The last X-Force series always kind of looked interesting to me as a concept but the art just kept me away. The new Uncanny X-Force #1 had a back-up text section relating the recent history of X-Force, the incarnation that was basically the X-Men’s wetworks team, that makes me glad I never picked it up and tried to read those comics. After reading about mutant continuity porn, characters called Bastion and Elixir (who I still have no idea who that is or what he or she looks like,) Necrosha and Second Coming, I wanted to rip my eyes out more than I wanted to go back and track the stuff down. And the art in this text piece is just hard to make out. Everything is so dark and grim and red and ugly. If what I read in that text was really representative of that last X-Force series, no thanks. You can keep that to yourself, Marvel.
Luckily Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña’s Uncanny X-Force #1 has nothing to do with what came before it.
Uncanny X-Force #1 may be the best looking superhero book of the year. Opeña has a cool Jim-Lee-meets-Lenil-Francis-Yu vibe to it. He has a fantastic way of using a few lines and a slight bit of cross-hatching to give his drawings shape and form. Opeña pulls this off without falling into the trap of over-rendering everything. He also uses the space in the page and in the panel extremely effectively. Fights within giant caverns really feel like they’re taking space in a large enclosed space rather than some nebulous room where there may or may not be walls and a ceiling. But his true strength in this book is drawing the characters. Looking at the way he draws Wolverine or Deadpool, you would think he’s been drawing these characters for years. There’s a way that each of them stands and sits, a body language that Opeña has down that gives these characters real weight, presence and movement throughout the space in this issue.
The team of mutants that Remender has assembled for X-Force are the sexy mutants. There’s no room for any Gambit here. Wolverine and Archangel, holdovers from the previous X-Force team, are joined by Psylocke, Fantomex and Deadpool. In the first 5 pages, Remender finally makes Deadpool a character I can understand and like. Providing a Carl Spackler-like narration as he sneaks into an “Ominous Fortress of Impending Doom,” Deadpool comes off as both jokey and somewhat disturbed. Even as he watches a woman get killed in some kind of cult ritual, Deadpool briefly stops to muse on the band No Doubt as he tries to clarify a bit of narration. Later, tied to a slab with part of his head slashed open, Deadpool shows more of his musical knowledge as he recites a few lyrics by the Miami Sound Machine. Remender shows us how Deadpool is a character whose mind maybe doesn’t quite work in the same way that most of our minds do.
Even though this new series builds off of some past continuity and events, Remender gives us more than enough of the characters to let us know who they are. Deadpool just isn’t right. Angel is living with a dual personality, his own and the dangerous Archangel. Fantomex is the mutant thief. Psylocke is the soul of the group and Wolverine is just Wolverine. You can’t have an X-Men book nowadays without Wolverine. It’s in his contract. Like Deadpool, these are all characters who have been messed with, whose thoughts and bodies have been tampered with and made into what they are now. These may be the sexy X-Men but clearly none of them are the sane X-Men.
Unlike the backup text’s endless references to old mutants, past events and endless crossovers, Uncanny X-Force #1 pretty much avoids relying on anything that doesn’t occur in this book. The one stumbling block there is the setup of the villain of the piece and his connections to one of the team members. The last few pages require some past knowledge of X-Men lore, going all the way back to the late 1980’s continuity. The books flows great, provides characters and fun action until the last pages where suddenly you’re reminded that this is an X-Men book and you still need to accept the baggage that goes along with that.
There are lots of X-Men books on the stands right now, in almost any flavor and style you could want. Remender and Opeña’s Uncanny X-Force hopefully will be the the “action story” one. Issue #1 doesn’t have mutants sitting around, bemoaning their existence. It doesn’t have any metaphysical journeys into the mind of a character, in an attempt at some kind of self discovery. It doesn’t have any do gooders trying to live in a bad world. What it has are 5 mutants who know how to fight and how to kill, fighting and killing the bad guys. Sometimes, that’s all you really need to enjoy yourself.