Issue(s): X-Factor #43, X-Factor #44, X-Factor #45, X-Factor #46, X-Factor #47, X-Factor #48, X-Factor #49, X-Factor #50
It seems like when the mutants heard that yet another crossover was coming up, they all decided to pack up and leave the planet. The X-Men jumped through the Siege Perilous, Excalibur went on a Cross-Time Caper, the New Mutants went to Asgard, and X-Factor went into space. The degree to which they actually avoided Acts of Vengeance varied (maybe by how far away from Earth they got), but with the exception of X-Men, the results were overlong (and in fact longer than originally intended) stories that kept the respective teams away from the status quos that made them interesting.
X-Factor's trip to space is called Judgment War. It's a seven part story extended to eight issues thanks to the Kieron Dwyer "Interlude" fill-in, which wraps an unrelated story with a framing sequence to keep it in continuity. I read a couple issues of this in realtime and, from what i saw of it, thought it was actually pretty cool, but this is generally not well regarded online. My discovery of that fact came when Ed Brubaker wrote a story with Cyclops not knowing what Celestials were and having to be informed by the White Queen, and some people complained since in this story he meets and fights against an entire host of them, and then a lot of other people said, well yeah but no one should have to remember that story.
In the "against" column for this series is, as mentioned, its length and the fact that it puts the mutant team out in space. But in its favor is that the planet they go to is basically a world that shows how the mutant race might evolve if it became the dominant species on Earth. And the use of Celestials at least should have been a cool and revelatory sequence from them, tying in their backstory with the mutants of Earth. Indeed from the two (non-sequential) issues i originally read, my interpretation was that we were looking at a planet that had Eternals, Deviants, and mutant-humans, and the Celestials had come to judge the three strains. That is in fact not the case, but i'll explain how i came to that conclusion (beyond my reading comprehension and memory problems).
Beyond all that, the main thing that is relevant to the series once we get past this story is Jean Grey dealing with her merging with the Dark Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor during Inferno. It's sort of a case of an invented and immediately solved problem. My takeaway from Inferno was that Jean had received the memories of the Phoenix Force and Maddie, and maybe some of their personality traits. But this story has her literally in a multiple personality disorder state, switching from one persona to another, and when she becomes Maddie she's in full Goblin Queen mode, trying to kill her teammates. That's unnecessary, and by the end of the story Jean is "back" to how i understood her to be before this story started. We also see for sure that baby Nathan Christopher Summers can generate his own forcefield bubble, and we learn the origins of X-Factor's Ship. So it does have a few reasons to exist regardless of what we think about the main story.
Since this story itself is largely irrelevant long term, i'm going to do my best to give a summary of this at a high level but i'll probably wind up getting dragged into some of the details.
X-Factor's Ship is unexpectedly pulled into space. Notice the assumption that it was Apocalypse that built Ship.
Before we can get any further than that, Jean suddenly reverts to her Phoenix personality and flies out of the ship, leaving behind a hull breach that endangers everyone else.
As she's passing out and getting pulled back in, she thinks about Madelyne.
And when things are under control again, it's confirmed that Madelyne wanted to kill everyone.
After that, X-Factor settle in for their forced space journey and eventually Ship winds up in the hands of a Celestial, from whom Jean senses "surprise" but "satisfaction" from as it inspects Ship.
Those are just its feelings about the Ship, though. Its inhabitants are quickly disposed of by teleporting them to the planet below.
On the planet there's a battle going on. There's actually a total of five factions on the planet. The battle is really between two of them. There are the Rejects, super-powered monstrosities. And there are the Perfects, who are human looking and bred in labs, but also with powers. A third faction, the Dualers, that have both human forms and powered forms. They work with, or rather for, the Perfects. You can see where i got the Deviant/Eternal idea, although it's actually clearly stated that this is a planet where everyone is a mutant, and they've taken it upon themselves to subdivide into groups based on their degree of humanity.
The fourth group are the Beginagains, a group of pacifist mutants that want everyone to give up their factions and, well, begin again. They're also most cognizant of the fact that the Celestials are watching and have inferred that everyone had better get their act together or the Celestials are going to destroy them.
And the final group, mostly ignored until the very end, are the Perfect's robots, who have become self-aware, although the Perfects keep sending them for "repair".
