X-Factor (1st series) #214

Issue Date: 
March 2011
Story Title: 

Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (pencils), Guillermo Ortego (inks), Matt Milla (colors) VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), David Yardin with James Campbell (cover), Jody LeHeup (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

Wandering across the desert lost in thought, Darwin finds that, though his power of survival prevents him from dying due to lack of water, he still feels the pangs of thirst. In an attempt to slake his thirst, he consumes a cactus, with seeming hallucinogenic effects. Out of the desert, a woman clad in the attire of a 19th century Old West saloon girl calls out for help. Darwin leaps to her aid, finding that she is fleeing from what seems to be a dragon-like creature. After a fierce fight, Darwin manages to kill the creature and intends to take the woman out of the desert to seek medical help. Inexplicably, despite his apparent distance from civilization, Darwin finds himself on the edge of a 19th century ghost town. He further learns from its inhabitants that it is a former movie set which has long since been abandoned by the studio and that they are all homeless squatters. Though they came for shelter, the town’s inhabitants are unable to leave, due to the threats of the town’s “sheriff,” a gunfighter named Tier. In fact, Darwin has been lured to the town to kill Tier, a fact which amuses Tier to no end. At first, Tier pretends to wish to discuss matters with Darwin but quickly tries to kill him, a task he finds harder than he thought. Despite the attempted murder, the two continue to converse, during which Tier explains that the town in which they stand is a staging area outside of time and that its inhabitants are waiting for the apocalypse, the true end of the world. Producing a case of three very special dueling pistols, Tier explains that he has a part in bringing about the apocalypse and offers Darwin a chance to stop him. In short order, Darwin and Tier face each other in the street, though by this time Darwin has convinced himself that none of this is real. Still, a shock comes when Tier informs Darwin that he’s figured out why Darwin looks familiar: he knows his mother, Rahne Sinclair. Too shocked to draw, Darwin is gunned down by Tier and his world turns to black. Thereafter, Darwin awakens back in the desert, as if he never left. However, by his hand is the pistol given to him by Tier, proof that something occurred.

Full Summary: 

Alone in every sense of the word, Darwin strolls across the desert of the American west, lost in thought. Not so much lost in thought, Darwin seeks to talk to himself, not aloud but inwardly. Madox had once told him that he likes to do so, keeping a king of narrative going through his head. Helps keep him focused, he said. Seems a decent enough idea, Darwin muses to himself.

Now, though, thirst wracks him, as the cumulative effects of the sun having pounded down on him and having been without water for quite a while takes its toll. Though he can survive without it, his body evolving and adapting just as it always does so that he’s able to survive, he has recently learned something important. There’s more to life than survival. And, whether he needs it or not, he finds himself craving the taste of water on his lips.

A thought suddenly occurs to Darwin that some types of cactus have water in them and he wonders if he can get some out of there. However, a few munches later, though no longer feeling thirsty, he realizes he’s also not feeling his body anymore and wonders if it’s still there. Reclining on his backpack, Darwin wonders if it’s still there. Maybe not, he muses. Maybe he’s evolved into just a head… like on “Futurama.” That would be cool.

Suddenly, Darwin finds himself pulled from one fantasy to what seems to be another. Racing toward him across the desert is a woman dressed in a torn, 19th century saloon dress, pleading for anyone who might hear to help her and not to let it get her… Though he has no idea where she came from… or why she seems to be dressed like a refugee from “Unforgiven,” Darwin steps before her and tells her not to worry. He’ll protect her…

As sudden as her appearance was, so too is the manifestation of an immense, wingless, dragon-like creature. Coated in fur, the four-legged creature possesses a dragon-like head, replete with curved horns, glowing eyes, demonic teeth and a luminescence which seems ready to erupt from its throat. Taking in the terrifying sight, Darwin begins to wonder what the hell it is, only to then muse that “hell” seems to be what spat it out.

The creature begins to lunge at the two of them but Darwin acts quickly, wrapping his arms around its neck to pull it away. The creature’s scales burn at the touch and Darwin wants to scream, but his skin automatically thickens to provide insulation and he feels strength that wasn’t there before flowing through him. Strength that will help him deal with this thing threatening his life. However, almost in response to Darwin’s inner thoughts, the creature flings its head to the side, likewise flinging Darwin off and into a rock face.

