RSS Feed
Nov 27

X-Force: Killshot Anniversary Special #1

Posted on Saturday, November 27, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

by Rob Liefeld, Chad Bowers, Bryan Valenza, Federico Blee & Mirza Wirawan

So this is a thing.

Commemorating the 30th anniversary of X-Force #1, this is a 33-page one-shot written and drawn by Rob Liefeld – the other listed creators are the scripter and the colourist – which… does pretty much what you’d expect?

Maybe not, actually. Liefeld sets up a perfectly decent premise for an anniversary one-shot. Cable is still fighting Stryfe through time and space, and for this mission he’s gathered an assortment of allies from across history, to take on Stryfe and his Mutant Liberation Front. There’s a passing mention that this version of the MLF is also from the past, or maybe an alternate timeline or… whatever, really. Not the same ones that are on Krakoa, which is the bit that actually matters.

So we know how that sort of premise plays out in an anniversary oneshot, right? You use it to gather cast members from across 30 years of continuity, you team them up in a supersquad, you play the hits. And god bless him, for Liefeld loses sight of that point pretty quickly.

The book opens with Cable explaining the plot while the art shows up close-ups of the team he’s assembled. And they just keep coming, for three straight pages, with variations on the same characters. It’s actually a cute gag. It’s a team of something like 30 people, but what it’s not is an X-Force team. The Thing is there. Major X is there (three times). Deadpool is there, four times, one of which is also Venom. In theory there’s a bit here about characters meeting at multiple points in their life, but nothing really happens with it.

There’s a plot. Stryfe is about to activate a doomsday weapon. There’s a big fight, largely devoid of backgrounds. Stryfe gives a weird speech about how he’s trying to help Cable by wiping out the population of Earth, so that he’ll finally be freed of his burden of protecting them, then complains that Cable refuses to rule alongside him (er, rule who?), but Stryfe gets beaten up. His doomsday weapon can’t be cancelled, but Cable and Major X use techno-organics to shut it down. And then a weird negative-image version of Zero shows up to claim the bodies of Stryfe and Zero, which isn’t explained and never will be.


It’s not good. But I’ve said before that Rob Liefeld is somewhat reviewproof, and a Rob Liefeld 30th anniversary issue is even more so. Who’s the audience for this? There’s completist masochists, of course, but we only have ourselves to blame. The real audience are presumably people who look back fondly on Rob Liefeld’s work at Marvel, circa 1990-1991.

And that audience is not interested in the plot. It’s not all that interested in the characters. Neither of these things was front and centre the first time round. What Liefeld brought to the table thirty years ago was energy and exaggeration and a certain design sensibility and a somewhat Axe Cop quality of making it up as he went along. And let’s be fair, there are plenty of elements from that work that turned out to be pretty enduring. Cable, Domino, Shatterstar, Deadpool… sure, they got massively fleshed out by later writers, but they’re still pretty much recognisable from their original creations. I still think the actual uniforms for early X-Force were a good piece of design. Several of the Mutant Liberation Front henchguys still show up pretty regularly, because they had a good look. A lot of Liefeld’s high concepts proved surprisingly workable over the years. People are still doing stories based on the original, “distorted entertainment culture” premise of Shatterstar. Who’d have predicted that in 1991?

The point being, anyone who is actually in the market for an X-Force 30th anniversary special is probably more interested in whether it strikes the tone or not. And… kind of? It’s nonsense, and I don’t think you can get away with setting up a dangler in an issue like this (though to be fair, Liefeld does take the opportunity to revisit Major X, so maybe he will come back to this in a later story). There’s some energy. There’s some very Liefeld panels. It doesn’t deliver an X-Force reunion, but if you were expecting a Rob Liefeld anniversary special then sure, it pretty much provides that.

It is what it is – which feels pretty niche in this day and age. But it delivers what it promises, for better or worse. Well, except for the bit where X-Force aren’t in it.


Bring on the comments

  1. Nu-D says:

    “ People are still doing stories based on the original, ‘distorted entertainment culture’ premise of Shatterstar.”

    Was that Shatterstar’s “original premise?” Or was that tacked on later because of his Mojoxbased origin? I can’t be bothered to go back and look, but I feel like anything related to that premise for Shatterstar was either already there from Claremont and Nocenti, or was added after Liefield left.

  2. Si says:

    Shatterstar was a freedom fighter with some trappings of showmanship, but mostly he was a ruthless killer that had the older characters baulking.

  3. Chris V says:

    Yeah. The guy was willing to stab himself with a sword in order to kill an enemy behind him.
    You don’t see that sort of…bravado…in most comics.

  4. The Other Michael says:

    The best Cable could do for his X-Force of X-Forces was… several more of him, some Deadpools, some Shatterstars, several Dominos, and some palette-swapped Major Xs, plus a few randoms like Cannonball and the Thing.

    Really? Sigh.
    And mind you, some of those characters simply vanished halfway through, without a real role to play.

    Imagine what a good writer could have done with the concept.

  5. Paul says:

    The original premise of Shatterstar was “MTV warrior”, but in theory at least, what distinguished him from other characters was his Mojoverse culture which made him want to perform and do cool things even when he was rebelling against it. Needless to say, this doesn’t come across very clearly in Liefeld’s own stories, where everyone acts like that anyway – but it’s certainly the *intended* premise. The early story that makes the point clearly is the guest appearance in Wolverine that was written by Fabian Nicieza, which absolutely hammers the idea that Shatterstar is obsessed with media and instinctively sees a bunch of thugs who video themselves beating up the vulnerable as kindred spirits, simply because they have cameras.

