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Dec 13

X-Force #10-12

Posted on Sunday, December 13, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

X-FORCE vol 6 #10-12
#10 by Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara & Guru-eFX
#11-12 by Benjamin Percy, Bazaldua & Guru-eFX

This is a slightly random batch of issues to cover. But the last time I reviewed X-Force I took it up to issue #9, and issues #13-14 are “X of Swords” tie-ins that aren’t really issues of X-Force at all. (I’ll review “X of Swords” separately in due course.)

With hindsight I’m not quite sure why I took it up to issue #9, which was halfway through a Terra Verde storyline. It’s the one about the telefloronics technology getting out of control, in a parallel of how things could go equally badly wrong on Krakoa. I like the general idea of other people having something in the same general vicinity to the X-Men’s plant-tech, and of Beast being paranoid about it no matter how marginal they are. I’m a little less sold on tying it to a whole history of Terra Verdan mythology, but I suppose it has the advantage of making the parallels look more, well, organic.

Issues #11 and #12 read a little oddly with hindsight. Tying in with storylines from Percy’s other book Wolverine, they involve the “Russian nesting doll” lab-grown supersoldiers coming to life on Krakoa, wreaking havoc, and stealing the Cerebro Sword. The big threat then turns out to be Mikhail Rasputin and, well, Russian mutants generally.

At which point the storyline gets interrupted for two issues by “X of Swords” and… hold on, so the thing about the Cerebro Sword was completely unconnected to “X of Swords”, then? Issues #11-12 had a “Path to X of Swords” banner on them, but apparently that just means “crossover coming up next month”.

That’s a strange call, isn’t it? To have two unrelated sword-based stories underway at the same time, and to actually interrupt one of them in order to do the other? It feels like the better call would have been to park the Cerebro Sword until a little later, and make progress in some other way. Or, well, make it Not A Sword. Perhaps there’s some unavoidable logistical reason why we’re doing it this way – plans did get messed up a bit by the pandemic – but if it’s a purely creative decision, it’s a very weird one.

Still, if things like that ring a bit false, there’s an awful lot of good stuff in X-Force. It’s not a traditional team book – you’d struggle to say that there’s much of a team dynamic to be found among the main characters, who still feel like an ad hoc group assembled for some one-off purpose. But that lack of cohesion feels strangely appropriate to the characters, and Percy does juggle the space to give all the main characters some space to shine. Well, maybe not Sage, to be honest. But everyone else.

The Domino and Colossus storyline is simmering nicely. The set-up is a good use of the Krakoan resurrection gimmick (which X-Force has previously tended to overuse for added gore). Domino was traumatised by her treatment at the hands of XENO, but she specifically asked for those memories to be retained if she had to be resurrected. When she got killed, Colossus betrayed those wishes and had her resurrected without them, by claiming it was what she asked for.

So on the one hand, he’s gone against her wishes in a matter that she saw as going to the root of her identity. But at the same time, by all appearances, she’s much, much happier than she was before. In that sense, Colossus seems to have been correct in thinking that he was saving her from herself. Of course, we all know that this story ends with her finding out the truth and everything being ruined. But along the way we’re raising some intriguing things here about whether it really was better for Domino to remember, or whether that was just a romantic or depressive delusion that Colossus reasonably thought he was rescuing her from. In a clever touch, Domino herself gets to make that argument, when Wolverine reminds her of her previously expressed wishes – maybe it was the trauma talking.

Even if we know where it’s going to end up, the story is playing out with a bit of nuance, which is very welcome. And Colossus’ reluctance to remain involved with the rest of the cast plays into that nicely, with him aware that he’s crossed a moral line, but at the same time unwilling to reverse it by telling Domino the truth.

The rival Russian mutants interest me too. One aspect of Krakoa that still doesn’t ring true for me is the number of mutants who are willing not just to embrace a new home, but to embrace it as their sole identity. Mikhail Rasputin makes an interesting contrast, leading mutants who still identify with their own country and who aren’t on board with the Krakoan project. It could be a tricky story to pull off, because I suspect it may be poking at a genuine problem with the whole Krakoan set-up. But sometimes those are the most interesting stories.

And if we’re going to stick with the modern reading of the Beast as a morally dubious manipulator, Percy is at least committing to it convincingly. His Beast is defined not by malice but by arrogance and a commitment to the Krakoan project that overrides any other principles. Unwisely, the Krakoans have put him in a position where he feels he has both the moral licence to do whatever is necessary to protect the new nation, and the intellect to know what that is. If you can accept this direction for Beast at all, then Percy sells his ends-justify-the-means thinking very well.

The art isn’t the most spectacular in the line, but it fits the series well enough. Krakoa is still a tropical paradise here, but there’s more sense of it growing a little bit out of control. The lighting is lower, the aura is more murky. It’s all a bit more earthy. Cassara’s telefloronics take the plant-tech concept and push it into slightly horrific territory; there’s nothing neat or clean here, but people and buildings being strangled by plantlife. Bazaldua’s style is closer to conventional superhero style but his nesting dolls are still rather sinister.

X-Force is strongest when dealing with longer term storylines and subplots. It seems to be dialling back a bit on the violence, which is probably for the best; the earlier issues were over the top at times, and it wouldn’t fit with the subtler character work that’s going on. The book is weaker when it comes to self-contained stories; the page-to-page plotting is fine, but it’s the longer-term ideas that hold the real interest here. Fortunately, several of those ideas are very successful.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Swords are to Marvel comics in the 10s and 20s are as crystals were to Marvel comics in the 70s and 80s.

    I like swords. Swords are pretty. But for goodness sake, give the guy a magic rifle or something. Especially if he’s from space or the future.

  2. Rybread says:

    I wonder if there wasn’t a change of plans re: the Cerebro Sword. I remember an early teaser image for X of Swords had ten shadowy figures holding swords. Nine of them were the mutants who end up participating in the tournament. The tenth looks an awful lot like Magneto who barely factors into the event and certainly never wields a sword during it.

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