X-Factor #41 (June, 1989)
Writer – Louise Simonson
Pencils – Arthur Adams
Inks – Allen Milgrom
Letters – Joe Rosen
Colors – Tom Vincent
Edits – Bob Harras
Chief – Tom DeFalco
Cover Price: $1.00
Here’s a book that holds a very special place in my heart. It is… my first-ever X-Men back-issue. The first one I ever plucked out of the back-issue bins… and, boy howdy… did I feel like I was hot-stuff after finding it!
Ya see, not only was this an X-Book back-issue… it also featured, gasp, a first appearance! This was like 1992, so that sort of thing informed many of our buying habits. Our good friends at Wizard Magazine really had a hand in this… ya see, if ya flip over to the X’s, to check out this issue… you’d see the magical and coveted “one-colon”.
Not proud of it… but, also… not ashamed of it. It’s one of those things where you really had to be there to understand.
Anyhoo, X-Factor was kind of the unsung X-Book back then… especially in light of the bombastic launches of X-Force and X-Men (vol.2). X-Factor kind of flew under the radar in the back-issue market. Whereas the new “hot” books were climbing in value on an almost daily basis… these mid-run X-Factors sort of stagnated. Nobody wanted ’em… and so, once I realized that a) X-Factor wasn’t a brand new book when I started collecting*, and b) X-Factor wasn’t going up in value… I decided this would be the X-Book I collected!
*If you’ve listened to the first episode of From Claremont to Claremont (which I don’t assume most have), I told my “X-Factor Origin Story”, which included my revelation that circa X-Cutioner’s Song, I noticed that the book was rapidly approaching its 100th issue! I was shocked… and stunned, when I realized the book had launched with the “original five”!
So… what else makes this issue so special? Well, it’s the first-appearance of bah-gawd Alchemy! Who the hell is Alchemy? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s jump back to the X-Books, cover-dated December, 1987. Marvel was running a contest… a “Mutant Registration” Contest. Here, take a look (pics from my copy of X-Factor #23):
In addition to promoting the upcoming Fall of the Mutants, we’ve got us a contest. A contest that would ultimately be won by a fella named Paul Bestow… the creator of the kid we’ll soon know as Alchemy.
Now, you might’ve noticed that the contest states that your “new mutant” would appear in the pages of… well, New Mutants, but some scheduling conflicts (possibly due to the number of crossovers and events that were brewing among the X-Books) pushed it back to this here issue of X-Factor. I do believe that both New Mutants and X-Factor were being written by Louise Simonson at this point… so, it’s not like this was a “pawned off” story or anything.
Having this as my first X-Back-Issue really inflated the importance of young Alchemy among Marvel Comics lore (it probably helped that he looked a heckuva lot like your humble host back in the long ago)… but, it just wasn’t to be. Oddly, even though he’d only appear a handful of times from then til now, Alchemy proved… uh, important (?) enough to be one of the 198 mutants to retain their powers after the Bendis “No More Mutants” boner!
I’m going to guess they just kept him powered for “cred” and to show the fans that “hey, we know our obscure muties!”. There were a handful of odd “gimmes” in that 198 list.
Anyhoo… with all that pre-ramble out of the way… let’s get into it!
We open with a Troll emerging from an opening… under a bridge. I wonder if this fella realizing what a cliche he’s being… and how he’s setting Trolls back decades in as far as stereotyping goes? Tsk, tsk. Whatever the case, we’re in London and this bugger smells gold… and, so… he follows his nose to the loot. What he finds is a young teen named Thomas, who is dutifully working on his Chemistry homework. As the boy taps his pen, it transmutes into different elements… lead, platinum, and finally… gold! Tom’s mom calls him down to dinner, and it looks like the lad doesn’t even realize what he’d just done.
The Troll enters Thomas’ bedroom to go check out the pen. Sinking his teeth into it, he knows this is real-deal. The Troll decides to hide out in the kid’s room… and plans to kidnap him upon his return from dinner. Ya see, the Troll Associates could really use an influx of gold.
We shift scenes to X-Factor’s Ship, and it’s a packed house! We’ve got X-Factor, we’ve got the New Mutants, we got the X-Terminators… and, of course we’ve got li’l baby Cable. We enter the scene as Cannonball is being put through a techno-organic obstacle course, courtesy of Warlock.
The rest of the kids are looking on… with Boom Boom looking quite dejected. Ya see, she’s got the hot-pants for Sam… but, he’s not paying her much mind. Also, Dani’s got some residual flu-like symptoms from a previous adventure. Tabitha decides to spice-up Sam’s training session by… well, tossing a time bomb into the mix. She’s a little idiot… and thankfully, X-Factor is able to (literally) diffuse the situation before it explodes.
Iceman, of all people, heads over to Boom Boom in full-on lecture mode. Worth noting, this was back when Bobby had to wear that inhibitor belt in order to control his powers. Sam flies into the scene to kind of stick up for Tabitha… which totally melts her ice cream, if ya know what I’m sayin’.
Warren and Jean are watching all of this go down… and are in the middle of a rather heavy discussion about all the changes they’d all undergone of late. This is a really good way to drop a bit of exposition… it’s done so naturally, you almost don’t even notice that we’re being “caught up”.
