I’m fully aware that not two days ago I mentioned just how difficult it is to try to keep up with all of the X-Men-based comics that Marvel puts out, but what can I say? I’m a sucker. The X-Men (and their – in hindsight – terrible ’90s cartoon) are what brought me into comics as a kid. One of the first comics bought for me was an early issue of the original X-Force series – the one with Cable and Stryfe and Domino, with art by artistic pariah Rob Liefeld (that comic still resides somewhere in my childhood home, now sans a cover). X-Force was famous for being the source for gritty X-Men action, although that adjective described pretty much every comic that came out after Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Marvel Comics hasn’t let the title take a significant rest since those early days, so it is not at all surprising to find a brand new X-Force #1 on stands.
I expected this comic to be the opposite of She-Hulk in every way, and that assumption was largely upheld. The book is set up as the “black ops team” for the Mutant species. Up until a couple months ago there were actually two X-Force teams, and I have no idea how/why they have combined. Likewise, I have no idea how/why Cable is back from the dead, as I vividly remember him dying maybe three years ago. For the uninitiated, Cable is the son of Cyclops and his first wife (who was secretly a clone of Jean Grey) from the future (not to be confused with X-Man, who is the son of Cyclops and original flavor Jean Grey from a different future – this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to confusing X-Men continuity). He is the fearless leader of this team, spurred by the serious injury of his surrogate daughter Hope, which presumably occurred at the end of his last series, Cable and X-Force. He is joined by Psylocke (fresh off her own team book, Uncanny X-Force – see: confusing), Marrow (from the ’90s!), and Fantomex – a Grant Morrison creation who alternates between charming and profoundly annoying based on who is writing him.
The first issue finds the team tracking down a mysterious weapon that they hope will allow Mutants as a whole to become a respected world power. In order to do this they have to kill a bunch of people. Like, a lot. Only Psylocke seems to have a problem with this, but for some reason the creators do not allow her to stick to her convictions on this matter. This gratuitous violence has been a problem with X-Force books for the last seven-ish years; while there is a place for such actions in mainstream comics, it ought not be tossed about so cavalierly in every issue of a given book. What’s more, Psylocke is seemingly ridiculed for her decision not to take a life, as if she needs to be taught a lesson for such a stance.
And she is the only one that even thinks twice. Cable has always been a “do-what-needs-to-be-done” type of guy. And a good amount of Fantomex’s appeal comes from the gray-ness of his personal morals. And then there is Marrow, whose junior-sociopathic screed narrates the issue. This is perhaps my least favorite part of the comic as a whole (that declaration was a real Sophie’s choice); Marrow herself is not a terribly offensive character – she actually has a couple good moments of character interaction – but her narration is just so grating. Aside from a couple inessential points of exposition, Marrow’s internal monologue is completely pointless. Hopefully writer Simon Spurrier does not plan to utilize it moving forward without adding a little subtlety (to give you perspective: on the first page Marrow thinks, “violence is my music, baby.” So, yeah).
Spurrier is not a huge name in mainstream American comics. I am most familiar with his work on X-Men Legacy, a little-read title about the multiple-personalitied son of Professor X trying to get his act (and his brain together). The series recently wrapped, I believe. That is a bummer because it was a thoughtful and creative and experimental book, which X-Men titles tend not to be, as a rule. It would have been nice if Spurrier had brought any of that energy with him to X-Force (aside from some inspired quipping, which eventually feels tired), but perhaps he is building to something that I don’t yet have a grasp on.
Spurrier has partnered with artist Rock-He Kim on this series. Kim is also new to the Marvel Comics audience. He is handling every aspect of the art, from pencils to inks to colors. This often makes for a more comprehensive feel, but Kim’s art feels rushed and stilted. The characters spend almost the entire issue standing or crouching; there is very little variation or innovation when it comes to the series’ look. If there is one positive to lay at Kim’s feet it is that he largely avoids sexualized or exploitative shots of the female characters, which was pretty much the only thing that pleasantly surprised me about this issue.
As a huge fan of those merry mutants I will undoubtedly read at least one more issue of this series, but at this point I can’t really recommend it to anyone who isn’t obsessed with the X-Men already. Even in my case, the main thing keeping me going is my compulsive desire to learn what happened to Cable and Hope before the first issue. If your main hook is slowly doling out information that can probably be looked up on Wikipedia, then you’re not in a great place. Take a cue from Charles Xavier’s son and get it together, X-Force.