Friday Slugfest: Uncanny X-Force #1

A comic review article by: Thom Young
After losing contact with Deadpool, whom he sent to investigate a mysterious group intent on resurrecting Apocalypse, Archangel calls together X-Force.

Danny Djeljosevic:
Robert Tacopina:
Michael Roberts:
Ross Haralson:




Danny Djeljosevic:

It opens with a pun and ends with Apocalypse.

Rick Remender makes no secret of who the big bad is in his first Uncanny X-Force story, but only names him on the last page. The big reveal at the end is not who the villain is, but what form he’s taken this go-round. It’s an intriguing surprise for a book where the superheroes are out to murder the bad guys. Killing the villain is easy, but what happens when the villain takes a form you may not necessary be comfortable with killing?

From what I’ve read of the previous X-Force series, Wolverine and the rest of his proactive mutant assassins had little trouble with the idea of killing their targets--it was the how that gave them difficulty--and the morality was mostly for Cyclops to wrestle with. It was ultimately kind of grim and ugly--an X-Men for people who wear Punisher T-shirts.

Thus, it’s ironic that Punisher writer Rick Remender is the guy to take over X-Force,

Rick Remender is a madman. He is, if you’ll remember, a writer with a bit of a reputation for doing shocking, unspeakable things to his characters. He is the guy who made the Punisher become a Frankenstein, and it’s the best thing in recent mainstream comics.

Giving Remender the reins of Uncanny X-Force is an inspired choice. He’s willing to do crazy things with characters; historically, X-Force been the type of team that gets away with things that the core X-teams would not--from the gun-toting commando leader to the wholesale replacement and retooling of the book into pop culture satire and, finally, into its current incarnation where they’re the X-Men who kill people.

Like his first issue of Fear Agent (formally one of my favorite first issues ever), Remender’s X-Force debut spares us the setup that plagues so many first issues. It’s not a complete story like Fear Agent #1, but the team gets to spring into action and fight an evil statue instead of finally assembling on the last page.

Also like Fear Agent #1, it’s not quite clear what this book’s about initially, but if you just keep reading one of the characters might be nice enough to tell you.

Thanks, Fantomex.

The script also shows Remender’s deft handle on the characters, each of whom have distinct voices and personalities--a talent required for a book starring Wolverine, Fantomex, and Deadpool.

Psylocke and Archangel don’t pop nearly as much as the others, but they’re written with enough pathos to make them worth following. They don’t all need to be extreme personalities.

Jerome Opeña’s art is exceptional, as he can not only clearly draw action scenes but also convincingly render quiet dialogue scenes. The former is a necessity to a comic like Uncanny X-Force where the premise demands superhero violence, but the latter makes it more than just a fight comic.

Essential to the art is Dean White’s color finishes, which not only help convey the mood of the scene but also give the book a look distinct from its previous incarnation. Unlike X-Force’s nighttime funeral palette, White gives the environments of Uncanny X-Force a neon glow that offsets its heroes’ drab costumes.

It’s the tweaked roster, the bright colors and that terrible opening pun that signal that Uncanny X-Force will be distinctly different from the previous X-Force series. Hopefully Remender, Opeña, and company follow through with the promise of this issue. If they do, this book could rival some of the better X-Books.




Robert Tacopina:

The previous incarnation of X-Force, under the guidance of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, was arguably the premiere place to get your X-Men fix. That series was bursting at the seams with goodness that showcased the vast depth of knowledge that the writers held on the characters and continuity that came before. Every issue held bits of elements that played off past stories and was a brilliant case of writing. The mutant verse centered from there as all of the other X titles seemed to take their cue from the beats that were introduced in X-Force. Plus, you had undeniably gorgeous artwork from Choi, Oback, and Crain, which was always a sight to behold.

Needless to say, when the news broke that Kyle & Yost were leaving I, and many other fans, were left in disarray wondering where we would get our X-Force fix. Then Marvel announced this new incarnation with the Uncanny adjective attached to the series, and hearts sank as speculation ran wild with the cast reveal; Archangel/Angel, Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Fantomex.

Those last two characters really hit a nerve with the fans, and became a polarizing factor before even reading a snippet of what new X-Force writer Rick Remender had to offer. I was indifferent to the characters that caused so much controversy because I had no real opinion about either one. I was more opposed to the fact that Iceman wasn’t involved in this series because, in my diluted mind, Iceman is the central point of the X-Men, but I digress. On to Uncanny X-Force #1. . . .

