Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: X-Force #1

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Craig Kyle, Chris Yost
Clayton Crain
Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of X-Force arrives in stores this Wednesday, February 13.

Geoff Collins: 4-1/2 Bullets
Paul Brian McCoy: 1 Bullet
Kevin Powers: 4-1/2 Bullets

Geoff Collins 4-1/2 Bullets

What is most remarkable about X-Force #1 is the artwork. Alex Ross’ influence in Marvel can definitely be seen here. In last week’s Slugfest of Uncanny X-Men I raved about the art in much the same way, but what Crain does here is much more interesting. It’s got that same picture perfect realism that Ross does, but a lot of the characters’ features are unique to comic books.

The opening scene is the best example of the mix of comic art and realism. Logan looks like a real person, but he’s got unbelievably huge muscles like a comic book hero; I’m talking disgusting, bigger than a pro-wrestler muscles. Another feature in the opening scene is the oversized chin of Scott Summers. Unlike Wolverine’s muscles, this isn’t something immediately noticeable, but as the comic goes along, his chin is more noticeably large, again emphasizing the comic book sensibility.

But there is also an insane attention to detail. There is a scene where X-23 is in a computer room and the view of the panel is from behind the computers and this is going to sound stupid, but the detail on the back of the computers was something I’ve never seen in a comic book. It may be a silly little detail, and most people may overlook it, but it shows Crain’s dedication to realism. Typically the backgrounds of a computer room in comics are as bland as a wall, and I could argue that holds true for the background in this scene, but the back of that friggin’ computer in the foreground, sitting in what most artists would view as negative space, really shows an attention to detail.

Before I read this issue, all I knew about this new volume of X-Force came from the vague teaser ads. Kyle and Yost are good writers, but I wasn’t expecting this. If you’ve been reading New X-Men for the past year or two, the details of the foe—The Purifiers—aren’t going to surprise you. What’s different is that when Kyle and Yost attacked these themes in New X-Men, they were doing it in a title that the publisher wanted to keep teen friendly, and the characters were supposed to be young and relatively innocent. Now they’re using characters who are mature, which ups the level of the action and what they can do with the dialogue.

So in terms of plot, Kyle and Yost aren’t straying far from what their fans would expect. For people who have no knowledge of New X-Men, this issue provides plenty of standard exposition to make it easy to follow. What is different from other Kyle-Yost X-stories is that the characters, imagery and dialogue are so much more mature than what Marvel generally publishes. It’s got the edge that Punisher used to have and the maturity that X-Factor often has.

Emotionally, this issue doesn't offer a lot of diversity. That's not a bad thing in this case. It would really take a lot away from the story if these people were killing each other and one suddenly stopped to throw in a one-liner. Or if X-23 and James Proudstar suddenly became romantically linked. That would suck. But Kyle and Yost stay true to the characters and what’s going on in the story.

I can’t say everyone will love this, and I’m not claiming this issue is flawless, but I can honestly say any fan of the super hero genre will enjoy this. Great art and great writing.

Paul Brian McCoy: 1 Bullet

Oh my. I'm not sure where to begin with this one.

Let's try the story and see how that goes. Um. Kyle and Yost are writers that I'm not really familiar with beyond what I read of theirs during "Messiah Complex" and while their New X-Men issues weren't bad, I felt theirs were the weakest issues of the crossover. This was partially because I wasn't familiar with the characters, although it was clear enough what had happened with them previously. Apparently, there had been a lot of death and destruction in the title, leading up to the big crossover.

Which essentially makes Kyle and Yost the dream team for this project.

What we've got here is an X-team designed to do the dirty work that The X-Men can't publicly take credit for. By this I mean kill people. Lots of people. That's the whole point of this book. There are religious fanatics out there who are killing mutants, so Cyclops decides to sanction a team to go out and kill the religious fanatics. Wolverine is on point, and X-23 is along for the ride. They're both experienced killers, although X-23 has apparently been trying to reform. So much for that. Warpath, who began entirely motivated by seeking vengeance, but had been making headway developing into a real character, is back swearing to kill everyone involved in killing his buddy, Caliban. And then there's Rahne Sinclair. The last I knew of her, she was very religious and a bit shy. I haven't been reading X-Factor, where she's been a major character, but now she's here along with the others, apparently ready to go kill or something. We don't really know, because she only has a couple of lines that amount to muttering "I want to know" to herself and then changing into a werewolf. Nice use of the character, guys.

What gets the whole show started is that some Purifiers broke into a S.H.I.E.L.D. base, killed a bunch of agents, and stole a secret weapon. Somehow, and for some unknown reason, Cyclops has all this inside information and X-23 is on-site at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base. Why this isn't a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, I have no idea. Except that if it were a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission then we wouldn't be focusing on our X-Killers. Then the hunting and killing starts.

Clayton Crain is an artist whose work I enjoyed on his Ghost Rider projects. The art is all digitally painted and honestly, the backgrounds and settings are gorgeous, especially the overhead shot of Warpath at the burial grounds. Unfortunately, he also paints people, and they are pretty horrible for the most part. There are occasional scenes that don't involve grotesquely over-muscled men or inhumanly lithe, big-butted women, but they are few and far between. The poses are stiff and awkward and there is very little flow from panel to panel. The art looks more like screen captures from ten year old video game cut screens than a sequential narrative.

And that moment I mentioned earlier, when Rahne changes into her werewolf form? That's awful. In one panel she looks human. In the next she has a full wolf head with pretty much the same leathery, rubbery, costumed body. It's not quite as bad as the dueling biceps panel where Warpath and Wolverine appear behind X-23 later in the story, but it's close. Too many panels and pages look like unpolished fan art to me. I just don't like it.

