This issue appears to bring to a close the “Las Vegas” arc, in which X-Factor Investigations rescue Pip the Troll from Hela’s realm with the help of -- who else? -- the God of Thunder himself. The results are satisfyingly large in scope, and always fun to read, but not without their flaws.
Although Peter David, a master of entertaining and witty dialogue, writes a brilliantly hammy Thor, the plotting for this arc seems comparatively weak. An exchange between Madrox and Hela might suggest that there’s more at work, but at the same time, it might just be David hanging a lantern on a flimsy story and saying “hey, it’s comics, we shouldn’t need too watertight an excuse for heroes to fight villains.” Either excuse, however, leads to an arc that feels inherently unsatisfying. There’s no big twist to pay off the build-up, just a fight that the team eventually wins.
Still, the way they do win the fight was at least interesting. The new spin on Darwin’s powers was an interesting one, particularly for what it implies about the nature of Godhood in the Marvel Universe, but if the preview of next issue’s cover is anything to go by, it also appears to be leading to his departure next issue. Admittedly, the cast is already bursting at the seams, but Darwin’s character arc still had potential; Let’s hope it’s only a temporary leave of absence.
David does chuck out a couple of curveballs: best of all, Banshee’s casual admission of a change in faith following her father’s death. It’s an interesting development for a character who hasn’t done much since her memorable pregnancy arc, now long passed, and a reminder from David that every character in the X-Factor cast will get their moment in the spotlight, given enough time. As his treatment of Shatterstar proves, no-one is too difficult or too ridiculous for David to treat them as an actual functioning individual, rather than a vehicle for exposition.
At this point, at the end of the second/third major arc (depending on how you count the “Second Coming” crossover) it’s hard to say whether “X-Factor”’s new direction is working especially well. Certainly, it’s providing some interesting character combinations, and giving Madrox and Co. a chance to build their profile in the Marvel Universe, but at the same time, it lacks the intricacies and character focus of the few arcs that came before the relaunch. Arguably, it needed a change, but 12 issues in, it’s not clear whether that change was for the better.