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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 272: X-Factor #66

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from X-Factor #66, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 1991. Enjoy!

If there's lots of tech, it must be ... Portacio!!!!

Toward the end of the first iteration of X-Factor (before Peter David took it over and brought in new members), the team fought … Apocalypse! I know, take a breath after the shock of that plot twist. Whilce Portacio took over on art, Jim Lee and Chris Claremont plotted it, Claremont wrote it (as if you couldn’t tell from this page!), and Art Thibert inked it. I’m not sure if Pat Brosseau was the letterer throughout, but he is on this issue, and Glynis Oliver and Steve Buccellato (well, I’m going to assume it was Steve – the credits just list his last name) split the coloring duties. It was a fairly ridiculous bunch of issues, but they were fun to read.

Claremont, naturally, leaves no doubt as to what’s happening on this first page. We’re at Humboldt Landing in Manhattan, “hard by the World Trade Center.” Then Claremont tells his audience about Ship, the old sentient headquarters of X-Factor (which was taller than any building in the city and wide; how did it find any place to fit on that real estate?). Claremont eventually gets around to explaining why he’s waxing philosophical about Ship – it’s actually attacking people, as we see in the first three panels. Claremont didn’t have to spend many caption boxes telling the reader all about Ship; he could have just cut to the chase, but remember – this is back when writers thought someone new might pick up their comic books, so they figured it might be useful for those readers to know about what’s going on. Halycon days indeed! Claremont ends the page on a mini-cliffhanger, as the dude is about to be killed until he’s rescued by somebody above him with purple hands. WHO COULD IT BE????

I’m a bigger fan of Portacio than I probably should be, and he was a big reason why I started buying X-Factor after ignoring it for the first five years of its existence. He might not be the best artist, but he’s certainly dynamic, and he always does a nice job with machinery, so technology gone wild his right up his alley. He puts the bearded dude (let’s call him Beard-O) in the background in Panel 1, which makes him a point of view character even though he’s the furthest removed from the reader. He’s in the background so Portacio can show the two victims right in the front of the panel, bringing the horror of the scene home to the reader. He places the closest victim on the left so that we’re confronted with him right away, and the second victim is further back to lead us to Panel 2. Note the the one mechanized arm leads from Claremont’s word balloons directly to the dude, and the panel border cuts him off a bit, so that our eyes move that way. In Panel 2, Beard-O becomes the focus, and Portacio makes sure to angle the panel to the right so that our eyes travel that way. Beard-O is turned away from the mechanized arm, so that we begin with him, follow his eyes to the arm crashing into the wall behind him, and follow the shock lines down to the caption box. Panel 3 is where Claremont’s propensity for verbiage becomes a bit of a problem. Portacio has a nice, jagged panel that bashes into Panel 4, which is fine because it partly hides Archangel’s identity for the double-page spread when we turn the page, but we can almost not see the many arms reaching for Beard-O because the caption boxes block them out. Portacio moves our eye nicely toward the hapless victim, but if we’re not looking too closely, we think he’s just throwing up his hand for no reason – Portacio’s busy linework hinders him here because it’s tough to separate out the larger mechanized arms from the smaller ones, which end up looking like speed lines thanks to the word balloons. Our eye moves easily to Panel 4 and even though Beard-O is looking backward, Angel’s momentum and the way Beard-O is falling forward makes it easy to turn the page. Whoever colored this page does a nice job, too. I don’t love the actual colors used (why is the wall green in Panel 1?), but the way Beard-O is shaded in both Panels 2 and 4 is nicely done. It kind of highlights the violence occurring around him and, in Panel 4, how he’s overshadowed by heroes, because the little people always are.

This issue, of course, features Scott Summers’ son, Nathan, who can serve as a symbol of when Marvel’s Mutant Books became almost unreadable, but at this moment, they were still fun even if Claremont was plotting himself down a rabbit hole from which the mutant universe has only rarely escaped since. X-Factor #66 isn’t a great comic by any means. But that’s a nice first page, innit?

Next: Even though I can’t seem to escape Mr. Claremont, who knew I couldn’t escape a certain Mr. Hine? Yes, it’s another comic by David Hine! Who woulda thunk it? Find more of his comics in the archives!

8 Comments

Uhh, I read this one back when I was a wee young lad! Looking back now, I realize it wasn’t very good, but back then I didn’t have access to a lot of comics, so I couldn’t afford to be picky (I even bought every issue of X-Men 2099, which makes me hang my head in shame).

As much as I loved X-Factor as a kid, these issues have an extra-special place in my heart. I must’ve read and read them a dozen times.

Was the next line just “ARCHANGEL!” or something silling like “guardian ARCHANGEL” or even “guardian angel”?

jjc: It’s Claremont! Of course the next thing he says is “guardian archangel”! I mean, that’s just Claremontian SCIENCE!

"O" the Humanatee!

September 28, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I dunno, Greg – it seems to me that the character to the right in the first panel and the sole character in the second panel together form a triangular shape that, because it seems to overlap the two panels, doesn’t work well – it unites the panels in a way that has nothing to do with the storytelling. Moreover, the mechanical arm appears to be coming from two different places in the two panels (I assume it’s the same arm) and, across those panels, forms a “V” shape that intersects with that triangular shape, again linking the panels in a narratively meaningless way. Just seems like bad layout all around.

About the coloring: The greenness of the wall is an example of the “non-literal” coloring that used to be more common in comics before the age of computer coloring and perhaps especially during the newsprint era. I think it’s something of a lost art: Too much coloring nowadays, IMO, is of the grass-is-green brick-is-red iron-is-gray variety, when you can do so much more in terms of setting mood, emphasizing and de-emphasizing elements as needed, clarifying page structure, and so on by veering away from literal color. (Some colorists, I think, don’t even understand how perceived color varies depending on lighting conditions.) For really good examples of non-literal color, look at any comic where Tom Palmer did coloring as well as his usual inking, usually over Gene Colan’s pencils. I know of exactly one example where Palmer colored but did not ink: Jungle Action #13 featuring the Black Panther, with the intriguing art combo of Billy Graham’s pencils, Craig Russell’s inks, and Palmer’s colors: http://www.comics.org/issue/28158/cover/4/. (The nice cover is by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson, but the colorist is apparently unknown.)

“O”: I see what you mean. I don’t have too much a problem with it, because it’s obvious that they’re two different characters, so I think it’s easier to “read” than you do, but I certainly see what you’re saying. I have never thought Portacio’s layouts are his strength, but he has done better than this in other comics, including the Legion of Night page I showed earlier this year. That’s very interesting of you to notice, though, because I missed it.

I don’t have a problem with “non-literal” coloring (is that your term, or someone else’s because I like it!), because I certainly agree that the colorists can add a lot to the mood with coloring that doesn’t specifically reflect “reality.” My question was more WHY the colorist decided on green. It contrasts well with the yellow used in the other panels, but I don’t know if that’s the only reason.

Agree to disagree. I think this page stinks. I couldn’t even tell Beardo in panel 2 was the same guy because to me, he just looks like he has a moustache, not a beard. Ick.

Craig: Fair enough. I can see why you’d think that, because the beard is kind of weird, but I still think the page is laid out pretty well, and I do like Portacio’s line work.

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