Factor-X 2: Now that is a toxic office culture

Credits: Written by John Francis Moore, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Al Milgrom and edited by Kelly Corvese.

Cast: Earth 295 versions of: Scott ‘Cyclops’ Summers, Alex ‘Havok’ Summers, Hank ‘Beast’ McCoy, Jesse & Terry Bedlam, Sam and Elizabeth Guthrie, Jean-Paul & Jeanne Marie Beaubier (Northstar & Aurora), Warren ‘Angel’ Worthington III, Lorna ’Polaris’ Dane, Scarlet McKenzie, Valerie Cooper and Apocalypse.

Plot: Someone is freeing prisoners from the slaves pens once run by Sinister. Two are gone in one night, witnessing this is Lorna Dane (on again off again daughter of Magneto) who sees this liberator as Magneto. 

(Note, Magneto does not appear in this issue) 

The morning after this, Cyclops and Havok are meeting with Apocalypse over Sinister’s destruction of a heretofore unknown secret lab. Apocalypse is furious, but is impressed by the stoic nature of Cyclops, much to his more ambitious brother’s chagrin. Apocalypse talks about promoting Cyclops to the now vacant position of 4th Horseman. Cyclops isn’t looking for this, but being so duty minded will of course perform whatever duties given too him and his humble lack of ambition and lust for power only serves to push him and Alex further apart. 

Assigned to investigate the prisoner escapes, Havok and the Guthries look at the previous night’s surveillance tapes and see that they don’t see the person doing the freeing. The Guthrie’s posit that this person has a TK damper implant as they do, otherwise they’d be visible on camera and be slowed down by the braintrust, a collection of six genetically modified brains in orbs who maintain the pens’ security. What is clear is that this intruder knew the routines of the guards and that Lorna had seen who he was. So they head to sector 7G (a lovely little Simpson’s reference) to speak with her. 

Based on her family being part of the early culling and her treatment at the hands of her friend Rogue (explaining why Rogue has similar powers to Magneto), Lorna is traumatised and somewhat unstable. When Havok’s questions inevitable gets brutal, Lorna attacks the iron in Alex’s blood with magnetic powers that the braintrust should have suppressed. Angered and a little embarrassed, Alex hands him off to the Beast. Beast gleefully straps her to a device and hands out a little backstory exposition (explaining the Rogue thing and pointing out that she is not in fact the daughter of Magneto (this will be retconned again later, don’t worry about it.) and then he proceeds to try to get the information out of her the ‘old fashioned’ way

As this is going on Cyclops and the Bedlam Brothers are investigating the site of Sinister’s lab, looking for clues. There are none, but they do bump into Angel who is all kinds of foreboding as he warns them that things are about to get worse. As this is going on, Havok is meeting with his secret human lover Scarlett and Alex schemes to get a promotion by removing the favoured son that is Cyclops. 

Cyclops returns to the pens to find Beast enjoying himself torturing his prey and violently puts and end to it. As he leaves, his point made, Lorna looks at him and sees Magneto. That night, Cyclops returns to 7G and frees Lorna too, before running into a re-assigned Northstar and Aurora. Cyclops deals with them quickly and gets Lorna to the coast and into the hands of Val Cooper. Val is amazed that Cyclops is doing all of this, compliments him on saving so many lives, but Cyclops refuses to hear that, only berating himself for not having done more. This exchange is watched from a distance by Alex, who is now within reach of everything he has ever wanting, starting with the death of his brother.

Notes: Once again am back at the hidden gem of the Age of Apocalypse, Factor-X. This issue plays a little more into the office politics of the Elite Mutant Force and shows it to be the cutthroat house of cards you expected it was going to be. Head of the company Apocalypse plays favourites, middle manager Sinister has taken his golden parachute and left the company and his nepotistic hires are now jockeying for his vacant position. Cyclops doesn’t really want the Horseman title, despite it being all his younger brother has ever wanted. It’s all kinds of Game of Thrones-ey. But in this, it all makes sense. This Cyclops is no hero, he was raised by this self justifying machiavellian game player to devote himself to a cause despite his own thoughts and questions and…. yeah this is the Age of Apocalypse version right? The point is that he was trained to lead and maintain the status quo. Despite the status quo being a dystopian nightmare of eugenics, inhuman experimentation and genocide is really beside the point. He is a good person doing his job, the fact that his job was turning a blind eye to horrific crimes against humanity isn’t something that occurred to him, at least up to a point. Now he has had some kind of awakening, he’s trying to save lives, whilst preventing further atrocities. I can see Cyclops there, as though he was a villain, who didn’t realise he was a villain. Havok though is portrayed as more into the villainous thing. He doesn’t really care about Apocalypse’s views and his only interest in the status quo is that he gains power and prestige. He could be running a bakery as much as providing slaves and experimental subjects and his feelings would be the same. All he wants is everything his brother has and this has left him feeling so much hate over this envy. The fact that his brother has no desire for all he has makes it all the worse. It’s that level of pathos that prevents Havok from being a one-note villain.

The main thrust of the story is Cyclops freeing prisoners and how this creates problems for the EMF (I could swear they had a hit in the 90’s called Unbelievable) leaving Havok with a problem to solve that ultimately gives him his heart’s desire. All this is taking place as Havok is sleeping with a human, which is bad enough, but she’s also a spy. It’s all a bit nazi-occupied France here and that sense of tension and impending disaster is maintained by John Francis Moore throughout. You know Cyclops and Havok are playing with their own respective fires and you know that it’ll end badly, but you want to see what happens next. The action beats are perfunctory, but it’s really the character stuff that draws you in. I had forgotten just how well I was sucked into this series, believing issue 1 to be just a strong start, but this issue proves that the whole thing was this good and I am glad to see that my fondness for this series was not entirely nostalgic.

Verdict

Writing: 4 out of 5 – The story-telling does the job here, making the dystopian hells cape into something more relatable, a workplace story with themes of sibling rivalry and doing the right thing, even if you aren’t sure what that is. His dialogue is less flashy and quippy, but suits the tone of this series to a tee and it is still the best of the minis so far.

Art: 4 out of 5 – I haven’t always appreciated the art of Steve Epting, his work on X-Factor after this and his partnering with Tom Palmer during his Avengers run didn’t show off his talents in as positive light as it deserves, but here with the moody noir-ish tone and tension his work shines and you can see from here where the artist from my favourite run on Captain America came from. His Beast is very Hank McCoy like, but Epting bleeds away his humanity and leaves him with a nightmarish edge that fits his role here as Sinister’s monster. He portrays facial features and body language in a way that tells the story, even when there are no words and little movement to catch your eye.  It may not be the best artwork that shows up in the Age of Apocalypse, but it has to be near the top.

Overall: 8 out of 10 – A good story can make you sympathetic towards the villain, but this story makes you root for them. Apocalypse’s government is a toxic work environment as can be, but you are kind of hoping for Cyclops to get that promotion. I am enjoying this series so much and will be kind of sad when it comes to an end.

Next Time: Secrets revealed, retcons created and sense abandoned, yes were back to the Clone saga.

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