Unbeknownst to Cyclops, Warren Worthington (Archangel) has reassembled X-Force, but on his own terms and with the pieces he thinks will make the unit a much more effective machine. He sends Deadpool on a scouting mission that has been a year in the making. Deadpool’s insane banter was wonderfully presented by Remender, who managed to keep it reined in, which was a fantastic counterpoint to the usual off-the-wall commentary that is usually found in his other titles.

Betsy Braddock (Psylocke) dreams of Warren being in conflict with the two sides of his psyche; Angel and Archangel--which, of course, puts a scare in her. When she awakes, we find her in bed with Warren. This twist plays off X-continuity as the two have been romantically linked in the past, and the scene is a nice touch of rekindling that romance. The two have a good chemistry together; once Betsy was brought back, it was merely a matter of time before the two would find their way back to one another.

The Grant Morrison-created Fantomex--and his external nervous system EVA, the all in one Swiss army knife--is a wonderful bookend to the Deadpool wackiness. The mysterious Fantomex is really a badass in his own right. He is like the lovechild of Wolverine and Gambit . . . so cocky and sure of himself, but with the guile to back it up. His inner-monologue over the course of the issue is a brilliant summarization of the comparison between X-Force and the X-Men proper.

Remender really impressed me with this debut issue. I have read his work before, and I know he has the chops to produce solid work, but the reality is that the previous creative team left some pretty big shoes to fill. Yet Remender did his thing and really provided a fun, action-packed first issue that featured plenty of emotion and character moments that went so far as to develop decade-old characters even further--and he made a vilified Fantomex a serious person to keep an eye on.

Remender also has the reveal of an old nemesis in Apocalypse as the big baddie simmering on the stove the entire issue. It wasn’t a drop-your-jaw shock, but it wasn’t truly meant to be as Apocaplypse is hinted at the entire issue. It was still a very cool twist; hopefully, it will make a formerly great adversary interesting again.

Jerome Opeña was the perfect choice as artist for the story. His style is sketchy but full of action and detail, and he raised the bar in terms of infusing the characters with more emotional detail than we have witnessed in the past. Most notable is the panel in which Betsy mind-stabs Logan; you can almost feel the anguish flush through Wolverine’s mind.

Additionally, Opeña’s depiction of EVA was awesome, and I loved how he utilized her in numerous fashions--whether it be in the form of a vessel or otherwise.

My only two complaints are minor and nitpicky. One is the fact that Fantomex’s eyes vary from brown to blue. Yes, it’s a very minor problem, but it caught my attention and caused me to glance back and do a double take. My other complaint is a line by Wolverine where he states that there are “no four he’d rather have at his side”--in reference to Angel, Psylocke, Fantomex, and Deadpool.

Really?

How often has Wolverine worked with Fantomex? Yes, I know there is plenty of history in the life of Wolverine that we aren’t yet privy to, but it just felt rather forced. What about Cyclops and Colossus, two colleagues whom he has spent many years with?

However, Wolvie did mention that his reference was to people who were still alive--in an obvious nod to Nightcrawler--which was a nice touch.

Overall, this issue went a great way to ease the initial trepidations that many readers may have had going into the new direction. It also established that both Deadpool and Fantomex can be intriguing and captivating when written as they were by Remender. The character interactions were phenomenal, and I love how they bounced off one another regardless of the mood or situation. It had a great flow and a steady consistency.




Michael Roberts:

My inner 12-year-old is jumping for joy right now. X-Men was the first title I read with any loyalty, so I’m always thrilled whenever a new quality title bearing the “X” logo hits the stands. And Uncanny X-Force is more than just “good.” It’s amazing.

Jerome Opeña’s art stole the show in this first issue. His style is highly detailed, but not like Jim Lee’s approach from my early X-Men reading. Whereas Lee drew bulky superhumans, Opeña draws slim, agile characters who are able to evade defenders as easily as they fight them. In the team’s current line-up, there are no body-builder types, and people actually have believable proportions.

The real attention to detail shows in the way that the characters’ clothes fit--down to the tread on their boots. Archangel especially looks amazing with his metal wings. Usually, artists draw the wings with straight edges like a fighter plane, but in Uncanny X-Force his wings look like a metallic version of real bird wings--with individual blades working like feathers.