Immediately, the creature moves in for the kill, ready to finish off Darwin. Despite the impact, Darwin has recovered and changes tactics. Asking the creature if it wants to go more, Darwin replies with a “fine” and provides it a piercing stare. As the creature looks into the eyes of its prey, it sees not fear… but death, literal death as only one who has evolved to survive the death touch of Hela, the Norse goddess can. Seeing this, the creature freezes, allowing Darwin the opening to make his move. Launching himself at the creature’s jaws, Darwin clasps them shut, denying it a weapon. Switching to one of its other armaments, the creature rakes Darwin with its claws, however the same hardening of his skin that saved him from burning protects him from the creature. Likewise, the strength Darwin evolved is put to good use as he twists his hands from holding the creature’s jaws closed to forcing them open. A moment later, a booming KRAAK ends both the crisis and the creature’s life.

Moving to the now unconscious woman, Darwin notes that killing things is getting easier for him and wonders if he should be worried about that. Later, though, as right now she needs his help. Picking her up and seeing her wounds, Darwin thinks that she needs medical aid but there’s nowhere within a thousand mile of…

Darwin’s thoughts trail as he suddenly finds himself in the outskirts of an Old West-style ghost town. Silently remarking that that’s weird, he muses whether he just fell through a time warp of something. How did he end up in the Old West? Well, he admits, he’s not exactly in a position to knock it. Carrying the woman in his arms as he wanders down its main street, Darwin spies an old ATM on the side of a building and wonders what kind of ghost town would have one, either new or old.

Suddenly, a voice answers Darwin’s silent thoughts, informing him that it used to be a movie set. That’s what he was wondering, right? Where this place came from? Receiving a confirmation, the man, dressed in a period-style ensemble, continues that it was a set that filmed a lotta movies back in the ol’ days. Fully functional town. Then they stopped making westerns and the owners tried turning it into a tourist attraction. In the middle o’ nowhere. Can he believe it? Place shut down fifteen years ago. Left everything behind, including costumes. Squatters, homeless folks showed up and… stayed.

Taking all of this in, Darwin remarks that it’s… fascinating, but the woman in his arms needs medical atten… Suddenly, the formerly unconscious woman springs to life and announces that she’ll be fine, thanks. Once again on her feet, she smiles and thanks Darwin for saving her. He begins to express his confusion, but the woman once again silences him, this time with a kiss. When their lips part, she bites her lip and, with a smile, she informs him that he tastes like death. Dumbfounded, Darwin silently admits that he’s not sure what to say to that…

Suddenly, the street is filled with new people, each clad in the 19th century period costumes. “Who’s he?” “He a sheriff?” “Could use one.” “Kinda weird looking.” “I like weird.” Having had enough of confusion, Darwin demands answers. How are they able to survive there? Where do they get food? Water? Why would they even stay there? To this, the initial man who addressed Darwin asks who said they wanted to?

As if summoned, a voice rings out from one of the buildings, addressing Darwin’s rescued woman simply as “woman.” Did she truly think she could get away? Replying to “Tier,” the woman yells back that he can bellow all he wants. She brought a champion with her. Returning to being confused, Darwin asks that she brought a what now? Incredulous at the claim, Tier suggests to her that she let him buy her champion a drink and take his measure before he kills him.

As the saloon girl-dressed woman pushes him up the steps to the saloon, Darwin remarks that this is like wandering into chapter nine of a novel. Resolute, the woman tells Darwin not to worry. Everything will be fine; just don’t drink. And don’t let him kill him. Though still confused, Darwin continues to the saloon’s swinging doors, prompted forward by the “townsfolk,” who wish him good luck and that they’re counting on him. When Darwin asks what they want him to do, a man replies what they need him to do… kill the sheriff.

At the swinging doors, Darwin pushes them open. However, unfamiliar with their function, Darwin is thus hit in the face as they swing back. More tenderly this time, he pushes through them and is told by the waiting Tier that that was entertaining. Glad that he could oblige, Darwin replies.

In the center of the saloon, the man named Tier sits with his legs cross and resting atop the table at which he sits. On the table is an empty beer mug and an overturned glass, along with the remains of a plate of food with only bones left. The man himself is a red-haired man of middle age with shoulder length hair and a full beard. His dark blue hat matches the military-style vest and trousers of a Union soldier. On the lapel of the overcoat which covers it all is a sheriff’s star. So, Tier begins, he’s the stranger who’s come to take him down. Sit, he offers, take a load off. They’ll talk, as men do, except with more wit and better grammar.

