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All-New X-Factor #12 upgrades the X-team by going corporate

Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s All-New X-Factor #12. Written by Peter David (The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man 2099) with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico (Journey Into Mystery, Ultimate Comics Ultimates) and Lee Loughridge (Captain Marvel, Deadly Class), this issue uses the book’s corporate superhero angle to tell a superhero-team story with brains and heart. Note: This review reveals major plot points.

The “All-New” branding is overused at Marvel, but in the case of All-New X-Factor, it’s a descriptor that really works. After exhausting the “mutant private detective agency” concept of the previous X-Factor volume, writer Peter David took a dramatically different approach for the book’s All-New Marvel Now! revival, making X-Factor the in-house super-team of Serval Industries, a Google-like corporation. (Serval isn’t just a type of feline; it’s a clever play on “Serve All.”) This isn’t the first time superheroes have gone corporate—Joe Casey’s Wildcats 3.0 is one of the most notable examples—but it’s an angle that feels especially fresh in the current environment of X-Men comics, which is a very traditional superhero landscape with a few modern flourishes.

Not a single punch is thrown in this week’s All-New X-Factor #12, but it’s one of this week’s most exciting superhero titles thanks to David’s skill for juggling subplots and exploring interpersonal dynamics on a superhero team. With his cast of six main heroes (and assorted supporting players) firmly established, David takes time to build up the character relationships in this issue while further accentuating the book’s corporate angle, staging a Serval Industries press conference to introduce the group of heroes to the public.

The corporate concept is what separates this title from other superhero books, but it’s the attention David gives to the characters that makes it a regularly captivating read. His take on Gambit as a lovable rogue with an overactive sex drive and three kittens is refreshingly aware of the reasons why the character has proven immensely popular (it’s certainly not because of his fascinating history), and Gambit’s sensual side has put him in hot water with Serval CEO Harrison Snow, whose wife seduced Gambit at a bar and slept with him without revealing her true identity. He confesses to Snow about the accidental affair in this week’s issue, but it has no impact on the chilly CEO, who is manipulating events to suit his own mysterious, likely sinister agenda.

Quicksilver is the focal point of All-New X-Factor, and David does exceptional work wading through the last 10 years of the speedster’s history to tell a story with immense emotional weight. In the opening pages, Quicksilver turns down a spot on Havok’s Avengers team so that he can stay with his mentally unstable sister Polaris, establishing how important family is to Quicksilver at this point in his life. He also has a sister with a history of mental instability on Havok’s team, but Scarlet Witch has garnered all the attention over the years while Polaris has drifted further into madness. The former has a strong support system with the rest of the Avengers, but the latter needs her brother to keep her on the right path, and he’s not going to abandon her in the middle of the healing process.

All of Quicksilver’s sister drama is a symptom of a deeper hurt: the pain of being abandoned by his daughter Luna, who renounced her father because of his despicable actions after House Of M. Stripped of his mutant power following that event miniseries, Quicksilver betrayed his friends and family in order to reclaim his speed, gaining the ability to return other depowered mutants to their former glory in the meanwhile. That process ultimately proved fatal to those that underwent it, and justice is demanded for Quicksilver’s crimes when mutant supervillain Frenzy crashes X-Factor’s press conference and makes the mutant’s past public.

The work done on Quicksilver’s character over the last decade has made him an incredibly complex figure, and David mines all that development to push Quicksilver’s growth even further. Telling the Avengers that a Skrull imposter committed his shameful actions kept Quicksilver from atoning for his sins, and he won’t truly be a hero until he comes forward and takes responsibility for what he did in the past. He uses the press conference as an opportunity to do so, confessing to the world and saying that if anyone wishes to punish him, they can find him in his room. But the first person that visits him has no intention of punishment.

