With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Leonardo Manco, Jerome Opeña, Rafael Albuquerque, Esad Ribic, Billy Tan, Mark Brooks, Robbi Rodriguez
Issues: Uncanny X-Force (1-19), Excerpt from Wolverine: Road to Hell
I’d heard really great things about Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force (2010-2012). I’d also really enjoyed Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s previous incarnation of X-Force as an incredibly violent mutant black ops team. Even with my lofty expectations Uncanny X-Force proved every bit the powerhouse comic with a small cast of well-written characters, a stable of solid artists, and an awesome villain that comes from within.
The new X-Force team came together as the old one disbanded following its reveal to the rest of the X-Men during the “Second Coming” event. Unlike the previous iteration, this team is much less linked with ongoing mutant drama, making it much easier to pick up and read.
Wolverine returns as team leader, wanting to continue X-Force’s mission: take out bad guys before they become a problem for the X-Men. Their existence is a secret that’s not at all sanctioned by Cyclops. And like the old team, they have no compunction about killing their targets – but what if that target is a child, or one of their own?
“Apocalypse Solution” (#1-4) thrusts this dilemma upon our new team of Wolverine, Archangel, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Fantomex. It’s an interesting team where most of its members are in emotional anguish or even mentally deranged in some way.
Deadpool finds a secret base where a new Four Horsemen of Apocalypse guard their master’s latest incarnation. Each of the diverse horsemen is given their own mini-backstory, with wild powers like a geisha spitting hundreds of beetles out of her mouth, or a civil war drummer that produces “bio-auditory cancer.”
It’s a pretty standard superhero fare as our team battles the evil guys. What makes it fun is the drama between our heroes, including witty banter and a love triangle. I would characterize the writing as Whedon-esque, as the whole comic reminded me of Joss Whedon’s stellar run on Astonishing X-Men a decade ago.
Fantomex comes out as the true star, and you can tell the author absolutely loves him. I didn’t even know who Fantomex was prior to this comic, and now he’s one of my favorite Marvel characters. He dresses like a GI Joe ninja, matches wits with everyone on the team, and, when the need arises, shoots a kid in the head.
Yep, Apocalypse is currently being raised as a young boy. The story asks the old moral question – If you could go back and kill Hitler as a child, could you? Could you actually look a child in the face, a child that hadn’t yet done anything wrong and do it?
The whole team battles their way inside using various powers (Fantomex’s misdirection being a bit overpowered in every story here on out), but when it comes time they all argue about what to do. A gun shot goes off and they look in grim surprise as Fantomex holds the smoking gun.
It’s a fantastic way to set the tone of the series and establish each character. Things get a bit shakier with “Deathlok Nation” (#5-7), which brings back the titular cyborg along with an alt-future filled with super-powered deathloks, along with several decent but short one-off stories.
I’ve never been a big fan of inter-dimensional, time-travel craziness (I don’t like Fantastic Four, for example), and it’s the same stupid stuff here. Thankfully it’s a pretty short story and Deathlok ends up being a surprisingly interesting character that wrestles with morality as an AI, and permanently joins the team.
It also introduces us to The World, a miniaturized zone where both Fantomex and Wolverine were experimented on and created. The World, along with Angel’s growing doubts about the team and his own Apocalypse-created Archangel persona, are the Chekov’s Gun in this run. Both come to an explosive conclusion in the insanely awesome magnum opus, “The Dark Angel Saga” (#8-18).
During a one-off story, the team briefly battles the Shadow King. They win, but he invades Angel’s mind, fully letting loose the Archangel of Death within him. Archangel takes over, and shit gets serious when he murders several people that threaten to expose X-Force.
In order to save their friend the team enlists the help of Dark Beast, the “Age of Apocalypse” evil scientist who shows up in random stories every one in a while. Dark Beast opens a portal to his home dimension, and soon we’re treated to an awesome return to the “Age of Apocalypse,” which picks back up after the events in the 90s.
Now I had just finished re-reading “Age of Apocalypse” this Summer, so it was extra cool to drop in and see all these awesome characters again. Good guy Sabretooth, Short-haired freedom fighting Jean Grey, insanely powerful Sunfire, old, weakened Magneto.
Our team needs to find a Life Seed to restore Angel, but it’s destroyed by Sunfire in a classic hero vs hero misunderstanding. The teams come together to battle the villains of the AoA world, including the shocking rise of Weapon X (the one-armed Wolverine of AoA) as the new Apocalypse!
The scenes in the AoA world are just fantastic, particularly Wolverine seeing Jean Grey and Nightcrawler again and all the emotion and drama that floods out. Eventually the team makes it back, only to find Dark Beast and the Horseman under the tutelage of the now fully awakened Archangel-Apocalypse.
Book Two of “The Dark Angel Saga” casts this new Archangel as our primary villain. He’s still Archangel – he yearns for Psylocke, but he also staunchly believes in Apocalypse’s creed of evolution and survival of the fittest. Using The World and a Death Seed he creates an entirely new ecosystem within The World as a test. Then he plans to remake the world entirely.
The situation rapidly grows dire for our small team. There’s a funny scene after Wolverine is injured and Psylocke is captured leaving only Deadpool, Deathlok, and Fantomex. Fantomex suggests calling in any number of superhero teams to deal with the problem, but we’re reminded that no one knows about X-Force, and they’re all basically assassins for hire. Frankly guys, at that point you probably need to suck it up and ask for help!
Help does arrive from an unlikely but awesome source – the Age of Apocalypse X-Men team! Using Gateway, Fantomex brings in reinforcements even while the rest of the team gets their ass kicked.
Speaking of which, Deadpool is by far his most normalized here. Remender is careful not to let his shenanigans steal too much of the spotlight. He’s more silly comic relief than fourth wall-breaking antihero. Both he and Wolverine get their ass kicked repeatedly. Really, the whole team does. This is a bloody, violent comic where Wolverine cuts people’s arms off and heroes are covered in blood. Love it.
Fantomex has a smoking gun of his own – he’s been secretly keeping his own child Apocalypse hidden within The World. This one, however, he’s teaching to be good, though it’s never really clear why he’s engaging in this experiment. He lets out the young teen, which calls himself Genesis and looks like a really dorky teenage version of Apocalypse.
Yet I like the brief nature vs nurture debate. Genesis is no match for the super-powered Archangel (whose razor wings are just so bloody, powerful, and fantastic). He does provide enough of a distraction for Psylocke to take him down with the Life Seed. We’re treated to an emotionally moving moment where her and Warren Worthington share a lifetime together in the space of their minds. They have kids and grow old together before he finally lets go, and she cradles his body while The World falls apart around them.
Unfortunately the power of the final scene is mitigated when Angel later walks up to them, naked and amnesiac. Killing him off when the whole comic was about “Could You Pull the Trigger” would’ve been a powerful and emotional statement. Instead it feels like the team is instantly justified in their actions by having Angel back good as new.
I’ve written this much without even commenting on the art! One bummer about the comic is that it goes through a pretty large stable of artists. There’s a good deal of consistency in spite of that, with a focus on dark, brooding characters and bloody, personal fights. It works pretty well, but it can also be jarring going from one style to the next within the same story arc.
Uncanny X-Force: The Complete Collection Volume 1 is easily one of the best comics I’ve read this year. Focusing almost completely on Apocalypse through Archangel and the “Age of Apocalypse” story is incredibly fun, even when the actual old X-Men villain never makes a true appearance. It’s awesome seeing AoA heroes and villains again, and Remender does a fantastic job with his little team of badasses.