X-Factor gets separated in the first issue of the story. The Beast falls in with the Rejects, naturally, and Archangel is also assumed to be a Reject but he's taken prisoner by the Perfects, and one of them, Seera, falls in scandalous taboo love with him.
Iceman is obviously a Dualer. Cyclops, by chance, winds up with the Beginagains (and you'll notice he picks up without prompting the correct terminology for the Celestial visits, calling them "Hosts").
Jean is assumed to be a Perfect but she is unconscious for most of the story and her Madelyne personality is dominant most of the time she is awake. Baby Nathan gets taken by the Perfect but is soon rescued by Seera, and taken care of by her robot. And at the end, Ship and the robots find a kinship.
Since there are tons of mutants running around, mind-wipes are conveniently common. This allows Beast to hang out with the Rejects without knowing anything about them or the planet...
...and Iceman is actually hit with a mind-wipe so he thinks he really is a Dualer.
I'd be negligent if i didn't also mention Old Vlon, a giant Alf-shaped Reject that mindlessly sits above their city, the victim of a major mind-wipe.
Like any good planetary visit, there's an arena where prisoners have to fight. That does bring to mind the similarities with Planet Hulk, although that story was better received.
Devices called "goads" force the arena prisoners to fight, although Angel is able to resist them and the evil in his wings, so he doesn't kill his Reject opponent, who becomes an ally later.
During that battle we see for the first time that Angel's outer layer is not his skin, but just a costume, and that his skin underneath is blue.
One thing i didn't like when i read my scattered issues in realtime was Paul Smith's depiction of the Beast. Very off model.
I kind of like it now, though.
Another random fact: the lettercol confirms that the Beast's fur is blue. Someone wrote in saying that a friend told him that the Beast's fur was really black but Marvel uses blue for highlights, but the response says that he is indeed blue. This is a perennial debate about various blue-black characters and costumes.
For some reason, my favorite scene in these issues was Iceman defeating the main Perfect villain, a guy called Rask, in battle, and becoming a hero to the Dualers.
I guess it's just nice to see Bobby kicking some ass. Of course, his actions here just ensure that he winds up in the Arena fighting Archangel later.
Ship had given X-Factor translator devices so that they could understand the language of the planet. The visibility of the translators is very sporadic. They suddenly become prominent in issue #46, like someone remembered that they were supposed to be there...
...but even then they disappear from panel to panel.
Jean is knocked out in issue #43 and doesn't wake up until #46, and of course it's the baby crying that wakes her.
And she wakes as Madelyne Pryor. Evil Madelyne Pryor.
Issue #47 is our "Interlude" issue, which has Angel remembering an irrelevant story while being held prisoner for the Arena.
The story has a mutant teenage runaway with healing powers arriving in New York.
Since he's a blond white kid with healing powers, i had to stop and check to make sure this wasn't the first appearance of Elixir (a character that shows up in the 2003 New Mutants series), but it's not.
Angel is flying overhead and feeling sad about his life, including, er, when all the kids used to make fun of him in school for being an angel.
And also all the more recent bad things.
Meanwhile, the healer kid, Michael, winds up at a halfway house for runaways. It's run by a shady priest named Father Phillip, and Michael is given Assistant Editor Gregory Wright as a roomate.
Michael later helps out another runaway, Beth, and develops a crush on her.
Later, after watching a commercial for a delicious Subgenius breakfast...
...Gregory Wright shows Michael that Beth used to be a Fox News anchor or something, and he can't stand it.
Later again, Beth tries to run away again, and this time, at Father Phillip's instigation, Michael hurts instead of helps her.
At that point Angel comes bursting in. It turns out all the runways, and Father Phillip, are mutants.
Beth takes care of Father Phillips when Michael changes his mind and heals her.
In the end, all of the runaways say they're going to be ok!
Except Gregory Wright.
It's nice to see Kieron Dwyer testing out his writing chops, but i don't really like the result here. I don't think you should be allowed to introduce an entire case of mutants in a fill-in story, and Dwyer's writing style is very much like Ann Nocenti's, very free-form and run-on. And excessively wordy for a writer-artist.
Ok, after that enlightening interlude, sure to enhance your understanding of Judgment War, we return to our main story already in progress.
There's not a lot left, actually. Jean gets knocked out when the Rejects trade her to the Perfects in a prisoner exchange.
