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How X-FACTOR #87 (1993) Changed My Concept Of What A Comic Book Could Be

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Comics from the ’90s gets a bad rep; rightly so in some cases. Much like any era, it has its fair share of hits and misses. It just so happens its misses where the shape of insanely muscle-bound (roided out) leading men, and scantly clad hourglass figured Femme Fatales. Granted, X-Factor #87 has both of those. Yet there are some ’90s hidden gems found in single issues and some fan-favorite runs. One such run was Peter David’s X-Factor, which he went back to years later. In this, David answered a question that may not have been on everyone’s mind but should’ve; what do heroes do after a large crisis? Yeah, others have tried to write a story about heroes going to a therapist, yet David perfected this in the ’90s.

It's the classic show in X-Factor #87! Rahne & Simpy!
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

X-FACTOR X-AMINATION

Enter: X-Factor #87 X-amination. Hell, even the name is a great X-title play on the subject. The name’s one of the many great factors in the story, granted we have to go a little back. Not too far back, but to the big X-crossover that ran in a few titles—X-Cutioner’s Song. Going over the whole event would hurt you more than it hurts me. If you thought crossovers were bad now, the ’90s would like to speak to you.

After the big battles, confusing plots, and around the world flight, the X-Factor team needed a breather. Or what the Government mandated them to have; therapy lessons. Any comic can have an issue where the team goes to therapy, and it’s done and over, no lasting impact, add in some humor, grand breaking regulations, and you have yourself a quick issue. The thing is, David used this moment to showcase how each team member felt, how their Government liaison portrayed them, all while adding humor his run is known for. Nonetheless, that isn’t the only factor that makes X-Factor #87 so amazing and one of my favorite X-titles.

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X-Factor #87 will get this song stuck in your head.
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

David made the issue matter. How so? Every revelation and character development pushed the series further. It was even later revealed to all be a way to get to the team’s secret. Almost like D.C. Comics’ JLA: Tower of Babel.

Not only did it push the series further, but it also gave insight into the team and their personal problems. X-Factor #87 is one of the most important issues in David’s run and X-Factor in general. Plus, David didn’t just pluck the problems that were plaguing the team out of thin air. Throughout his run, he had moments that built towards this. But alas, we can’t speak of build-up or how it changed the series if we don’t go over what transpired.

WHEN IT RAHNES, IT POURS FOR X-FACTOR

David opens X-Factor #87 with a brilliant Ren & Stimpy nod titled—Rahne & Simpy. Even including a Mutant version of Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy (try getting that out of your head). This isn’t used just for laughs, as it’s a look inside of Rahne Sinclair’s (Wolfsbane) head, via her dreams. In her dreams, she plays out media including herself with Rahne’s World, and Rain Man, as she fell asleep watching it. This transitions into her echoing Guido Carosella’s (Strong Guy) words,” Dem shrinks always answer questions with questions.”

The (Strong) Guy does have a point.

Such focus
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

Nonetheless, that pushes the Therapist (we’ll say who later) to prove him wrong by telling Rahne what he thinks. Per usual, it isn’t pretty. Hell, most of the stuff he says is true, while being a little meta. Essentially that she draws characters from T.V./Movies and changing shoes when it looks “good and fits.” This carries into her respect for authority figures and her feelings towards them. Yet when talking about her past Reverend (Reverend Craig) and saying Rahne’s want for love by authority figures is due to the Reverend’s hatred, it hits a nerve.

The thing is, everything the Therapist says hits the nail on the head. It must be hard to have a “sense of self” when you can turn into a literal animal while trying to gain the love from every authority figure. Yet this issue explores Rahne like none other has while showing how her psyche has never been delved into. For someone that can read minds, Xavier is kind of dense if he couldn’t evaluate her as such.

THE PIETRO MAXIMOFF SYNDROME

The pages for Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver) therapy float around often, as it is one of the best deconstructions of him and speedsters in general. Pietro’s analysis in X-Factor #87 changes the way you perceive speedsters while explaining the character’s shitty attitude. Out of all the changes and character development Pietro has gone through the years, this is one of the best, while drastically changing him. Pietro starts the session as he would any, high and mighty. Yet this is where a great term is born—PMS, The Pietro Maximoff Syndrome.

Government liaison Valerie Cooper (Val) coined the term due to Pietro’s “uncontrollable urge to be high-handed and arrogant.” Honestly, it’s a pretty spot-on fit. This leads to the discussion of how Pietro sees others and himself. He doesn’t find himself “superior”, it’s that he holds himself to impossibly high standards that no one comes close to. Following this is one of the best interpretations of superspeed and an amazing visual joke.

