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Dec 30

Weapon X #22-27: “Weapon X-Force”

Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Weapon X was quietly cancelled through the age-old technique of just not soliciting any more issues; the final issue has no farewell message, at least not in the digital version, but simply the word “End” in the corner of the final panel.  And this final arc, which introduces a new team line-up under the “Weapon X-Force” name, then lurches through two largely unrelated chunks of plot, reads very much like an aborted new direction that was intended to run for longer.  Whether that’s the case, I can’t know for sure – but it reads like it, which is ultimately what matters.

The new line-up, clad unflatteringly in Sabretooth’s black and orange colour scheme, are Sabretooth himself, Mystique, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, and Domino (the only one of these characters who would normally be considered to qualify for any variety of “good guy”, but in this company largely because she’s amoral).  As set up in previous arcs, the idea here is that the ailing Logan has steered Sabretooth in the direction of running this new team, which may or may not keep him out of trouble, depending on what sort of jobs his mercenary crew chooses to take on.

As it turns out, after our opening showcase where they flatten some bozos from the Breakworld, Weapon X-Force’s first task is to rescue Monet St Croix from a dodgy religious cult, a job which he affects not to take seriously, but which everyone realises is plainly driven by his tentative relationship with her back in Cullen Bunn’s Uncanny X-Men run.  So we get Mystique trying to do a sensible infiltration job, accompanied by a hopelessly unsubtle and crass “undercover” Sabretooth – which is good fun.

In fact, M is already thoroughly brainwashed, and she’s lured Sabretooth there in an attempt to add him to the cult.  All this leads to our antiheroes taking on the cultists, their hired help Deadpool (because evidently the book was thought to need the help), and the bad guys actually behind it all: Mentallo and good old Reverend Stryker.  Given the grim nature of the core cast – even M’s not exactly a bundle of laughs after being deprogrammed – it’s probably for the best that we do have Deadpool here to join Domino in undercutting the proceedings.

Stryker believes that he’s sold his soul to the devil.  The idea seems to be that he’s actually been dead for years, and did a deal with “Satan” to finish his work – though it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that since he was in Hell already, he wouldn’t have anything much to bargain with.  For no especially good reason we get a fight against a bunch of mind-controlled D-list bad guys.  (As in, there’s a ton of these guys, and the closest any of them come to being high profile is Sauron.)    That fills a chunk of part 3 and quickly gets dropped at the start of part 4 – the first obvious sign of the pedal being put to the floor in an attempt to get through the plot.

So it is that, halfway through part 4, the team start looking for a way to get to Hell in order to get their hands on Stryker, and Mystique points them in the direction of the only demon type figure she knows well, namely Azazel.  Normally I’d question the sanity of anyone who wanted to dust off Azazel, given that he’s a largely generic demon figure mainly known for being in a really terrible storyline, but he does have the advantage of an pre-existing connection with a core cast member, so fair enough.  Certainly Weapon X seems to be ignoring the rest of his back story in favour of playing him as a generic Satan / tempter figure, exiled from Hell, who seems to be maintaining his power by selling favours to dodgy politicians.  (There’s an interesting idea, raised in passing, that he’s not taking their money, but destroying it so that it can be treated for mystical purposes as a “sacrifice” to him.)

Azazel’s idea of sending the team (and Deadpool) to Hell is, apparently, to kill them in such a way that their powers ought to be able to restore them once the job is done.  At this point we lurch into a torment in Hell story, which has very little do with the first half of the arc.  Sabretooth, who still considers himself to be “inverted” despite his dubious behaviour in the course of this series, seems initially surprised to learn that the powers that be regard his inversion period as essentially trivial compared to the decades of serial killing and mass murder that preceded it – which may seem obvious, but also begs the question of whether there’s even any point in him trying to atone if it makes no difference to the end result.  His hospital sequence is genuinely creepy, while for a change of pace Deadpool’s personal hell turns out to be doing stand-up to a crowd that won’t laugh at his jokes (and Domino’s personal hell is having to be in the crowd listening to it all).

