Thursday, May 27, 2010

X-Force #27 - Grim, Gritty, and Awesome

Since the end of Messiah War, reading X-Force has been like a ten minute orgasm while surrounded in the scent of melted chocolate fudge. Between the art, the action, and dark character portrayals it has been a book that never fails to deliver. So naturally, it earns a special place in the scope of Second Coming. It's one of those comics you never have to worry about being anything less than awesome. X-Force #26 continues that tradition, although not without some bumps along the road.

Now for anybody who has been disappointed by the lack of action in the past few issues, you can shut up now because the first ten pages ice nothing but knock-down, dragged out, eye-gougingly intense action. There is no dialogue. There isn't even any narration directing the reader with musings from 18th century freedom fighters making a stand against an imperial power to highlight the deep philosophical and historic significance of this story. It's just the X-men kicking the shit out of dozens of Nimrod Sentinels pouring in from the future. If this does not quench your thirst for action, then you're just being an asshole.

The art of Mike Choi is absolutely brilliant here. His style and that of X-Force has always been dark and graphic. This kind of thing would never work on a happy-go-lucky type story featuring Spider-Man, the Power Pack, and Donald Duck. It works best in an environment were a certain level of blood, guts, and various other body fluids are spilled and X-Force #27 has all that in abundance. The previous issue in X-men Legacy #236 really set things up nicely. For ten pages the likes of Cyclops, Namor, Rogue, Angel, Hellion, Surge, and a whole host other X-men fight off an invasion of Nimrod Sentinels. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the X-men knows that Nimrod sentinels are like the T-X Terminators of the Marvel Universe. One alone would be a bitch to handle. But throw dozens if not hundreds into the mix and you might as well save yourself the trouble, tie a noose around your neck, and throw yourself off the nearest five story structure. The X-men still hang strong, but the Nimrods do some serious damage. Arms are burned off, skin is burned, and bones are broken. It's a fight of gritty realism mixed with the awesome of mutant powers. You couldn't get much better than that without a topless woman and a pound of blow.

It's often understated when heroes get hurt in comics. Part of the X-men's appeal is that they're very human. You punch them and they'll bleed. You hurt them and they'll get hurt. The Nimrod sentinels definitely do that. But they don't land the killing blow. They seriously wound the X-men and dampen what little pride they have left. It's basically the same as a bully walking up to a kid in the schoolyard, roughing him up a little, and then saying they'll beat the living shit out of him after school so he has something to look forward to. The Nimrods do more than just rough up. They have the audacity to call this attack a scouting mission because they do pull back even though they have the X-men on the ropes. Now if this sounds a little confusing, bear with me because there is a method behind the madness and it's not worth bitching over.

More of Bastion's tactical brilliance is showcased here because he does something that would normally give villains the kind of headaches that would make them become postal workers. He understands that there is a future (the Days of Futures Past timeline to be precise) where neither humans nor mutants win the struggle. What he does in the present really won't amount to a pile of cow shit if the future remains the same. In order to change the future, he has to work in four dimensions and not just three. It would make Doc Brown from Back to the Future proud.

The plan is simple yet terrifying elegant. He's going to open a portal to allow 170,000 Nimrod sentinels to pour in from the future and deliver the final blow to the X-men. In terms of sheer force that's like swatting a fly with an H-bomb. In this case, however, there's no such thing as overkill. Bastion went through the trouble of trapping the X-men and killing their teleporters and he's going to make good use of this opportunity damn it!

Needless to say, the X-men are deadpanned. They got a whole city that's going to hell because of them and a fight that's taking place in both the future and the present. Even for a leader as strong as Cyclops, it's a lot to take in and seems like only a matter of time before a "we're fucked" mentality sets in. Some like Prodigy have already began returning to the fetal position. He starts whining that they're all going to die like that guy in the street corner preaching that the alien supergod Assholio is going to return and anally rape them all to death. Logan has to forcibly retrieve his balls from the recesses of his ass, but he gets him an everyone else to focus.

The decision is painfully clear for Cyclops. If Bastion is going to fight them in four dimensions then they'll have to do the same. This is where that one final time jump Cable has comes into play.

If readers would recall New Mutants #13 way back when they'll remember Cable mentioning he has one last time jump to the future. He threatened to use it to take Hope away from this madness, but Hope decided against it. Now they're going to have to use that jump anyways. They're going to send X-Force into the future to take down the Nimrod sentinels before they can pour through and deliver the Mike Tyson punch out of killing blows. It goes without saying that this is a suicide mission on par with diving naked into a volcano to retrieve an ant sized diamond. But that's never stopped Cable or X-Force before. Even though Hope is dead set against it, Cable does not shy away from the mission.

