Sunday, July 11, 2010

X-Force: Blood Pretty Much Everywhere

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Predators came out this weekend! Where's the Predators review?" Not that I do a lot of new movie reviews, but I did allege that I'd write something up when the aforementioned film was released. And that's still the case. Unfortunately, I'd completely forgotten that it was coming out now, learning that only when I went to the movies to see The Girl Who Played with Fire with my good friend The Opinioness. When I get a day off at work next, I'll try and get a showing in, but until then, sorry, no Predators here.

But I hope instead you'll enjoy my latest guilty pleasure, X-Force: Not Forgotten, the third collection of the excellent series written by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost and art by Clayton Crain, Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. I've actually owned this title for a few months now (It was released in paperback form in April) but for some reason never finished reading it. Perhaps I was just too busy at the time. However, having gone back and read it cover to cover, I'm not sure how I managed that feat.

In this installment of the great new Marvel franchise, we're seeing the beginning of the X-Men's nemesis Bastion's (think of a living, thinking Sentinel) plans come to fruition, as he controls another villain, the Leper Queen, to kidnap mutants, infect them with the Legacy Virus, and let them loose at anti-mutant rallies, where the mutant's powers overload and kill everyone in the area, including the mutants themselves. Thus Bastion hopes to drive anti-mutant hatred skyward, making it easier to pass a brand-new Sentinel program through Congress. Leper Queen recently kidnapped three well-known X-Teens - Julian "Hellion" Keller, Noriko (Surge) Ashida and Tabitha "Boom-Boom" Smith, with the intent of delivering them juiced up to the United Nations for some real explosive drama. Also, surprised by Cable's seeming unwillingness to contact them after hiding in the future with the baby that may spell salvation for all mutant-kind (a la the epic Messiah Complex) Cyclops also plans to send X-Force into the future (using scrapped-together time-travel technology) to aid Cable in any way they can.

And so goes X-Force volume 3. The installment covers issues 12-13 and 17-20 of the series. Issues 14-16 were actually installed in X-Force/Cable Messiah War, which is also an excellent title (as long as you ignore the Wasteland Blues and Lucas Bishop stories that are at the beginning and the end but not necessary reading) and needed to completely understand what happened to these characters between in between storylines. The story is exceptionally well told, with Kyle and Yost's respect not only for the characters but also the source material obvious. Both have spent much of their still-young careers with the X-Men, especially the younger mutants (even getting one of their original creations, X23, adapted from the animated X-Men Evolution to become a regular character in the X-Universe) and their black-ops X-Force is a dark, ugly team in which ultra-violent Wolverine turns out to be the balanced voice of reason.

That it's yet another Wolverine title shouldn't put people off who think it's ridiculous that he's already featured in, what, seven regular series and a half-dozen one-shots every other month? Not to mention countless appearances in unrelated series. Wolverine is Marvel's cash cow, and they'd be foolish not to use him as much as possible, but X-Force is no mere Wolverine fan service. It's got a great set of underutilized or up-and-coming characters (Warpath, Wolfsbane, Domino, Vanisher, Elixer, Archangel and X-23) who don't always play nice together and are as likely to be at each-other's throats as the enemy's. There IS caring (the bond between Wolverine and his clone X23 is subtle and well-conceived) but for the most part, the violence is the real selling point of this title, as why else would you put this many anti-heroes in one place if you didn't expect stuff to blow up? And in that there's no disappointment either, as any page not dripping with dark drama is usually filled with exploding buildings or bodies and blood, sweat and tears on every other page. Okay, maybe that's exaggerating a LITTLE, but not much. It's definitely a mature book, even if the parental advisory label is slightly misplaced (barely visible at the bottom of the back cover).

And the story would be nothing if not for the fantastic artwork. Crain (who had been with the series since issue 1) has a murky, dark method to his work that has worked to the series' gritty tone pretty effectively. Sometimes it worked a little TOO well, effectively obscuring any action or body type to the point where we don't quite understand what's happening until the next few panels clear that image up for us, but others (including an explosion in a town in Wyoming that looks FANTASTIC) where his choice as artist seems a no-brainer. And then we get to Choi, who is simply one of the best artists I've ever seen. Known primarily for his epic Witchblade run, Choi's artwork is simply perfection incarnate. Perhaps it's his ability to blend and form images into exactly what he wants us to see, or perhaps it's his realistic style and willingness to draw blood all over every page. Or maybe it's largely in part to his colorist, Oback, who has worked with him on Witchblade and X23: Target X. She certainly has much to do with how fantastic the artwork looks (There's a two-page spread from issue 17 that I wish I could have found a pic online for you to see and understand how excited I become when I read this, but no such luck) and it's all FANTASTIC.

Unfortunately, while the series is largely easy to follow there are certain aspects that those new to the X-Men universe might simply fail to comprehend. Many characters appear and although they are named no story is given about their importance or where they came from, if you don't already know. I'm firmly of the belief that X-titles should all come with mini-appendixes in the back to explain to the rest of us who haven't been reading since the early seventies who this obscure character is, what their history is, and why they're so damned important. Also, a relatively silly storyline featuring Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclair and her lycanthropic boyfriend take on a trio of Frost Giants from Asgard - and win - fails to entertain. These small things are largely made up for by a focus on X23 towards the ends of this book. X23 is fast becoming a very intriguing character for me, one I'm willing to go back and read all I can about. She's far more than just a simple Wolverine clone, and for such a complex character to have been created so recently and become so strong by this point is very impressive, and a credit to Kyle and Yost.

I loved X-Force, and can't wait to read the next volume of this VERY adult saga. As long as Kyle and Yost are at the helm, I'm confident that it will continue to be interesting, exciting, and battling for my Deadpool dollars into the far future.

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