X-Factor annual #1
Issue(s): X-Factor annual #1
Despite the fact that X-Factor appeared in Iron Man's annual this year, he doesn't return the favor. But he does donate the use of one of his villains, the Crimson Dynamo.
This issue opens with a montage scene showing X-Factor being very busy dealing with mutants. This illustrates something about the premise of the series, which is that in order for the team to have something to do, they need a steady influx of new mutants to deal with (of course some can turn out to be false alarms, but most have to be real). That's not necessarily a problem except that it does make the introduction of new mutant characters a lot less special, especially when they are underdeveloped or, as in the case of this montage, not developed at all.
After that montage, that particular problem is solved for this issue at least by taking a look at the mutant situation in the Soviet Union, where it makes sense that there might be a large mutant population that we don't already know about since we haven't heard too much about what's going on there (with a few significant exceptions, discussed below). X-Factor return from their headquarters to learn that envoys from the USSR are there to greet them. They would like X-Factor to share their mutant containment expertise with the Soviet government. X-Factor even hears that the US State Department is ok with the request.
A couple points here. The first is that this means that the State Department is aware of X-Factor and seems ok with their purported mission. Now, we'll learn that the reason the US government is encouraging X-Factor to go along with this is because they've got a secret mission for them, and this is being facilitated by Cameron Hodge's contact Senator Thompson, who, it's revealed, is aware of X-Factor's real mission and the team's secret identities. But does that knowledge extend to the State Department? Forget their seeming willingness to share mutant hunting knowledge with the Soviets; i want to know if the State Department is ok with X-Factor operating as mutant hunters in the US, or if they all know that that's just a cover story.
The other thing is, before X-Factor find out about the secret mission, they debate the sharing of knowledge with the Soviet Union on the merits. They're all against the idea, but no one points out that they don't actually have any special techniques to share in any case. "Pretend to be mutant hunters while secretly being mutants that help and train other mutants in trouble" doesn't seem like a method that you can share.
As S says in the Comments, Angel actually does sort of casually mention the problem, but you'd think it would be the primary concern.
Note also that Warren takes meetings in his underwear by speaker phone. Speaking as someone who telecommutes a lot, it's really the only way to live.
The secret mission that the US government has for X-Factor relates to the work of a Dr. Wolfgang Heinreich. He's the son of a Nazi doctor that was brought to the Soviet Union, and who is behind a program to isolate the biological information stored in mutant genes so that the Soviets can replicate the process at will. Thompson shows the group pictures of atrocities committed as part of that research...
...and says that they believe that Heinreich is the "one man... responsible for the entire program".
"One week later", when X-Factor arrive at the Moscow airport, they are attacked by a pair of mutants, one of whom is shot by Soviet troops and one who escapes.
While lecturing the Soviets on their techniques (they actually just show them their commercial), Cyclops thinks to himself that he hates the "charade of being mutant hunters. We're just getting ourselves deeper and deeper into trouble.".
The group meet Heinreich at the reception after their lecture. The dialogue is so bad in these scenes. Cyclop's out loud "Now-- here?" is not what you'd expect from a seasoned tactician...
Heinreich's "evasiveness" is as obvious as a freight train...
...and his ability to trick Bobby with a story about an "attractive but somewhat introverted secretary" is really sad. It's like they're all trapped in a bad dream, forced to say things and go along with a plot that they have no control over.
But Heinreich does trick Bobby, and he reveals that he's actually got powers of his own (he's not quite a mutant, as we'll learn) and calls himself Doppelganger.
Doppelganger has Iceman sent off to be executed, but he's referenced by a group of mutant rebels led by a Father Alexei Garnoff.
The other mutants in the group are Mentac, Concussion, Iron Curtain, and Siberian Tiger.
Garnoff will later use the name Blind Faith, and Siberian Tiger changes his name to Sibercat, and those characters will at least have a couple more appearances. The other mutants will be quickly killed off in their next appearance. But for now, Iceman convinces them that the X-Factor thing is a sham and they aren't really mutant hunters, and so they head off to Heinreich's secret lab.
Meanwhile, Angel, separate from the rest of the group, has headed directly to the lab. He's wearing a special espionage costume...