But all that lasts about half an issue before the team regroup and head after Stryker.  The idea here is that Stryker’s endless cycle of hateful brooding in Hell, and periodic returns to Earth for another failed run at those damned mutants, is his personal eternal punishment – which is presumably why Satan signed up for the deal.  Oh, and somewhere in here, Sabretooth decides he wants to save the soul of Graydon Creed into the bargain (Mystique doesn’t seem remotely bothered).  The main angle, though, seems to be that Satan doesn’t seem especially bothered about standing in Weapon X-Force’s way, because so far as he’s concerned they’re all on the same treadmill as Stryker is.  Why would he want to stop them?  They’ll be back soon enough.

Somewhere around here most of the team get sent back to earth to break up Mentallo’s attempt to revive Stryker by sacrificing the cultists, and Sabretooth makes a rather garbled heroic sacrifice to get Graydon out of Hell – a wildly abbreviated plot thread that really does have the hallmarks of a gesture in the direction of something that was meant to play out over a longer timeframe.  All this apparently traumatises Sabretooth and resets his personality so that the next writer can ignore the whole inversion thing.  The end.

There’s an insane amount of plot material in here, and some of the ideas are reasonably interesting, as you’d expect from Greg Pak and Fred van Lente.  But the second half in particular feels extremely rushed, as if the thing was meant to play out over two separate 6-issue arcs.  The art also shows signs of backstage chaos.  Parts 1 and 2 are by Yildiray Cinar, whose work is perhaps a little soft-focus for the tone of this book, but does well with the more impish moments given to Sabretooth and Domino.  Then the remaining issues are drawn by Luca Pizzari, who’s more of a nineties artist – perhaps suitably for the cast.  Except he’s joined by one extra artist on part five, and three on part six, so the deadlines must have been pressing.  Ultimately, the art gets above the threshold of competent but doesn’t feel like it reaches its full potential.

This is a weird and somewhat disappointing way for the series to go out; since it’s primarily a Sabretooth story, it doesn’t work as a finale for the team, and doesn’t really feel like a good choice to open the new direction.  Deathstrike and Omega Red have basically nothing to do in this arc, and even Domino’s role is largely confined to lightening the tone.  I’m not sad to see the end of the last remnants of Axis, but there could have been more mileage in Sabretooth coming to terms with the fact that his pre-inversion career is essentially un-atoneable.

But mainly, this reads like a case of cancellation leading the story to switch to rushed resolution mode halfway through.  Perhaps if it had been done at more length, the rest of the regular cast would have had more to do.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    It doesn’t really make sense that Sabretooth wants to save Graydon Creed’s life, while also trying to stop Stryker.
    Sure, Creed is Sabretooth’s son.
    Yet, Creed is a mutant-hating loon, just like Stryker.
    What is the purpose of rescuing someone who is going to continue the anti-mutant hatred?
    Unless we’re meant to think that Creed has changed his views during his time in Hell.
    Based on Stryker’s punishment in Hell, though, you’d have to assume that wouldn’t be the case.

    Weapon X was obviously on the chopping block.
    Not only do we have a real X-Force comic on the stands now, but Marvel had already moved on with Omega Red (who plays a much different role in Uncanny X-Men).

  2. RandomFan says:

    A bit long, but I am in vent mode.

    Like always, my biggest complaint is Sabretooth. If Sabretooth’s inversion has come undone, then it’s depressing that Pak was the note Creed had to go out on. Throughout this run, it was clear Pak didn’t take Sabretooth seriously, nor did he have plans for him beyond being abused comedy relief. Seems the focus only shifted to Sabretooth because Warpath & Logan were being taken for other books. Bunn wrote Sabretooth as a legit character trying to atone & be something different. Pak wrote him as a parody. Bunn’s Creed was Angel. Pak’s Creed was Spike, whom I hated on Buffy. Bunn’s Creed had self-reflection. He got annoyed at people bringing up his past, but knew he was a monster who had a ways to go to be redeemed, if he ever was. He even acknowledged that he’d probably go to Hell eventually, but he still tried to do right. Pak’s Creed is like an overgrown child. The inversion has barely changed him, and he viewed it as a get-out-of-hell free card. When he ends up in hell, he acts shocked & says it’s not fair, despite the fact he wasn’t doing anything to repent, nor did he feel bad for anything he’s done. He even pouts & mumbles he’s glad he killed one of his former victims because she was mean to him after he murdered her. Then he leaves his Hell hospital bed to kill a man for annoying him. Again, Bunn had the better & more sympathetic depiction.

