Comic Picks By The Glick

Uncanny X-Force by Sam Humphries vol. 3: The Great Corruption

April 21, 2014

Rick Remender’s run on “Uncanny X-Force” was successful enough that Marvel decided to follow up on it with not one, but two “X-Force” titles for their “Marvel NOW” initiative.  Though Sam Humphries’ “Uncanny X-Force” retained the name, we also got “Cable & X-Force” which brought the title character back with an incarnation of the team he’s most associated with.  Neither title really caught on sales-wise or with the critics, which is why they both wrapped up after crossing over and we’ve now got Si Spurrier giving us a new Cable-led “X-Force” team.

Though I’ve liked Humphries take on things, there’s been no doubt that it has lacked a defining premise for the entirety of its run.  Where the recent incarnations of “X-Force” were tasked with taking out the secret threats to mutantkind so that everyone else could sleep well at night, this version never really established what it was about.  It effectively functioned as a distaff “X-team” made up of characters that Humphries wanted to write, and even though it followed up on one particular plot thread from Remender’s run it inherited little else from it.  This isn’t to say that the title hasn’t had its moments so far, or that it hasn’t had a story to tell, just that its execution should’ve been more focused than what we got here.  Even so, everything wraps up here with a conclusion that basically works if you’re willing to not think too hard about what’s going on.

Now the previous volume left off with the actually pretty clever revelation that the Revenant Queen was Professor X’s evil psychic twin Cassandra Nova.  Apparently having reverted to type a few thousand years in the future, she has traveled back in time to kick off the revenant invasion in the present day.  After she establishes a psychic prison over Los Angeles which keeps anyone from getting the word out about her plan, it comes down to the efforts of Psylocke, Storm, Puck, Spiral and Bishop to stop the portal from the revenant’s home dimension from opening when the moon turns red with blood.

In case that last bit didn’t give you a hint, there’s a lot of this story that can be described as “very silly.”  Some of it is very annoying, like the overly expository dialogue that spells out the stakes and mechanics of the plot.  Other silliness actually works in the story’s favor, such as the moment where a starlet’s revenant manifests and starts attacking paparazzi, only for one of them to make an exclamation about continuing to take photos of the scene.  As ridiculous as the plot gets, scenes like that one give the impression that Humphries doesn’t mean for you to take any of this seriously, and that helps a lot when you’re reading a scene involving our protagonists attacking a living rock monster carrying Griffith Observatory around the outskirts of the city.

If you can remember how ridiculous some of the “X-Men” stories got in the 90’s, then you can probably attempt to enjoy the story as a self-aware throwback.  The stakes are clearly explained, each member of the team is properly spotlighted, and the villain is dealt with an appropriate amount of cleverness at the end.  This is also to say that the story itself is quite predictable with lots of standard-issue fighting throughout and dialogue that is only occasionally amusing (which is better than it not being amusing at all).  On balance, all of this makes for an acceptable end to the story that Humphries has been telling since the first volume.  I can’t say that people who haven’t been reading this are missing a whole lot, but I thought it was fine for what it was.

It’s not the end of the series, though.  That happens in the four-issue crossover with “Cable & X-Force” titled “Vendetta” which wraps up the volume and provides a few actual throwbacks from the 90’s in addition to the plotting.  To the credit of Humphries and co-writer Dennis Hopeless (for the “Cable & X-Force” issues) they actually come up with a good reason for bringing the two teams together.  Longtime X-readers will know that the last time we saw Bishop before he turned up in this series, he was busy trying to kill off Hope Summers in the belief that her death would avert the awful future he came from.  He failed and wound up stranded in the far off future while living on in Hope’s nightmares.

After one of Cable’s precognitive visions reveals that Bishop is back in the present day, Hope decides to head to L.A. to settle the score once and for all.  Though she manages to get the drop on him, her vengeance is interrupted by none other than Stryfe, Cable’s evil twin who whisks the two away to a secret underground bunker.  His plan is to bring Hope to the dark side of the Force by having her kill Bishop in cold blood, thus showing Cable how he has failed as a parent.  In enacting this plan, however, Stryfe has managed to unite two iterations of X-Force who want nothing more than to beat his funny-helmeted ass into the ground.

I like Deadpool and have always had a soft spot for the idea behind Cable as a tough-as-nails time-traveler who is also the son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey.  That’s as far as my affection for characters created by Rob Liefeld goes, and I’m still mystified as to why Stryfe hasn’t been killed off long ago.  He’s a ridiculous character whose half-baked schemes and compulsion for dramatic monologues make him someone who is impossible to take seriously even with his immense telekinetic and telepathic abilities.  That hasn’t changed here as his plan appears to consist of putting Bishop and Hope in a cell and leaving a spear -- excuse me, a psimitar -- for the latter to murder the former right in front of Cable.  You may ask yourself why didn’t he just let Hope kill Bishop when she attacked him in L.A. as having Cable find out about that would likely have had the same effect as his convoluted main plan.  Aside from the fact that the character is clearly a giant drama queen, I almost want to believe that Humphries and Hopeless have as much contempt for the character as I do that they did it just to show us how dumb Stryfe can be.

Anyway, my dislike of the character aside, I’ll concede that he’s pretty much the only villain who could’ve worked as an antagonist in the crossover since he has shared history with Cable, Hope, and Bishop.  (Pretty awful history as a matter of fact.)  Given that the main thrust of this event is to complete Bishop’s rehabilitation as a character, it makes sense that the writers would use Stryfe here since he represents the kind of threat that would not only bring everyone together, but whose defeat would also serve as a way of putting the past to rest as well.

In those terms, the crossover works pretty well.  We get the familiar “two teams meet, fight, unite” scenes, and the confrontational moments between Hope and Bishop play out pretty well too.  Humphries and Hopeless have a clear idea of the story they wanted to tell here, and even if it is quite predictable it’s still executed well enough.  Right down to the point where it comes down to Bishop to save Hope’s life.  If you care about the characters involved, then it’s certainly worth reading and I look forward to seeing if anyone does anything in the future with Bishop now that the hard work of making him into a useable character has been done here.  Does the crossover have any appeal beyond these things?  Not particularly.

This volume also features the work of five artists over the seven issues collected here, most of whom provide generally acceptable work here.  Phil Briones, who provides the bulk of the art for the first three issues, does contribute some memorable full-page illustrations which summarize the story so far and his clean, straightforward style works for this superhero story.  Dalibor Talajic contributes some art for the last issue here and his work isn’t bad, but it’s not as smooth.  Art for “Vendetta” is split between Harvey Tolibao, Dexter Soy and Angel Unzueta, with the latter two providing decent house-style superhero art.  I did appreciate the level of detail that Tolibao invests in his work, even if it results in the characters’ eyes looking funny at certain scenes.

In the end, all I can say is that Humphries’ run on the title was nothing spectacular.  Though I did enjoy the previous two volumes, there’s nothing here that surprised or engaged me on the level of the revelation about Bishop’s revenant in vol. 2.  The issues collected here provide appropriate closure to the story the writer has been telling since the first volume, and that’s certainly welcome, while also completing Bishop’s rehabilitation as a character.  If you’ve read the first two volumes, there’s no reason not to read this one and get some closure for yourself.  As for everyone else, your money will probably be better spent elsewhere.

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