Peter David isn’t letting up on the pathos one iota. Despite the literal, actual (multiple?) lords and ladies of Hell pulling out all the stops and throwing down to see who will be crowned absolute ruler, the story remains squarely focused on X-Factor and those in its ranks. Much in the same way that the best examples of zombie media use the living dead as a backdrop, David uses the war of Hell as a way to showcase the core characters. From Layla and Tier fending off Mephisto’s daughter Jezebel with the barrier of non-aggressive resistance (as well as the one Layla got from Dr. Doom) to Polaris and the main group fighting off clone after clone of demonized Jamie Madrox all the while losing ground, there’s still one pairing that stands out: Monet VS Guido.
Monet and Guido had recently hit it off, or at least tried to with varying levels of success, but Guido was left rejected and despondent. Losing his soul beforehand after being resurrected by Layla’s dubious powers did little to help matters. They throw down in the bowels of Hell, but the punches being thrown are mere distractions, even a somewhat blatant metaphor, for their deeper conflict. Blatant isn’t always bad, though, this is a title that demands high drama. This fight, in particular, ends with an incredible cliffhanger that I’m absolutely salivating to see the resolution of.
Leonard Kirk, along with Jay Leisten and Matt Milla, do their usual top-shelf work with the illustrations. I’ve often spoken of artists who have great fluidity and illusion of movement, but this crew does something just as impressive, though very different: an excellent sense of impact and kinetic force. The blow-by-blow, the connections, the shattered backgrounds all pop amazingly and give a tremendous sense of the sheer power being exerted by some of these beings. He’s no slouch on the faces either with the characters’ expressions being clear and, at times, heart-wrenching. Emotions are a difficult thing to display in this medium, panels being fairly small, so it’s great to see someone who really nails it.
This story arc has dragged a bit. These last two issues have been absolute treats, but the few that preceded them weren’t the best paced and that’s really starting to become apparent. Tier gets some great development, but it’s long overdue and Rahne has, unfortunately, been relegated to shrieking about everyone leaving her child alone. There’s also a very major plot reveal that happens near the middle and was hinted at in the last issue, but the fact that it happens off-panel is dramatically inconsistent. It’s great to see the montage of everyone realizing what’s gone wrong, but it just feels unearned and a little cheap. I’d have gladly sacrificed an issue prior to have this portion drawn out a bit more.
X-Factor is STILL, I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, one of the most underrated books on the shelf. The characters and the team were once almost a punchline, but Peter David’s work since the Madrox mini-series has absolutely elevated the team to one of the most emotionally resonant and diverse groups in the entire Marvel Universe. They don’t squabble like the X-Men, they aren’t brooding killers like X-Force, they’re not whacky like X-Statix, they truly are just what they are and that's the best of all of those teams. They’re dysfunctional for sure, but they also work together like few other teams and have a sense of humor about their situation. Pacing issues aside, this series continues to be one of Marvel’s unsung best. I can’t say that I’m sad that it’s ending, it sounds like a mutual decision and I’d rather see it go out on the creators’ terms than have it shamble along without passion or drive, but I’ll definitely miss it after September.