Reading "X-Factor" on a monthly basis can be a slightly frustrating experience. One month the book is firing on all cylinders, the next month it fails to excite. With the latest issue, though, I'd go so far as to say that it's my favorite issue of the series since it came back from hiatus and renumbered at #200.
In the past, when the book has narrowed its focus to just a few characters, it's felt to the detriment of the rest of the cast. That's not the case here, perhaps because an issue spotlighting Madrox and Layla feels like it's looking to the two core characters of the comic. Their relationship is easily the most interesting one here (and this in a book full of interesting relationships), and David giving them a chance to shine is refreshing.
It also feels like this is an issue that's going back to basics. It's been a while since Madrox's duplication power has been used for much more than an extra set of fists, so David's idea of having one Madrox interviewing each side of a pair of people set against one another is a clever one, letting Madrox's ability prove to be an asset in getting the full story on what's going on. It's also the first time in a while that we're getting the earlier story element of Madrox's duplicates spotlighting different parts of his personality, and this time it's a bit of a doozy when it comes to the relationship between him and Layla.
Speaking of which, Layla's position in this issue is one of the more subtle and interesting ones we've seen in a while. So often she's just a foil for the other characters, or an eleventh hour deus ex machina to bring the story to its conclusion. Here, we get another glimpse into her actual character, and for the first time in as long as I can remember I found myself caring about Layla's feelings and future. It's a refreshing take on their relationship, in part because it's a conflict that doesn't have a right or wrong side.
David still makes sure to fit in an actual case and a monster, too, and while on some level it's the less interesting part of the issue, it at least thematically fits in terms with everything else David is writing about, here. Love and jealousy are no strangers to "X-Factor" and a villain fueled by the pair of those is a reasonable addition to the rogue's gallery this month. And while there's still a slight deus ex machina element to the ending, here, it's at least set up enough in advance that it's hard to mind this new ability appearing to save the day.
Valentine de Landro, Pat Davidson, and Jeromy Cox all rise to the occasion this month as well; this is a nice looking issue of "X-Factor." I love the dark colors and shadows that the trio add into the evening scenes, and there's a high level of energy in the visuals despite a lot of the issue just involving talking. The smaller details, like the flowing drapes in the night air, or the two perfect dots of red for the eyes amidst the darkness, stand out upon careful examination. It's a good-looking book, and a strong match for the script.
"X-Factor" is playing to its strengths this week, and the end result is a real joy to read. It's a nice reminder on why I read the book, and a good set-up for situations to come down the line. More like this, please.