So this was an interesting experiment, I’ll give it that.
Tying into the theme of “A World without Heroes” that was running through most of the mainstream Marvel Comics in the wake of the Onslaught event, we have Sabretooth & Mystique, a spin-off of the long-running X-Factor title.
Actually, calling X-Factor a ‘long-running’ title is a bit of a misnomer. While the title was 126 issues strong at the time this mini-series takes place, the first 75 of those issues were devoted to the antics of the original five X-Men. It was only after they left to rejoin the main X-Men in 1990s X-Men #1 that the title was turned into the government-sponsored mutant-team book. And although they carried the name X-Factor forward, that team was more a spiritual successor to Freedom Force, the government-sponsored mutant-group that came before it, led by Mystique, which disbanded in the short stories “The Killing Stroke” and “Tribute the Third,” respectfully.
So rather than being a departure, the use of convicted and captured criminals as controlled members of the US mutant group is a Suicide Squad style is less a departure for X-Factor, and more a return to form.
In this mini series we get to see the both of them take center stage in a grim, gritty and bloody story that takes place in both the past and the present, able to do so thanks to both its titular characters being exceptionally long-lived. The thrust or theme of the story is a relatively simple one: revenge. Years ago, Mystique, Sabretooth, and Destiny were captured and tortured by a Nazi / Hydra scientist called “The Catalyst.” Now that Destiny is dead, Mystique feels the need to exact revenge against the man and organization that hurt her former lover, with Sabretooth along for the ride for the indecencies they committed against him.
Of all the villains they could have picked for Sabretooth and Mystique to go up against, Nazis / Hydra was probably the best choice. The main reason for this being the very practical one that the two main characters, respectfully, are a serial spree killer and a terrorist. This makes them exceptionally hard to sympathize with, especially one the restraining collars placed on them by Forge and X-Factor are removed and they are allowed to commit gratuitous acts of violence. Against a more ambiguous group of villains, it would have been hard to rationalize the death and mayhem caused by Sabretooth and Mystique, but against Nazis (especially given the flashbacks to Catalyst’s torture) it seems appropriate. Gonzalez needed a villain that would be so bad that the reader would side with Sabretooth and Mystique as protagonists by comparison: the lesser-of-two-evils effect.
In fact the only issues with the four chapter story are some rather clunky exposition in places, and its ties back to the main X-Factor book. The story spends far too much time explaining how they are apart from X-Factor, why they are apart from them, how they are getting around the restrictions of their restraining collars, etc. All necessary items to be sure, but more than once I found myself wishing that they would just leave it to the reader’s imagination and get on with the story.