The Peter David Factor:

Part 8

X-Factor #77 (April 1992) — Great X-pectations — This issue gets back into the swing of things after the Incredible Hulk crossover last month. It begins with a man and his pregnant wife at a free clinic run by a Doctor Tucker. The doctor tells the couple that most of their pre-natal tests are normal, but an experimental gene specificity test (which Dr. Tucker invented) shows that their unborn baby may be a mutant. The couple is upset, and they are now faced with a difficult question. The doctor admits that his test is only 55% accurate. Even if their kid is a mutant, there’s no guarantee it would be a “freak”, as the husband puts it. We don’t get to see what choice they make, but it seems like Peter David is preparing to dive into some murky waters here.

We next see one of the Nasty Boys (from issue #75) securely held in a chamber behind an energy barrier. He is posturing and threatening Rahne Sinclair (Wolfsbane), who is taunting him from outside the barrier. Rahne also mentions a couple more of the Nasties, Slab (being held in the same facility) and Ramrod (scheduled to be deported). There is no mention of the other two Nasty Boys (Gorgeous George and Ruckus), so I’m not sure if they escaped or if there’s some other explanation. Anyway, Rahne’s taunts are interrupted by the sudden appearance of an energy vortex.

Meanwhile, X-Factor’s government liaison Valerie Cooper is conferring nearby with the head of the holding facility and a public defender named Vicky Wang. Wang is giving them hell for holding Slab and Hairbag without charging them or letting them see a lawyer. It raises an interesting question: what happens to super-villains after they’re caught? Apparently they’re usually just taken to jail with no lawyer and maybe even no trial. Of course they have super powers, so they can’t be treated like ordinary criminals, but at the same time they ARE American citizens, so they should have the same constitutional rights and protections as any other citizen. I’m not sure if this is simply an aside, or if David is going somewhere with it, but it’s certainly food for thought.

Unfortunately, while Ms. Wang is fighting for her clients’ civil rights, they’re about to bust out of jail with a little help from the Mutant Liberation Front (MLF, not to be confused with MILF). The MLF are a bunch of mutants led by the mysterious Stryfe, who commit acts of terror in the name of helping mutants. Their motivations are hard to pin down; most of them seem to actually believe that they’re helping the mutant cause, but they also seem to enjoy the killing and destruction (especially against humans). This would seem to put them in the same category as the bigoted types they claim to despise. Six of them have come through the vortex, and they quickly overwhelm the guards and Rahne, who prudently calls for backup. The MLF members spring Hairbag and one of them (Thumbelina) goes to free Slab, who apparently is her brother. The rest of X-Factor shows up (and are misidentified by the MLF as “X-Force, but with a completely different line-up”), and the two teams proceed to mix it up. X-Factor seems to be gaining the upper hand early, although Thumbelina does manage to free Slab.

Elsewhere, we see that mutant-hating master menace known as Professor Vic Chalker, who has rebuilt his exo-skeleton suit so there’s enough power for him to move more than three feet. Unfortunately, he didn’t spend a lot of time making sure that the suit was waterproof, so when he goes outside and it starts to rain, well…you guessed it: fried professor in a can. So I guess that’s the end of that “threat”. As the dead prof stands there in his suit, we see Sam Guthrie (Cannonball) flying by. Gee, I wonder where he could be heading?

Back at the prison, the fight rages on. Discretion being the better part of valor, the MLF regroup and (along with Slab and Hairbag) head through another energy vortex, opened by their ally Zero. Their leader Stryfe is waiting on the other side. Alex (Havok) won’t let any of his team follow, since there’s no way to predict what’s waiting for them on the other side. Lorna (Polaris) uses her magnetic powers and pulls Stryfe (who is encased in metal armor) halfway through the vortex. A tug-of-war ensues which the MLF wins, pulling Stryfe through the portal just before it closes, although Rahne does manage to retain one of Stryfe’s gloves. Quicksilver gives Alex hell for being overly cautious and letting all the bad guys get away. I wonder if Quicksilver thinks that he’d make a better leader than Alex? Being Magneto’s son, he’s probably predisposed to be commanding (not to mention arrogant). Rahne uses her heightened senses to smell the glove. She says there’s something familiar about the scent, but she can’t quite put her finger on it. Alex says she’ll figure it out eventually.

Later at HQ, Alex and Valerie are debriefing Jamie (Multiple Man) about the Nasty Boys and their leader. Jamie is a bit miffed that his teammates took his clone’s side over his, but Val mollifies him by promising to get him an autographed picture of Linda Hamilton (hey, it was 1992!) Alex finally realizes that the Nasties leader was Mr. Sinister. I’m not sure why Jamie didn’t recognize Sinister; they may not have ever met before, but Jamie worked on Muir Island, so you’d think he would have at least seen a file on Sinister or something. Alex is freaked out because he thought Sinister was dead, and he isn’t looking forward to telling Lorna that he’s still alive.

Speaking of Lorna, we see her and Rahne having a heart-to-heart talk and getting along better than they have in a long time. Suddenly Cannonball swoops down, grabs Rahne, and takes her to a nearby rooftop for a chat. He asks her about Rictor (who went to Genosha to look for her), but she says she doesn’t really think about Rictor much anymore. She mentions Alex, and Sam realizes she has strong feelings for him, just from the tone in her voice. Sam jumps to the conclusion that Rahne has been brainwashed by X-Factor and decides he’s going to take her back to X-Force. She resists and Lorna jumps in to help Rahne, and also to capture Sam, since X-Force are apparently “wanted for questioning”. Questioning about what I don’t know, but Lorna seems to think it’s important enough to hold Sam, until Rahne begs her to let him go. Lorna does, but Sam stubbornly comes back to “rescue” Rahne. This time he’s hit by a plasma blast from Alex, and decides to get away while he still can. Alex implores Lorna to stop Sam from getting away, but she doesn’t for Rahne’s sake. Alex is upset, but Rahne is grateful. This whole interlude seems a bit strained to me. I find it hard to believe that Sam would immediately jump to the conclusion that Rahne had been brainwashed. I also don’t think Sam would try to take Rahne against her will. I’m also not sure exactly why X-Force is “wanted”; sure they’re always described as outlaws, but so were the X-Men for years, including when Alex and Lorna were with them. Maybe working for the government is affecting Alex and Lorna’s brains. Obviously this little scene is setting up a future confrontation between X-Factor and X-Force, but I just thought it could have been done more smoothly.

On the last page, we see the MLF and Stryfe (who has already replaced his missing glove), as he prepares to send them on a mission. They are told to destroy Dr. Tucker’s clinic, his records, and to kill the doctor himself. Stryfe claims this will save countless unborn mutants from being aborted by narrow-minded parents.

This issue raises some pretty deep questions, mainly about abortion and whether having your child genetically pre-screened is prudent or morally reprehensible. Of course this story is about mutants, but there are plenty of real life analogies to make us think. What impressed me most about the way Peter David wrote this story is that you can’t really tell which side he’s on. He’s written a story about a controversial subject, which tends to polarize people completely, but he’s written it in such a way that you can’t tell toward which side his personal beliefs sway. I think that is the mark of a great writer. We’ll see if this balanced approach continues in the next issue. Don’t miss it!

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