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Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries vol. 2: Torn and Frayed

December 22, 2013

It’s not that I thought the first volume of Humphries’ take on this title was bad, just that it lacked a clear identity to differentiate itself from the other books in the line.  Back in the old days (read:  the 90’s) his story about Psylocke, Storm, Puck, and Bishop’s struggle against the revenants would’ve fit nicely in one of the flagship titles as a subplot to be developed over a couple of months rather than be worthy of its own book.  Granted, he did pick up on one lingering thread from Rick Remender’s run, Psylocke’s relationship with Fantomex(s), and he at least had a clear idea of the story he wanted to tell.  Though this volume doesn’t differentiate this incarnation of “Uncanny X-Force” beyond being “just another X-book,” it at least defines itself as being a good one.

For those of you who haven’t read the end of Remender’s run, Fantomex was resurrected at its conclusion and cloned into three parts.  As Humphries has since clarified, Fantomex got all of the thief-y and scoundrel-y parts, Cluster got his feminine side and his capacity for love, while Weapon XIII got all of the “hardened killer” bits… and a little something else.  Yes, it can be confusing and a little ridiculous but years of reading “X-Men” comics has imbued me with the ability to process these kinds of things and take them in stride.

All of this is relevant to the story here as Psylocke has reluctantly agreed to go with Cluster to save Fantomex from Weapon XIII’s clutches.  The “reluctantly” part comes from the hinting in the previous volume that Psylocke and Fantomex’s romantic getaway to Paris didn’t end well at all.  We get the whole sordid story in flashback, and it takes some rather unexpected directions as Psylocke finds herself tiring of the thieving life while her affections grow for Cluster and Fantomex starts to feel put out by the whole situation.  In the present day, the two women head to Madripoor to track down Weapon XIII via a superhero sex club.  Though they ultimately find themselves in the man’s clutches, he winds up having a surprising proposal for Psylocke.

This part of the volume is more character-driven than action-oriented.  So if you like it when superheroes do more talking than fighting, this arc has you covered.  We get to see Psylocke hash out her issues with the Fantomex(s) with her locked-room-on-fire confrontation with the “prime” version coming off as particularly satisfying.  There’s also an indication of where the Fantomex(s) are going to go from here which I agree with since it’s hard to imagine someone doing more with the character in this form.  Art duties are split between Adrian Alphona for the flashback sequences and Dalibor Talajic for the present day ones.  There’s a wiry, exaggerated energy to Alphona’s style that I prefer, though Talajic does get the job done while showing that he’s got more range than you’d think with the dinner date between Psylocke and Weapon XIII.

Things get better in the second arc when Psylocke rejoins Storm and Puck in Los Angeles where they’re keeping the questionably sane Bishop under wraps.  While they’re still not sure how seriously to take his story of psychic demons from the 68th century -- which Puck artfully describes as sounding like “Miyazaki smoking crack” -- until the revenants themselves descend on their hideout with the intent of taking out Bishop.  They arrive in such numbers that Psylocke, Storm and Puck are not only subdued but have their own revenant forms brought out of them as well.  Now, Bishop and the revenant Demon Bear in his head are their only hope for rescue from this situation.

Bishop has been in “villain” mode ever since he tried to attain the “childkiller” tag by killing Hope in “Messiah Complex” and through the last “Cable” series.  Since his return to the present in this series, Humphries has been trying to rework his character into something that will allow him to function in a rational manner again.  I think he manages to pull it off here, even though his efforts involve a straight up rip… er, “homage” to Wolverine’s defining moment from the “Dark Phoenix Saga.”

While Bishop’s resourcefulness in turning the tables in the revenant struggle is impressive in itself, it’s the revelation behind his ongoing “conversation” in the issue as well as his rite of passage as a revenant hunter that’s the standout moment for the whole volume.  You see, while the revenants are either depicted as mindless beasts or “evil” versions of “good” superheroes, we find out that Bishop’s personal revenant -- the one he had to kill to become a hunter -- was something much different.  The big moment is actually pretty heartbreaking for a superhero comic when you realize what the nature of his revenant says about him and what was lost when he had to take it out.

You don’t go into second-string “X-Men” comics expecting them to pull at your heartstrings, but Humphries actually managed that without resorting to overdone sentimentality.  A big part of the impact here can also be attributed to Ramon Perez, who provides dynamic art for this two-parter, as he gives us a fantastic two-page stained-glass-styled sequence illustrating the event.  It’s fantastic stuff and really elevated my opinion of the series so far.

Apparently not content with that, Humphries final story here tackles something that I generally dislike seeing in the X-books but manages to come out unscathed.  The single-issue story has Spiral tracking her ward Ginny -- now possessed by the Revenant Queen -- through L.A.  That she eventually catches up with the possessed girl should come as no surprise, yet the revelation of the Queen’s identity and what these revenants actually are is a fairly big one.

By all rights, I should be angry about the identity of the Queen since it effectively continues Marvel’s efforts to undermine Grant Morrison’s brilliant run on “New X-Men.”  However, the damage done by bringing this particular villain back was already done by none other than Joss Whedon, so I’m more annoyed with him about that than anything else.  Humphries, on the other hand, at least puts forty-seven centuries worth of time between the character’s last appearance and the future she’s travelling back from to take over the past.  Though I’d prefer that this character not be brought back, the large timeframe we’re dealing with here at least allows me to pretend that she’s reverted to type after all that time.  

As I noted earlier, Humphries’ run on “Uncanny X-Force” will be wrapping up in a crossover with “Cable and X-Force” in the next volume.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can bring closure to both series in this fashion, but the writer’s work here leaves me optimistic about that.  It may not have a clear identity as an X-title, yet with this volume it at least becomes one that I’ve wound up liking more than I thought I would.

Jason Glick

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