This isn't your typical two-and-a-half star comic. Most of those are completely mediocre efforts, or generically bland in a forgettable way. "X-Factor Forever" is neither mediocre or bland, and it has some scenes and images that I won't soon forget, but it is unsettling in its inconsistency. It has highs and lows in both artistry and story quality. It averages out to a mid-range comic, but on each page, you never know what kind of comic you're going to get.
If you don't already know, "X-Factor Forever" is the "What if Louise Simonson continued to write 'X-Factor'?" comic book. So it picks up where she left off, all those years ago. And, like Chris Claremont on "X-Men Forever," this series has a kind of throwback charm. It feeds on nostalgia, but it also feels strangely fresh because it doesn't read like a 21st century Marvel comic. Instead, it's an innocent comic, even when it trucks in violence and mayhem. It's not a comic that has a lot of mopey characters questioning what it is that they do.
And Dan Panosian brings a sharp, energetic style to the series. He doesn't draw anything like Walt Simonson -- the man who had the most famous run on the original series, and deservedly so -- but his angular characters-in-motion fit the hyperactive tone of this issue. He draws a ferocious but noble Beast, a dangerous but not maniacal Archangel, and so on. He's good. Most of the time.
But there are a few pages which don't read as well as the others. When the Beast prepares to attack the "Master Meld," he's shown in a ready-to-attack pose without a background, then the next panel shows him getting thrown off Master Meld's shoulder. Did he bounce off his back? Did Master Mold blast him? The panel transition seems to be missing information, and it's jarring. The same thing happens earlier in the issue when the characters change positions around a birthday party table from panel to panel, and it's just not a smooth storytelling flow. But the design of Master Meld and the majority of the fight scenes look great.
And the writing has moments of Apocalypse in a cackling-evil mode, and the X-Factor members don't have a lot of personality in their dialogue, but it's presented with clarity. It's not that the writing is ineffective, it's just that it's a style of comic book scripting that's not in common use anymore. A classic kind of serialized storytelling that whisks along, but doesn't seem to have much complexity, either stated or implied.
This series also features a back-up focusing on "The Apocalypse Journals" where we see a Terry Gilliam-looking Apocalypse recounting his historical meddling with the human race. It's possibly one of the selling points of this series -- a chance to see what Louise Simonson really had in mind for the character. But it's a bit silly. According to this account, Apocalypse was behind everything. Everything.
I like the look of this series, and anytime a guy with razor wings shoots a giant robot in the eyes, I will stand up to take notice, but the good and the bad cancel each other out, and we end up with an issue that ends up in the middle of the stack. That may be part of Apocalypse's plan as well.