...but i actually like the color scheme on the cover better. But it's nice to see him being effective.
He alerts the other X-Factor members to the lab's location, and they bring the fake Iceman along with them. They are delayed when Jean's leg falls off and she has to stop to screw it back on (or whatever it is she's doing there)...
...which allows them to meet up with Angel.
Inside, they get confirmation of Heinreich's atrocities...
...and then get attacked by Heinreich and the aforementioned Crimson Dynamo.
Heinreich says that he is "the first genetically engineered mutant" and his powers sound a lot like Mimic's ("the ability to adapt into any form with all of its inherent skills").
Iceman and the undergound Soviet mutants show up to help out...
...and Iceman gets into it with Doppelganger. Doppelganger claims that with his advanced intelligence he has the ability to use Iceman's powers "like you've never dreamed" but that seems to just amount to big ice fists.
Nonetheless, it's not the last time we'll see that idea (a bad guy using Iceman's powers better than he did, i mean. Not big fists. Necessarily.).
It's worth noting that this story doesn't necessarily implicate the USSR government in Dr. Heinreich's atrocities. As Senator Thompson says, Heinreich seems to be the one man responsible for the project. And when the Crimson Dynamo suggests calling in troops to help in the fight against X-Factor and the rebel mutants, Heinreich says, "No! Under no circumstances! This is my affair! I don't want those army buffoons nosing into my project!". And later that "even the Russians have no inkling of the 'grand design' which I am implementing". The Marvel Appendix even suggests that the Crimson Dynamo appearing here may actually be a robot, i think on the grounds that Heinreich/Doppelganger uses a code number to identify himself while he's mimicking someone else's body, and scripted to be very literal...
...and also perhaps because he's drawn to be really huge, moreso than the Crimson Dynamo usually is (that's more Titanium Man territory). It's reasonable to say that the Soviet government didn't really know what was going on here, or at least the scale of the atrocities. And their general oppressive policies towards mutants aren't too different than what you'd expect someone like Henry Gyrich to implement in the US if he was left unopposed. It's also worth noting that the sentiment of mutants expressed here is very different than what we've seen (briefly) from Colonel Vashin of the KGB in Uncanny X-Men #194. I'm also surprised that there was no mention of Professor Phobos or the mutant "purge" in the Soviet Union that Phobos saved Darkstar, Vanguard, and Ursa Major from, as shown in Hulk #258-259.
The Crimson Dynamo is not actually defeated by X-Factor. Iceman tricks him into thinking that he is Doppleganger, and orders him away. He's able to do so because the Beast, who reveals that he knows Russian, tells him what to say to Dynamo. I remember reading in the Handbooks that all of the new (Giant Size #1) X-Men were mind-taught Russian by Professor Xavier; i'm not sure if the Beast also learned Russian that way or learned it independently.
Doppleganger is seemingly defeated when he uses too much ice and collapses the room, falling into a yawning pit below (make sure your secret lab has a solid foundation, people)...
...but he's later shown to be on the plane as X-Factor is returning home. That said, the shape-shifter has never been seen again. As far as we know...!
Compared to Layton's work on the regular issues of the series, this is a disappointment. I think Jackson Guice's absence is a big reason for that. There's potentially an interesting story here, but there's some holes in it, and coupled with a lack of interesting Soviet mutants (who don't participate in the end battle and instead rescue a bunch of additional very generic looking mutants from Heinreich's lab), there's ultimately not a lot of substance here.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places this between X-Factor #4-5. There's nothing dictating placement with regard to this annual vs. their appearance in Iron Man annual #8 except that between X-Factor #4-5 is a good break for both issues.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showAngel, Beast, Blind Faith, Cameron Hodge, Concussion, Crimson Dynamo V, Cyclops, Iceman, Iron Curtain, Jean Grey, Mentac, Senator Thompson, Sibercat
The plot in issue 8-9 hinges on Valerie Cooper being unaware of X-Factor's true nature, so no, the State Department didn't know, unless they decided not to share that knowledge with Val for some reason.