And there's too much dead space on the page around the panels. There are large patches of empty white page where there could be art, but there isn't.

All in all, there's practically nothing in this book that I like. The characterizations, the dialogue, the plot, the costume design, the layouts, nothing. Well, the backgrounds are good. Other than that, it's just awful.

Awful. The worst Marvel book I've read in years.

Kevin Powers: 4-1/2 Bullets

The X-Men have disbanded (again), Xavier lies in a coma and the Skrulls are invading the Marvel Universe. Whether or not the X-Men will play into the “Secret Invasion” story remains to be seen; they typically stay out of the greater Marvel affairs. However, mutant-kind’s struggle continues as the Purifiers still wish to cleanse the world of mutants while Xavier lies incapacitated. “Messiah Complex” was a wild ride that saw the return of Cable and a new incarnation of his former team, X-Force. X-Force is a bit different these days, being established by Cyclops as a covert ops team. Made up of “warrior” mutants like X-23, Wolverine, Wolfsbane and Warpath, there is sure to be plenty of violence, intense action and plenty of covert X-action that is long overdue.

This first issue definitely does not disappoint and masterfully sets the tone for what to expect from this series. The Purifiers have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and deliberately murdered agents in order to acquire some sort of device. Cyclops knows about this and recruits his new X-Force team to investigate and figure out what the Purifiers are after. What I absolutely love about the beginning of this issue is the way Wolverine and Cyclops interact. Wolverine is reluctant to work with a team and does not want Cyclops involving the other X-Force members, especially X-23, but he knows what must be done. This series is very much a mutant “Mission: Impossible.” Cyclops is no longer treating the X-Men as an institution. Instead he has disbanded the X-Men and militarized X-Force and is ready to throw them head first into the mainstream happenings of the Marvel Universe. Craig Kyle and Chris Yost do an excellent job explaining why S.H.I.E.L.D. has practically ignored everything going on with the X-Men, and it’s all directly linked to the Purifiers. I’m beginning to wonder if the involvement of S.H.I.E.L.D. here, along with the appearance by Iron Man in last week’s Uncanny X-Men means that the X-Men will actually play a role in the Secret Invasion.

Of course, I love the way Cyclops is handled in this book. The X-Men are no more, but when he talks to Wolverine about the mission, he’s in uniform. On top of that, he’s all business. But not in the classic “Cyclops kissing Xavier’s ass” method of him handling business; he’s much edgier, and he’s willing to turn his head to the killing of Purifiers if it means saving mutant-kind. Wolverine even asks him what Emma thinks of everything, and Cyclops acknowledges that Emma doesn’t even know what’s going on. This issue is a strong point for the continued evolution of Cyclops’ character. He even takes a punch from Wolverine regarding X-23’s involvement and continues to spit orders at Wolverine. Back in the day, that wouldn’t happen. Hell, even a year ago that wouldn’t happen, but Cyclops isn’t pulling his punches anymore. With the teaser images of “Phoenix Rising” hitting the news boards this week, Cyclops is a man to keep an eye on.

The covert operations feel of this title is in tact throughout the entire issue. While it’s certainly an obvious gimmick, if done right, it’s a gimmick that could have a long shelf life. X-23 infiltrates the S.H.I.E.L.D. crime scene to track Purifier leader Risman, she tries to learn what they were after but cannot, and thus the suspense of the issue builds. When readers discover what it is exactly that the Purfiers were after, the suspense takes a big jump because many readers and X-fans will think “Oh, sh*#t!”

The real operation doesn’t kick in until the end of the issue, but holy crap is it a sight to see. Warpath, Wolverine and X-23 are decked out in “night gear,” and X-23 even carries a badass sniper rifle. While Wolverine tries to convince X-23 and Warpath other wise, the mission commences while the Purifiers put together their device. The imagery during the Purifiers’ assembly of their device is beautiful and creepy. There’s a sense of evil brought across by conservative organized religion that isn’t tolerant. This sense of evil is brought to life when the Purifiers’ device is activated, but as soon as it is, the scene cuts to a blood bath of X-Force tearing through the Purifiers. It’s only at the end of this issue that you realized X-Force’s true weakness. They are made up of instinctual warriors; they often act before thinking, and while Wolverine tries to act as the commander, he falls short. This weakness may cost one of their lives, and I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting until the next issue.

The artwork of Clayton Crain is perfect for this series. It’s a painted style, but it is very dark. This is a covert operations book and any other artwork, unless it was in the style of Mike Bear from G.I. Joe or Steve Epting from Captain America would seem inappropriate. The storytelling both through pictures and words is cinematic and effective. There’s a great deal of suspense building throughout this issue and a feeling of excitement knowing what X-Force is capable of. My only problems with Crain’s artwork was the overall anatomy of the males. The females looked fantastic, but Cyclops is way too skinny. Wolverine looked good except his over pronounced chin was a bit distracting, and both Wolverine and Warpaths arms were way too big for their bodies. However, I am no artist and these small nitpicks are vastly overshadowed by the overall tone Crain brings to this issue.

I really liked this issue. I hope that this gimmick doesn’t get old and Kyle and Yost have plenty of “shock and awe” stories up their sleeves. I think the X-universe has been sorely missing a title like this, one that tosses Xavier’s dream to the side and establishes the true military nature of the X-Men. Cyclops has become one hell of a leader and serves his purpose as X-Force’s Executive Officer perfectly. So long as the roster stays the same and doesn’t overload and get ridiculous this series can have the potential to reshape the way readers look at the X-Men. Anyone who likes mutants, military operations, Wolverine-esque violence and pure bad-assery is sure to love this title, because you get all of that rolled into one.

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