It must be said, Marvel’s Epic Collections are typically very hit or miss. Honestly, it’s not so easy to find 16 issues of any book that tell a single coherent story at a satisfying level, particularly when that book was written in the 1990s. In the case of X-Factor: Afterlives, it’s not that any of the narrative lines in this book are particularly bad, they just shift in tone so violently that it makes it a little hard to read.
Collecting 16 issues of four different books, Afterlives tracks the second X-Factor team through 1994’s most curious storylines. The book starts with Havok’s squad of Government Goons teaming with your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to take on the most generic group of one-shot bad guys this side of a New Warriors book. Now Spidey and X-Factor wasn’t really a teamup most people were dying to see, and given that the story features Jamie Madrox, whose death is a looming focal point of the rest of the book but not so much as hinted at during this crossover, it’s a curious inclusion. It’s even more egregious when you realize that Jamie’s death isn’t actually depicted anywhere in the compendium at all.
That’s actually typical of the trade, sadly, as each arc contained within this sizable collection seems to all but entirely ignore what came before it. The heartbreaking backstory we get for Guido? Never mentioned again. Havok is so distraught by Madrox’s death that he considers hanging up his spandex for good? Never mentioned again after a tussle with Malice. We don’t really get to see what happens beyond the events of the Phalanx Covenant, but I’m willing to bet that ordeal was similarly glossed over. It is the nature of episodic superhero comics — particularly in the ’80s and ’90s — to keep the show ball rolling and move on to the next one. It works just fine when you’re buying individual issues once a month, sure, but in a trade, it really stands out. Worse yet, the book ends in a few mini arcs that tie into a lead-in to another crossover and it becomes all too clear how much of a “middle child” this book is.
Another vestige of the ’90s that this book has in abundance is the cringey tough-guy dialogue that makes every villain sound like a gangster from the roaring ’20s and everyone with a regional dialect unable to pronounce the letter ‘T’ as anything but a ‘D.’ You’ll find this all over the place, but the moments that are the most insulting center around Malice and Random. Malice drops such outdated — often comical — epithets like “sweets” and “baby cakes,” or calling people “wimps” and “saps” that it reads less like a professionally edited book put out by the largest publisher in the world, and more like fan fiction written by seventh grade me. Though to be fair, I probably cribbed a lot of that dialogue from these books. With Random, you get all of that as well as the most cliche tough-guy biker character design you could imagine. In due time that would be the point of the character (spoiler alert: he’s actually a little kid whose power allows him to look like what his vision of a super person would look like), but his flirting with Polaris (whom I also don’t recall being written as such a hedonist) feels a bit like something the writer’s room of an ’80s action flick would come up with, rather than anything compelling or interesting for either character.
One positive is that, despite the looming despair of the death of one of our central characters, this is very much a popcorn book. This means there is a lot of action to be found in this book, with virtually every issue featuring a super-powered throwdown between our heroes and a who’s who of ’80s bad guys that hadn’t yet died from the Legacy virus. When not throwing punches with the Phalanx, X-Factor squares off with the Freedom Force (separately, mind you, but Mystique, Blob, and Avalanche get into it; the latter throwing hands a couple of times), Malice, Mr. Sinister, The Nasty Boys and whoever those forgettable one-off goofs from the Spider-Man crossover were.
The artwork features some peaks and troughs, but remains fairly consistent in a “books from the ’90s are full of guys trying to copy the Kuberts’ art style” kind of way. Sadly the highs, such as they are, tend to be on books that aren’t actually X-Factor. I rather enjoy the pencils from Ken Lashley and Steve Epting from Excalibur — though admittedly the coloring can get weird at times, as Forge is straight up pink in some issues. Visually, it’s a very consistent, if not terribly interesting book, but it’s never actually bad, which in a compendium of this size is saying something.
Overall this trade is not a bad read, but honestly, it’s not an exciting one. It lacks coherent plotting from one story to the next, has fairly mundane artwork, and lacks the “X-Factor” to maintain interest across its considerable length. This book is good for completionists, but otherwise an auspicious addition to any shelf. These compendiums can be worthwhile when they contain an entire event, but given that this one contains the most underwhelming portion of two (one of which was a prelude to a far more interesting story) and the rest were brief and uneventful arcs that don’t contain any central momentum or theme, you’re left with a hodgepodge book that feels like it was created more out of obligation than to collect an interesting story. It’s not very good – it’s definitely not bad, but it’s just not that memorable.
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