The latest issue of "X-Factor" is one of the darker issues in the series to date, although at first it might not seem as such. Monet, Rictor, and Wolfsbane are holding down the fort while the rest of the team is off in Las Vegas for last month's storyline, and at first it seems innocent enough. Rictor takes Wolfsbane for an appointment with an obstetrician, while Monet has a new client that wants a bad memory removed telepathically.
What we get, though, are two grim stories that don't have happy endings in store. As readers, we already knew that Wolfsbane was lying about the parentage of her unborn baby, and that it was Prince Hrimhari's and not Rictor's. As the issue progresses, though, it's hard to feel any sympathy for Wolfsbane as she continues to lie and manipulate Rictor. And even when facts start lining up to show the edges of the lie to Rictor, it's hard to tell if she's going to continue perpetuating it.
It would have been easy for Peter David to take a route where Wolfsbane came back and told everyone the truth about her pregnancy right from the start, a situation he inherited from her time in "X-Force." But there's no real drama in that, and David's instead going for the option that throws a rather large wrench into Rictor and Shatterstar's relationship. The problem is that Wolfsbane isn't the only one playing a dangerous game here. David runs the risk of alienating his readers from Wolfsbane, an impressive feat considering the outcry when she was removed from the title to star in "X-Force." Up until this point, it's been easier to justify her actions; feeling betrayed by Rictor and alone in the world. But the further and deeper the lie goes, the harder it's going to be as a reader to feel any sympathy for her. David is letting his characters grow and become more three-dimensional, but making the readers hate them in the process might not be the desired result.
Even Monet's storyline is dark, involving memories of the death of children. In this case, though, for the sake of (presumably) future storylines David sets Monet up for a huge mistake. "X-Factor" is no stranger to the team making errors in judgment (it's why the rest of the team is now in Las Vegas, trying to fix a mistake) but this error has already resulted in the death of one other person, with presumably more to follow. It makes Monet come across as fairly incompetent, once again not the best rallying point for readers.
Valentine De Landro is back again, although this time without Pat Davidson's inks. It's a darker, more shadowed style as a result, reminding me in some places of an early Danijel Zezelj. It's not bad, with a good basic look for the characters, although it does get distracting when De Landro reuses the exact same panel three times in a two-page stretch. Still, Wolfsbane in particular manages to look dangerous and even slightly feral in places, a good look to match the nastier storyline currently connected with her. Colorist Jeromy Cox once more does a lot of the heavy lifting on the backgrounds, subbing in a wall pattern or the sky to keep the characters from floating in the void and hiding the lack of anything but a face being drawn there.
"X-Factor" isn't always sweetness and light, but this is definitely a darker turn for the comic. I don't mind getting a little less cheerfulness in the title, but it's a fine line to walk, doubly so when the darkness comes at the expense of liking the main characters. A lot of the strength in "X-Factor" has been enjoying the character interactions, so hopefully they won't all end up distasteful before too long. At least next month brings Longshot back on board, and that should help somewhat, but this was a huge shift in style.