This issue becomes something truly touching in the final pages, which feature a poignant reconciliation between Quicksilver and Luna. She saw her father speak at the press conference, and comes to his room to tell him how proud she is and that he should forget all that stuff she said in the past about never respecting him. The issue ends with an embrace between father and daughter as Pietro tells her, “It’s forgotten,” and there’s an overwhelming sense of release in that closing moment.

The recaps of each issue of All-New X-Factor give readers a look at events in the writer’s personal life, and chronicling those moments in the comic shows how much family means to David, specifically his relationship with his daughters. The writer’s affection for his daughters radiates in those short paragraphs, creating the impression that Quicksilver and Luna’s reconciliation is a scene David has been wanting to write for quite some time.

Things get pretty heavy with Quicksilver, Gambit, and Cypher—who has to deal with the fallout of the team’s last mission in the form of a traumatized teenage girl who watched her birth parents die after meeting them for the first time—but David injects humor and sweetness into the narrative by spending time with the team’s robot members: Danger and Warlock. They’re currently the book’s most ship-able couple, with Warlock’s madcap energy playing delightfully off of Danger’s stoic, tactless demeanor, and they make major strides in their relationship this week by trying to modify their behavior, however slightly.

Warlock is a shapeshifting techno-alien with a crush on Danger, a sentient version of the X-Men’s Danger Room, and he’s trying to adapt to make himself more attractive to his blue teammate. After being criticized by Danger for always referring to himself as “Self” in conversation, Warlock makes a conscious effort to use the personal pronoun, visibly straining against his natural impulses in one particularly hilarious panel, and when Danger notices that he changed his behavior to please her, she gives him a kiss on the cheek. “I believe it is societal norm when someone has done something intended to be… gracious,” she says, explaining her action before walking away, leaving Warlock with a giant grin on his face. It’s a cute little diversion from the main drama, and those moments of levity are a big part of David’s charm as a superhero writer.

In terms of design, All-New X-Factor is one of Marvel’s most striking titles, using the corporate tech world as inspiration to create a slick, graphic aesthetic. The covers by Kris Anka and Jared Fletcher combine crisply drawn images with bright background colors and stark lettering, making each issue pop on the stands and in the digital marketplace. (Having an eye-catching cover is even more important when working with thumbnails.) Each cover also features a quote from within the issue, usually applied in a humorous context. The covers give the impression that this is a fun, colorful superhero title, and that’s exactly what readers get from the contents.

Carmine Di Giandomenico is one of Marvel’s most underrated artists, providing consistently crisp artwork that works for a variety of genres. There’s a slick minimalism to his environments in All-New X-Factor that reads as very Apple influenced, and the selective detailing makes Lee Loughridge’s hyper-saturated color palette hit with even more impact. (In a February Big Issues on Marvel artists, a connection was drawn between the rainbow colors of the Google logo and Loughridge’s coloring, and that theory still holds.)

All-New X-Factor #12 is an issue of talking heads, but Di Giandomenico’s animated body language and facial expressions make the conversations visually engaging. There’s no shortage of detail in the character work, and the artist has done especially notable work balancing Warlock and Danger’s mechanical appearances with the more human emotions that have developed in their programming. Even well-staged dialogue can get tedious, though. Enter Loughridge with his intense colors to give each scene its own distinct atmosphere, taking advantage of the contrast between warm and cool shades to add an extra level of tension to the artwork.

The quality of All-New X-Factor is even more impressive considering its accelerated shipping schedule. Twelve issues have been released in just eight months, meaning this title has been biweekly for half of its run with the same creative team on every issue. Twelve issues by a single creative team without any fill-ins is rare enough nowadays, but accomplishing that feat while on an accelerated schedule is all but unheard of. (When was the last time that happened? Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man?)

Readers have gotten a year’s worth of issues very quickly, making All-New X-Factor one of the most substantial new superhero titles simply because it’s put out more content than the competition. Luckily, that content has maintained its high level of excellence with each chapter, using the corporate super-team concept to create an innovative X-book, offering plenty of rewards for both long-time readers and newcomers to Marvel’s expansive line of mutant-related titles.