"X-Factor" has a reputation for being a light-hearted, funny comic. It's a reputation that isn't terribly accurate. Sure, Peter David has never met a joke that he didn't like, but this is also a book that goes into dark territory on a regular basis. And right now, "X-Factor" is running one of its darkest stories.
After all, this is a story where the team is teaming up with a killer (Hangman) to stop a more dangerous killer (Bloodbath), before the first killer's son is murdered. Hardly light material. David writes a tense story here, where the main villain is virtually unstoppable and, even worse, knows it. What looks like it could be a cat and mouse game instead turns into an out-and-out taunting session, as Bloodbath coolly and efficiently takes down the cast one-by-one.
This sort of story doesn't always work, but there's something about the cast's growing desperation and general skill that makes this compelling reading. You get the impression that sooner or later someone's going to prevail against Bloodbath, even as they continue to fail. It's a combination of inevitability and hope that drives the comic through a fairly linear path.
And then, just when you think everything's calming down, David pulls out another rabbit from the proverbial hat. Is there an easy out for this situation? It's hard to say. Everything is almost certainly not what it seems in these last few pages. But it's definitely leading up to something particularly strange around the bend, and I appreciate the fact that I have no idea just what David has in store, even as it ties into a long-forgotten storyline from the early issues of "X-Factor."
It's great to see Leonard Kirk on "X-Factor." His art over the years has shifted into a style that reminds me of artists like Stuart Immonen, with generally clean, slightly angular art. I appreciate that Kirk isn't afraid to do things like shift the reader's viewpoint from time to time, like looking up at Terry as he runs down the hallway in that first panel, or watching Guido smash through the gates from the opposite side instead of focusing on all of the characters clustered around him. Add in a good sense of energy -- Guido looks like he's actually bursting through the gate; there's nothing static about the art -- and we end up with some of the strongest art on "X-Factor" in a long while.
"X-Factor" is definitely been running through some of its stronger material in 2011, and it's great to see the book back in such strong form. But as for its reputation... Fun? Absolutely. Strictly funny? Not really. This is a book that hits all sorts of emotions and ranges, and those who have avoided it because they think it's a comedy book should give it another shot. This is definitely some dark material, and I say that as a compliment. Check it out.