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Apr 15

X-Force #1-9

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

Every line-up of X-books needs the grim one. It’s a role that plays a little differently, though, in the context of the Krakoan era. Normally X-Force is the book that takes a generally awful world to its somewhat-logical conclusion. But the whole premise of the Krakoan era is that the mutants are on top of the world, living in a secure tropical island utopia.

Here, X-Force becomes the book that focusses most directly on the idea that things are not necessarily very nice beneath the surface of the Krakoan utopia. It remains the most nineties and the most grim of the current line (or at least, it was until Wolverine came along), but that grimness serves a somewhat different function here.

There’s a lot of material sharing space in X-Force, not all of it equally successful. Benjamin Percy seems to have some solid long-term storylines going, with the introduction of the anti-mutant group XENO and some well-built teases about who’s actually in charge. Individual characters have some promising arcs too. The Domino/Colossus angle, in which he disregards her wishes in order to rid her of painful memories – and, in the short term at least, seems to have actually made her life better by doing so – is a promising storyline.

Beast’s hubris is a nicely judged storyline too. It’s not a traditional take on the character, but it’s become a standard reading since the Bendis era, so fair enough. Beast clearly fancies himself as the character who’s five steps ahead of everyone else, and sees everything coming. It’s a role that Black Panther often gets to play in the modern Marvel Universe. But it’s a familiar trope which is cleverly subverted by making Beast not quite smart enough to pull it off – and then having him double down and try to cover his tracks when things go wrong.

Having said all that, X-Force mainly has a series of individual character arcs running in parallel. Beast isn’t sharing his agenda with anyone else. Wolverine is generally concerned that Krakoa is making people complacent (and seems to be somewhat less on board with the happy clappy stuff than the others, even if he’s playing along with it). Kid Omega welcomes this new mutant nationalist turn. The reasons for including Jean Grey in the cast remain a little obscure. Domino and Colossus intersect, but everyone else in the book is kind of doing their own thing. There’s no particular team dynamic here, which feels like something missing.

Joshua Cassara, who draws most of these issues (skipping #6-8), is not an especially 90s artist. His style is a little darker and a little bit grimier, but also rather less graphic than you might expect. Some of the scripts are unavoidably graphic, mind you, but he does some of his best work by implication, like the torture montage on the opening page of issue #3. The slightly overdone colours give the island a lot of greenery while making it feel a little less welcoming than normal – I’m not 100% sure that’s the intended effect, but it works for the book anyway. And that two-page bar scene in issue #9 is packed with detail that rewards a bit of examination.

The oddest feature of the book is the Black Tom arc, in which random villain Black Tom Cassidy finds himself attached to the security systems of Krakoa and is so overwhelmed by the barrage of sensory input that it’s clearly driving him mad. Quite why this C-lister was selected for the role, aside from convenient powers, is unclear; quite why nobody has intervened to help him with his obvious mental health difficulties is also unclear. Hopefully there will be a reason, because otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Cassidy is meant to be an essential component of Krakoan national security, after all. You’d think people would be checking in on him more effectively. But the general idea of Cassidy’s mental downward spiral and loss of identity is being very effectively conveyed, including through Cassara’s rendition of Cassidy manifesting through the parts of the island.

The biggest problem with the book is its tendency to go overboard on the death and violence. I’m not thinking so much of the assassination of Professor X in issue #1. That probably came a little too early in the Krakoan status quo – you’d think it would undermine the mutants’ sense of security much more than it did – but in the long run it served a sensible purpose, as part of the national foundation myth. And it was a major vote of confidence for that plot point to appear in this book rather than in X-Men. It belongs in this book more than it would in X-Men, but that’s not the point; it was a major story point happening in a B-title, which helps to send the message that things in these titles can matter to the bigger picture.

No, I’m thinking more of Domino’s maiming at the hands of XENO, Kid Omega getting decapitated, Logan getting cut in half and continuing to fight, or bar games where people stab each other in the head while other characters stand around and cheer. The bits that are played for comedy feel over the top compared to what’s around them, as if the book had suddenly wandered off into Lobo territory; the bits that are played straight feel gratuitously nasty at times. Percy also killed off several X-Force characters in his Wolverine book, which felt unnecessary.

One of the reasons for the resurrection gimmick – while it lasts, and it can be removed pretty easily – is to provide an excuse to get all manner of old characters back in circulation. Another reason is to take the threat of death off the table as a routine matter, because the X-Men have stopped playing by the rules of their genre. You can still establish the threat in other ways – X-Men does it with the Vault’s time dilation, or by sending characters off Earth where they can at least die without being backed up.