Back in London, Thomas returns to his studies… only to be nabbed by, well… the big Troll. Being the polite beast that he is, our Troll informs Thomas that he’s being taken for his alchemical powers. Our boy, however, doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s getting on about. A struggle ensues, with the Troll eventually overcoming this gangly teen-ager. Not this Troll’s best showing, izzit? Thomas calls out, and his mother arrives… and proceeds to beat the Troll about the head ‘n shoulders with a broom! Really, dude… is this your first time trolling? Anyhoo… the Troll eventually gets away… and we can see that the bricks that Thomas was holding onto for dear life are now… solid gold.
Back to Ship. The Muties are having a barbecue… roasting weenies on… er, Warlock’s Phalanxian phalanges? That’s… kinda gross, right? What’s more, ol’ Rusty is making the fire to cook ’em with… so, uh… that’s a bit nasty too, innit? Note to self, don’t ever attend a mutant bbq. Rictor gives Boom Boom a soda, which naturally explodes in her face. I mean, would you ever accept something carbonated and combustible from a dude who’s power is shaking things? Dani’s symptoms are getting worse. Jean tells her they’ll get her to a doctor the following day.
Suddenly… Ship has a message! Young (and totally not unusual) Thomas Jones has been kidnapped by a “giant mutant” in London. Are X-Factor bad enough dudes to save him? Do they even want to in the first place? Well… Cyclops isn’t too sure at first. Ya see, they’ve got their hands full with the New Mutants and Baby Cable. The kids interject, and assure Slim that they’re more than capable of holding down the fort while the elders are away on mission. Jean co-signs with the kids, and Scott decides they’re London-bound.
Before we know it, X-Factor are at Tom Jones’ house… where his mother fills them in on the ‘napping. Oh! Also worth noting… for whatever reason, Scott decided to bring baby Cable with them! Well, I guess fighting Trolls might be a little bit safer than leaving the tot with a girl who makes time bombs…
After getting the low-down, and learning that Mama Jones’ windowsill had turned to gold… X-Factor heads out on the town to track down the teen. What they find is… almost a path of golden breadcrumbs left by Thomas. He alchemitized a whole bunch of stuff during his struggle… finally leading the team into a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Under the bridge, X-Factor find a door of… you guessed it, solid gold. They know they’re getting close.
Cyclops pulverizes the wall with an optic blast… and inside, well… there be gold in them thar tunnels.
The next several pages see our heroes battling the trolls… and coming out of it much worse for wear. They’re ultimately beaten, and bound… in golden chains. You’d figure those would be some easy chains to break free from, right? Especially if you’re the Beast, no? Anyhoo, it’s here that the Trolls introduce X-Factor to Thomas Jones.
Oh… and yeah, it’s also here where the team realizes that Baby Cable’s gone missing! Whoops…
It’s hard for me to be subjective about this issue. I swear, it being my first X-Back Issue, I’ve read it cover-to-cover dozens… if not hundreds of times. I just love it. Even reading it back today… it was like I was 12 years old again. It’s almost enough to kick off some waterworks, and I’m not joking. These are characters I’ve missed… so, so much.
Is it perfect? Of course not. But, it’s “perfect X-Men” to me. These are the characters I fell in love with back in the long ago. I’ve typed and deleted the next several sentences… like a half-dozen times. I’m just not sure how to put into words how important this silly, throwaway, side-issue of an X-Men side-series is to me. I suppose it really speaks to the talents of Louise Simonson… she manages to craft a story with action, strong characterization, while dedicating half the book to a Troll kidnapping a kid in London!
I, in no way, feel like we were deprived of X-Factor/New Mutant “maturation” here. It feels as though (nearly) every character involved gets a little bit of “shine”… and progression in their own specific stories. This is the “bubbling subplot” approach that absolutely drew me into the X-Books. What’s wrong with Dani? What’s going to happen with Sam and Tabitha? These are just little bits, added to the greater “whole”… that don’t get much panel-time, and yet… you want to follow where they’re headed. Just wonderful stuff.
As for Alchemy? I like him! Granted, I’m not being totally subjective… this is an important introduction for me… and also, as mentioned above… this fella looks a lot like I did when I was reading this for the first (hundred) times! I wanted to see more of this character during the 90’s… but, (outside a two-parter in Excalibur which was too expensive for my blood at $1.75 an issue!) it just wasn’t to be. Would’ve been neat to see him pop up in some more random issues of whatever, to help out. Would’ve popped me, anyway! Oh well.
Anything else? Ohhhhhh… yeah, this issue features interiors Art friggin’ Adams! What an absolute treat this was. Could you imagine… like even for a half-second… creating a character for Marvel via a contest… and having Art friggin’ Adams draw its first appearance? I mean, just try and process that! Goes without saying, this is a very pretty book… and only makes me wish we had more Adams interiors.
Overall… what can I say? I’ve gushed a bit about this very special issue… so, I mean, yeah… I recommend it, with the caveat that… without my odd context, you might find this to be a very middling issue… with very pretty art.