Fall of the Mutants, Part 2

In the debut article, we examined the first third of Marvel’s Fall of the Mutants, a crossover from the late 80s that tried to shake up the status quo of the participating X-titles. This week, we’re going to tackle the second act of this beast:

X-Factor #24-26

Louise Simonson, writer; Walter Simonson, penciler; Bob Wiacek, inker; cover-dated January-March 1988

X-Factor #24: “Masks”

After the info glut of the three Claremont issues in this crossover, X-Factor was a welcome change of pace, but only for a little while due to Louise Simonson’s clunky dialogue. Also, I mentioned in the last column that Claremont’s Uncanny could have benefited from being decompressed a bit. Well, it’s the opposite here: It shouldn’t take three issues for Louise to describe an hour or two of fighting and cleaning up debris.

This three-issue romp through the skies above Manhattan between X-Factor and Apocalypse (with his newly introduced Four Horsemen) definitely established him as a recurring X-Factor villain. It was also the first appearance of Archangel. Many of today’s fans don’t know that Archangel got his start as one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen. When he was known as simply Angel, he was part of the original lineup of X-Men and then X-Factor, but in the issues leading up to Fall of the Mutants he was thought dead, a victim of suicide.

The story opens with X-Factor being transported into an unknown place. At this point X-Factor is made up of Cyclops, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Iceman, and Beast. The team pretends to hunt mutants for the government, when in actuality they are trying to find and protect them. In the team’s opinion, it’s a safer way to operate in plain sight. Also, for reasons that I’m unaware of, Caliban is teleported with them. He wasn’t part of the original Factor, but there he is, with a big ‘X’ on his chest.

It turns out that the team has been brought to Apocalypse’s invisible airship. He appears and the battle of wits and strength begins. Apocalypse starts his shenanigans by letting the X-team know that he wants them to join him in his fight against humans, to spur on evolution. Of course X-Factor doesn’t go for it and the first of a couple skirmishes gets under way. Eventually, Apocalypse is able to keep the team at bay long enough to theatrically introduce three of his Four Horsemen: War, Famine and Pestilence. They all begin to tangle as Apocalypse sits back, rubbing his hands together. He should be excited, he has X-Factor training his Horsemen, (I’m not excited because I was force fed a simplistic plot device.) but the Factor does more than train them, they knock the Horsemen out cold. This is a perfect time for Apocalypse to introduce the fourth Horseman: Death. After a dramatic exchange between X-Factor and Death, he pulls his helmet off to reveal that he, Warren Worthington III (now the Archangel of Death), didn’t commit suicide but rather disappeared and was convinced by Apocalypse to don metallic wings and hate humans! (We later find out that Warren was betrayed by Cameron Hodge, a man he used to work with and trust, and that this betrayal led to Warren’s new prejudiced outlook.)

Archangel then attacks a stunned X-Factor and pins them in a corner. They are beaten and captured. Caliban, who had been hanging back during the scuffles, turns himself over to Apocalypse, asking Apocalypse to make him genetically “better” like Archangel was. It’s actually a nice, twisted little moment.

A delighted Apocalypse then turns to a subdued X-Factor and lets them in on his plan. He is going to unleash his Four Horsemen on New York City in order to make humans fear mutant-kind. (I thought that they already did fear mutants, but eh.) A bitter Archangel, cold and strange, leaves Apocalypse’s ship to lead the Horsemen on this rampage.

X-Factor #25: “Judgment Day!”

With the Factor helpless, the carnage begins and the Horsemen show just how powerful they are. Humans in the streets cower and fall in the wake of their attack. The Factor find a way to break free from their shackles (there’s always a way) and try to escape in time to stop the carnage happening below. They accidentally blow a hole in the ship, sending it careening out of control and, in some post-9/11 creepiness, it slams into a few of the taller structures including the Empire State Building. The Simonsons depict quite a lot of destruction being done to the city and I found it to be a little over the top. The amount of destruction is so large that it should’ve been mentioned in many other books across the Marvel Universe, which I’m sure it wasn’t.

All of the things that have occurred thus far to the Factor would weigh heavily on anyone. They find out that an old friend isn’t dead; they realize that the friend is now evil; they see humans being butchered everywhere; and Apocalypse’s airship is toppling skyscrapers. The only problem is that Louise Simonson delivers the reactions to all of these catastrophic moments with some of the cheesiest dialogue I’ve ever read (one-liners, silly comebacks, etc.) and that’s saying a lot considering most dialogue from the 80s bothers me. It’s quite a turn-off when you’re trying to get into the story.

