Back in the 80's Professor Xavier's original X-Men students were no longer with the team. So they were formed into a new one called X-Factor. But by the end of issue #69 in the 90's, it was decided that they would rejoin the premiere mutant group. But instead of canceling the book, it was decided that it the team would consist of B, C, and D-listers from the X-Men cannon.
Enter writer Peter David, who took what could have been another grim-to-the-extreme 90's book. Instead he created the comic with the most fun and the most heart.
Issue #87 is one of my favorite single issues of any comic, and all it consists of is the team talking to a shrink after a stressful mission. But after a few years of being forced to cram his story lines into whatever giant cross-over was happening, he quit.
A few years ago, Marvel let him do a small mini-series about one of the X-Factor character: Maddrox the Multiple Man. Jamie Maddrox has the power to make duplicates of himself (which he can reabsorb later), in order to help him fight crime. The problem is that each dupe has a personality, some harmless, but some lean towards the homicidal. So he needs some former members of his team like the she-wolf Wolfsbane and the ridiculously appropriately titled Strong Guy. Together they open X-Factor investigations.
While keeping the epic scope found in all the X-books, this comic is essential a detective story. Each adventure usually kicks off with some kind of mystery. Not only does Peter David spin a good mystery, but he hasn't lost his touch when it comes to his characters. It seems like every time the X-universe wants to send a character down the toilet, David rescues them and shows the rest of the comics world how cool they can be. X-Castoffs like Shatterstar, Rictor, Siren, and Darwin have all found a home with this group. And let us not forget Layla Miller. A small mutant child in the Bendis' House of M story, Layla was functional character who only served to awaken the heroes from their warped reality. But David took her and made her one of the most intriguing, if not most powerful, characters in the Marvel Universe.
As I said in my post on Geoff Johns, I'm not a Marvel, I'm a DC. But when my non-Ultimate comic pull list at Marvel was reduced to 1 book, that book was X-Factor. Unlike the 90's, Marvel lets David pretty much tell his own stories without being too bogged down in the cross-overs. Yes, there are a few that drastically impacted the book, like the Messiah Complex storyline. But you don't have to read any of the other X-books to enjoy this.
The book is alternately funny, exciting, tragic, and heartfelt. There are moment that will make you laugh out loud (like Strong Guy quoting the Hicks from Aliens in the middle of a giant battle) or cry (like Jamie and Teresa's baby). The writing is fantastic. The only small criticism is that everybody is a wise cracker. While this makes for sparkling dialogue, it makes everyone sound very similar. This book deals with very mature themes, so it is not for kids.
As I stated earlier, each of Jamie's dupes has their own personality. One of them ran off and became an Episcopal priest who is a recurring character.
All of the X-Factor team go through soul-harrowing trials, and David takes the spiritual toll seriously. As a Christian it is nice to have a minister in a comic not be a demonic agent of intolerance. While some of Peter David's theological insights are slightly off, I greatly appreciate the effort.
If you are not reading this book, I would find the trades and read it from the beginning of the Madrox mini-series. It is that good. It is the best Marvel has to offer.