She later wakes up and is frustrated to find that Nathan Christopher is protecting himself from her with a force bubble.
Celestials begin to arrive outside the Perfect city.
And the various factions and their X-Factor guests run around and do the sort of things you expect in stories about revolutions and arenas and the like.
While all of this is going on, Ship is reporting to the Celestial. It eventually comes out that it was once a Celestial recording device, but Apocalypse "defied" the Celestials and stole it.
Ship is then released, and decides that it is going to defy the Celestials by going down to the planet to at least rescue X-Factor before they destroy it.
Meanwhile, the battle in the arena between Angel and Iceman turns into a full fledged revolt against the Perfects, with all factions (except the robots) getting involved.
Cyclops catches up to Jean. It's said that there are subtle changes in her facial features when she shifts between personalities. They are too subtle for either Paul Smith or Rich Buckler, i fear.
I find the Jean portion of the plot to be pretty dumb.
The battles continue...
...and the Celestials keep piling up.
Ship eventually shows up and offers to take X-Factor away. They decline, but have it take the baby. The intelligent ship gets the natives to reassess their opinions of the robots.
Eventually everyone realizes they had better do something about the Celestials, and the diverse team of X-Factor shows them how. If such a group of Rejects, Perfects, Dualers, and even a robot ship can get along, can't the entire planet?
So together they focus all their Care Bear energy to Jean, who transfers it to Cyclops...
...who, in your holy crap! moment of the story, blows a hand off the Celestial Arishem before he can stick his thumb in one direction or the other.
Performing that action has drained Jean of the Dark Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor personae, although she still retains their faded memories.
Which, again, is how i thought Inferno left things in the first place.
The people briefly think that the Celestials are responding by dropping a bomb on them, but it turns out to be a monitoring device, same as what Ship was before Apocalypse got a hold of it.
The Beast, at least, thinks that the Celestials were actually there to provide a unifying moment for the planet, and that was surely Louise Simonson's intention too. But since i prefer that the Celestials' purpose remain unknowable, i choose to interpret things more ambiguously.
After they say their goodbyes, X-Factor fly back to Earth, passing Professor X and the Starjammers.
I still don't really have a problem with this story. Paul Smith's art isn't quite what it was in his earlier X-Men days (because of Al Milgrom's finishes?) but it's clean. And the story is a straightforward adventure story, and a fun one. There's enough here to make it relevant to the mutant themes of the X-Factor book; moreso, certainly, than the Shi'ar and Brood storylines in early Claremont X-Men books. It's not a classic, and it definitely follows a generic template, but it's far from terrible.
In issue #49 we check in on Apocalpyse and see that he's curious about Acts of Vengeance.
At the end of the issue, he discovers the person behind all the other villains, and that person shows up to try to recruit him.
In issue #50, in a back-up story, that guy turns out to be, of course, Loki.
In the first part of the Evolutionary War, in X-Factor annual #3, Apocalypse told the High Evolutionary that his whole plan was stupid. And he basically does the same thing to Loki here, telling him that his plan is already a failure.
Apocalypse and Loki fight for a bit, and then a beefed-up Caliban shows up to help his master out.
That gives Apocalypse time to activate a machine that tries to drain Loki's power.
So Loki teleports away. One really interesting bit is that Apocalypse says that he's trying to help all of humanity, not just mutantkind, evolve so that they can one day stand up to the gods like Loki that would destroy them.
I really enjoy Apocalypse's showings in these crossovers as he challenges their very premises and reveals his own motivations. It's also funny that X-Factor's Acts of Vengeance entry doesn't even include the team.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The New Mutants will watch X-Factor's Ship get pulled into space at the start of their long Asgardian story in New Mutants #77-85, and both groups return around the same time as well. This takes place during Acts of Vengeance, at least late enough that the other main villains have been recruited by Loki.
Crossover: Acts of Vengeance
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
I thought it was cool that both Excalibur and X-Factor each passed by versions of the "Starjammers" during their respective crossovers.
Posted by: clyde | November 10, 2014 7:34 PM
Good old Apocalypse, above petty things such as corporate crossovers.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 10, 2014 8:01 PM
My problem with the Judgment War was 1) story was too long for its importance, and 2) after Inferno we really needed X-Factor to ground itself in the new status quo, not go off on a tangent. If it was a 4-5 issue story arc that happened 1-2 years later, it would have been fine. After a great built up to X-Factor #24, the title was treading water for the next year until Inferno, and now this diversion.
