Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I’ve Got the Runs: Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, issues 1-35, 2010-12

It's a weird week to be writing about Rick Remender, I suppose, after all that business from a couple days ago. But I actually wrote this last month. I was prepared to write a different column, based on something I'd read Sunday that I was pretty excited about, but that announcement was never made, replaced instead by damage control over a firestorm created by a few people misreading 21 issues of Captain America.

Anyway, this is what you get. Enjoy!

Killing is bad. Some people are killers. Those people won’t stop killing unless they are killed. But killing killers makes the killers into killers. And then what’s the difference between the killers and the killer killers? And if you don’t kill the killers, are you responsible for all their future kills?

Cross-eyed yet? Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, quite possibly the best book ever to bear the name X-Force. The series is 37 issues (Marvel threw two of those .1 issues into the mix) of the above moral dilemma, featuring five of the darker, edgier, more X-treme X-Men, and nothing but the biggest villains.

Magneto, Apocalypse, Sabertooth, the Shadow King, Mystique, the Blob, Daken, the Reavers, Lady Deathstrike, the fake children of Omega Red, the gang’s all here. Literally: Many of the aforementioned villains formed an alliance to take down Wolverine & Co.

The team also goes on reality-hopping adventures in the Age of Apocalypse and Otherworld, the omniversal home of the Captain Britain Corps., and travels to the future to see what their actions hath wrought, complete with elderly super guest stars.

Our story starts with the age-old dilemma: Would you kill Hitler as a baby? Only in this case, baby Hitler is a 10-year-old Apocalypse. How the team decides to handle young Evan sets into motion the events of the entire series, which alternate between bloodbaths and mental anguish.

“I’m making sure to tell you stories with beginnings, middles and ends, and when those stories are put together, they form a much bigger story – like a Voltron of nerdocity,” Remender told Comic Book Resources in a 2012 interview.

One of Remender’s greatest feats is fleshing out Weapon XIII, Fantomex, the smooth-talking spy/sentinel created during Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men. Fantomex’s actions at the end of the first arc set in motion much of the plot of the rest of the series. Watch the master of misdirection woo Psylocke, stand trial by order of Betsy’s brothers and face off against the Skinless Man, aka Weapon III, a newly introduced graduate of the Weapon Plus program, another Morrison-bred concept. Fantomex is hands-down the most physically tortured member of the team, but in undergoing said tortures – and remember, this book is for mature readers, so it’s some pretty grisly stuff – he finds redemption.

But if Fantomex spends the series being physically tortured, Psylocke, the team’s resident telepath, spends it being mentally tortured. Betsy hasn’t been this interesting since Chris Claremont turned a purple-haired British woman into the Mandarin’s personal ninja in the late ’80s. In her attempts to be the team’s conscience, Psylocke is repeatedly forced to make difficult choices and then forced to watch in horror as the consequences of those choices play out, both in the present and in the future. Her despair is so great that at one point she makes a deal that requires her to yield her ability to feel sorrow, and though she makes it, it really doesn’t stick, as her former captive, the Shadow King, exacts revenge on her as a member of a newly formed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Remender’s Deadpool may be my favorite version of the character in any of his ongoing titles of the past few years, primarily because he’s sharing the spotlight with four other people and therefore not exhaustingly front and center as he is in his solo title and spinoff series. You could argue the fact that he’s not the center of attention makes the character work harder for it. I’m pretty sure I laughed harder at his heart-to-heart with Evan at the end of the series than I have in much of Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn’s current Deadpool solo book. And I’m a Deadpool fan from way back.

And lest we forget, there’s Wolverine, the whole reason this incarnation of X-Force exists. At this point in his career, Wolverine has become all things to all people. On X-Force, he’s the head killer in charge. In Wolverine & the X-Men, he’s the head of a school, raising the next generation of mutants to fight the good fight. On the Avengers, he’s a brawler in an army of supermen ready to be fastball-specialed at Thanos on a moment’s notice. And while Wolverine is the best at what he does, he still struggles with his conscience and the animal inside, just like he did 40 years ago when Claremont first gave the character depth. And nowhere is his conscience more active than when it comes to his son, Daken, who assembles an Army of royal X-pains – including Sabertooth – to work out his daddy-abandonment issues.

Archangel is also in this book, but I’m not quite sure how to talk about what happens to him without spoiling one of the series’ best arcs, except to say about midway through the series, Nightcrawler joins the team. Not the 616 Nightcrawler, of course, he’s dead at this point. Instead, we get the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler, who is much like our Nightcrawler, except he has a red face tattoo, he doesn’t like being called Elf, he’ll betray the team if it means getting revenge on the ones who wronged him, he gets along well with his mother, Mystique, and he really likes teleporting people’s heads off their bodies. Otherwise, totally the same old Kurt Wagner.

And then there’s Deathlok, who serves as the team’s Jiminy Cricket, crossing the time stream to show X-Force how its kills affect the future.

One of the best things about Remender’s run is that it’s self-contained. You don’t have to read a whole bunch of other X-titles or drown in an incomprehensible crossover to enjoy the book. It even completely sidesteps Fear Itself and Avengers Vs. X-Men.

Speaking of the latter crossover, Remender’s next book, Uncanny Avengers, picks up after the events of AvX with a combined team of Avengers and X-Men who spend much of their time cleaning up the messes X-Force made in their last book, in addition to facing big Avengers villains such as the Red Skull and Kang. So if you like Uncanny X-Force, keep reading.

Remender’s Uncanny X-Force is collected in seven trade paperbacks: The Apocalypse Solution, Deathlok Nation, The Dark Angel Saga Books 1 and 2, Otherworld, and Final Execution Books 1 and 2. The series is also available in a hardcover omnibus.

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