Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force Vol. 2: Deathlok Nation

Simone Bianchi's cover to Uncanny X-Force #5.1
When someone descends into a confusing, chaotic realm in which they are temporarily divorced from their everyday, normal lives and are instead faced with difficult, arcane or even just very particular minutiae, you'll often here them talk about having gone "down the rabbit hole." When it comes to Marvel's X-Men, I prefer the metaphor of the labyrinth: There are many different paths to take, they branch off and rejoin one another constantly, its easy to get lost and one could spend the rest of one's life wandering, without ever having covered all of the ground. Also, eventually you'll be killed and eaten by a half-human, half-animal monster. I'm guessing.

For example, over two years ago I read a Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution, which collected the start of the Rick Remender reboot of the previously rebooted X-Force title, which was a reboot of a few other reboots of the series (and which has since been rebooted at least two or three more times, splitting into two different comics with similar names as part of the "Marvel NOW!" initiative, and then re-combining into a new, single comic as part of the "All-New Marvel NOW!" initiative).

I rather liked it, and had every intention of reading the next collection, but apparently forgot about it at some point, and never picked up the next collection.

Having recently started reading the Brian Michael Bendis-written X-Men comics (All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men) and discovering that they were actually pretty good (far better than his Avengers comics were) and taking the occasion of Jason Aaron's long-running Wolverine and The X-Men run wrapping up to start catching up on that book, I found myself reading a lot of X-Men trades all of a sudden, and encountering plot points I didn't understand, like original X-Men Angel not being the grim, blue-faced, metal-winged character he was the last time I saw him in Apocalypse Solution, but instead being a younger, happier, more naive and angelic-looking version of himself. And a kid named "Genesis" who looked an awful lot like the kid who got shot to death at the end of Apocalypse Solution being enrolled at the Jean Grey School (That's the X-Men school that Wolverine founded to replace the Xavier School, if you're an even less frequent visitor to the labyrinth of X-Men continuity than I am).

Wondering aloud (well, "a-blog," I suppose would be a more accurate term) about this, a few of you mentioned the Angel changes and the origins of this Genesis kid could be found in Remender's Uncanny X-Force, which I quit reading and forgot about.

So I thought maybe I'd get back to it where I left off, a few years ago.

And that's a half-dozen paragraphs basically just saying what the title of this post says, but I did want to take a moment to detail something curious about the X-books, and the curious way their plots feed in and out of one another, often changing hands from writer to writer and title to title and premise to premise in ways I don't think any other Big Two super-franchises do at the moment (For all their faults, for example, the Green Lantern, Batman and Justice League franchises at DC are a little more streamlined; I suppose Marvel's Avengers gets pretty messy, but because that line expansion is so recent, as opposed to the X-Men line, which has had a mess of books since at least the '90s, it's not as big a maze to navigate).

So when we (and by "we" I mean "I") last saw this version of the Uncanny X-Force, they had just completed their first mission. Assembled as the black-ops/wetworks squad of X-people doing mutantkind's dirty work while Cyclops and the less kill-crazy X-Men continued to present a handsome, happy face to mankind, the team consisted of financier and kinda sorta leader Warren Worthing III, aka Angel, aka Archangel, his girlfriend Psyclocke, other kinda sorta leader Wolverine, Grant Morrison-created Fantomas-homage Fantomex, Fantomex sentient mutant UFO EVA and mutant mercenary Deadpool. They all hung out in a secret cave headquarters with matching unifroms—basically just black and gray versions of their regular costumes—and killed people together.

But their first mission hit a snag when they found out that the next incarnation of Apocalypse was still just a kid, and while they were pretty sure he was gonna grow up to be a mutant super-Hitler, they weren't real keen on having to kill a kid, whether he was destined to be mutant super-Hitler or not.

All except Fantomex, anyway, who went ahead and shot the still innocent kid in the head and killed him.