But it also encourages What If…? syndrome, which is how a lot of Percy’s stories play. What If…?, which largely consisted of alternate endings to old stories, was notorious for routinely descending into bloodbaths, because the series also freed writers from worrying about how to reset the status quo for the next issue. They could kill characters without worrying about the wider implications, and so they did. Incessantly. And that becomes a problem when characters who’ve been around for decades start getting themselves killed every couple of months. It’s too much and it’s time to dial it back.

But there’s a lot of interesting material in X-Force. Far more of it works than doesn’t. It’s just that some of the bits that don’t work really don’t work. A slightly more consistent tone, a bit more interplay between the characters, that’s all it really need.

Bring on the comments

  1. Ben says:

    I will say, I liked the art on this series a lot.

    Black eyed Beast is a very appropriate creepy version of the character.

  2. Bloodredcookie says:

    I’m really digging this book.

  3. Josie says:

    I agree that the lack-of-teamness in this book is somewhat offputting, but at least there is a group of characters notionally known as X-Force (even if some of them don’t strike me as belonging on a team called X-Force).

    Whereas the mainline X-Men book seems to be about any character who ever appeared in a book under the X-Men brand, engaged in any sort of storyline, be it what was presumed to be the overarching plot of the entire line of books or fighting old women who use curse words.

    It’s not that I like X-Force more, but it feels more like the mainline book more than X-Men does.

  4. Matt says:

    Oh boy, fallen angels is next. Can’t wait.

  5. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Josie X-Men is the ‘what is Cyclops up to today?’ book. It’s perhaps not the best title for such a book, but it leads to an interesting question – do the X-Men actually still exist in-world? There doesn’t seem to be a standing team. At first it seemed like the Mother Mold mission team were the X-Men, but half of them barely appeared afterwards.

    Which brings another question – in a world where Krakoa is a thing, is there a place for the X-Men? They can’t be defined simply as ‘a Krakoan task force with a specific mission’, since there’s several of those (X-Force, Marauders, Excalibur). There could be a place for X-Men as ambassadors of Krakoa, on a ‘we have to astonish them’ kind of mission, but obviously it’s not something the mutants are interested in at the moment.

    Like, if the X-Men book actually had an X-Men team in it, what would they even do that would be different from X-Force or Marauders missions?

    Oh, and speaking of X-Force – it’s the book that I had the biggest change of heart on. I was very put off by the initial grimdark and overuse of schlock violence, but in a few issues I was pretty much sold on the book. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s much more interesting then it appeared at first.

  6. Chris says:

    The X-Men ostensibly are ambassadors for coexistence using good will etc etc

  7. Alan L says:

    The X-men could do something akin to what they did during the early part of the Fraction run, where they were celebrities in San Francisco. They did appearances at events. They did concerts. They helped out during disasters.

    I think it was Kurt Busiek on the X-plain the X-men podcast who mentioned how Cyclops was a radio DJ when Prof. X appeared to die in the Lee/Kirby run and the X-men broke up. I believe it was Busiek who had the idea to retcon it so that Cyclops had remained a radio DJ and could talk about mutant issues on the radio.

    The X-men could be––as some of the most recognizable mutants in the world––out in the world, doing things that made their presence clearly valuable and worthwhile. It would be fun to see them out there, and honestly, a book that genuinely explores how the rest of the world is reacting to the mutant nation would be really worthwhile.

  8. Alan L says:

    Alan: Nice thing is, the X-Men have a number of members who are legit celebrities in their own right. You could anchor the book around some combination of Dazzler, Sunspot, Archangel, Northstar, M, and maybe Nightcrawler and Captain Britain and use their fame (or want of fame, in the case of Nightcrawler) to explore that.

  9. Chris V says:

    Yes, I agree that the book should be moving more towards the direction of where Grant Morrison left off, with things like the X-Corporation.
    It doesn’t seem like Hickman is interested in pursuing that angle, even though that would be the perfect direction to show how things have actually changed for mutants in the world.
    Instead, he wants all the mutants to huddle on the island, tell everyone they are already the dominant species, and celebrate how their island is so great.

    So many missed opportunities with this new status quo.

  10. Mikey says:

    James Tynion IV says that the next issue of Batman will come out in June, so it seems safe to assume that the Big Two have no plans on releasing any books in May, even digitally.

  11. Evilgus says:

    Really enjoying this run the most out of the new HOX line.

    My biggest question however is why Jean is formally on the team. To give her a prominent slot? The requirement for a powerful psychic (by saving Prof X after his early assassination?). She’s not a natural fit, and she isn’t a “killer” type character. It jars with me. I’d rather she was rotated in as required, as most other characters would be.