    So on top of being stuck with Pak’s Creed, the inversion being undone & possibly doing away with any potential development is even more angering. Sabretooth hasn’t been a good villain in years. He fell off the wagon around 2003 and has been a joke & punching bag for most of the last 15 years. What is there to look forward to as a Sabretooth fan, if he’s just gonna go back to D-list punching-bag villain?

    Another complaint would be Monet. She honestly didn’t need to be in this arc. Her character did nothing and she was mostly a background prop with 2 lines a chapter. You can say she was brought back due to her relationship with Sabretooth. But for all the focus that got, she still didn’t need to be here. Mystique’s relationship with Sabretooth got more focus. So Monet came off like a useless cameo. Deadpool did too, but given his popularity, you could see why he’d be thrown into a story. Monet doesn’t have the same popularity or weight.

    Brings me to my last complaint. Creed & Monet’s relationship. It was used for a couple of comedy scenes up to issue 24, then dropped. The story ends with Creed crazy, if not reverted, & Monet doesn’t know where he is. Their relationship is once again left with no closure or progression. It was teased they had feelings for each other, but why tease it, then not deliver any answers? This relationship has been dragged out for years with no development or solidification. Cullen Bunn came out with a statement saying they had a torturous love. That seems to show he saw them as being in love with each other. But he never solidified it. Some fans couldn’t even tell Monet cared anything for Sabretooth in that book, if not reading her as outright disliking him. If Marvel has the guts to hook them up, then do it. No other couple has taken over 3 years. If they aren’t gonna hook them up, then show the 2 ending their relationship & contact on their own terms & have the thread tied up like Duggan did for Rogue x Deadpool. Don’t keep dangling it, then not doing anything with it. Pak did make things a bit more even, as his Monet openly showed kindness, concern, and devotion toward Sabretooth. But sadly, he ended it worse than Bunn. With Sabretooth mentally deficient & Monet not even knowing he’s alive. lol And is this gonna come up in another book? Or will it get ignored like before?

    End of rant. Felt good to get it out. lol

  3. Michael says:

    And so the last of the inversions is undone. I’m surprised it took them this long to fix Sabretooth, since he didn’t even have the benefit of being chucked into limbo like Alex for much of the period. It’s a shame, but I doubt any of us ever believed that Creed would stay “good” permanently, not when we’ve got the real Logan coming back to take his spot once more.

  4. JJG29 says:

    I hate that Sabretooth’s inversion has been undone. 4 years of development flushed down the toilet to make him a loser C-list villain again. Lets be honest, Sabretooth has not be treated seriously as a villain in ages. He’s more like a Looney Toon joke these days.

    I love Sabretooth, but given this change, I am probably gonna have to swear off anything with him in it for a while, unless I know it’s something other than him getting punk’d to Wolverine.

    Also disappointed with Monet’s part in this book. She’s a solid character, and didn’t seem to have reason to be here. She didn’t have much prescience & was mostly in the background. Naturally, she was included because of her past with Sabretooth, but that plot point still never went anywhere. Making Monet a pretty useless addition here. She could’ve been in Red or Blue, doing something better.

  5. Evilgus says:

    What is Monet’s current status at the moment? Is she merged with Emplate with weird mouths on hands…?

    For tertiary characters, the lack of any consistency when they appear is hugely frustrating.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    No, that dangling plot thread from Bunn’s Uncanny has been resolved this year in the short-lived Generation X revival title.

  7. Voord 99 says:

    I suppose that the obvious story to do with goodie-Sabretooth for the last few years would have been to have him try to fill the Logan-shaped hole in the X-world, and discover that he didn’t fit it and would have to find his own place. Baddie-Sabretooth was, after all, a one-note character who had derived an additional dimension by virtue of his his murky relationship to Logan, so the place to go for stories about goodie-Sabretooth is asking how Logan’s death affects him.

    If so, there might have been a not original but still pretty good horror story to be written about goodie-Sabretooth arriving at an agreeable status quo, and then switching off the inversion and having baddie-Sabretooth mercilessly and sadistically murder an appealing supporting cast that had been meticulously built up around him.