    A lot of Liefeld concepts come across rather more clearly in interviews than they do in his actual stories. Youngblood, judging from early interviews, were supposed to be a bunch of fame-obsessed superheroes of varying degrees of actual heroism – which is essentially the same concept as X-Statix, except played straight. You’d really have to stretch to find it in the actual printed stories, though.

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    @Chris V: the self-impalling bit may come from Frank Miller’s Ronin. The title characters does it in #1.

  7. Thom H. says:

    It must be so fun to be Rob Liefeld and know all of that backstory and motivation while you’re making the comics.

  8. Chris V says:

    Luis-It’s funny that I remember the scene involving Shatterstar, while I don’t remember that in Ronin.
    I found Miller’s Ronin to be a good comic and think highly of it, while I found X-Force #1 a rather ludicrous comic.
    I did read the early X-Force issues well before I decided to hunt down back-issues of Ronin, so maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly from Liefield.

  9. ASV says:

    I read that Shatterstar scene 30 years ago, when I was 12, and it remains the clearest example of “Rob Liefeld’s Shatterstar” in my memory. I read Ronin *this year* and don’t recall that bit at all (despite not storing it in long-term memory, I did enjoy it).

  10. wwk5d says:

    “The real audience are presumably people who look back fondly on Rob Liefeld’s work at Marvel, circa 1990-1991.”

    People like that exist?

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    On a second look, the Shatterstar scene seems to be a swipe of Ronin’s. Down to the page and panel layout, even.

    As for Liefeld… he is, if nothing else, predictable and consistent. He seems to think that his character concepts (or at least their visual concepts) are so darned awesome that everyone will want to learn more about them from the first look.

    Unfortunately, he is far too often right about that, despite trying his very best to teach us better.

    I feel that every single story that he ever wrote is about exagerated poses, exotic looks and painful body language that hints of adreline overdoses all around. Nothing ever happens that isn’t some sort of pretentious exposition, pretentious, unclear and pointless fighting or pretentious bad boy posturing.

    I’m not even sure whether he remembers what happened in any given issue that he wrote, even in the next day after writing it.

  12. Si says:

    That is a very unfortunate swipe. The odd little panels actually make sense in Ronin (which I’ve never read).

    I’m ambivalent about Liefeld. He did what he did well. Late New Mutants and early X-Force were never meant to be collected in trades and pored over for decades by adult critics of the medium. They were made so some kid could buy the comic with spare change, power through it, go “woah!”, toss it aside, and go play Street Fighter. Soon after it became a way for catching the eye of speculators who’d never even open the comic. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now, but Rob is richer than I’ll ever be, and I guess that means it worked. Comparing him to fine artists and subtle storytellers is unfair.

  13. The Other Michael says:

    As a writer, Liefeld is passable. As an artist, he’s dubious. His real strengths have always rested in his abilities as an idea guy and a marketer.

    Think about it, he comes up with all of these wild characters and designs, many of which have stood the test of time, but it’s not because of the stories themselves. It’s because other writers have taken his creations and run with them. Deadpool, Cable, Domino. Supreme, Glory, Prophet, etc.

    He’d have done spectacular in the Golden Age of comics and whatnot, throwing out a dozen ideas over lunch to satisfy the insatiable need for cheap stories that don’t need to make a lot of sense.

  14. MasterMahan says:

    The three pages of character panels would have worked better if Liefeld could do more than a couple faces. I probably wasn’t supposed to laugh at Shatterstar clearly being Cable in a wig.

  15. Bob B says:

    You guys are all much more charitable than me about this. I’ve read some bad comics in my day but this was really bad. Terrible, terrible, awful in pretty much every way. The early issues of X-Force having any lasting appeal is probably due to Fabian Nicieza.

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    IMO Liefeld has improved _immensely_ as a penciler since the 1990s. He now has some range and nuance. Still a very mediocre penciler, but heads and tails better than he was 30 years ago.

    But his writing… I just don’t know how he convinces himself to take the time to pencil around such weaksauce.

  17. Paul says:

    I would say that if I’m being charitable, part of that is because this is specifically promoted as a Liefeld 30th anniversary issue. I can hardly buy a Rob Liefeld anniversary special and then complain that it reads like a Rob Liefeld comic. It’s certainly true that Nicieza’s scripting did some really heavy lifting in making those early X-Force issues coherent, but you can’t give him credit for Liefeld’s character designs, many of which genuinely turned out to be enduring.

  18. Taibak says:

    I’ve said it before: Rob Liefeld is the Ed Wood of comics.

    He has no idea what he’s doing, and any attempt to teach him would kill the spark of inspiration that he somehow has.

  19. Bnyblm says:

    @Si yes! 100% this is what I always thought about original X-Force. It was written for pre-teen boys to make them go, “Cool!! A sideways comic! Guns! Girls!” And it achieved exactly that.

  20. Chris says:

    I enjoyed Liefeld’s X-FORCE because it was fun and I liked his character designs because they were essentially different from regular Marvel Super-Heroes.

    Obviously he needed a writer to make them work as comic books.

  21. Rob says:

    “The three pages of character panels would have worked better if Liefeld could do more than a couple faces. I probably wasn’t supposed to laugh at Shatterstar clearly being Cable in a wig.”

    Liefeld gets so much stick about feet, but no one really talks about the pinched noses and weird mouths. Also, I’m convinced he uses himself as reference for every male character.

  22. Bob B says:

    Sorry to come back to this so late – Paul I agree with everything you said, re: Liefield’s influence. I remember the early X-Force issues somewhat fondly. Given the dreadful quality of this specific comic I would really prefer Marvel give other artists the work these days. It’s a little galling that this is supposed to be in-continuity too.

Leave a Reply