  12. Thom H. says:

    I think we’re going to find out that the goal is to keep as many mutants on Krakoa for as long as possible. There have been plenty of hints in that direction. For example, isn’t that how Krakoa is getting compensated for its/their services? Short missions seem okay, but longer stints in the outside world don’t seem to be encouraged.

    And DC just announced that it will start releasing some of its delayed books on April 28 through non-Diamond distributors:

    Marvel hasn’t announced anything similar yet.

  13. Chris says:

    The Uncanny X-Men should be Dazzler, Angel, Iceman, the Beast, M, Cannonball, Guido, Multiple Man, Sunspot… And led by Nightcrawler

    And as they do food drives and benefit concerts they get sidetracked by super-villains

  14. Alan L says:

    I like that premise a lot, and the lineup is potentially fun, too. Having Nightcrawler in an upbeat role again would be worth crawling through the trials of this whole relaunch, if that’s what they had chosen to do (instead they leaned definitively in the other direction, playing up Nightcrawler the priest, again, and making him thoughtful, but never happy––to be fair, unless their partying in the groves on Krakoa, none of these characters ever look happy anymore).

    @Alan L who posted after me (unless that’s a glitch of some kind? I see someone posting after me, a day later, with the same name)––it’s true, there are a lot of those potential celebrities amongst the mutants––and in the Fraction run, Dazzler, Northstar and Archangel did pretty much act like celebrities on the West Coast. I feel like that idea was played out more thoroughly, with a lot more inherent interest, in the Fraction run (and in the Brubaker issues before that, to a certain extent). The X-men were on top of the world, and they were enjoying themselves for once, even as a bunch of new and related-to-new enemies were springing up around them for the standard showdowns. We got a clear sense of what it was like for mutants living in San Francisco––the bewildering acceptance they mostly learned to eventually embrace––and the X-men did actual stuff there as a team, (and also as a bunch of smaller unit teams, in certain stories where they needed particular task forces). Sure, they fought some characters that were coming after them with old grudges, but each time that happened there was an interesting twist; they fight Magneto at a postmodern “mutant kitsch” art opening, where everyone is dressing as the X-men, they fight the Goblyn Queen over a lock of Jean Grey’s hair, they fight Bastion as a much more interesting character, with a collection of grotesque cronies from their past and a collection of Nimrods from the future. Then in the meantime they keep San Francisco safe from the Skrulls, get in a series of brawls with the Dark Avengers, and such. It felt like the X-men were out in the world (the real world, which is one of those secret weapons that make Marvel comics extra interesting when writers take advantage of its availability), and that their presence had an impact. I know lots of people loved to hate Greg Land’s art; I found the hating more vehement than necessary. To me Land’s relentless lightboxing made the comic seem almost like collage–work. In a way, it was the perfect art for the era of the X-men as celebrities––as if their adventures were a scrapbook cut from photos of them found in the National Enquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and the Weekly World News. I found the whole era fun, and I especially enjoyed being challenged to imagine this alternative space where the X-men were on top of the world, even as they faced down most of the de rigueur threats of the era. This kind of thought experiment as premise for the series came off as playful and enjoyable, and it made a large palette on which to spin a lot of different kinds of stories––like the very eccentric X-men science division, which gets recruited during the Fraction issues in a jaunty, adorable way.

