The Peter David Factor:

Part 10

X-Factor #79 (June 1992) — Rhapsody in Blue — This issue starts with a touch of suspense. The story begins in Two Forks, Maine where we see an elderly woman in an old-fashioned house calling for her husband. Apparently, he has fallen asleep while reading in his favorite chair. But when she gets close to him, she is shocked to find out that he is dead. The elderly lady notices the face of a young woman (with blue hair and skin) peering through the window and immediately concludes that this mysterious girl had something to do with her husband’s death.

Over at X-Factor headquarters, Jamie Madrox (Multiple Man) is playing a duet on the piano (with himself!), and driving Pietro (Quicksilver) crazy by repeating “Chopsticks” ad nauseam. Guido (Strong Guy), Alex (Havok), and Val Cooper tell Pietro to give Jamie a break, and Pietro says a baboon could play piano better. He is challenged by Guido to put his money where his mouth is, and takes Jamie’s place at the piano. His initial efforts don’t impress anyone (Rahne (Wolfsbane) compares it to the sound of someone sacrificing a yak), but he quickly begins playing a beautiful rendition of the “Moonlight Sonata”. He explains that the previous racket was him teaching himself to play; apparently running isn’t the only thing Quicksilver can do at super-speed.

Back in Two Forks, the cops are chasing after the blue-skinned girl. She smashes the window of a music store and grabs a violin, as the cops surround her. They say she’s wanted on suspicion of murder, but this seems a bit premature; how do they know the old man was murdered, and how do they know she had anything to do with it? The fact that she was looking in the old guy’s window doesn’t prove anything, but I suppose it’s just more of that good old mutant hysteria. I guess she’s not in a cooperative mood, because as the cops are reading her rights to her (even though they haven’t actually apprehended her yet), she starts to play the violin. Her playing seems to mesmerize the cops, and as they are standing there looking dazed, she floats up in the air and flies away, still playing the violin. I’m not exactly sure what her power is here; some of the cops don’t seem to be hypnotized by her playing, but some do. Also, I’m not sure how playing music could make her fly. Anyway, the cops realize they’re in over their heads and need to call in some help.

Back at X-Factor HQ, Guido is getting ready for a date. He tells Jamie it’s with Sean Young (continuing the story he told last issue), but of course Jamie doesn’t buy it. But when Guido answers the door, we see an extremely attractive woman wearing a Catwoman outfit. (This all takes place around the time when the second Batman movie was being made and there was a lot of speculation as to who would play Catwoman; Sean Young was supposed to be the front-runner, but they ended up going with Michelle Pfeiffer, something to which Guido alludes as he greets Ms. Young.) The drawing of Sean Young (or whoever) in the Catwoman suit is pretty freaky; the legs are about 5 times longer than the torso, and her head and neck look like they came off a Barbie doll. No wonder she didn’t get the part! After Guido leaves with his date, Jamie tries to convince himself that it’s one of Guido’s jokes, but before he can drive himself TOO crazy wondering, Pietro comes in to tell him they have been assigned a mission together. Pietro grabs Jamie and zooms off with him at super-speed, which seems to take Jamie’s breath away (literally).

Back in Maine, the cops and some other citizens are gathered at the police station trying to get the police to do something about the blue-skinned girl. One guy, whose name is Dick Roper (sounds like a porn star), is especially vocal about capturing the girl, but it’s also rather obvious that he hates mutants in general. The cops say that they’ve sent for help, and Pietro and Jamie show up right at that moment, blowing Roper’s crappy toupee right off his head. Pietro is immediately angered by Roper’s attitude, but Jamie tells him it’s not worth getting into an argument over. Pietro agrees, but as soon as he and Jamie are alone, he expresses his contempt for Jamie’s conciliatory attitude, and says the only reason he backed down was to present a united front. Pietro says mutants should stick together, and walks away from Jamie. I love the way Peter David writes Pietro; he makes him arrogant and sarcastic, but you can also see his point. Even if his attitude is sometimes grating, you can’t help but feel some sympathy with his position. It’s great how David can make an unlikable character seem sympathetic.

Back in Washington, D.C., Lorna (Polaris) is out window-shopping. She is also pondering her relationship with Alex, which apparently they still haven’t managed to define. It gets a little tiresome after awhile, always having to listen to Alex and Lorna agonize over their future together, but I appreciate the fact that David is putting some thought into it. A lot of other writers would have just had them get back together in the blink of an eye, regardless of how circumstances might have changed their feelings toward each other. This shows that David sees them as real characters, not just words on a page. Anyway, as Lorna continues her window-shopping, she is suddenly attacked by someone who seems to be wearing a metal glove. The attacker tells her not to protect Marilyn Maycroft, and pummels her into unconsciousness. The only part of the attacker we see is the left hand, so it’s hard to tell anything about them, but it does look as if he (or she) is wearing a metal glove.