This continues to way heavily on Fantomex's teammates as the second volume opens, with the supposedly amoral characters like Deadpool and Wolverine seeming especially upset and angry, and the supposedly more virtuous characters like Archangel and Psylocke worrying that they aren't more upset about angry, at that and about killing people in general.

That accounts for much of the inter-personal character conflict and a major sub-plot running through this volume, although I suppose I've already spoiled it by mentioning "Genesis" at all: Turns out that while Fantomex technically did kill the Apocalypse kid, he also took some DNA and then started growing a clone of him in The World, a sentient super-soldier factory that was in part responsible for cranking out various "Weapon Plus" mutants like Wolverine, Deadpool and Fantomex (I believe Morrison created it; it featured prominently in his New X-Men run, and was one of the many concepts that later writers continued to play with, even as much of Morrison's run and its innovations were discarded).

So is Fantomex more evil and heartless than all the assassins he hangs out with? Not really; he'll shoot a kid in the head, sure, but he'll also bring him back to life. He killed Hitler as a baby, but then cloned Hitler and tried to raise him right...? I guess that's the way Fantomex answers the whole time-travel, Hitler baby killing dilemma?

As for the A-plot, it mostly involves Deathloks, as the sub-title no doubt alerted you. The collection opens with Uncanny X-Force #5.1 (which, defying numerical norms, is placed before Uncanny X-Force #5. Why? Because Marvel, that's why).

This original round of ".1" issues were meant as good jumping-on points, but here it's basically just a done-in-one that introduces the characters (not that they really need it; Fantomex is the most obscure member of the cast, and Wolverine and Deadpool are among the best-known Marvel characters), and their mission: Secretly killing people.

The plot? Wolverine's enemy Lady Deathstrike has assembled a new group of Reavers (mutant-hating cyborgs) and they are planning to strike the X-Men's homeland, Utopia. X-Force preemptively strikes. Violence ensues.
That story is drawn by Rafael Albuquerque who does a damn fine job. Unfortunately, he does not redesign Deathstrike at all, and she still looks like she did in the 1990s and in that dumb cartoon. Albuquerque draws her nicely and all, but I just don't understand what she's wearing. Or her head. What is on her head?!
(By the way, how do her powers work? She must have the strongest fingers in the world).

With that out of the way, the rest of the collection is devoted to the three-issue "Deathlok Nation" story arc, which is simplicity itself. Deathloks from the future, made from superheroes with robot parts attached to 'em instead of just regular old soldier corpses with robot bits attached to 'em, attack Fantomex in order to get at The World and kill the clone of the kid that everyone thinks Fantomex already killed.

So it's kinda like Terminator, except instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's cyborg Marvel heroes, including Deathlok-ed versions of the Uncanny X-Forcers. Also, the "real" Deathlok, calling himself "Deathlok Prime," shows up to team-up with X-Force. They fight in Fantomex's house, they fight in the Alps and, ultimately, they fight in The World, where the various members of X-Force break up into teams to further their emotional conflicts while fighting Deathloks.

The artwork, penciled by Esad Ribic and inked by John Lucas, is superb throughout. They're given all kinds of crazy shit to draw, but they manage to make The World and it's craziness look realistic and threatening, but also airy and roomy. Additionally, they do really great work with good old-fashioned motion lines, denoting action.
Ribic and Lucas

Ribic and Lucas again
I forgot how much I like the X-Force costumes the characterss wear, too. Deadpool especially looks much better in the muted gray costume than the red one he usually wears. And I like how this version of Fantomex basically just ooks like G.I. Joe bad guy Firefly with a trench coat on.

Now hopefully I can continue to follow this storyline through the end of Remender's run on this title, without getting lost or side-tracked into a reboot...


Anonymous said...

Aw, I still dig Lady D's improbable garb. It's strangely timeless to me: no particular fashion or period, just this awkward amalgam of design quirks. One of Silvestri's best redesigns, really.

JohnF said...

I agree, the X-Force uniforms are really stylish. I wish Wolverine would wear that one all the time.