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Jan 9

X-Force #21-26

Posted on Sunday, January 9, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

X-FORCE #21-26
by Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara, Robert Gill, Martin Coccolo and Guru-eFX

Looking back over the last few months, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that some of the X-books have been spinning their wheels after Hellfire Gala, waiting for Inferno to come along and advance the status quo. Marauders is the biggest example of that, but X-Force is in that category too. What we have in these six issues is a bunch of unrelated stories that seem to be marking time, and don’t feel like a coherent overall series.

It doesn’t greatly help that the series’ most common penciller Joshua Cassara is missing for almost all of this run. He does some of issue #21 and that’s it. Cassara’s art is one of the more memorable features of X-Force; it’s a book unusually preoccupied with the concept of organic technology and weird plant-based things. Under Cassara, it generally manages to make all of that look rather seedy, grotesque and ominous in a way that then infects even the more conventional shots of Krakoa as an island paradise. And since most people are going to be reading this book as part of the wider X-lineup, that’s fine; the utopian setting is being established somewhere else, X-Force is free to get on with undercutting it.

The art in these issues isn’t bad at all, it just feels a little blander to me. Sometimes that works. The scenes of a dispassionate mind-controlled Colossus actually work well in that register, and it’s maybe better able to play Quentin and Phoebe’s relationship straight. But it’s less distinctive.

As for the stories, it’s a mixed bunch. This is often the way with Benjamin Percy – a big part of his approach is to have multiple long-term storylines and cut back and forth between them. It works pretty well for him in Wolverine, where if you don’t like one of his stories, never mind – there’ll be another one along in a minute. But in that book, even if the separate threads don’t much connect, they do have momentum in their own right.

Issues #21-22 are a two-parter with Man-Slaughter, an obscure character that Percy introduced in a Weapon Plus one-shot. Part of me quite admires Percy’s determination to get the guy over, and to be fair, he does logically belong in X-Force. After all, he’s a character based on biotech – specifically, an attempt to create a super-soldier version of the Man-Thing. So it’s not that he doesn’t fit. It’s that Man-Slaughter isn’t that great a concept to start with. He’s too obviously in the shadow of Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, and even if his personality is nothing like either of them, it’s generic in other ways – there’s nothing new about the basically nice guy who was exploited by the evil military. I don’t think there’s really a gap for a Man-Thing knock-off character, or if there is, he’d have to be stronger than this one.

Next up is a return to the Russian Doll soldiers – who were a cute idea, but we’ve done them – as the Beast and Black Tom Cassidy reprise Fantastic Voyage. There’s nothing basically wrong with this idea, but… well, it’s Fantastic Voyage. I don’t think the story really brings much new to it, and if anything, it struggles to work with the premise – shouldn’t the Beast’s body be full of, you know, fluids and stuff? It feels like we’ve started with a time-honoured premise and then tried to jettison a lot of the fiddly bits, which doesn’t work, because the fiddly bits of having to deal with the inside of the body are the premise.

On the other hand, though. Those issues also have Hank monologuing about his relationship with past versions of the character, and there’s some interesting material there. At times Percy has made this Beast a bit too much of a one-note character, pursuing highly ill-advised ideas with no ethical dimension whatsoever and oblivious to his own repeated failures. An acknowledgement that this is out of line with his normal presentation raises questions about whether he winds up being rebooted to an earlier point in his history – something that this series has previously explored with Domino (and come to think of it, she does nothing in these six issues) – which could be intriguing. And while Percy often pushes it too far, I do like the basic idea of Hank as a character who has a lot invested in the notion of himself as the man who sacrifices his own integrity to do what needs to be done for the greater good; in theory at least, it parallels nicely with Wolverine, who often sees himself as a man who does all the horrific violence so that other people can be shielded from it. The difference is that the Beast seems more actively proud of taking that role.

Then there’s the storyline of Mikhail and the Chronicler manipulating Colossus. This is interesting, because it’s a rather subtle, understated form of mind control that has some real meta potential. I really like the idea of someone who can manipulate other people, but only within the bounds of what he can convince himself makes sense for their characters. That’s a really unusual limitation which has plenty of possibilities. Unfortunately, it’s a plot thread that abruptly disappears after issue #24, at which point Colossus goes off and joins the Quiet Council. If you’re reading this book in isolation – and admittedly you probably aren’t – it’s going to look very odd. It needed some follow-up in issue #25. Surely the plot isn’t just going to be handed over to Immortal X-Men? Colossus is going to be in that book, but so are Storm and Kate Pryde, both of whom continue to be in other titles. (Not that I’d mind see Kieron Gillen take a crack at this idea, though.)

