factor but it’s hard to read these bits and not just feel bad about Candy dying too.
The art in X-Factor Epic Collection is great when Walt Simonson is on board, giving it that true X-Factor feel. However, it’s also a bit inconsistent with its guest artists. Additionally, one of the best parts of the recently-released Dark Phoenix Epic Collections was seeing those extra pages at the end with Claremont speaking about his game-changing story. It’s a shame that X-Factor Epic Collection just doesn’t have those too. How neat would it be to get Louise Simonson talking in depth here about creating Apocalypse or Archangel? It feels like such a wasted opportunity comparatively.
All in all, however, X-Factor Epic Collection is a charming return to the classic X-Men stories. Longtime X-readers won’t want to miss this one if it isn’t already on their shelves — and new readers might want to pick this up if they ever wondered why X-Factor is such a beloved series.
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