Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

216 – X-Amining X-Factor (feat. Dr. Andrea Letamendi)

In which Dr. Andrea Letamendi of Arkham Sessions joins us to analyze some analysis; Doc Samson has major scope-of-practice issues; Ren & Stimpy references continue to fail to age well; it’s hard to be Quicksilver; Val Cooper is not your friend; Polaris pretty much always deserves better; Charles Xavier should not be allowed to inhabit positions of power; and labels are often not the best tools for good representations of mental illness and neurodivergence.


  • A very high-stakes 3-D puzzle
  • X-Factor #87
  • Doc Samson
  • Making talking heads interesting
  • Wolfsbane’s relationship to pop culture
  • Appropriate boundaries
  • Several remarkable fashion choices
  • Pietro Maximoff in perspective
  • Therapeutic assessment vs. intervention
  • The extremely tragic backstory of Jamie Madrox
  • Imposter syndrome
  • A brief history of Polaris’s brushes with possession
  • A really poorly planned and presented sequence
  • Consequences of armchair diagnosis
  • Interactions of telepathy and psychology
  • Legion as a portrayal of mental illness
  • Writing mental illness in fiction

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  1. I was never particularly taken with Rahne’s pop-culture references, it never seemed something that she would think to do. Still, maybe she watched more TV since she couldn’t casually go out and about in human form any more and just stayed in to watch TV?

    As for her relationship with her first father figure, I think that the appallingly harsh religious, rigid, unloving nature of her childhood and Reverend Craig in particular, is best sumamrised by the fact that the first time we ever see him, or indeed her, he’s leading a literal torch-wielding mob to kill her because her mutant powers had surfaced and he was convinced she was a witch in league with the devil and saw nothing wrong with his planned course of action.

  2. I always remembered this as David’s last issue but he does two more, leaving mid story. I guess maybe I feel like this would have been a good send-off issue.

    A lot of the “issues” in Doc Samson’s techniques and methods are probably down to David’s lack of training in that area, and could be more from things he picked up by watching psychologists (and psychiatrists) on TV. In that sense he’s using psychoanalytical tropes the viewers are familiar with to get across “this is a psychologist” rather than attempting a facsimile of actual techniques.

    I’d be interested – espeically if our new Doctor Friend Andrea is lurking around – to know if the word association might be a good way of getting at a person’s state of mind at the moment, rather than using it determine deeper, long term answers. Using it to find out how the patient is feeling today to guide you on how to go forward in that particular session. I am 100% a lay-person when it comes to therapy never having had it or trained in it, so I probably sound like a moron, but yeah.

    Polaris has honestly become really important to me having read more and more of her appearances and getting more in tune with her wavelength. I really liked her in David’s later X-Factor run at Serval Industries and just wondered if you guys feel like she’s written better at that later stage. AND I just want to add, that, on top of Polaris getting a pretty bad deal in this issue writing-wise, that new costume is absolutely grotesque – one of the worst superhero costume designs I think I’ve ever seen and totally unbefitting Lorna – and marks the start of a terrible time for Lorna’s comic book appearances.

    (I’ve really enjoyed both Legion and The Gifted so to hear em getting mentioned is always good, even if the love for Legion isn’t as effusive as mine is)

  3. Glad to see you recommend The Bright Sessions, one of my favourite podcasts.

    I wasn’t aware of The Arkham Sessions, but I’m now halfway through the Lego Batman Movie episode and I’m sold! 🙂

    I wondered if the different techniques Samson used might be down to him having different intents in each of the sessions, based on what I presume are the psychological profiles that would already exist for these government employees, What he things would work for one, is’t suitable for another.

    And I’d forgotten how irritating Val’s summaries at the end are. I’d alwasy thought of her as being efficient, not always exactly by the book, but she’d try to be, and constantly frustrated by the madness she has to deal with, but here she just seems… really, REALLY bad at her job.

    1. We’ve contacted Google Play support but haven’t heard back yet. Hopefully they’ll be in touch shortly! In the meantime, the episode should work correctly on iTunes, Stitcher, or our site.

  4. Huh. I never made the connection between Guido becoming the King of Hell with when his powers manifested. I probably just chalked that up mostly to him not having a soul in the later instance…

  5. Huh. I never made the connection between Guido becoming the King of Hell with when his powers manifested. I probably just chalked that up mostly to him not having a soul in the later instance…

  6. Wow, David manages something really difficult here.

    He takes a female character, Polaris, who suffers from being defined by her relationship with a male character. And he manages to do something with her that makes one wish he had approached her as defined by her relationship with Havok. I would so much rather that Lorna had been talking about that. I thought ascribing body issues to her seemed a bit lazy in the first Lorna sequence, but where the story goes in the second Lorna sequence? It was so bad, that I was wondering was this supposed to be a parody of Image-ified portrayals of women elsewhere around this time (especially Sue Storm).

    Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’ve heard for years how great this issue was. And, not that I read it, it’s really not all that great. I get the appeal of the art, and the Quicksilver personality retcon (the thing that I’ve most heard praised) is elegant. But I have a sneaking feeling that this is not quite the sensitive character work that its reputation makes it out to be and that it is really not much more than setup for the gag at the end, that Val Cooper doesn’t have a clue about who the team really are. I don’t have the sense that David has been writing these characters with these (unstated) assumptions before (with the possible exceptions of Rahne and Pietro) – I have the sense of things backfilled in for the sake of this particular issue.

    That sort of goes for David’s X-Factor in general. It was built up for me as the shining light in the darkness of the X-books in this period, and … it’s kind of OK? Some decent moments, some good jokes, some not so good jokes, some pop-culture references that seem to be there for their own sake, some unmemorable antagonists, some good character work, some tonal inconsistencies, some slightly hamhanded attempts to write about political issues, some terrible racism, and now, some terrible sexism. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either, and it never really exploits its central premise, that these characters are government employees, in quite the way that it might have done.

    1. I’m glad to hear someone else disappointed by the amount of buildup David’s X-Factor run gets, largely for the same reasons. I especially found the pop culture stuff distracting & juvenile, like you’d see in poor attempts to mimic MST3k just by referencing a thing you recognize. But I’ve always felt David was a very overrated writer with a tendency to be very full of himself in interviews (for instance, telling people who weren’t fans of his Young Justice book “must suck to be you”), however.

      Lorna’s handling is just depressing. You could get a story out of a superheroine with body image issues and do it well, but the only examples I’ve seen have been this & a glibly resolved one by Fraction (another man) in The Order. Comics in general is not great when it comes to handling psychological issues (look at what DC has decided to foist upon readers as their big-deal story), but handling anything that’s more likely to affect women, such as body image issues or (worst done of all) assault, tends to be a whole different level of bad.

  7. Another of my all-time favorite comic book issues also happens to be mostly therapy: Ultimate Spider-man 45. Brian Michael Bendis gets a lot of flack for “talking heads” but I thought this issue did a really good job of focusing on Aunt May and showing her as a fully formed person.

  8. So my generous reading of Rahne would be that she misses her time with the New Mutants and her pop culture dreams are almost her trying to reclaim that atmosphere.

    I always merely thought Pietro didn’t change his costume because he’s secretly a die-hard Debbie Reynolds/Singing in teh Rain fan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8ZB_N0dKZI

    The Polaris part…egh, yeah. I haven’t read it, but from everything our hosts say, it sounds super questionable. Though, man, there were some missed opportunities. Because what Dr. Letamendi said about eating disorders and control really struck a chord with me (my weight issues got really bad during chemo because A) steroids and B) I’m starting to think – partially from this podcast – that I was also wanting control over some part of my body, since other parts had decided to outright rebel against me). I really would love to see this story returned to with a woman writer and/or someone who has actually struggled iwth eating disorders.

  9. I would be very interested to hear your – and doctor Letamendi’s -take on another Leonard Samson guest appearance as a psychiatrist, in a much more interventional way. Warren Ellis used him in his Thunderbolts run. Samson is brought in to evaluate Robbie Baldwin, at the time in mid-crisis after Civil War.

    The setup is that Norman Osborn and Moonstone hope Samson will remove Baldwin from the team and have him commited, but Samson is actually interested in helping Robbie. And while the means he uses are, well, let’s call them ‘story-appropriate going by comic book logic’ (he literally enables self-harm and instigates a fight with his patient), he is also shown as at least semi-successful. At least temporarily.

    I still enjoy the X-Aminations issue (minus the Polaris stuff) and the sequel issue from the X-Factor Investigations run, but I think that Thunderbolts story is my favourite use of Doc Samson. Even though he should most likely lose his license for the stuff he pulls there.

    1. (Um, I haven’t listened to the last 10 minutes of the episode yet so if you do by chance mention it then obviously this is redundant).

  10. The only thing I really remember about that Polaris costume from when I read X-Factor regularly was that a) it was supposed to be made of metallic fabric or something like that, so she could basically use her magnetic powers to mold bits of it into weapons or something

    and b) it was changed out a few issues later for basically the same outfit, except in the team yellow/blue color scheme but with more pants. I think more pants. Certainly not less pants.

    Taking skimpy out of the equation for a moment (because it’s not that much skimpier than her original ’60s costume) … it really is an ugly design. It’s just odd that if they were going to design her a new look that wasn’t the team yellow/blue, they would go with gold and red instead of either of her established looks of all-green or purple/black. It’s just a weird look over all.

    Also I seem to recall the whole “using her powers to make her costume offensive” thing was kinda dumb and didn’t last long.

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