Posted by: Michael | December 22, 2013 6:33 PM
Yeah, my sense was that Thompson was alone in knowing X-Factor's secret and was not authorized to reveal the Soviet bio-camp to anyone. The State Dept presumably was ok with X-Factor's mutant-hunting premise--it's treated as shocking that Thompson is sympathetic to mutants. The whole Robert Kelly/DoFP thing was kind of being set up around this time, with the U.S. government being anti-mutant by default. And not just anti-mutant: look at Nick Fury vs. SHIELD and the Commission on Superhuman Activities in Cap. Part of the dark 'n' gritty and late Reagan-era atmosphere of Marvel at this time is that the government should always be assumed to be amoral or tending toward evil. This is the X-Files era of Marvel, a few years ahead of TV.
The Dynamo is not a robot--I believe he refers to his armor at one point; it's a guy in a suit. But his size and use here is off: the Dynamo at this time, Bukharin, is not usually treated like a man with the morals of a concentration-camp guard. And how is the Dynamo knowing about Heinrich any different from other Soviet troops knowing about him? The camp can hardly really be a one-man operation.
Layton had said in interviews, I believe, before this issue came out that Heinrich would be a major villain if the series. I suspect he started work on the annual before he left the main series.
Angel's espionage suit is reminiscent of Iron Man's also Layton-introduced stealth armor.
Posted by: Water Lawson | December 22, 2013 7:21 PM
It started earlier than that though, with Iron Man, for instance. SHIELD attempting to steal Stark's factory, because he wasn't taking military contracts anymore...which led to the need for that Nick Fury mini in the first place.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | December 22, 2013 7:59 PM
The Michelenie-Layton writing team on Iron Man was much better than Layton alone on X-Factor. It seems Layton might have been a good idea man, but was subpar on scripting and perhaps plotting.
If X-Factor is going to the Soviet Union to investigate mutants, it'd be far better to revisit Professor Phobos and the Soviet Super Soldiers than the new characters here.
Crimson Dynamo is problematic for the reasons you indicated. He's never been super sized before. Titanium Man would have been more appropriate.
Posted by: Chris | December 22, 2013 8:42 PM
Warren does seem to acknowledge in that scan that they don't really have any techniques to teach the Russians - "In reality, we've got nothing to offer them anyway!"
Posted by: S | December 22, 2013 11:54 PM
It's strange that Iceman & Angel don't comment on the Crimson Dynamo here because they met one back in The Champions.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | January 17, 2014 1:15 AM
I wonder if Senator Thompson was intended to be some sort of counterpart to Fred/Amos Duncan?
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 15, 2015 6:34 PM
Senator Thompson presents a bit of a dangling thread. Senators are important people, but he takes X-Factor and Cameron Hodge into confidence. Since Hodge is the leader of the Right, Thompson should have been shown to have suffered some repercussions for being a pro-mutant sympathizer. Even if it was only to lose an election, he should have been name dropped at least once in the ongoing series.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | June 25, 2016 9:23 PM
Thompson is a dangling thread. Only Layton used him. I don't think Louise Simonson ever used him even once during her long run. What his role was with Cameron Hodge or the Worthington family was never brought up.
Another issue is that Soviets were not people to let just anyone into their country. Before extending an invitation, the KGB would likely have investigated X-Factor and its members very thoroughly. However, this was never addressed. At least some kind of hand waving about alternate identities for Scott, Jean, Hank, etc. as X-Factor members would have been good. I don't recall that ever being addressed in this or any other issue.
Posted by: Chris | June 26, 2016 2:46 AM
Never read this annual. This story sounds like it has some good ideas, but the execution is off. Of course I guess you could also say that about the entire "original X-Men posing as mutant hunters" premise. There might just have been a certain potential in the concept, but in actually carrying it out the ball was fumbled.
I don't recall if this has been asked before, but who exactly came up with the "mutant hunters" concept? Was it Layton or Shooter or someone else?
Posted by: Ben Herman | June 26, 2016 1:58 PM
The color scheme for Angel's "espionage" costume on the looks like Johnny Blaze gave Warren a spare fire suit back in their Champions days. Still, it does look better than the red model on the inside of the book, and makes up for the shot of Mr. Worthington in his tighty-whiteys.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | April 17, 2018 10:54 PM
Sorry, meant to say the costume on the cover.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | April 17, 2018 11:12 PM
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