Comic Picks By The Glick

X-Force by Spurrier vol. 3: Ends/Means

June 7, 2015

For all the noise I made about Si Spurrier’s “X-Men:  Legacy” run being likely to crash and burn within a year, it turns out that it was his take on “X-Force” which turned out to be commerically disappointing.  After a defining run from Rick Remender and a “not bad, but not particularly great” effort from Sam Humphries, it fell to Spurrier to provide a different take in the hopes of reinvigorating the brand.  Up until now I figured that Spurrier’s solution was to mix the action with lots of quirk and black comedy.  With his final volume, it becomes clear that was only part of his plan.  Spurrier’s real aim was to show how ridiculous and unworkable the idea of damaged heroes going on secret missions with no accountability was.  It makes for a great read, but it’s easy to see why his run only lasted fifteen issues with that as his agenda.

Now that X-Force knows who is running global surveillance on every mutant, they decide to take the fight to them.  The problem here is that the team is starting to come undone at the seams.  Fantomex’s inability to believe that anyone can be better than him reaches a breaking point here, leading him to take the final step towards supervillain.  Complete with glowing costume accents and black razor-wings.  While he’s out purging the world of all the black-ops teams that can possibly be better than him, it’s up to the team to finally come together and put their various issues and psychoses behind them to stop the faux-French rogue.  Is something like this even possible when team leader Cable has been running them all as he sees fit with his “ends justify the means” approach?  Looks like it might have to fall to his daughter, Hope, to come out of her coma and save the day in the end.

X-Force has always been the proactive mutant fighting force.  Way back in the day when it was launched by Rob Liefeld, the idea was that Xavier’s Dream had to be actively fought for as opposed to passively reacting to threats.  In recent years we’ve seen the concept modified to having it be a “black ops” team of mutants fighting threats behind the scenes, making the hard choices so that the rest of mutanity can go about their lives in relative peace.  That approach made for some great stories under Remender’s tenure as he placed a lot of the tension on whether or not this group of unrepentant killers could still do the right thing when it came down to it.  The answer was “yes,” because this is still a superhero comic and Remender observes the core conventions of the genre even when he’s subverting others.

Spurrier, on the other hand, does not believe this.  It’s clear from this volume that he views the idea of “damaged people” making “hard choices” because “the ends justify the means” are simply excuses for grimdark ultraviolence in the end.  The writer underlines this in the story itself through Cable’s increasingly compromised choices in his leadership of the team.  We find out that he knew how crazy Fantomex was becoming and decided to hire him anyway.  He uses one team and a clone as a decoy while another clone and Dr. Nemesis get the info on the mutant surveillance operation.  After capturing Volga, Cable tortures him relentlessly for information on the arms dealer’s mutant weaponization process.  In light of these things, employing a group of mutants whose approach to solving most problems is of the “Kill them all and let God sort them out!” variety winds up as the least of his sins.

For all of his quirks, Spurrier believes in the idea of the superhero as an aspirational figure.  One character in the story acknowledges that the idea may be simple and dumb, but it’s a dream worth having.  It’s the idea of actually being a hero and doing the right thing instead of making the hard choice.  If the volume’s first half is showing why the idea behind X-Force is flawed, with Fantomex’s emergence as supervillain being the end result of everything the team has done up to this point, then the second is about finding a way to deal with him that doesn’t involve simply murdering him outright (not that I’m sure they could).  Yes, it involves the team coming together in spite of the many, many differences and issues, but it feels earned and framed in a way that works as a justification for Spurrier’s argument.  Even Cable gets a moment of actual heroism before being kicked to the curb in the end.

Yeah, the reader is being told that a lot of what they’ve read about this team in previous runs is rubbish.  It’s still administered in an entertaining fashion by the writer, which is what made it work for me.  Then again, even I can concede that Spurrier can be a bit long-winded in his arguments and too clever in his humor.  The middle issue is basically someone who is Not Dead spelling out the problems with the idea behind X-Force in case there were any readers who hadn’t gotten the message already.  While the other interior monologues which characterize each issue here aren’t nearly as exposition-driven, there’s no denying that they all run long even with their witticisms.  Also, for every genuinely clever exchange like Volga’s final words to Marrow, you get something that’s dreadfully on the nose.  Such as Cable’s “Witty remark!” threat to Fanomex.  (No, he actually says that.  Yeah, this volume makes it clear that Spurrier doesn’t like Cable all that much, but something like that just makes them both seem dumb.)

Rock-He Kim handles most of the issues in this volume and we get to see an interesting evolution in his style here.  After abandoning the computer-assisted coloring from the first volume, his art has improved.  That said, the artist is in love with crosshatching to a distracting extent in the first two issues here even if his design work (Mojo’s initial appearance is great) and storytelling are generally sound.  By the end of the volume, Kim has toned down the crosshatching some and has adopted a looser style that’s more reminiscent of Spurrier’s “Legacy” collaborator Tan Eng Huat, who handles most of the middle issue here.  It’s a lot more appealing than what he’s previously done, so I hope he refines this style in his next work.  Even so, the three issues Jorge Molina contributed for the first volume remain the title’s artistic high point for me.

So if you’re looking for a good story that also kind of craps over comics you’ve previously read and enjoyed, then this volume of “X-Force” and Spurrier’s run in general are exactly what you’ve been waiting for!  Regardless, I still think that Remender’s take on this concept has produced the best comics.  Those were focused stories that knew exactly what they wanted to do and were convincingly epic at their best.  Spurrier’s work is loud, chaotic, brash, and quirky -- the charismatic smart-ass telling you why what you’ve been reading is bad for you.  It’s still great fun, all depending on how seriously you want to take the point he’s arguing here.

jason@glickscomicpicks.com

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