I wish I could do puzzles this fast
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

Once Pietro receives the puzzle, a constant THAP is lettered throughout courtesy Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro. During the puzzle making, Pietro compares his speed to being in “line at a banking machine behind a person who didn’t know how to use it.” To this, the Therapist replies that that would make him, “Impatient. Irritated.” Pietro proclaims this is due to your life being slowed to a crawl by the inability/inconvenient behavior of others. That this is constantly how he feels where ever he goes. Holding up the puzzle, it is revealed to be a snail with Pietro making a witty response.

Yet, this isn’t the only colossal character changing moment for him, as much like Rahne (and the others); its the beginning of a vast plot.

LORNA’S WEIGHT LOSE PROGRAM

Lorna Dane’s (Polaris) session starts out much like the last two, her showing disdain towards what they’re doing. Yet, unlike the others, she stays the same throughout, while even coming back later on. Continuing to set her side apart from others in X-Factor #87, her problems at first seem superficial. Throughout her first session, she can be seen eyeing the candy on the table with little panels interjected showing them. Alas, she never touches them. This is due to her obsessing over the fact she has lost weight, 15 pounds, to be exact.

Later she claims she was losing weight before her broken jaw, yet in the beginning, she claimed the jaw helped a lot. Her first meeting revolved heavily around this theme of losing weight until she mentions the Therapist “getting into my head.” Trying to dig further, he asks her what exactly she means, to which she breaks down due to all the mind control she has been under. Following this and a few choice words from the Therapist, she leaves, yet later on returns.

When returning, she mentions that she isn’t repressed, self-conscious, or repulsive; things the Therapist never mentioned. Yet, following is one of the most 90’s outfits reveals that “helps” show off her recent weight loss. After getting the reaction, she desires she storms out. Aside from some of the art and pop culture references, her outfit is the most ’90s thing about the issue. Nonetheless, it feels like she is saying something about the state of over sexualizing woman and their costumes in the era.

Ahhhhh, the '90s
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

Plus, the Therapist’s response is hilarious.

STRONG GUY, STRONG FEELINGS

Guido may be one of my favorites. Keeping his usual cool, sophisticated, devil may care attitude, Guido tells the Therapist about the day his powers surfaced. Yet, it turns out his persona may be all a facade. Having been the smartest in class, Guido was hated. But, like every other kid, he wanted to fit in, this caused him to act out. But alas, that didn’t change anything, and after an unfortunate encounter with other kids, he gets jumped. To make matters worse, his mutant powers kick in.

Guido is able to absorb kinetic energy then enhance his physical strength to above normal limits. The thing is, once absorbed, he has to release it in 90 seconds, or the body part would permanently stay like that. Yet, he has no way of knowing this, and while his arm grew to the size of a “Buick,” he was hit by a bus. Thus creating the mountain, we see today. If you’ve ever wondered why his body was so disproportioned, that’s why. Yet, he continues to smile throughout and follows his story with one of the saddest quotes:

But to this day, I’m in constant agony. CONSTANT. Oh, I don’t let on, of course. ‘Cause the guys… Like I said. They’ll feel sorry if they know I’m hurtin’. So I make with the jokes. To cover it. The guys. The…team…are the first real friends I’ve had. If they pitied me, it’d kill me. – Strong Guy

BIG GUY, BIG SMILE

Guido’s story hits hard. Hard enough that throughout the Therapist stays quite. While reading it you may think it’s just another funny story; then you realize he may be telling the truth. Guido may be one of the most fascinating characters. He is a huge strong guy that everyone looks to and is astonished by how big and manly he is. But, deep down, he is continuously struggling, feeling like he has to hide behind a funny face and a near-constant smile. Even his exterior features show his imperfections; what other hero wears glasses when saving lives/fighting due to being near-sighted? He is a character that deserves a more in-depth look at in a new series.

A painful origin
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

ALONE WITH HIMSELF

Jamie Madrox (Multiple Man) is a man with multiple problems. Although David introduces the readers to one of Jamie’s greatest fears, they don’t play into future issues as much. That’s due to him secretly dealing with the Legacy Virus. Nonetheless, his problem of being afraid of being alone is one many people deal with. Yet, you’d expect a man that can make dupes wouldn’t feel this way. Afraid of being alone, Jamie needs constant attention. To get this, he constantly jokes, gags, and has his dupes do silly things. Much like Guido, he has a facade.

