When I saw the opening page -- a 250-word summary of what happened "Previously…" I thought this might be yet another "X-Factor" issue that didn't work for me at all. I would be told to care about all this stuff that already occurred, and I just wouldn't. But the recap page focused mostly on the plot of this "Second Coming" mini-event, getting readers caught up on what had been happening with Hope and Cable in the other comics. The actual "X-Factor" recap was only a few words in comparison. The weight of "Second Coming" had overburdened this issue, it looked like. And I braced myself for another comic about Hope and Cable running from something.
But, it turns out that "X-Factor" #204 is a pretty good comic. It completely avoids the trap most other "Second Coming" issues have fallen into so far, and by shifting the attention away from Hope and Cable, and making Bastion and Trask an immediate and lethal threat to the X-Factor gang, Peter David creates a compelling scenario.
Valentine De Landro and Pat Davidson's art looks good here too, particularly in the opening sequences. It's weaker when we get to the characters-sitting-around-a-table scene, and De Landro is better at spectacle than subtlety of emotion, but there are quite a few striking images in this issue. Images of great moments of heroism, and images of tragedy.
David and company open the issue with a great fake-out, as we see an all-out assault on the X-Factor team that leads to bloodshed and escalation, until the Marvel varsity superheroes -- from Spider-Man to Thor and everyone in between -- show up to save the day. But it's all just a computer simulation. A high-tech, audio-video version of one of the WOPR's "WarGames." With all roads leading to bad luck for the bad guys. Basically, it's Bolivar Trask commanded by Bastion, and they both want X-Factor dead. They want all mutants dead. But there's something about this X-Factor team that makes them tougher to eliminate than anyone (besides the computer) might expect. They are central to the Marvel Universe. And any attack against them will have consequences.
So adjustments are made, supervillains are hired. X-Factor is lured into a trap, as some of their members are off fighting Baron Mordo as part of some ongoing subplot that may have larger repercussions. It's a plot-heavy issue, and it works well, with the gears spinning, the pieces shifting around the game board, and whatever mixed metaphor tells you that this issue is more about what happens than how the characters feel about what happens. The feelings will come later, I suppose, with the fallout.
One-quarter of the way into "Second Coming," this is the best installment so far.