    But here’s the thing that keeps bothering me: if you take Dawn of X as a whole direction for the kind-of-sort-of–X-men, separate from HoX/PoX, what you have is close to another version of the same Fraction premise, done with less vim and vigor than it was only a decade ago. Instead of “what if people loved the X-men instead of hating and fearing them?,” you have “what if the X-men were the Game of Thrones clan that was on top at the moment?” Or perhaps the more accurate proposal is “what it were the X-men partying down in Zion with Neo and Trinity (in this premise, I suppose Neo and Trinity are Xavier and Apocalypse, making Morpheus Magneto, Cyclops someone like Link, and there are so many options for who would be Tank or Dozer)?” Of course, Dawn of X has this other set of concepts behind it, inherited from HoX/PoX––but the actual Dawn of X titles only address those concepts in pretty oblique ways. So I don’t feel a story evolving, relating to HoX/PoX. And I don’t find the “dawn” quite enough fun to favor it in comparison with the Fraction run. The Fraction era had a more free–floating sense of narrative improvisation––an open, playful premise, where anything might lead to the next story. The Hickman approach is always staring at the horizon; everything is leading to a story destination that it’s for some reason important you shouldn’t be able to guess yet. The focal point of Hickman’s premise is off in the distance, and the material closest to us––the “Dawn of X” part of the equation––is loose without being adventurous, and very convoluted, to boot. When I read the issues of these titles, or try and think about the titles’ narratives in summary, I don’t feel the new books going anywhere. It’s especially grating because I know they *are* meant to be going somewhere. But I think that the tightly wound and too–specifically supported premise of the current books (everything is leading towards a possible future centuries after the events of Dawn of X) is not broad or loose enough to enable all these different writers to do very good work with their individual Dawn of X books. This X-force title is one of the better ones at delineating some of what is happening around the main story premise, but it’s still uncomfortable in the specific ways it is vague and the weirdly forced ways it is focused. What the X-force characters are doing as a group is pretty clear, but the motivations of individual characters are often fuzzy or underdeveloped. What impact they have on the world is relatively vague for a book that professes to be interested in mutant world affairs. What is wrong on Krakoa is left entirely vague, because that’s a big plot point coming eventually, and maybe in a different book, so Percy can’t get too far into it. And I really prefer a premise that isn’t so plot–heavy, so dependent upon hidden details to be revealed in the future, because it gives the writers a little more freedom to tell their own stories without an arm tied behind their collective back.

  15. Josie says:

    I mean the X-Men book might as well be titled “Tales from Krakoa.” Or, fine, “Cyclops Team-up.” And that would fine. That’s basically what it is, a bunch of disparate stories about stuff going on within, nearby, and regarding Krakoa. Certainly, the X-Men line could use such a title.

    But it makes no sense as a book titled “X-Men,” let alone the presumptive mainline title. There is no established cast, no overarching plot (there are subplots, but it’s hard to attribute any one of them to the direction the book is headed in), and no premise beyond exploring anything and everything that currently involves mutants – which isn’t really a premise.

  16. Mikey says:

    I dunno, whenever I picture the X-Men’s short time in San Francisco before Utopia, I can’t not recall Pixie taking a bat to the back of her skull in a dark alleyway but drawn like she’s orgasmic by Greg Land.

  17. Chris says:

    It’s kinda fun to have Nightcrawler pray but I wish it wasn’t at the expense of Nightcrawler the Swashbuckler.

    Then again I miss the Avenger/Defender Beast, the Champion/Defender Iceman, and the Champion/Defender Angel…

    I miss days when the characters were happy without the weird god island

  18. Chris says:

    Hickman has a good formula that he might stick to here: he sets up the FF or the Avengers as on top of the world and then comes the twist.

  19. Evilgus says:

    “I miss days when the characters were happy without the weird god island”

    Hmm. Kitty is self medicating with alcohol, Nightcrawler is riven with insecurities about the nature of the soul, Iceman is increasingly violent… Are there any light-hearted ‘happy’ characters left?

    I’d perhaps suggest Sunspot but he seems to have become a twat, to be honest!

  20. Taibak says:

    Alan: That was me. I think I put your name in by mistake.

    Sorry. 🙁

  21. Taibak says:

    You know, thinking about this more, a celebrity-themed X-Men series might be a good way to rehabilitate Colossus as a character. Put him in a situation where he won’t be often and will be encouraged to pursue his true passion, painting. Bring him back to his Peter Nicholas days in New York and that should be enough to gradually loosen him up.

    So let’s say a team of him, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, Northstar, M, and Archangel and one other character (Longshot? Evangeline Whedon?) and go from there.

  22. Chris says:


  23. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    He was a bit of a celebrity as an Olympic skier, wasn’t he? (I’m not sure what’s the public status of Alpha Flight members, never read their book).

  24. Luis Dantas says:

    Yes, Byrne established very early on that Northstar was a sports celebrity (at snow skying, IIRC). His sister gave him some grief for that, since she (sometimes) saw that as cheating with his mutant powers.

    Much happened since, including a brief period of time when he was thought to be half-elf. But I don’t think his past as a celebrity has been retconned.

  25. Taibak says:

    Chris: Northstar was an Olympic skiing champion and, more recently, a bestselling author.

  26. neutrino says:

    In one of Marvel’s swimsuit issues, there was an interview with Northstar that said his medals were stripped from him when it was revealed he was a mutant.

  27. Chris says:

    I know the background of Northstar

    He was a celebrity.

    But he’s also the Ron Artest of super heroes

  28. Michael says:

    If Northstar’s medals were stripped from him because of his mutant powers, he’s more like the Lance Armstrong… since one assumes mutant speed/flight for a champion skier is like doping for a cyclist.

    I guess?