As Darwin makes his way to the table, Tier begins the conversation, asking Darwin what his name is. Told that they call him Darwin, Tier then asks his true name. Darwin begins to reply but thinks better of it and replies that it’s none of Tier’s business. Very good, Tier replies. Names have power; he learns quickly. Though still not having moved, Tier offers Darwin a seat, which is accepted. As Darwin sits, Tier notes that he seems familiar. When Darwin tells Tier to trust him that they have not met, Tier counters that it doesn’t mean that they won’t. Confused once again, Darwin begins to question the statement, but his words halt in midsentence when Tier fires a pistol from under the table, blowing a hole in Darwin’s torso.

Rising to his feet, Tier mocks his victim that, though he leans quickly, it’s not quickly enough. Much to Tier’s surprise, however, Darwin not only still lives but begins to return to his feet. Yeah, well, he begins, Tier could stand a lesson or two himself. Like, when he pulls a Han Solo on somebody, he should be sure that…

Once again, Darwin stops in midsentence when Tier again raises his pistol and blows Darwin’s head apart with one shot.

However, Tier is surprised again when Darwin’s headless body lunges forward, grabbing his gun arm and preventing a third shot. More inexplicably for Tier, a Darwin’s face appears on his stomach, visible through the hole blasts from Tier’s first shot. Angered, Darwin demands to know Tier’s problem. He’s got some series issues, pal! A moment later, Darwin’s true face (and head) erupt from his bloodied, severed neck. Grimacing even as it pops back into reality, Darwin tells Tier that these people feel like they’re prisoners. He keeps shooting him when he just wants to talk. And that girl nearly killed herself to get away from him.

Having composed himself enough to snarl a response, Tier tells Darwin that she had no right to leave. She is mankind’s whore. She is to wait there until their time. Scowling at the “mankind’s whore” phrase, Darwin demands to know what that means, to which Tier snarls that she is the whore of Babylon. Now grabbing Darwin’s face, Tier notes that he should be dead and demands to see his eyes. Looking within, Tier seems to find answers, as he releases Darwin and proclaims him a death bringer. When Darwin confirms, Tier smiles and asks if he thinks he brings death for him. He’s not sure what to think about right now, Darwin admits.

Changing tact, Darwin asks if they can back up a moment. Is “the whore of Babylon” supposed to mean something to him? Told it should, Darwin asks Tier if the town is called Babylon. Tier denies, adding that it has no name. It’s a staging area. As he speaks, Tier removes a painting from a wall, revealing a safe behind it. Watching as Tier works, Darwin asks if he means they’re just sitting around… waiting for something. Told yes, he asks how long. Time has no meaning, Tier replies. It ebbs and flows as fate would carry it. Next asked what they’re waiting for, Tier answers “apocalypse.”

Taken aback, Darwin asks what he has to do with this, to which Tier explains that he doesn’t mean that Apocalypse. The being called Apocalypse that they’ve encountered, and his so-called Horsemen, they’re shadows of what’s coming. As Tier removes a small, flat, wooden box from the safe, he’s asked why would he say that. Because them, he could stop, he replies. But the real deals? Unlikely.

So the end of the world is nigh, is what he’s saying, Darwin asks Tier, as he places the box on a table. Yes, Tier answers. The coming of the Beast of the Earth, namely him… This seeming familiar, Darwin asks if he means the Beast as in the sign of the 666 Beast. Oh, good, Tier mocks. He’s not completely ignorant.

As he opens the box, Tier inquisitively states that Darwin killed his pet, didn’t he? The dragon thing? Darwin asks. Yeah. Well, then, Tier continues as he turns the case for Darwin to see the contents within: three 19th century style pistols. If he has the strength of will and the proper weapon… Darwin may be able to kill him and avert the apocalypse after all. When Darwin asks why three six shooters, Tier smiles devilishly and asks what part of 6-6-6 was unclear?

A short while later, Darwin finds himself in the street of the town, one of the pistols hanging from his hip. This is insane, he thinks to himself. It’s like some demented dream… That’s it. Of course. He’s dreaming. Maybe something in that cactus…

A short distance away down the street, Tier stands facing Darwin. His long coat flaps in the wind, easily making visible the two pistols hanging from his gun belt and its bronze buckle shaped like a wolf. These guns, Tier begins, they’re not like normal weapons. If God himself were shot by one, he would bleed. But you stride two worlds, he tells Darwin, and so they are in unknown territory. Exciting isn’t it? Not really, Darwin replies. He’s figured it out. He’s dreaming.

