Shock Value Over Story: Uncanny X-Force #1 Review by Jerry W. Vandal
Story by: Sam Humphries
Pencils by: Ron Garney
Inks by: Danny Miki
Colors by: Marte Garcia with Israel Gonzalez
“The Avengers can go <expletive deleted> themselves,” Psylocke says as she and Storm ride through a restricted airway and are warned they don’t have permission from the Avengers. Needless to say, despite the likes of Cannonball and Sunfire popping up in the pages of Avengers, Elizabeth Braddock will not be among the mutants lending Earth’s Mightiest a hand. And according to Wolverine, she may not be giving the X-Men (at least not on school grounds) a hand either. She’s angry, pensive, and irritable and in a place in her life where her mood dictates the Avengers aren’t the only ones who can go <expletive delete> themselves. She’s not looking to take anymore lives though. So where does that leave X-Force’s role in the X-Verse?
Sam Humphries (Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates) and Ron Garney (Ultimate Comics: Captain America) collaborate on the Marvel Now! relaunch of Uncanny X-Force—a very successfully endeavor for Rick Remember, Jerome Opeña, Phil Noto, Essad Ribic and a host of other artists. The original Uncanny X-Force story posed a lot of moral questions about how far any group of people should go in order to remove threats from the world and went further by exploring some of the consequences of those choices both to the team and the world. The new Uncanny X-Force however is looking to take a different path.
The main story is interesting enough. Psylocke, having had a few altercations with Quentin Quire is told by Wolverine that she’s not fit to be at the school. She leaves and teams with Storm to handle a situation involving a drug dealer who’s handing out a drug called TAO (Together As One) that causes a hive mentally among its user. That dealer happens to be Spiral—someone who has played a very important role in Psylocke’s past (including removing her eyes and replacing them with a bionic set). A lot of the actions taken by X-Force are weighing heavy on Psylocke’s mind and she’s attempting to bottle up all the thoughts as best she can. But seeing Spiral she sort of goes into her own little berserker rage mode. She’s died multiple times, had her body swapped, failed to save a man she loved. She’s gone mind to mind with the Shadow King and fought Sabertooth on her own. She’s a ballsy, strong character who’s in a rather dark place in her life. And so is Storm. Her relationship with Storm helps to keep that path from becoming to overshadowing and dreary. Storm’s recent divorce from Black Panther and exile from the home she once ruled with him gives Betsy someone to be around without confiding much. The dialogue between the two is kind of what you might find between a television cop duo—tiny, funny jabs at the other that end just before things get too deep and serious. Neither of them really wants to let their emotions reach the surface.
The addition of Puck (who has literally been to Hell) adds the necessary comic relief that Deadpool added to the previous incarnation of X-Force. Considering this group is going to consist of Psylocke, Fantomex, Spiral, Cluster (a female clone of Fantomex who has one of his three brains) and Storm as they eventually hunt down Bishop, Puck’s brand of brazenness will help the book from being drowned in drama and seriousness of the others. Wolverine’s “Saskatchewan Sweetie,” doesn’t see much action in this issue, but it’ll be interesting to see what else he can bring to the table.
The initial 4/6ths of this issue aren’t groundbreaking writing, but it’s engaging and the artwork is an absolute pleasure. However, where this issue fails is in its side stories. The first of which suffers from two things. The very quick and uninspired arrival of Bishop who elates, “I’m back baby!” seems to be shoved in here. There’s really nothing at all to the scene, not that there needed to be. He’s excited to be back and that should really be enough. However, that leads me to the second failure which may actually be what caused such an uninspired page. This was the return of Bishop the man who shot (albeit accidently) Professor X and the man who tried to kill Hope and chased her and Cable mercilessly throughout time. But it was pretty much blown off. And that happened because unlike Colossus’ return in Astonishing X-Men, this was advertised. It was a selling point. He’s on the cover. There was no big return for him. It was merely a plot point that had to get jammed in here. And that’s dissatisfying. This needed to be the ending. This needed to be important. It was opted however to end with a little more shock value. The image to convince you to buy the next issue: Fantomex and Cluster (his female clone) kissing.
And for me this fails, not only because it’s the final page, but how much it’s boosted about in the little box after the issue where the letter page will eventually be. It’s a big neon sign—hey look at this book, a character is sort of making out with their clone. It will absolutely add to the relationship that had been developing between Psylocke and Fantomex but delivering it as the cliffhanger, tied in with Editor Nick Lowe’s elation just made it feel cheesy and a cry to get sales with a little shock value. They say this is going to be a crazy ride, and they’re not trying to duplicate what Remender did which I commend. This does add to the crazy, catch you off guard stuff this book is aiming for. And it will create some tension and possibly good material for Psylocke and Fantomex. But Bishop should have closed this issue. Not a shock value kiss.
While I dislike its placement I really love Ron Garney’s artwork that accompanied it. He’s sort of an under the radar artist, but I’m inclined to give anything his name is attached to a try. There’s a liveliness to his style that works for me and I think will work to give this book a new identity. Sadly, I believe solicitations already show a new artist on board. But for the sake of this issue it offers the other side of the coin that Opeña and Noto’s darker style did for the darker, grittier story of its predecessor. His work on Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine has given me confidence in putting my money where his name is attached and continues here.
When looking at my pull list, I can no longer just look at a book and say this is worth keeping; this book has run its course. I have to instead look at some books and determine if I’m willing to drop $4 on it when there is an equally good or better book on the market at $3. At this point, it’s rather moot to argue against the $4 books. They’re here to stay. But, if I’m paying $4 for a title I expect to not only be entertained thoroughly, but drawn into the characters and story to the point where for the 10-15 minutes it takes to read I’m lost. I expect great artwork (which is provided here) and solid story telling. The original incarnation of Uncanny X-Force did that. As much as I hate the $3.99 price on any book, for 35 issues, Uncanny X-Force was worth it. I commend Humphries for not wanting to duplicate what Remender did. And I will be rooting for this title to work I do have to wonder if Marvel is expecting too much from the team of Humphries, Garney and Psylocke. I think as a character she has the chops to carry a book. I’m not sure she can carry a $4 title though. The potential is there though for this to be a solid read. Puck will add some entertaining funny bits. The relationship between Spiral, Fantomex, Cluster and Psylocke will add a great amount of tension. And Storm is a great character to play off of Psylocke. Both are strong characters who are dealing with consequences from a lot of life’s letdowns and demands and could lead to a good cop/bad cop routine that will work. But if these side plots are handled as they were here I’m afraid Marvel may end up having to put this book down and bury the Uncanny X-Force.