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Aug 3

Weapon X #20-21: “If He Dies, He Dies”

Posted on Friday, August 3, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Officially a two-part story, this is actually just the conclusion of “Sabretooth’s In Charge”, the ostensible three parter that I reviewed last month.  In that story, the ailing Logan appointed Sabretooth as field leader, who wound up striking an awkward alliance with Omega Red in his feud with SICKLE, all to the general horror of Warpath and the more muted scepticism of Domino and Lady Deathstrike.  That leaves Omega Red’s feud with SICKLE to be resolved, which is pretty much what happens in these two issues.

So, Weapon X and Omega Red attack the SICKLE “Mothercarrier”, a robustly ugly version of the SHIELD Helicarrier reimagined as a brick, which, according to Omega Red, stays in the air because it’s “too stubborn to fall down”.  Domino starts getting worried about all this when she realises that Omega Red isn’t actually expecting to win, but just fancies a glorious death in battle against his estranged brother (the head of SICKLE).  Warpath has pretty much wandered off on his own by this point, but shows up anyway, mainly to help Domino.

Cue the Winter Guard, the usual selection of Russian superheroes who may or may not be villains and may or may not be government-affiliated depending on the phases of the moon.  Aren’t Darkstar and Ursa Major usually written as rebels, or at least seriously independent-minded?  Well, they’re with the government here, and I guess they’re defending a proper Russian government installation against the likes of Sabretooth, so fair enough, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Omega Red confronts his brother, who claims not to have any particular animus against mutants, but thinks they’re a convenient scapegoat to keep the public otherwise engaged.  Omega Red strings him along a bit before trying to kill him anyway.  More importantly, however, Sabretooth sees this whole exercise as a publicity stunt to get a reputation for his new team, so that he can set them up as a mercenary squad – this is the new direction for the title starting with the next issue.  Complete chaos ensues, as Warpath wants nothing to do with any of this and starts brawling with Sabretooth instead.  And Omega Red is just enjoying the general confusion as his brother’s empire collapses.

This all leads to Warpath finding himself in the unwelcome position of being ordered by Sabretooth to save his teammates, and having no real option but to do as he’s told, even if he’d probably have done it anyway.  From the look of it, this is the point where Logan and Warpath both get written out of the book, as Logan rather optimistically decides that the job is done, while Warpath simply gives up trying to get people to listen to his concerns about Sabretooth.  The remaining group, now a merc squad led by Sabretooth, rebrands as “Weapon X-Force” and sets up as a mercenary squad.

Oh, and Omega Red defeated his brother in there somewhere.

It’s a pretty dense couple of issues, and gets a lot done considering that it’s going for an atmosphere of general insanity and confusion the whole time.  Despite that, it’s very clear along the way.  As for the new direction, this book has always seemed more like X-Force than Weapon X (even if the name isn’t changing), and it’s done enough to set up the general question going forward: has Logan made a horrendous misjudgment by handing this team of crazies over to Sabretooth, or is Sabretooth actually being nudged in the right direction without realising it?  A lot is going to turn there on how Domino acts, if she’s going to be forced into the role of team conscience.  There’s more to the whole set-up than first meets the eye.

Still, the thing that mainly sticks in the mind from these two issues is the art of Ricardo López Ortiz, which is fabulously insane.  There’s a risk of going too far here, since Weapon X trades in over the top stories done deadpan; that’s certainly the style of most of its artists.  Ortiz, in contrast, is an outright cartoonist whose figures are stylised and exaggerated – but at the same time he’s got some subtlety in the faces, his storytelling is clear, and he knows absolutely how to sell the ludicrousness of Ursa Major, a saluting bear.  Besides, when you’re drawing Sabretooth, “slightly out of control” is not a bad look; it gives him a bit of edge that he’s tended to lack in recent years.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s a style that steers clear of playing the book as grim and gritty, or taking itself too seriously.  Ortiz is taking this material just seriously enough, which is to say, not very.  There are some odd stylised background patterns in use, which might have been better off left to more conventional colouring, but that’s a minor point, and at least they give the work a distinctive look.

This is fun, which makes it a success on its own terms.  But as usual, Weapon X works because there’s just substance beneath the surface to hold it all together.

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