  29. Chris says:

    Lance Armstrong’s vicious temper doesn’t lead him to violently attack people.

    And mutancy isn’t akin to doping.

  30. Jonny K says:

    More the Caster Semenya, then?

    Is comparison to her too on the nose?

  31. neutrino says:

    In the interview IIRC, Northstar said his records were within human capability. On the other hand, Guardian said he was a mediocre skier until he found he could fly.

  32. Chris V says:

    Doesn’t this open up more questions about mutants?
    If a mutant has super-strength and wins a weight-lifting contest, is that wrong?
    I mean, some males are just born bigger and stronger. Is it wrong if a guy has a naturally bigger frame and is able to dominate in a weight-lifting competition?
    Should he be disqualified for being born with a greater ability than a person who is simply not as big?
    Why is it different if a mutant is born with the mutant power of extra strength? It’s natural.

  33. Michael P. says:

    X-Force seems like these mutants’ jobs. They punch in, have coworkers who they struggle with and who they tolerate, managers who are absent, indifferent to physical and mental stress, and/or working at cross purposes to their subordinates, but certainly not making people into a team.

  34. Chris says:

    Captain America is a doper.

  35. Alan L says:

    Taibak, I think your extra spot on the celebrity X-men team should go to Bling. Having been famous since birth, Roxie Washington would have a unique viewpoint on fame amongst the team members. It’s not something she sought, like Dazzler, and she had no option for anonymity, like Colossus would. She could be the critical voice in the group.

    Though ever since the 2nd Deadpool movie I’ve been wanting to see them resurrect Negasonic Teenage Warhead. If they based the character on the one Brianna Hildebrand played in that film, they could get some fun mileage out of that character. I’m a little surprised they haven’t resurrected her, though I suppose her popularity from the Deadpool movies arose at a time when X-men was still on the sh*t list at Marvel. But there’s a character who wasn’t any kind of character yet in the comics. You could develop lots of stories off of us getting to know her.

  36. Alan L says:

    If Colossus is Peter Nicholas, the New York painter, and he’s the lead character in this celebrity X-men, maybe the the series could be in the process of being painted some of the time. Kind of a fun process to show that their story is in the process of happening afresh. They could get Magneto as a guest star, and he could control the paint brush that’s filling in their panels, changing the story as they go.

    This book could be legitimately fun and free–wheeling, instead of grim and miserable. Surely that’s something some readers could get on board with! We’ve had 50 years of mostly grim X-men. Now that the mutants are on top, it would be great to see them flaunt it––and not just by throwing Jumbo Carnation into the background of one scene one time, making cool mutant outfits.

  37. Jerry Ray says:

    It’s hard to keep up, but I think I remember a very movie-like version of Negasonic Teenage Warhead being a supporting character in the recent Scottie Young Deadpool series.

  38. Taibak says:

    Right. So Dazzler, Northstar, Colossus, M, Archangel, Nightcrawler, and Bling!. Strong Guy, Sunspot, Evangeline Whedon, Beast, and Captain Britain in the supporting cast.

  39. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Going by wikipedia, Cullenn Bunn used her in the ‘Deadpool and the Mercs for Money’ series. Skottie Young just kept using her.

    Also, apparently she was brought back in Necrosha and just stayed alive afterwards, though I have no idea if this is backed up by the comics or if the wikipedia author just decided that it must have been so.

  40. Dave says:

    “Lance Armstrong’s vicious temper doesn’t lead him to violently attack people.”

    No, he sued them instead.

  41. Voord 99 says:

    Back in the Silver Age, it came up a lot that mutants were better at sports.

    Hank McCoy, obviously, was supposed to have been a football star. One of the main reasons why Cain Marko hated Charles Xavier is that young Charles used his ability to read minds to be a star quarterback by finding out what the opposing team’s plays were going to be.

    And Alex Summers was also a star athlete, and there it’s made explicit that all mutants are supposed to be superior athletes. I don’t know if that ever came up again.

    (Also, the Egyptian pharaohs were all mutants. Every single one of them, if I’m remembering the story correctly. This is a piece of continuity that I wish someone would revive.)

  42. Chris says:

    Any Northstar that isn’t short-tempered and generally unfit to be an ambassador is being written out of character.

    And that’s another difference. Lance Armstrong didn’t have a temper. He was an evil mutant. He was deliberate in his malevolence.

    Elliot S! Maggin suggested in the KINGDOM COME novelization that Muhammad Ali and various other superior athletes were low-level metas.

  43. Chris says:

    En Sabah Nur is Lance Armstrong
    Northstar is Ron Artest
    Mr Sinister is…

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