    Only that would have required them to have been prepared actually to live with a Logan-shaped hole for a few years. Another reason to think that Old Man Logan, while not a terrible character in himself (I much prefer him to traditional Middle-Aged Man Logan if one *has* to have a Logan), is a terrible roadblock to exploring the possibilities opened up by killing off Middle-Aged Man Logan

  8. Moo says:

    It genuinely amazes me that some readers actually expected inverted Sabretooth to stick.

  9. Taibak says:

    Well, let’s be honest though. Sabretooth has only had one story – Wolverine’s archenemy – and he’s been stuck in it for decades. He works quite well for that. He’s simply the homicidal maniac who gives himself over to his animal instincts and dismembers anyone in his past and who enjoys tormenting Logan. The end.

    The problem would seem to be that Wolverine has been dead for some time so Sabretooth has drifted aimlessly. Set him up as one of Laura’s villains – which has all sorts of creepy possibilities – but for the love of God don’t put him on the sodding Avengers.

  10. Luis Dantas says:

    Why use Sabretooth at all? He is quite the disposable character, after all. Has always been.

  11. Col_Fury says:

    You know, unlike other “line-wide refocuses,” heading into the new year this really feels like a new direction. The O5 are gone, Jean Grey is back, Havok is back, X-Man is back, Sabretooth is back (to being bad), Wolverine is (mostly) back, Cyclops is (hinted as being) back, etc.

    Say what you will about reboots, but Marvel has been careful about setting itself aside from DC; they don’t need a continuity reboot to reset things, they can do it within continuity. It might take a year or so, but they can do it. And hey, making 80 years worth of storytelling “count” has to be worth something, right?

    (side note: I never really cared for the time-displaced O5 so I’m very happy to see them sent home)

    Happy 2019 everyone! 🙂

  12. Baines says:

    But the new direction is the cliched same old direction, returning to the idea of decades old status quo.

    Jean and Logan are back. Havok is back (for a while, because he never stays.) Sabertooth is a villain again, because classic villains have to get reverted. (Except Rogue.)

    The resets (and the sheer knowledge that they’ll continue to happen) undermine 80 years of storytelling almost as much as DC’s obsession with full reboots. 99.9% of change is rendered meaningless, and people spend the whole time expecting the other 1% to be rendered meaningless.

    The whole time Jean was dead, everyone expected her to return. And that expectation affected everything. Every big event, and event minor ones, was viewed as “Will Jean return here?” Marvel even deliberately used this expectation. It also negatively affected Emma’s “hero” run, because everyone knew that Emma would be booted back to villain when Jean returned, because Marvel would put Jean back with Scott.

    Even significant amounts of time passing don’t guarantee protection from a reset. Look at how long Peter Parker was married, before Quesada finally got his wish? Jean did stay dead for a while, but she still came back.

    All you are left to hope for is that some writer’s run leaves enough of a mark that someone will bring back some reference to it in the future, potentially making its reappearance itself part of the idea of the status quo.

  13. Moo says:

    “But the new direction is the cliched same old direction, returning to the idea of decades old status quo.”

    You know who doesn’t care about that? New readers.
    Might be nearing time for you to jump ship. I did. Got tired of the cyclical nature of it all, but I do understand why they need to do that way. Marvel and DC can’t stray too far away from the formula that made their characters work. I certainly wouldn’t if I were them. If that means aging readers complaining about a case beentheredonethatitis, too bad.

  14. Luis Dantas says:

    @Baines

    It seems to me that what you are describing is a weakness of new directions (reboots included) in that they are vulnerable to reader expectations.

    It is not really much of a matter of what is actually printed and published, IMO. Objectively, Jean Grey has been dead without ressurrecting far more consistently than nearly every other Marvel Superhero. But readers don’t quite believe in that, so the expectation remains. Likewise, the claims that Wolverine is “very significant” for Jean are utter retcons coming out of thin air, but their mystique never came from actual published stories.

    It truly feels to me that the X-Men specifically are to some extent bound by the expectations of a narrative that is, by now, largely independent of the actual published comics.