Writer Rick Remender held up his end of the creative process, as well. Deadpool was funny without being annoying, Wolverine found someone to pick on, and the story was gripping. Archangel has been through a lot of transitions lately, and readers who may or may not have been keeping up get a quick summary and a peek into the heavy psychological stress the adjustments have put him through.

I’ve never read anything with Fantomex in it before, but the character was accessible enough. I wonder how well the zany one-liners of both Deadpool and Fantomex will fit together later in the series. We didn’t really get a chance to see them interact too much in issue #1, and it will be interesting to see how Remender differentiates the two.

At one point, Fantomex observes that this team isn’t “jovial” and lacks a sense of camaraderie in the face of battle that the X-men have, but this is not intended as a replacement to the X-Men. This is something different, and I, for one, am thrilled that this combination of characters, artist, and writer have all come together.




Ross Haralson:

There is a lot to like within the pages of Uncanny X-Force’s debut issue. Now an unsanctioned covert operations team, led (surprisingly!) by Archangel, X-Force includes newcomers Fantomex, Psylocke, and Deadpool alongside requisite veteran Wolverine.

Rick Remender’s script is very strong, and he makes effective use of each member of the team. For example, the opening sequence featuring Deadpool highlights the oft-ignored tactical capabilities of the character while avoiding many of the silly and indulgent excesses that pervade the character’s solo titles.

Fantomex is also used exceedingly well here in what is perhaps the character’s most authentic depiction since his first appearances in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run (though Matt Fraction has also done a fine job with the character in Uncanny X-Men). A character relatively unfamiliar with heroics, and a definite outsider amongst the team’s X-Men mainstays, Jean-Phillipe proves an inspired choice as the issue’s narrator.

The most interesting cast members, however, are Psylocke and Archangel. From the eerie dream sequence that introduces them to Warren’s bitter closing dialogue, Remender frequently suggests that these two--rather than the more obvious (or arguably natural) Wolverine--form the backbone of this team.

On the subject of New X-Men, however, Remender introduces an intriguing parallel to Morrison’s work through the apparent birth of a love triangle involving Archangel, Psylocke, and Fantomex.

At numerous points in the issue--including the aforementioned dream sequence and, later, a powerful conversation between Logan and Warren--Remender emphasizes the internal struggle that Archangel endures. It’s a balancing act of sorts wherein the power that his transformation affords may come at the cost of his humanity.

Playing “Cyclops” to Warren’s “Jean Grey” is Psylocke, who promises to help him--but with Jean-Phillipe’s flirtations growing less and less subtle. Overtly echoing the behavior of Emma Frost in the pages of New X-Men, Betsy’s ability to weather this emotional storm will surely be tested.

While the overall plot is thin, it really isn’t a handicap given the issue is essentially a one-off story that serves to reestablish the team and define its new purpose. Remender’s character work is excellent, and the mystery surrounding Apocalypse’s return hits a new level with the last-page reveal.

Uncanny X-Force is illustrated by Jerome Opeña, and requent Marvel readers may know his work on Punisher and Vengeance of the Moon Knight, but the strength of his art here warrants a more appropriate comparison to his work on Remender’s Fear Agent from Dark Horse.

Opeña’s characters, clothing and backgrounds are meticulously detailed, and Dean White does a fantastic job adding color to the illustrations without ever compromising the fidelity of the linework.

It is also worth mentioning that the new costume designs are excellent, though the mere addition of a belt to Psylocke’s outfit is disappointingly minimalist in comparison to the more elaborate changes affected upon her colleagues. Remender’s provision of opportunities for Opeña to draw all but Deadpool in their “standard” uniforms during the book’s opening pages is a brilliant move that further highlights the alterations.

(Perhaps this is merely my nostalgia speaking, but in many ways Opeña seems to often evoke the spirit of Igor Kordey, the artist who first illustrated--and, I believe, is credited as “co-creator” of--Fantomex. However, I must concede that his few renderings of a blue-and-yellow clad Wolverine, by contrast, represent a definite nod to Astonishing X-Men’s John Cassaday.)

Altogether, this issue is an excellent debut for Uncanny X-Force, and the strength of this issue should offer more than enough justification to buyers wary of adding yet another X-title to their pull list.

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