This issue (X-Factor #71, Oct.1991) entitled “Cutting the Mustard”, introduces the new X-Factor team as well as the new creative team. As I mentioned in my last column, the fact that a new team of heroes debuts here is great because it eliminates the need for a lot of esoteric knowledge of characters and their histories. In addition, Peter David makes our introduction to these characters easier by showing them meeting and getting to know each other.
This issue begins in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the new X-Factor team. We see Guido, Lorna Dane (Polaris), and Jamie Madrox sitting around a table. I had some familiarity with these characters when I started reading this issue. I know Lorna has been around for a long time and (along with her erstwhile boyfriend Alex Summers aka Havok) has been associated with the X-Men on and off for years. Guido, who can best be described as a big weird-looking guy, was most recently a bodyguard for teleporting rock-goddess Lila Cheney (no relation to Dick). All I know about Jamie Madrox is that he was introduced in a Fantastic Four annual a few years before the publication of this issue, and he used to wear a really ugly green-and-yellow costume. Anyway, Lorna and Guido are making small talk and getting to know each other, and Lorna confides that she’s worried about seeing Alex (Havok) again. Understandable, as she tried to kill him when she was possessed by Malice, and since then he had gotten involved with Madelyne Pryor (although I’m not sure if Lorna is aware of that at this point). It sounds here like Lorna is expecting her relationship with Alex to be rekindled automatically but isn’t entirely certain if that is what she wants. Guido seems to be hinting that he’s interested in Lorna too, but she doesn’t seem to take him too seriously. Jamie is also in this scene, but doesn’t do much except to ask for help opening a jar of mayonnaise, which neither Guido’s strength nor Lorna’s magnetic power can do.
We now see the object of Lorna’s thoughts, Alex Summers, as he and X-Factor’s government liaison Valerie Cooper walk through a construction site in Genosha. Alex had been supervising the rebuilding of Genosha, a country whose economy was built up using enslaved and brainwashed mutants, after a fight between the Genoshan government and the X-teams. During that adventure, Alex had been brainwashed into helping the Genoshans against his own friends and exploiting the captured mutants. I get the impression that David is hinting that Alex may have been motivated to stay and help the Genoshan mutants out of guilt for what he had done there. Val Cooper is telling Alex that he isn’t helping the Genoshan mutants better their lives, but cutting them off from the rest of society. David suggests that keeping mutants (including the X-Men) separate from so-called “normal” society was just marginalizing them, something they had claimed to be fighting against. This is an interesting idea; could Professor X’s noble intentions actually have ended up doing more harm than good to the mutant cause? Alex is not interested in joining X-Factor and Val tells him he’s overthinking the decision. To prove her point she lets herself almost get killed by a fallimg girder to show Alex that he’s best when he acts on instinct. It seems she’s correct, as he instinctively blasts the girder and saves Val’s life. We also get our first look at former New Mutant Wolfsbane, who was turned into a mutate slave by the Genoshan government and ended up staying there with Alex.
Back in Washington, we see Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver) looking for X-Factor. He defuses a bomb and then gets directions to their headquarters. David writes Quicksilver as sarcastic and arrogant, which I kind of prefer to the version in West Coast Avengers who always seemed to take a backseat to other characters. I prefer the aloof, cynical Pietro to the non-entity that he turned into in WCA.
In Genosha, Alex, Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair) and Val get a visit from Alex’s brother Scott (Cyclops) and Professor X. Alex is still reluctant to get involved with X-Factor, but Scott and Professor X wear him down with logic, guilt, and finally by using the magic word: Lorna.
In Washington, Pietro has found X-Factor and tells Lorna, Guido, and Jamie that someone has turned his super-speed powers against him, so that whenever he uses them he ages more rapidly. Alex, Rahne, and Val show up, and a predictably sappy reunion between Alex and Lorna ensues. Neither Quicksilver nor Alex can open the stubborn mayo jar, but Val gives the lid a couple of raps and opens it easily. Having gotten the team’s attention she asks Pietro to fill them in on his condition.
Some time later, we see Jamie in his apartment, and we find out he was the one who came up with the mayo jar that nobody could open until he wanted them to. There is a knock at the door, and when he goes to answer, he is blasted several times with a shotgun and crashes through the window to land in a bloody heap on the sidewalk. Here David is at his best, shifting from whimsy to brutal reality in the blink of an eye and giving us a memorably shocking ending. I mean it’s the first issue with the new team and already one of them is (apparently) dead? Wow!
In this issue, David has managed to give us some new insights into the characters and some questions to ponder, such as: Who has turned Quicksilver’s powers against him and how? Will Alex and Lorna reconnect, or has too much happened between them? Can a government sponsored team of mutants change society’s perceptions of mutants in general, or will they only succeed in alienating themselves further? David gives us these ideas to mull over, but he hasn’t neglected his trademark humor. From Guido asking for Grey Poupon on the opening page to Jamie’s unbreakable mayo jar, Val Cooper’s FBI agent brother who found a woman wrapped in plastic, and Quicksilver receiving a note from his tormentor signed “an evil individual”, David’s humorous side is well-displayed. The issue ended with Jamie Madrox being blown away. What’s next? Find out right here in my next column.