I wanted to see what it meant that X-Factor were the "accepted" mutant heroes among the public. I wanted to see them fight some of their old foes. I wanted to see how the mutant angle played out in X-Factor differently than it did in X-Men. I was woefully disappointed on all levels.
Posted by: Chris | November 10, 2014 8:42 PM
Chris says just what I was thinking. This story reads ok in one sitting, but over seven months it was just dull, and all these new characters and factions were too much to care anything about. The Apocalypse vs. Loki backup, though, is brilliant.
Chris is right about the contrast to Inferno, too. This was a pretty exciting book for a while, with the looming threat of Apocalypse, the angst ful search for baby Christopher, and Archangel's blood feud with Hodge. The Legion of Space Nobodies was a comedown after that and left the point completely lacking in definition.
Maybe that was the point, though. Had Harras already decided he wanted the original team to merge with the X-Men, but decided to give Claremont six months or a year to get rid of the Aussie team? The fact that all the mutant books are forcibly kept apart and driven throughout oriels that can't possibly give X-Factor or New Mutants a viable direction suggests the fix was in.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 10, 2014 9:13 PM
Yeah, Scott, you really loved Maddie "truly"- especially since you just admitted five issues earlier that you didn't love her.
Posted by: Michael | November 10, 2014 11:00 PM
Totally missed "Slack-Os" the first time around! Bob was still pretty underground at this point.
Posted by: cullen | November 10, 2014 11:47 PM
It can't be just luck of the draw that X-Factor and New Mutants (and even Excalibur) simultaneously engaged in half a year or more of storylines that brought them all apart from each other, the X-Men and Earth-616.
Particularly when, as noted, dramatic sense would instead demand bringing them all together to sort out the X-Men status if nothing else.
Uncanny X-Men #249-250's story of attempted rescue of Lorna Dane lead me to believe that this was not only deliberate and intentional, but done to the benefit of Chris Claremont's storyline.
It was difficult enough to explain why X-Men and X-Factor would simply split apart again with no attempts at negotiation after the end of Inferno, but even Lorna herself has to point out that X-Factor was involved in her situation as well - and had more of a personal connection to her. Yet the already under-manned X-Men go attempt to rescue her without calling for X-Factor's help. That would make them appear irresponsibly proud or just foolish unless X-Factor without some good excuse.
Unfortunately, that is still not really enough, particularly after the odd decision to have people just refusing to admit that they recognize Ororo in Atlantis Attacks. Particularly jarring because Beast was there as well and he knew for a fact that Ororo was indeed Ororo.
There was so little in the way of an in-story justification that I think they just gave up and asked us to go by the meta justifications alone.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | November 11, 2014 12:26 AM
I read these issues in two sittings and really enjoyed them, they are probably the most memorable issues in the series for me. The big title's like fall of the mutants and inferno always are under the pressure of all the advertising and both fall flat in the end. This series came out of the blue for me, so I had no expectations and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Of the 4 series at the time with New Mutants, Uncanny X-men, Excalibur and X-Factor, I think X-factor is my least favorite, I don't like the art and most of the storylines, these characters are great in and of themselves, but do not flow well as a team, there is a reason that the original X-men were canceled for 5 years. On the plus note, I always liked Artie and Leech.
Posted by: Matt | November 14, 2014 4:05 PM
Nice to see Greg Wright shares my taste in music(and considering how poorly Total Devo sold when released, he'd have to be a fanatic).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 14, 2014 11:23 PM
Ship reminds me a lot of Power Pack's smartship Friday in these issues. I wonder if any character ever brought up the similarities.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | November 17, 2014 5:29 PM
No comparison, Ship can run rings around Friday.
Posted by: clyde | November 17, 2014 6:25 PM
This may need to be moved forward a bit because of Apocalypse's references to what's happening in Acts of Vengeance. He appears in Fantastic Four #335 before this, flying over the city and says in X-Factor #49 (in that scan you posted): "interesting & bizarre Alliances... Magneto and the Red Skull... the Kingpin and Doctor Doom... and the Wizard." Shown on his screens are: top row- Magneto, Mandarin, Kingpin, middle row: Juggernaut, Hobgoblin, Foolkiller (I think?), Doctor Doom, bottom row: Red Skull & Wizard. So this has to take place after they've formed their alliance (specifically Red Skull's interaction with Magneto).
