It seemed like I was in the minority when it came to appreciating Sam Humphries’ take on “Uncanny X-Force.” No, it didn’t have a stated purpose and just had the adventures of an eclectic group of mutants as its focus, but he took the cast in some interesting directions and had a few well-played surprises over the course of his run as well. There was also Dennis Hopeless’ “Cable and X-Force” title running concurrently with “Uncanny,” except I never heard that it was good enough to warrant my attention. However, both titles wrapped up in a crossover that now sees members of both books on the roster of this one from writer Si Spurrier. He’s best known for the run of “X-Men: Legacy” which focused on Legion and turned out to not be instant commercial suicide in this market despite its quirkiness and focus on the margins of the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe. Spurrier brings that quirkiness to this title as well, and while that may upset those looking for a serious take on “X-Force” he still delivers a good read if you take it all in stride.
Right off the bat, the main issue that plagued Humphries’ title is dealt with as we’re told what the purpose of this new X-Force team assembled by Cable is. Fractured as they may be, mutants still represent a nation unto themselves and in order to keep up in the global community they’re going to need a “dirty tricks” crew to deal with threats from behind the scenes. So we’re back to the “mutant black ops” setup of the Kyle/Yost and Remender runs, with Cable, Psylocke, Fantomex, Marrow, and Dr. Nemesis fighting the good fight on their own terms. First on the agenda is finding out who was behind the Alexandria Incident: A terrorist attack on a convention for arms dealers that left three thousand people dead and Cable’s daughter Hope in a coma.
Investigating this takes the team from the backwaters of China, to the rooftops of Saudi Arabia and Paris, the jungles of Brazil, and then the desert of God-knows where. They even pick up a new mutant by the name of Meme, who has the ability to interface with electromagnetic signals and manipulate the information they contain. This opening arc is six issues in length, and while stories of this size used to be quite common for a while at Marvel, they’ve fallen by the wayside over the years as the company has realized that a trade paperback doesn’t have to contain that many issues per volume. There was also the problem that a lot of these arcs tended to feel drawn out beyond their natural length, but Spurrier effectively gets around that problem here. Not only is X-Force’s mission broken down into easily digestible single-issue events, he also uses each issue to focus on a different member of the team and the issues that they bring to it.
In his hands, the members of this incarnation of X-Force are extremely good at bringing the violence yet reveal themselves to be damaged goods whenever they stop laying the smack down on the badguys. Marrow used to be a violent wildcard, but now she’s gone positively fruit loops in the deliberately wacky inner dialogue she has with her “baby.” Though she’s initially set up to be a disturbing bit of comic relief, things eventually take a tragic turn when we find out how she came to join the team and what she lost in the process. Psylocke carries on the no-killing vow she took up at the end of Remender’s run… Well, she tries to do this and even if she has good reasons for when she fails the truth is more complicated and interesting. Meanwhile, Fantomex has to deal with the fact that there are other people who might be even more awesome than he is. The way Spurrier looks to have him deal with this will likely take him down the road of mass murder and outright supervillainy if he can’t find another option. Cable, on the other hand, has adjusted to all of the dying he’s had to do for the mutant cause and has apparently resigned himself to being the guy who gets things done with the biggest guns and explosions. As for new member Meme, she’s not as new as you’d think.
There’s also Dr. Nemesis. I think every line he has in this volume is priceless. I’d want to see more of him, but am afraid that additional exposure would make his dialogue less than priceless.
It’s a very diverse and well-developed cast with enough issues between them to sustain the book for quite a while even if they didn’t go on missions across the globe. I’ll also say that the basic thrust of this mission is successfully laid out by Spurrier with a fair amount of imagination regarding the threats the team is pitted against. A superpowered arms dealer is one thing, but to track him down the team will need to take on a corpse-animating spirit entity, infiltrate a rendition center for mutants, and find a mutant with the power to read the mind of a dead man. The writer showed that he had a knack for coming up with oddball concepts that nonetheless work within the confines of an X-Men story in “Legacy” and it’s good to see him adapting well to the more violent world of “X-Force.”
Of course, whether or not you’ll find all of this as entertaining as I did will likely depend on how appreciative you are of the quirk the writer brings to these proceedings. If Marrow’s inner dialogue (and any of her dialogue, really) strikes you as too precious or silly, then you’re probably not going to last until she becomes genuinely interesting when her history is revealed in issue five. Meme’s dialogue patterns also take some getting used to, as do Volga’s, though I can see what Spurrier was going for with them. Then you’ve got oddball bits like the spirit who thinks Cable has come to kill him over giving women the right to drive, Psylocke’s rewiring of Marrow’s language centers, and the musical means of destroying the supersoldiers at the story’s climax… Well, this will either sound to you like a great way to spend $18, or a stern warning to take that cash and use it elsewhere.
More divisive is the art, which is split with three issues each from Rock-He Kim and Jorge Molina. Both have VERY different styles, to the point where I was kind of surprised to find them working on the same story. Kim’s storytelling instincts are clear enough, but his clearly CG-assisted style aims never hits the level of photorealistic detail it needs to look truly impressive. Molina doesn’t go in for that kind of thing at all, as he affects a simpler animation-influenced style here. I’ve seen his work on other X-books and come away thinking that he’s a decent enough superhero artist working in a fairly bland style. Not here, as his clean work is striking in the energy it infuses into the characters and action. I’d like to see him stick around and keep working in this style -- it’s a winner!
I found this first volume of Spurrier’s “X-Force” to be very entertaining overall, though I realize that it’s the kind of book where “your mileage may vary.” The quirks in the writer’s style, the extreme difference in the artists’ work, Marrow -- these are a few things that I can see people having issues with when they start reading this book. Yet the off-kilter writing worked for me, Kim’s work was tolerable while Molina’s was quite memorable, and I warmed up to Sarah even before we found out what the deal with her “baby” was. All I can say is that if you’ve found my opinions to be trustworthy in the past, then the odds are pretty good that you’ll find enjoyment with this volume as opposed to irritation.