In a similar fashion to the much-better-than-anyone-suspected “X-Men Forever” series, “X-Factor Forever” sees a celebrated creator returning to continue their run on a beloved comic as if they never left. In this case, Louise Simonson returns to “X-Factor” with a de facto issue #64 of her run, which originally ended with #63.
Much like “X-Men Forever,” the suggestion that this is the intended continuation of Simonson’s run is a bit of a stretch. After all, issue #1 spends a fair amount of time re-introducing the team members and reminding us of their “current” sub-plots (and rather gratuitously introduces new costumes) but although the story doesn’t quite continue directly on, the situation is taken straight from "X-Factor" #63: the five original X-Men, living in a sentient space-ship (situated right in the middle of Manhattan) with Apocalypse as the series’ principle villain.
Immediately, Simonson’s writing makes the characters and their situations feel familiar, yet at the same time, it’s surprisingly fresh and exciting. The character moments are fantastic, and this detail-oriented take is vastly different from what most of the current X-Men books are doing, so there’s a sense that despite its position as a sort-of-flashback alternate-universe "What If?," it actually is filling a gap in the publishing line. Almost coincidentally, the closest thing Marvel is publishing to “X-Factor Forever” is the current incarnation of “X-Factor”, which follows a similar character-driven line. That said, “X-Factor Forever” lacks Peter David’s dry wit, with Simonson’s version coming over as a little more earnest and heartfelt, but no worse for it.
Dan Panosian’s art is utterly unlike anything of the era being portrayed. If anything, it’s ultra-modern, with a jagged, almost indie style, helped along by Jim Charalampidis’ fantastic choice of palette -- but since the point of this series is not to offer a weak pastiche of "X-Factor" as it was, it makes perfect sense to go with this art style. And in a series where the writing is so focussed on character moments, Panosian outdoes himself in conveying emotion and demeanour, whether it’s Cyclops and Jean making breakfast together, or Apocalypse standing malevolently above his hound, Caliban. After that, the brilliant character designs -- in particular, the doe-eyed Jean Grey and spiky-fringed Iceman -- mean that the book simply could not look better.
Plot-wise, there’s a lot going on. Apocalypse serves as the principal antagonist, but the story also brings back Master Mold and Cameron Hodge, shows Caliban dealing with Sabretooth in the aftermath of the Morlock Massacre, and there’s fair mention of the Celestials, too. It seems, in fact, that Simonson might be using this miniseries to provide a “Grand Finale” to her "X-Factor" run, pulling together all the threads she ever spun. It makes for an exciting prospect, even though a five issue run seems like an almost sadistically short prospect, based on the quality of this issue.
Rounding out the contents are a handbook-style recap of X-Factor from their early days as the X-Men up until Louise Simonson’s run concluded, and more interestingly, the first part of an “Origin of Apocalypse” backup strip which tells Simonson’s version of the character’s beginnings. It’s not much of a story in itself, but as a fan of Apocalypse, I can’t help enjoy it, and it only helps the book feel worth its price tag. Once again, despite all logic to the contrary, “X-Factor Forever” transcends its nostalgist3 beginnings to become a genuinely entertaining and enjoyable book.