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | March 30, 2015 3:55 AM
Jay, just to respond: i have pushed this forward but the placement of all AoV issues remains tentative until i get all the entries in. There are a lot of factors to juggle.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 1, 2015 4:49 PM
"It's also funny that X-Factor's Acts of Vengeance entry doesn't even include the team."
DC did the same thing when "Underworld Unleashed" happened during the time that Superman was "on trial".
"Underworld Unleashed is one of very few DC Comics major crossovers not to directly involve Superman; at the time of the series he was off-planet as part of The Trial of Superman story arc. This is important to the Underworld Unleashed storyline, since the superheroes involved are driven by the belief that Superman is key to Neron's plans."
Posted by: clyde | July 22, 2015 3:36 PM
Clyde, the difference was that in the Underworld Unleashed series, the villain's plot HINGED on Superman's absence. Here it's like- X-Factor's unavailable. But there's gotta be a crossover! Let's use Caliban and Apocalypse.
Posted by: Michael | July 22, 2015 11:55 PM
Apocalypse is immortal, ain't he? Yet hokey Loki refers to him as a "mutant mortal". How can Loki hope to defeat the Avengers with their ever-changing lineups if he doesn't keep up with the Marvel Handbook and such? Good ol' Blue-Lypse, on the other hand, keeps tabs on everyone, including Hobgoblin, seemingly ranked with the big baddies of Acts of Vengeance, even though his great contribution was to sit the whole thing out until Spider-Man lost his cosmic powers after destroying the Tri-Sentinel. What devious little son of a gun!!
Posted by: The Transparent Fox | August 18, 2015 11:41 PM
Hobgoblin DID battle Strange in Doctor Strange 11.
Posted by: Michael | August 18, 2015 11:54 PM
Hmm, Paul Smith has an X-character fly out of a ship with an explosive decompression and everyone trying not to get sucked out? That seems strangely familiar.
And the panel of Jean out in space - I can't decide if that's an homage to Byrne's panel of Angel in #137 when he flies too high or an outright swipe.
Fnord, the only problem with the placement is Avengers Spotlight #28. Not that this can't go before that one. It's just that, while a careful reader pretty much always knew it was Loki, it wasn't being made explicit. When he attempts to recruit the Thinker, a good reader knows who he is (as the Thinker does), but it could still be beguiling for a less careful reader. But here, it's made explicit that it's Loki. Again, it just seems like Spotlight is designed to come before the final issue here.
Posted by: Erik Beck | September 19, 2015 12:45 PM
My guess to Dark Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor's personalities reappearing inside of Jean is that these are just "echoes" formed out of what you can call "junk data" that didn't get fully absorbed into Jean's psyche for whatever reason at the end of Inferno. As to why they became active, I'd say something about Ship being recalled by the Celestials must have done it.
Posted by: D09 | July 26, 2016 2:45 AM
Buckler has a pretty blatant Arthur Adams (from an issue of X-Facror not even 1 year before - one with Jean and Archangel) here.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | October 22, 2016 10:38 AM
Whoops, blatant SWIPE.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | October 22, 2016 10:39 AM
"During that battle we see for the first time that Angel's outer layer is not his skin, but just a costume, and that his skin underneath is blue." Does that mean people had the impression Warren was flying around naked/coated in something like the Surfer until this issue? It seemed pretty clear to me when he first appeared as Archangel that it was a costume. His face is shown in a different shade of blue.
I just finished reading this arc and liked it. There are some cool alien characters, although I understand it'd be too hard to make the audience interested in them since they're practically filler characters so they just had to drop them. I especially liked the earthquake Beginagain guy and the female fire Dualer. The bits about Ship and the Celestials are interesting for someone who really likes the cosmic aspects of Marvel like me. And I love Apocalypse challenging the masterminds of crossovers and telling them they're idiots.
I agree it's way too long for what happens in it, though. The whole story could easily have been compressed in 4, maaaaybe 5 issues. But this was an era of editorial craziness.
Posted by: Nate Wolf | May 28, 2017 2:54 PM
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