I have more of an issue with Mikhail’s Russian nationalism. Resurgent Russian nationalism is perfectly fine as a character theme, but the namechecking of 19th century Russian cultural landmarks doesn’t really feel like it has much to do with modern Russian identity. Even if we grant that Mikhail wants to reject the last century plus and go back to a pre-revolutionary Russian culture – which doesn’t really fit with the way he talks about his followers anyway – it feels very superficial. You can practically see the list starting “Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, vodka…”

Then there’s the last two issues. The Quentin/Phoebe break-up stuff is quite good – yes, it comes a little out of the blue, but it’s presumably a bump in the road before they pick up the thread in the new season. It seems a touch odd for the darkest of the current X-books to do a story about Quentin evolving into a happier, more rounded character, but it’s a nice balance for the rest of the book.

And then there’s the surfers. Oh dear. Evil surfers and Wolverine with an adamantium surfboard. It’s not so much that it’s stupid, more that it’s the wrong kind of stupid. Stones that record voices and the Nesting Dolls are kind of stupid too, but they’re over the top in a way that the book can take. Wolverine on a bladed metal surfboard fighting evil surfers is a throwaway visual gag for the Deadpool Beach Party Infinity Comic. Playing it straight for two issues, as some sort of grand battle with the elements, is just a wild misjudgment of tone, and a baffling choice to round off the series.

I tend to find Benjamin Percy hit and miss, but usually there’s a fair amount of hits along the way. There are some here, but it’s a relatively weak stretch of the book.

Bring on the comments

  1. Alastair says:

    I’ve just read the x line from decimation till 2nd coming and there is a complete 360 from the beast of 10 -15 years ago. I still think the fact we have not seen Dark Beast in krakoa will be the resolution. Both hanks in the same body due to a glitch in ressurection protocols or “doc” brought back instead of Hank.

  2. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    While you might be right, it would demand a retcon – immediately before the Krakoan Era Dark Beast was dead (he died, like most everyone, in Rosenberg’s Uncanny), but Beast was alive (he was trapped in Age of X-Man, but he didn’t die there). Hank wasn’t resurrected prior to X-Force…

    …as far as we know.

  3. Taibak says:

    If they’re drawing a parallel between Wolverine and the Beast… please tell me somebody has commented on their hair….

  4. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Beast has been morally compromised since way before the resurrection system.

  5. Josie says:

    One of the biggest failings of the Krakoa era is to set up all these obvious morally compromising situations and ethical broken boundaries, and not pay off any of it. Yes, people do bad things in real life too, but real life doesn’t allow for complete thematic structure the way stories do. Changes, especially those as obvious as the ones in these books, demand payoff.

    Whatever is shortcomings, the Superior Spider-man book was quick to show the repercussions for moral shortcomings and ethically questionable decisions. Maybe some of the payoff was too quick, but it allowed for the book to develop and change over its drawn-out run.

    Whereas with Krakoa, it feels like pretty much everything happened back in HoxPox.

  6. Thom H. says:

    I was excited for a second because I thought they had brought back the New Defenders villain Manslaughter. This new Man-Slaughter doesn’t sound as fun.

  7. Mathias X says:

    Gosh, but I wish the X-Force book we got was just the X-Force book we saw in Inferno #1, instead of Percy’s mess. I don’t think all of his ideas are bad, but someone should have told him “No” on the adamantium surfboard.

  8. Jason Powell says:

    One of them should change his name to “Man’s Laughter,” to distinguish himself.

  9. wwk5d says:

    I always liked this title but yeah, this last run was rather underwhelming in general. Which is a shame, since the first 20 issues were good overall.

  10. Mike Loughlin says:

    I’ll probably read the first couple issues after it returns from hiatus, but I’m bowing out if we get more adamantium surfboards and rough art. I don’t like how X-Force has gone lately, but I want to see how the Mikhail plot and Beast’s further descent into villainy play out. Percy is capable of writing interesting characters and situations. Hopefully, he’ll focus on the stronger storylines.

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