    These days the X-Men are far better known for the movies, TV series and toys than for any recent comics.

    And since those comics have become so esoteric a matter, what with the complete absence of footnotes, the existence of separate yet simultaneous, largely incestuous books that only pay lip service to a larger continuity, and editorial planning that reaches for only about a couple of significant storylines’ time, I don’t think there is even an actual attempt at making them relevant again. For decades now they have become a fringe market, a historical legacy maintained by nostalgic motivations and directed towards a decidedly niche audience. There is simply no indication of anyone with both the resources and the inclination to reshape the comics offices in order to make them relevant instead of responsive.

  15. Thom H. says:

    Luis: I absolutely agree. There’s great writing (and art) at the periphery of superhero comics these days, but for the most part they’re coasting on fumes and no one cares. Certainly not comic book readers, who become more scarce all the time.

    The sad part is that *someone* green-lit compelling (and critically acclaimed) superhero work like Mister Miracle and Immortal Hulk in the past couple of years, but that kind of storytelling will most likely never infiltrate past C-level characters.

  16. Voord 99 says:

    Just to chime in and say that I basically agree with Luis Dantas and Thom H.

    I’m not actually sure that the “reader expectations” to which Luis Dantas refers would turn out to be as real or as monolithic as all that if someone did real market research. I also don’t know that things like Wolverine-Jean can so neatly be viewed as independent from the way that hype and marketing, and, hey, sometimes the actual stories, in the comics reinforce and reproduce those expectations, retcons or no. And one always has to remember that the people editing and writing these comics are themselves long-time comics fans, often with strong opinions about how particular characters “should” be – they’re not separate from the readers who have constraining expectations.

    But those are quibbles. That one can’t ignore the background of a situation where sales are inexorably declining over the long term and (these particular) comics sell to an narrow and aging nostalgic readership is I think unquestionably correct.

    I’m quite curious about the phenomenon of adult superhero-comics readers introducing their own children to the genre, though, and it does add an interesting wrinkle. It might be that the audience will literally reproduce itself. In other word, can we hear more about that adaptation of Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X for five-year olds?

    Also, come on. The Hulk is B-list :). (More seriously, he’s a special case. Because of all that David-era nostalgia, that there will be different versions of the Hulk is part of those constraining “reader expectations” that Luis Dantas was talking about.)

  17. Chris V says:

    The comic book companies also don’t help with “big events” like Wolverine returning, when they feel the need to constantly keep their properties in the public eye.
    No one cared about Wolverine returning because no one missed the character.
    How could they when there have been six different Wolverine stand-ins?

    That is a good point, about comic readers introducing their children to comics though. It would seem that this should be happening, but the median age of comic book readers continues to grow older.
    That’s not a good sign for any business. You don’t want your core age-group to be people in their late-30s to early-50s, as these people are eventually going to die.
    You need a steady stream of younger people getting interested in it.

    The biggest obstacle seems to be cost, to me. It costs $4.00 (American) for one comic book now.
    That’s a lot of money to expect younger readers to have available.
    There are many other cheaper outlets for entertainment, which are going to appeal to young people more than monthly comic books.

    The only demographics who really have that much disposable income are people in that late-30s to 50s age group.

  18. Chris V says:

    That’s supposed to read medium not median. Auto-correct must have done that.

  19. Richard Larson says:

    Realizing I’m just an anecdote, not research. But I have a now 16 year old son and 12 year old daughter. I’ve happily introduced them to comic reading. My son has been a big fan. He always gravitated towards the funnier comics. His favorites have been Spider-Man and Deadpool. He has developed some indy tastes for horror comics and will check out new things. But, he never really got into the X-Men or Batman or the more drama (soap opera?) books. And you’re 100% right about the money. even as a working teenager, there’s no way he’s going to spend 30 dollars a week on comics when he has other entertainment options for free on his phone.

    And for my daughter, there have been very few superhero options for her. She loves LumberJanes and Raina Telmeiger graphic novels. But even Ms. Marvel hasn’t gotten her interested in the big company universes.

    So in short (too late, I know) it seems clear to me that graphic novels will absolutely find a permanent place in their and others reading piles. But the weekly/monthly buying habit will end in my family when I stop doing it.