Anyway, back to the action where a couple of almost-crossover moments occur. We have a separated X-Factor trying to simultaneously land the out-of-control airship (Beast and Iceman) and stop the Horsemen from killing more civilians (Scott and Jean). During the ground battle, Scott and Jean give chase to Pestilence and follow her down into the subway. At the bottom of the panel (that shows Pesty escaping down a tunnel) a small box reads “Look for her in Power Pack #34″. That issue is not part of this trade paperback. Hmm. Not long after that, Jean is fighting Famine. They both have formidable powers but, in the end, you’d expect Jean to take Famine out handily. Not the case; Famine gets the upper hand. (Shouldn’t Jean just be able to mentally incapacitate most foes one on one? Oh well.) Apparently Famine had a deal with Apocalypse that, if she beat Jean in a fight, Apocalypse had to send her to America’s heartland in order to destroy as many crops as it would take to “melt the fat off this land.” (She really gets into her character, doesn’t she?) From the ship, Apocalypse magically transports Famine away from New York City and, once again, there is an “editor message box” down at the bottom of the panel with directions: “See Captain America #339.” This is another book that is not in the Fall of the Mutants trade paperback. As I’m reading this I’m thinking, “This is one odd, ass-backwards crossover.” The crossover moments within this trade are barely there, and when we actually have an opportunity to crossover with the likes of Captain America and the Power Pack we don’t get to see the action because it’s not included! In Louise Simonson’s defense, she does try to squeeze the Power Pack into the story but it’s a cursory appearance at best, not the crossover fodder that gets people excited about guest appearances.

Scott and Jean make their way back to the ship after dealing with the Horsemen (Some disappeared and some were incapacitated.) Just before Scott and Jean arrive, Apocalypse summons Archangel back. As all of the characters converge, the battle is rejoined. As the blows begin to land, Bobby comes up with a bright idea: He wants to snap Warren out of this evil mode so he constructs an ice mannequin of himself and tricks Warren into dive-bombing into it. The mannequin explodes into little pieces. Warren, realizing what he’s done, lets out an anguished wail. Bobby’s ruse worked; Archangel turns to Apocalypse and accuses him of making Warren a puppet. He attacks Apocalypse but the ancient creature is too strong for Warren. He swats Warren away with ease but notices that the tide is turning against him so he seizes the opportunity to flee. (He takes Caliban with him.)

The team only has a moment to worry about Caliban before they remember that the ship is about to crash. Our heroes take the controls of the wounded ship and, in an ironic move, they find a way to set her down safely, but directly on top of X-Factor headquarters, crushing it. Archangel dusts himself off, has some conflicting words with his former team, and disappears into the sky, obviously torn between feelings for them and his new hatred for humans.

X-Factor #26: “Casualties”

X-Factor then begins the daunting task of cleaning up the city. People come out of the woodwork in order to praise the team for saving the city. In fact they decide to throw an impromptu parade for the Factor. During the parade, a local tavern’s television is showing a broadcast of the mayhem in Dallas. Madelyne Pryor is on-screen saying a goodbye to Cyclops just before the X-Men are about to sacrifice themselves (yet another weak crossover moment). Scott doesn’t notice because he’s busy being the toast of New York during the ticker-tape excitement. When he finally does find out he begins to get upset, but Jean seizes the opportunity and convinces him to rekindle his feelings for her. They kiss. (Not a whole lot of deliberation on Scott’s part.) He is upset about Madelyne’s “death” for all of five panels.

We end the arc with the Factor conveniently turning the ship into their new headquarters. They found some clothing material in the ship and used it to make up some new uniforms. Apocalypse sits in a secret location, telling his Horsemen (sans Archangel) that he’s happy X-Factor took over the ship because his ship has power and power corrupts … as it will corrupt X-Factor. (Uh … Ok.)

There are a few other points of interest learned from this story. Iceman apparently has so much “ice power” that he needs to wear inhibitors to keep his powers under control. In X-Factor‘s early issues Beast was captured, tampered with and now, every time he exerts himself, his body becomes stronger but his mind gets weaker. You may already know these things, but I didn’t, so I figured that I’d pass them on. Obviously, by the time I came into the world of comics in the early 90s, these situations were either resolved or ignored.

The art team of Walter Simonson and Bob Wiacek was pretty good. Walter is a legend in the industry and his work can be seen on many Marvel projects. There were times when his work looked rushed but for the most part I found his style here very clean and pleasing. The covers of the three issues were especially eye-catching. There’s not much to say about Wiacek other than he covered the pencils competently. No problems there. Didn’t love it all but I was happy enough.

* * * * *

It’s almost over. Make sure to check back here in about ten days for my review of New Mutants #59-61, the final part of Fall of the Mutants.

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Mike produces books and documentaries about comics. He's now trying to write his own comics. He tells everyone else at Sequart what to do. Do they listen? Eh.

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