This leads to a touching moment that was hinted at in one of the variant covers. Cable, who has been raising and protecting Hope since she was just an infant, has to part ways with her. He won't allow her to come with him to the future. Her place is now in the present. Naturally, Hope gets emotional, but she doesn't try to stop him. They share a tender moment. Hope doesn't call her father or anything. She still calls him Nathan, which kind of shows she's a little pissed that he's leaving her behind. But that doesn't stop Cable from telling Hope he loves her. It's not so much the "I love you" a man gives when he tucks his daughter in at night. It's more like the "I love you and I may never see you again" that a guy tells someone when he's going on a suicide mission and doesn't expect to come back in one piece. That takes a big heart as well as planet sized balls. It's probably the most emotional Cable has ever been in decades.

In between these emotional moments and suicide missions, there's still a plan in the present to worry about. Cyclops doesn't just have mutant kind on his shoulders. He has the whole city of San Francisco and all the liberals, hippies, and homos that live in it. To keep the scope of this clusterfuck in perspective, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost take some time to show the sheer chaos that has erupted throughout the city. Most of the people have no idea what the fuck is going on and look ready to shit every pair of pants in their wardrobe. Then again this is the Marvel Universe. You would think people have gotten used to this. The only ones who benefit are the pants makers of the world. They fucking love it.

In addition, Kyle and Yost spend some time going over the wounded within the team. It's a good way to reinforce the point that the X-men are running out of able-bodied people to fight Bastion with. The injuries are mounting and so is any sense of hope that they'll get out of this in one piece. If any readers suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder they would have seizures over this shit. They not only have to keep the city from falling apart, but they have to be ready for Bastion's final move. If nothing else, they'll be plenty pissed when they finally get a crack at this asshole who can't help that he was programmed to be such a douche-bag.

The final scene is a powerful moment for Cyclops. He, Emma, and Hope watch X-Force and Cable disappear into the future. It's at this point Cyclops laments. He knows he's sent a team that includes his own son on a suicide mission. He tries to maintain his stern leader-like poise that every writer seems to gush over since the Morrison run. Only here he looks a lot more vulnerable. Even with Hope in the room, he's distraught that this is what it comes to. It sets things up nicely for Matt Fraction in the next issue of Uncanny X-men because he just loves writing how kick-ass Cyclops is. It almost makes me wonder if he got on his knees and begged Kyle and Yost Anna Nichole style to end the issue like this.

So X-Force #27 had action, drama, scope, and heart from cover to cover. So what's the problem? I know I haven't mentioned any shortcomings through the review, but there's a reason for that. The biggest problem this issue has (and I say biggest in relative terms) isn't something minor on certain pages. It's an issue that stems the whole book. As great as Mike Choi was with the art, there are just some areas where it doesn't work. When Hope is hugging Cable to say goodbye and when Cyclops is lamenting that he's killed his son, their faces look like statues. You might as well be looking at monuments on Easter Island because that's how much emotion they convey. It's not a good thing when the variant cover by David Finch has the most emotion of the book. I know that's not necessarily the style of X-Force, but this is within the context of Second Coming. Since so few panels are dedicated to these moments, the artistic representation is important. It doesn't help that the dialogue falls a little flat here. It makes what should be some very powerful moments into something the reader can easily gloss over.

It's not terribly egregious. The comic still has plenty of awesome to make up for this, but this definitely holds it back from being another perfect 10. It also falters on some of the themes set up by Mike Carey in the previous issue. For Kyle and Yost, I expect better than this. Granted those standards are pretty high, but they don't get a pass. They still have an issue to make up for this and there's no reason why they can't.

One other criticism (which isn't just restricted to this book) is how nobody has commented on Hope's appearance yet. She has red hair and green eyes and a dress sense very similar to Jean Grey yet nobody says anything? It's getting to be pretty late in the game. If someone doesn't pick up on this theme soon then someone at Marvel needs to be fired. They have been dropping hints that Hope is Jean or the Phoenix since the end of Messiah Complex. If they don't even attempt to address it in the next four issues then that's enough to take this whole crossover down. There's still time, but it needs to be addressed. I don't see Fraction doing it since that would fall under the category of time not making Cyclops and Emma awesome, which is his least favorite activity. There is plenty of room for others to fill the void and hopefully they do because this has been making fans like myself bang our heads against the table for years and the doctors say I may brain my damage if it doesn't stop.

Because of these small but important shortcomings, X-Force #27 gets a 4 out of 5. It has everything you want in the awesome that is Second Coming, but some little yet profound issues keep it from being perfect. This basically marks the end of Act 2. There is only one month left to follow! Bring it on, Uncanny! Hopefully we'll be getting some answers regarding Hope, the Phoenix, Jean Grey, and the mutant messiah very soon.


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