While I generally try to stay away from spoilers, sometimes they have a way of sneaking up on you. Maybe they’ll turn up in an unrelated article, or a friend will let one slip unaware that you were trying to remain in ignorance. Other times they’ll be spoiled in a publication from the same family. This is to say that if you’ve already read “X-Men by Jonathan Hickman” vol. 1 then you’ve already been spoiled for the big surprise in the first arc of this volume. There is the matter of seeing how it happened and the fallout that went along with it, but the end result is very much what you’d expect to see from a Krakoan-era take on the X-Men’s most militant mutant team.
It should surprise no one to learn that there are those who have a major problem with the recent ascendancy of mutants on the world stage. These humans view this event as a direct threat to their dominance, and they’re going to do something about it. Their plan: Organize an enhanced team of mercenaries for a HALO jump onto Krakoa with instructions to take out as many mutants as possible, and one in particular.
The attack serves as a wake-up call to the Quiet Council as they realize they’re going to need their own covert ops force in order to strike back against this new, shadowy threat. A team that can skillfully gather information, formulate a plan based on it, and execute an attack as necessary. Just like that, the latest incarnation of X-Force has been incorporated into Krakoa.
There have been versions of this team that have been fully independent. Others have been run with their existence being kept a closely guarded secret, if it’s known at all. This is actually the first incarnation of the team that is being organized and run through the wider X-Men community. That in itself isn’t really a big deal as X-Force’s basic premise remains fully intact here: It’s the most militant X-team. When there’s a problem, they go out and make sure that problem doesn’t exist anymore.
That usually serves as an excuse for some over-the-top violence as extreme sanctions are delivered upon mutant threats. The best takes on “X-Force” usually involve some sort of interrogation of the need for violence, as seen in the runs from Rick Remender and Simon Spurrier. Then there was Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s run which skewered notions of celebrity while being cheerfully violent about it. It’s probably telling that this run eventually morphed into its own title, “X-Statix.”
As for writer Benjamin Percy’s take on the concept, it’s pretty straightforward. Violent, too. After the first arc establishes a need for the team -- which is loosely made up of Wolverine, Domino, Kid Omega, Jean Grey, Beast, Forge, and Black Tom Cassidy -- the second shows them in action after a mutant-friendly research group is attacked. The volume wraps up with a one-off that is ostensibly about the team rescuing the son of the president of a nation that is about to sign the Krakoan treaty. In actuality, it’s about how Beast views his role on the team as that of a conductor as he gets his pride set up in advance of his fall.
These are all fine stories that are mostly pulling double duty as they establish the team’s agenda and set up plot points for future stories down the road. The main problem they have is that there’s not really any surprise to how they play out. Well, except for the one which kicks off the first arc. You’ll probably get more out of it if you haven’t been spoiled for it… but there is the fact that one of the hallmarks of the Krakoan Era effectively makes it a non-starter.
Percy does have a good handle on the characters he’s writing, even if this isn’t a character-focused book. Wolverine and Domino get some good moments together, with the latter displaying a more ruthless-than-usual side after what she goes through here. Kid Omega is an enjoyably disruptive smartass presence, and Forge makes a good but brief impression as the team’s answer to Q.
So if the story and character work just get the job done, is there anything about this volume that makes an impression? Well, there is the violence. Percy makes the most of how just about any incarnation of “X-Force” can be counted on to traffic in it, and there are a couple scenes here that are definitely not for the squeamish. Seeing what has happened to Domino in the second issue is one example. Wolverine’s unfortunate experience with a Krakoan Gate, and his refusal to let that stop him is another. That’s not to say that this volume is filled with such scenes, but the ones that do tend to stand out as setpieces for the whole of it.
Then there’s the art from Joshua Cassara, which has a very organic feel to it. His characters and the places they inhabit have a lushness to them that reminds me of Daniel Acuna’s work. It’s distinctive and doesn’t feel a whole lot like the kind of superhero work you normally see at Marvel and that’s definitely a plus. He’s definitely onboard with the violence too, which is best seen in the Wolverine-focused bits in issue five as those parts almost feel like an “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoon brought to life. Stephen Segovia handles the final issue and he does it well enough. It’s just that I remember him having a sketchier, more impressionistic style than the clean one he’s sporting here.
“X-Force” is ultimately a decent addition to the current lineup of “X-Men” titles. However, it lacks the imagination of “X-Men’s” anthology approach, or the freewheeling sense of fun that “Marauders” has. What we get is a take on the team that slots quite well into the current era, and not much more than that at the moment. Percy’s long-term planning could pay off down the line. It’s just that right now it feels like the interest I have in seeing that through comes from the goodwill generated by the other X-titles that I’ve been reading.