Mocking this thought, Tier wishes Darwin the best of luck with that. Continuing the jest, Tier asks Darwin to tell him: in his dreams, has he figured out what happens should he kill him? Does he think he just walks into the sunset with his whore? When Darwin replies that he guesses, Tier rejoins that maybe his guess is right. Or maybe his guess is wrong. Maybe he winds up taking Tier’s place, sooner or later. Maybe Darwin kills him… and he winds up bringing death to them all. Told by Darwin that that’s ridiculous, Tier asks “Is it?”

As this sinks in to Darwin, who continues to try to convince himself that none of this is real, Tier presses. He asks Darwin if he hasn’t figured it out that he’s immortal? Humans… even superior ones… aren’t designed for that “gift.” They need to be grounded. Anchored. Immortality cuts that anchor chain. From the sidelines, the saloon-dressed woman yells for Darwin not to let Tier get into his head. It’ll make him vulnerable. To this, Darwin replies that he won’t. Nothing he says matters. He…

Still smiling, Tier tells Darwin that he’ll just drift through existence, watching everyone and everything around him die. It will drive him mad. It will drive him here, and he’ll want the world to end so that he can finally know peace. Grimacing at this, Darwin asks Tier if he is planning to draw, or just talk him to death. Very well, Tier replies. By the way, he then adds, as his hand wanders to his holster, he realizes now why he “recognized” him. Darwin knows his mother. Confused yet again, Darwin begins to ask who that is, but Tier answers before he can finished. “Rahne Sinclair.”

In the moment that follows, Darwin reels twice. First and immediately from Tier’s announcement, but then from the two shots Tier fires from his pistols, each shot of which tears at the flesh and blood of Darwin’s torso. Never even having been able to draw his weapon, Darwin lies in a pool of blood in the dirt road of the ghost town. A few moments later, Tier towers over Darwin, whose world begins to turn dark. Still all smiles, Tier tells Darwin that they’re coming and there’s not a damned thing he can do about it. Too bad, the saloon-dressed woman laments. She thought he might be the one to prevent it. The two are joined by a third, who notes that maybe he can, but he’ll have to do it before the floodwaters rise. Otherwise, like they say in the movies… that’s a wrap.

A moment later, everything is black.

Sometime later, blackness is replaced with wet blackness. Opening his eyes, Darwin finds himself back in the desert, reclining on his backpack with rain falling from the sunless sky. In silence, Darwin takes stock of the world around him and the reality before him. Next to his hand is a pistol, the same given to him by Tier in a world which possibly never existed. Not yet having noticed this, Darwin raises his eyes to the darkened sky from which water is falling and speaks a single word. “Rain.”

Characters Involved: 


The Sirrush (dragon)

Citizens of nameless town

Story Notes: 

Since X-Factor’s re-launch via the 2004 Madrox miniseries, Jamie Madrox has consistently employed an “inner monologue” in each story. Considering the detective agency based stories of the series, the use of Madrox’s monologue has been an ongoing homage to the “hard boiled” detective genre in which the main character would usually demonstrate his line of reasoning and methods of deduction via similar first person narratives.

Futurama is a animated TV series created by Matt Groening. Taking place in the 31st century, this world of the future has allowed deceased people to continue to exist as severed heads in jars, all to comedic effect.

“Unforgiven” was a 1992 film set in the Western genre.

During X-Factor’s confrontation with Hela, the Norse goddess, Darwin allowed Hela to bestow upon him her “death touch,” in the hopes that his power of instantaneous evolution would allow him to survive. The plan worked but has had lingering effects, of which Darwin is still learning.

Darwin's quip of "pulling a Han Solo" refers to the scene in Star Wars IV: A New Hope, when Han Solo demonstrated his rogue-like qualities by shooting Greedo from under the table. To the dismay of many fans, this scene was altered in the Special Edition version, in which Greedo shot first.

“Tier” is German for “animal.”

This issue was originally going to be a kind of crossover with Stephen King's "Dark Tower" stories, the comic adaptations of which are also partially written by Peter David, but the licensing agreements fell through.

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