Nonetheless, this fear of being alone for a man that can make multiple dupes is fascinating. Do you know what isn’t fascinating about him? The damn haircut. Talk about emo Peter Parker from Spider-Man 3. The other thing of note is how his session is only two pages, whereas others are longer. Only his, Alex Summers (Havok), and Val are contained to two pages.

A painful haircut from X-Factor #87
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

FAMILY PROBLEMS

A leader’s job is hard, especially when you’re a leader for a Government sanctioned Mutant team. Albeit, that’s not all Alex deals with. As his last name entails, he is brother to Scott Summer (Cyclops), the “great” X-Men leader. This fact is one of many that bogs down his mind. How could you ever measure up to a bigger brother like Scott? That and the fact he constantly feels like he has to babysit his team. Knowing the team, this makes complete sense.

Whereas Scott “seems to command respect”, Alex has to “work my butt off.” Out of the whole X-Factor team, Alex has one of the harder jobs with leading them, yet Scott’s presence makes matters worse. This is dealt with later on in multiple factors. One specific moment being when Alex confronts Scott and tells him this. This leads to Scott laying out some of his insecurities, thus helping Alex develop into a stronger leader.

Being a leader is hard especially one for X-Factor
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

YOU KNOW NOTHING VAL

X-Factor #87’s final therapy session is the most damning on its character. In this case for Val, their Government Liaison. The Therapist questions her about everybody on the team. Unsurprisingly Val gets every single one wrong. Instead, she says the exact opposite of what the team members have said. Thus showing how little she cares or how she only cares about how they work. It’s a great two page dive in just how little she knows.

This also shows how you can be around a group (or person) and truly never know them. She supposedly spends so much time with them and knows so much about them. Albeit, it’s truly hard to ever really know someone. It’s beautiful how David writes her responses being the polar opposite. Nonetheless, the most important part of her story happens at the end when she gets abducted.

X-Factor #87 shows a not so all knowing Val
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

GUESS WHO

Did you guess who? The therapist all along was Leonard Samson! If you guessed right, congratulations. Sadly Marvel’s website and others spoil this reveal.

THE FUTURE

X-Factor #87 was a pillar for future stories. Rahne’s love for Havok and other authority figures came to ahead. While other head traumas arise. Pietro tried to rekindle his marriage while taking life slowly. Throughout future issues, he can be seen doing hobbies and acting nicer. Lorna seemed to stop caring about her weight while fairly getting over the mind control PTSD. Guido’s past came to haunt him in X-Force Annual #8, while others seemed to notice his facade.

Unlike the others, Jamie’s problem isn’t brought up anytime soon, as he dies from the virus. Plus, he has multiple other problems. Alex gains further development later on when Forge (new Government Liaison) questions the leader on his team. Unlike Val, he is able to assess each member, explaining why they’re needed. This not only shows how different he is from Val but how he has evolved these last issues.

Val’s future plot isn’t as great, as it seems the later writers had no idea what to do. She starts to become “evil” while purposely screwing up the team. Then it’s revealed she was mind-controlled in a very dull moment. It did help her exit; nonetheless, it could’ve been handled better.

The end of X-Factor #87
Pencils by Joe Quesada. Inked by Al Milgrom. Colors by Marie Javins. Letters by Richard Starkings and Steve Dutro.

X-FACTOR IN TEAM THERAPY

What David did with X-Factor #87 was a huge feat that impacted the rest of his run and others. Not only did he use themes and plots showcased throughout the issue, so did Scott Lobdell and J.M. DeMatteis. What David did with the characters was unprecedented at the time and added layers to the individuals and team. Each member was put under a lens and looked at in a manner that at the time wasn’t usual, and still isn’t.

In the following issues, David, Lobdell, and DeMatteis kept the threads woven here throughout. The following issues revolved around different plots, yet all contained personal stories happening in the background from X-Factor #87 that would continue to shape the characters. Years later, David revisited the idea with X-Factor (VOL.3) #13.

As we close on X-Factor #87, know even superheroes are flawed and need a therapist. It could easily be debated this is when they’re at their best written. Nonetheless, much like heroes need to take care of themselves, so do we.

Jason Jeffords Jr
Jason Jeffords Jr
Jason resides in the cold crime-ridden town of Anchorage, Alaska. When he isn't running away from murderers, he "chills" at home reading comics/books, watching films/TV, and playing video games with his three-legged cat Lucky. Oh he also sometimes writes for websites such as Monkeys Fighting Robots, Comics Bulletin, ComicBookYeti, Multiversity Comics, and others.