The first of three shiny new books for the X-Men line, X-Force hit the shelves yesterday (Cable debuts in March and Young X-Men follows in April). The new title, written by former New X-Men writers Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, has been heavily hyped since before the start of Messiah CompleX. Hell, a big chunk of the story served as a preview of X-Force. So the title finally debuts, albeit a week late. So how was it? Was it worth the hype? Well, no – not really.
The theme of the book is quite simple: after Messiah CompleX (and apparently all the events leading up to it) Cyclops has decided that desperate times call for desperate measures and has put together a team that will get the job done with a sense of finality. In a nutshell, it’s a killing squad. This plays right up Kyle and Yost’s alley (as they have great trouble getting through a story without killing someone) and it also gives another opportunity for a Wolverine-headlined book (as if Wolverine, Wolverine Origins, the upcoming Wolverine: First Class and countless mini-series weren’t enough). So okay – it’s new for the franchise, and in theory it could work.
The problem here is the execution. X-Force was basically thrown at readers during Messiah CompleX to hunt down and apparently take out Cable. It really didn’t work then, as they had no evidence that Cable had caused anything, save have possession of the baby, yet Cyclops still gave the “any means necessary” order. The lineup was strange as well – Wolverine and X-23 – being the bloodthirsty animals they are – fit. Warpath, Caliban and Hepzibah were odd, but could possibly work (even though Caliban apparently was just there as cannon fodder). Wolfsbane was about as ill a fit as you could get. In no form of the character could you justify having her there. So X-Force spent Messiah as more of a tracker group than an “any means necessary” group.
X-Force opens with a look into Wolverine’s thoughts. I’m not going to go into his point of having never been to Colorado (Really? Wolverine?), but it’s supposed to be a big deal that X-Force disbanded after Caliban died. That’s right, a team that had been together for one mission – and obviously not very long, since Caliban and Hepzibah were members – and it’s a big deal that they’ve split.
Then Cyclops makes the point that Emma doesn’t know he’s doing this, which makes me scratch my head. Emma Frost is the 2nd most powerful telepath in the world, and she shares a bed with Cyclops – can see into his subconscious – yet he’s hiding this. And what for? Emma is amongst the more cold-blooded members of the team. She was the one that first brought up offing the Scarlet Witch at the beginning of House of M. She was the one who broke Cassandra Nova’s neck. Why would she not go fully with the idea of permanently removing villains who pose a threat to herself and her students? The tone of “secret missions” is set for no particular reason besides that it seems cool.
So the team gets back together – sans Hepzibah who’s not even mentioned – and off they go on their mission against the Purifiers, who have apparently infiltrated SHIELD to get the head of Bastion – something I’m going to have to wait and see on. The issue has the apparently obligatory heavy-blood fight (complete with blades through the face, for good measure) and it ends with the overused Kyle/Yost device of making it look like someone gets killed for the cliffhanger. We’ve seen this too many times to really even matter anymore.
There are three things beyond the details of the issue itself that concerns me about this book. First are the comparisons to the original X-Force series launched by Rob Liefeld back in 1991. Obviously I have strong doubts about this, but I don’t think it’s fair to argue that it shouldn’t be called X-Force because it doesn’t have the same premise as the original. Hell, the original lost the original premise within 20 issues. The “Cable makes soldiers out of the New Mutants” bit ended when Cable vanished after X-Cutioner’s Song and they began setting their own place in the world. Yet, that Liefeld concept is what I keep reading about. This is not going to be that – quit trying to think that it should be. It’s actually the third appropriate use of the title – the second being when Warren Ellis took the book on in 2000.
My second concern is the book’s art, courtesy of Clayton Crain. Don’t misunderstand me on this one – I think the art’s flat-out gorgeous. But with such wonderful art usually comes long delays in a book. Take examples from Jim Lee on All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, whichever Kubert is working on Action Comics or Bryan Hitch on Ultimates. I’m not familiar with Crain, so perhaps he’s above the mold on this one, and I certainly hope so. The book’s art is amazing and definitely a drawing point.
Finally, I’m concerned about the premise of the title. The “desperate times call for desperate measures” idea is somewhat new to the X-Men mythos, especially taken to the level that it seems to be here. However, how long can you really draw this premise out? Surely, some villains will have to be killed to give the book some sort of credibility, yet does that mean all X-Men villains will be hunted as the book continues? How can you justify them being X-Force worthy? If they all are, then why bother with X-Men at all? Will new villains be created just to be killed? This seems like much more of a mini/maxi series premise than an ongoing. I can see two or three story arcs coming out before the title begins to drag.
So go ahead and give this title a try if you like the premise and enjoy great art. I’m obviously not optimistic about it, but hey, only one issue’s come out thus far. I’ll keep getting it to see where it goes – and hopefully many of my concerns are unfounded.