  20. mark coale says:

    Given her gimmick, Jean is the person I can understand dying and returning repeatedly. 🙂

  21. FUBAR007 says:

    Baines: The resets (and the sheer knowledge that they’ll continue to happen) undermine 80 years of storytelling almost as much as DC’s obsession with full reboots. 99.9% of change is rendered meaningless, and people spend the whole time expecting the other 1% to be rendered meaningless.

    IMO, DC had the proper solution to “change vs. illusion of change” back in the Silver Age: when the characters develop to a certain point, shift the action to a parallel Earth where the characters are younger. That way, for example, Golden Age Superman and Lois Lane can get married and grow older on Earth-2 while Silver Age Superman and Lois remain young and single on Earth-1. And so on.

    Rather than retcons and reboots that try to reconcile everything into a single narrative, everything counts. All stories matter; they just occur in different timelines. That’s the beauty of a Multiverse–it enables us to have our cake and eat it, too. I much prefer such an approach to Marvel’s “sliding timeline” bollocks and DC’s serial reboots.

  22. Jpw says:

    It’s not just that comics cost more; there’s also less content per issue vs. what you got in a standard 1980s-1990s comic (nevermind the ludicrously dense books of the Silver Age).

    Plus, and this is just speculation of course, but I imagine the constant reboots make it difficult for new readers to grow attached to characters these days. As a reader in the 80s/90s, it was basically I’ve super-extended story you were experiencing with the characters as they grew and changed, too. Hitting the reset button every 6-18 months can’t do much to foster that same feeling with new readers.

  23. Voord 99 says:

    Yes, and there have been other shifts since then: interchangeable covers that don’t advertise the specific contents of that issue and aren’t designed to grab the attention of a passer-by, fewer single-issue self-contained stories, abolition of thought balloons, better quality paper stock, etc.

    But on the other hand, these changes happened as much because the market changed as the other way round. It’s just as much the case that superhero comics don’t cater to new readers because new readers are a negligible part of their readership as it’s the case that new readers are so rare because comics don’t cater to them.

    And there are some things that really shouldn’t change. Back then, there was a constant stream of new villains and antagonists, to compensate for the fact that the main characters might be kept in a status quo for longer than they are nowadays. And to grab the attention of a passing child with a cover saying “Enter: Lightmaster!(or whoever) — some visually striking character whom the child had never seen before. Nowadays, creators are more reluctant to come up with new characters on a work-for-hire basis, and that’s fair enough.

  24. Mat says:

    Before this declines into a big lament about how impossibly unaffordable comics are, it’s maybe worth noting that comics are a lot more obtainable from a lot more places than they used to be—libraries, digital, services like MU and the books on DC online and so on and so forth. It’s partly because of that availability that the collectible aspect of print comics has decreased (you’re going to be able to read about say spider-man noir for a few bucks, no matter how expensive his original appearances are) and it’s also hard to figure out how much reach books have nowadays. But compared to other collectibles comics have held up amazingly well, given what they’re up against—and that includes big two superhero books. Which are really good, a lot of the time.

  25. Mat says:

    Where I think we do have a fairly big problem is in the decline of long form series that last 60-100 issues, in the Preacher/Transmet mould, though obviously there are a few Image titles which qualify as successors to that (Saga and maybe Monstress). I’d love to see something like Bryan Hill’s American Carnage go on for a decade but it looks like we’ll be lucky to get twelve issues. The point is, though, we will be lucky—those twelve issues will be great, and all being well they’ll tell enough of a story to be satisfying. It would be great if there were more complete stories in American comics.

    With superhero books I do sometimes wish Marvel would say something like, we’re launching an imprint and it’s going to last for ten years and it’s going to actually let these characters grow. Zdarsky’s new spider-man book is doing something like that in a small amount of time and I think it’s a really nice idea. But it’s no coincidence that the more thoughtful corporate superhero books are using the illusion of change stuff to tell stories about being stuck and even traumatised—this is what both mr Miracle and Heroes in Crisis are about, and you can see it in the new X-men reboot as well. It’s not like the world lacks for things feeling stuck and wanting to change, and there’ve been some great superhero stories exploring those themes.

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