Writing: Howard Mackie
Art: Jeff Matsuda and Stefano Raffaele
These two issues take place prior to X-Men #55
What Went Down: Dark Beast has taken Onslaught to his lab, and Onslaught is conducting a painful looking probe on McCoy. Fatale tries to free her master, but fails miserably. Former hero, and Cyclops’ brother, Havok shows up too, and Onslaught says he has plans for him.
Over at the Fall’s Edge base, X-Factor is being attacked by a training Sentinel that has somehow been reprogrammed. Random suggests calling in the X-Men, but Forge orders Mystique to go free their “heavy-hitter” Sabretooth. Mystique threatens to kill Sabretooth, but frees him anyway. Both discuss how they are biding their time in X-Factor to fulfill their own agendas. Creed mentions that Mystique might have feelings for Forge. Suddenly Fatale appears and abducts both of them. She also teleports the Sentinel away.
Forge seems convinced one rogue Sentinel is more dangerous than a missing Mystique and Sabretooth, so he sets X-Factor to finding it. Random tries to warn Polaris not to go on this mission. Back at their base, the emergency transmission from Jean Grey warning about Onslaught plays for the empty room.
X-Factor tracks the Sentinel’s signal to the abandoned Brand Corporation. Havok and Fatale attack the team; Polaris is heartbroken that Alex has turned villain, while Random again tries to warn her away. While Polaris shields everyone from Havok’s power, Random reveals that he is a traitor as well.
Inside the Brand facility, Forge discovers an army of Sentinels. He is attacked by someone off panel. Outside, Polaris tries to reach Havok. Fatale and Havok are about to kill the team, but Random protests about killing them. Dark Beat appears to tell him the bargain has changed. Forge and Onslaught’s henchman Post bursts through the wall, interrupting the proceedings and giving Polaris a chance to take out Havok. Random tries to help Polaris, but Havok shoots him, revealing that Random is really a teenager. Polaris again tries to reach Alex, and it appears to work; however, instead of trusting him, Polaris decides to knock him out. Post grows bored and escapes, having succeeded in his mission to distract X-Factor long enough for the Sentinels to launch.
What Else Went Down: The second story deals with what happens to Sabretooth and Mystique after being teleported. After surviving a steep drop, the pair is confronted by the Dark Beast. McCoy explains everything about Onslaught and holding his other self hostage. Dark Beast wants them to join Onslaught, and offers to deactivate their inhibitors and let them kill Forge. Mystique and Sabretooth consider it, but decide if they weren’t sanctioned operatives, they couldn’t use their positions for their own purposes.
Sabretooth attacks Dark Beast; McCoy gets the upper hand, but Mystique uses her shape-shifting abilities to create pointy armor for herself. Dark Beast almost kills both her and Forge, but Sabretooth saves them both and continues to fight. Creed is about to kill him, but Forge stops him because they need information. Dark Beast activates a teleporter, explaining that the real Beast will be dead before they can find him.
How It Was: A double-sized Onslaught tie-in issue. How did I get so lucky? After Peter David left X-Factor, the book struggled to find an identity. No longer the quirky, funny book with the C-list X-Characters, it tried to become the edgy, violent book with C-list X-characters. Too bad nobody at the X-offices realized that title was already called X-Force. X-Factor’s attempt to stay interesting and relevant to fans was to have Mystique and Sabretooth recruited by the team and forced to work with more traditional mutant heroes.
As for its attempt at ecking out its own identity, Mackie seems to be going the conspiracy angle with multiple characters having different conflicting goals and motivations, from the villains to the government funding X-Factor itself. This is all well and good considering they are the government based X-team—why not introduce some X-Files like government conspiracies and political intrigue. The problem of course exists that none of these motivations or conspiracies feel planned ahead; Sabretooth, Mystique, and Dark Beast all insist that they have specific reasons for the things they are doing, with no substantial hint as to what they might be. Forge recognizes there might be strange motivations for including villains on the team, but again nothing is done with this.
As an Onslaught tie-in, this story offers a unique opportunity to bring in new readers by showing how great and interesting the team is. Instead we see a team that struggles to take down one Sentinel. One! And it’s a Sentinel that Forge was rebuilding. Right off the start the X-Factor team isn’t looking great, especially when over in books like X-Men and Uncanny, the X-Men, Avengers, and FF are taking out Sentinels left and right by themselves.
Another problem is how telegraphed the twists are. Random warns Polaris twice that she shouldn’t go on the mission, and then we’re supposed to be surprised when he says he’s working for the villain of the issue? None of this feels laid out or natural to the character as established. Havok being a bad guy is interesting, since he is the character that became synonymous with X-Factor after the original X-Men left. The downside is that his defection (at this point the story was that he was being brainwashed by Dark Beast) reduces Polaris to a simpering and whiny character that gets tiring after a while.
This issue should feel bigger than it does: Post shows up for like four panels (?!), the Sentinels that attack New York are activated here, and Sabretooth and Mystique get their inhibitors deactivated. Of course failing to stop the Sentinels makes the team look incompetent, and the other two things are quickly brushed to the side. It feels like the plot is trying to cram in as many Onslaught related concepts in it as possible without actually contributing to or moving the story along in any meaningful way; of course, this was the main problem with the majority of Onslaught tie-ins.
Finally, we pick up on the captive Beast subplot that has appeared in all three X-Men titles. Why the X-offices would choose to resolve this months’ long story in X-Factor is beyond me. None of the characters have a close connection with Hank; it just feels like the team had nothing better to do than resolve this plot line that has nothing to do with them. Just some baffling choices.