Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: Final Execution Book 2

And so here we are, the final volume collecting Rick Remender's 35-issue run on Uncanny X-Force. While the almost three-year run on the series offered plenty of simple, surface pleasures, some no more complex than seeing familiar characters in newer, cooler costumes, or seeing Deadpool written with a degree of seriousness (more Spider-Man, less Ambush Bug), or lots of mutant super-people running around and fighting one another, what impressed me most about the series, what kept me reading it through eight collected volumes was the relentless way in which Remender stayed focused on a theme.

Remender inherited the concept of a black-ops mutant kill squad lead by Wolverine to do in secret the nasty things that the regular X-Men couldn't do in public, re-stocking his cast with killers and mercenaries like Wolverine, Deadpool and Fantomex, and good people-teetering-on-going-bad characters like Psylocke and Angel/Archangel (with killer cyborg from the future Deathlok and vengeance-driven "Age of Apocalypse" Nightcrawler coming and going). In the very first story arc, they were confronted with the decision to either kill a little boy who was destined to grow up to be a new version of the worst of all X-Men villains, or let him live and hope that he chooses not to embrace the badness he was born with, a sort of X-Men riff on the old conundrum of whether or not one could, should or would kill Hitler as a baby.

Only one of them, Fantomex, was able to pull the trigger, and even he was conflicted enough that he decided to secretly clone the boy and raise him in a virtual reality tank to test the idea of nature versus nurture vis a vis born killers, a question close to his heart, and the hearts of his teammates. Throughout the next seven volumes, the characters would be haunted by that first moral quandary, and constantly doubting themselves, whether a black-ops mutant kill squad was a good idea or the worst idea ever, and worrying about what kind of people they must be to be a part of it, whether they were "heroes" or "villains" in the comic book way of looking at things.

"Final Execution" is the final storyline of Remender's run of the book, and the second story arc so big it necessitated being stretched over two collections (following "The Dark Angel Saga," in which Archangel's own struggle with whether he's predisposed for evil reaches it climax, and our heroes have to again decide whether to kill one to save many). Remender has assembled a "greatest hits" collection of villains from throughout his run on the title, throwing in some of Wolverine's deadliest archenemies for good measure, to form a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Sabretooth and Daken lead Mystique, Shadow King, The Blog from the "Age of Apocalypse" timeline, The Skinless Man and The Omega Clan in killing Fantomex and capturing Evan, the cloned Apocalypse child who has been attending Wolverine's Jean Grey School (in the pages of Jason Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men) and using the name Genesis.

He's bait for Wolverine, meant to bring Wolvie to their underwater base off the coast of Genosha, but he's also an opportunity for the villains to try and "break" him, to get him to embrace his inner bad guy and become Apocalypse, answering everyone's questions about the nature of good and evil, of nature and nurture, once and for all.

This volume is essentially a book-length fight scene between the various combatants, with a surprise betrayal and a series of deaths and almost-deaths, including some extremely creative finishes to individual battles (In finally getting his revenge against AoA Blob, for example, AoA Nightcralwer teleports a live shark inside The Blob's stomach). All of our (anti-)heroes ultimately survive "Final Execution," but the same can't be said of the villains, the killing of whom in at least one case seems to be about as bad a defeat as possible for Wolverine. He has to kill Daken, which he does so by drowning him in a shallow puddle; that, Sabretooth gloats, was the ultimate point of all this: To put Wolverine in a kill or be killed position with his own son.

As far as long-term plotting and adherence to themes go, Remender's Uncanny X-Force is a pretty remarkable book, especially considering the fact that it's part of the X-Men line, and prominently features characters like Deadpool and, more especially still, Wolverine, who have multiple books of their own and appear all over the Marvel Universe more-or-less constantly. Daken's appearance in these last few volumes, along with that of Sabretooth, might seem a little sudden, considering how late in the game they appear, but Remender uses them to play into his themes perfectly well, particularly Daken who is himself, like Evan, a living example of the nature versus nurture questions. Using these double of Wolverine also helps to throw into sharper relief the question of whether Wolverine and his kill crew are really heroes or villains, and just what exactly separates a guy like Wolverine who kills constantly from guys like Sabretooth and Daken who likewise kill constantly—is it really just a matter of a choice of targets?

After the "Final Execution" story arc ends, there's a nice one-issue epilogue story entitled "Rainbows, Puppy Dogs and Sunshine," which essentially breaks up the band, sends the characters back into their own respective corners and storylines and, rather generously, sets up a complication for the next writer of the series, which, this being Marvel, is actually a whole new volume of the series, starting over with a new #1.

Wolverine buries Daken in Japan, Psylocke has a heart-to-heart with her brother in Otherworld, Deadpool—back in his red costume which I don't like nearly as much as his gray one—sneaks into Evan's room for a final heart-to-heart, there's a one-panel revelation that more-or-less absolves Wolverine of his killing Daken in the climax of "Final Execution" (which sure seemed rather overtly brutal and merciless to me at the time) and, finally, they pop Fantomex into some sort of resurrection machine to bring him back to life, which works. Sorta. Instead of one Fantomex with three brains, they get three Fantomexes, each with a different brain, but that's up to Remender's successor Sam Humphries to sort out in Uncanny X-Force vol. 2, which features Psylocke and an otherwise brand-new team: Storm, Bishop, Spiral and Puck.

I'll probably get to that series eventually, but I don't know. It's got Bishop in it...

1 comment:

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

The other volume of Uncanny X-Force that didn't go too long has little to recommend it until the surprisingly decent arc with Betsy and the newly split-into-three-individual Fantomexes (Fantomexi?).