In Maine, Pietro and Jamie are introduced to the police captain and commissioner, who seem much more enlightened than some of their fellow townspeople. There is another Batman reference (this time to the bat-signal), and we are treated to the origin of Rhapsody, the blue-skinned girl. Her real name is Rachel Argosy, and she was a music teacher at the local high school. Her mutant powers manifested late, at the age of 20 instead of at puberty. Most of the kids whom she taught had no problem with her being a mutant, but their parents did. Rhapsody was fired from her teaching job, and the school board member who was most in favor of firing her was Harry Sharp, who is the same dead guy from the first page of this issue. When Harry’s wife saw Rhapsody outside the window, she naturally assumed that she had used her mutant powers to kill him as revenge for getting her fired. Harry’s business partner Dick Roper, led the charge against Rhapsody, blaming her for Harry’s death. The commissioner says that no cause of death can be established, so Pietro thinks the public may just be blaming mutants with no proof, like they usually do.

A report comes in saying that Rhapsody has been spotted downtown, so Pietro takes off at super-speed, again dragging Jamie with him. When they get downtown, Pietro drops Jamie off (on the hood of a speeding police car!) and uses his speed to run up the side of a building and tackle Rhapsody, who is still floating through the air playing her stolen violin. They crash through a conveniently-placed skylight, and land (on a pile of even more-conveniently-placed boxes) inside a warehouse. They are both stunned, but Rhapsody recovers enough to pull a small flute from her pocket and start to play. I’m not sure where the flute came from: did she steal it from the music store, or did she have it all along? And if she DID have it before, why did she need to bust into the music store in the first place? Why not just use the flute to hypnotize the cops? Anyway, Quicksilver is rapidly enthralled by the music, and before Jamie and his dupes can grab Rhapsody, he finds himself enchanted by her music too. He seems to be transported back to his childhood home in Nebraska, where Rhapsody is waiting for him. This all seems to be taking place in Jamie’s mind, except Rhapsody is there too, and she seems to be able to interact with him. When Pietro was mesmerized, he was calling his ex-wife Crystal’s name, so I guess Rhapsody’s powers affect different people in different ways. Some of Jamie’s dupes managed to cover their ears in time to protect themselves from the effects of the music, and are able to grab Rhapsody and take the flute away from her. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to release Jamie from her thrall, and his dupes square off against each other until Pietro brings him back to reality. Rhapsody pleads with them to help her, saying that she’s been framed and that the townspeople will kill her. Jamie believes her and tries to convince Pietro to help him look into things. Pietro is skeptical, but when Jamie reminds him of his own words about sticking together, he agrees to help.

Back in Washington, Val and Alex are discussing X-Factor’s next assignment (and there’s another Batman reference; can you say obsessed?) The new assignment is to protect a mutant named Marilyn Maycroft (sound familiar?), who is testifying against her former employers, a major drug cartel. Her ex-teammates, who call themselves Hell’s Belles, are a little upset at Marilyn’s squealing, and plan to kill her before she has a chance to testify. Of course, X-Factor is supposed to prevent this. As they are discussing this, Rahne comes in to tell them that Lorna has been rushed to the hospital and may not make it. I know David was trying to end the issue with a flourish, but it seems a little over the top. Lorna got punched in the jaw 3 times (that we saw); I hardly think she’d be at death’s door.

This was a good issue, but maybe not as good as some of the previous ones. It’s always hard to introduce a new character, since you have to give their origin, establish their motivations, and paint a compelling portrait of them within a limited amount of space. With established characters, all that stuff is already taken care of. Rhapsody isn’t the most interesting new character I’ve ever seen, but David does a pretty good job in the time he has. And I suppose today’s goofy new villain is tomorrow’s classic archenemy. Unfortunately, Rhapsody’s powers are still a bit confusing to me, so I hope they’re clarified a bit next issue. The art this issue was better than Larry Stroman’s stuff, but still a bit scratchy for my taste; I prefer a more photo-realistic style, but that’s just me. I guess we’ll have to wait until next issue to see what happens with Rhapsody and with Hell’s Belles. And of course, we’ll have to find out if Lorna manages to pull through! Don’t miss it!

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