Monday, November 29, 2010

Uncanny X-Force #2 - Apocalyptic Awesome

Every so often Marvel likes to throw out a fresh batch of #1 titles the same way crack dealers lace their product with sugar to give it an extra kick. That and #1's tend to boost sales better than free blow jobs with every purchase over five bucks. Uncanny X-Force was one of those #1 titles and it managed to be the best selling comic book in the month of October. Granted, that's not saying much. Comic sales have been slipping faster than 13-year-old's boner when he sees his first fetish porn video. Yet a comic doesn't become a top seller without having a sufficient level of awesome and Uncanny X-Force definitely had that.

This title has to follow in the large footsteps of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, who put X-Force at ground zero of an explosion of awesome. The style of that X-Force was set up a certain way. The more proactive squad was run by Cyclops and was supposed to be a way to take out (or kill if you want to be technical about it) threats before they manifested. They weren't exactly successful. One of the first threats that arose was Bastion and that sure as hell manifested in a way that can only be classified with multiple clusterfucks.

So even though word got out about X-Force and what Cyclops was doing, the secret squad was continued under Wolverine. This time Cyclops has no idea. He and the rest of the X-men are in the dark. Only Wolverine, Psylocke, Angel, Deadpool, and Fantomex know. Uncanny X-Force is their fight against threats that require getting a shit ton of blood stains out of their uniforms. The first issue set up how this team was going to be structured and it also set up who their first major threat was. They didn't start off light to say the least. The guy they have to warm up against is none other than Apocalypse. That's like being an expansion team in football and having to face Peyton Manning while he's hopped up on steroids and meth.

Uncanny X-Force #2 starts off with little exposition. Already X-Force is fighting their way to Apocalypse, having to wade through bones and monsters in the process. Now if you're worried that you missed something, don't reach for the LSD. This isn't what you think it is or if you're brain is sufficiently wired to recognize the setup, it's exactly what you think it is.

The one narrating this little trip through the anus of Hell is Betsy. She's the one who is most new to the world of X-Force. Even though she's a sexy killer ninja chick composing no less than 70 percent of all comic book based masterbation, she's still adjusting to this new type of X-men. She's the only one who pauses for a moment to take in the horrors Apocalypse is capable of inflicting. He's got cages of humans with accommodations that make Auschwitz look like the Four Seasons.

Since Wolverine sees this sort of thing every night in his nightmares, he's unfazed and urges her along. They confront the big bad Apocalypse and attack head on in the way you expect comic book heroes to attack. Except unlike heroes, Apocalypse takes them out the same way Homer Simpson takes out donuts. Along the way, he uses his influence to turn Angel into his Arcangel persona. That turns lovable Warren Worthington III into an evil douche who needs a good stabbing. To her dismay, Psylocke has to deliver that stabbing. Even though killing a boyfriend turned evil is something that's in every issue of Cosmo, she laments how difficult it is which makes Psylocke as human as she is sexy.

It's at this point we find out that this whole attack was part of a simulation. If anyone for a moment thought it was the real deal, they need to drop this comic immediately and run head first into a wall of adamantium. This training had purpose though. Wolverine wanted to make sure that should Angel lose control that Psylocke would be able to take him out. It's not a pleasant thing to rehearse, your girlfriend practicing how to kill you. It's like practicing how you're going to castrate yourself for your woman while she hangs you. It makes for awkward pillow talk.

While X-Force is practicing killing one another, the child Apocalypse (still the most disturbing incarnation of the bastard to date) is learning more pragmatic skills. In the Akkaba stronghold, Apocalypse's handlers are teaching him to be Apocalypse again. He's basically learning why he's the first mutant and he should be the guy who destroys humanity the same way we all learned our ABCs in Kindergarten. Special emphasis is given to the X-men. He's also taught that they're like the evil monsters that hide in his closet at night and the only way to get rid of them is to horribly maim them. It's a twisted kind of parenting, but it's no worse than what the average student gets at a typical Catholic school with ruler-wielding nuns.

So the kid Apocalypse is gaining knowledge while X-Force is trying to gain a footing on this new team of theirs. Since they don't have the support of Cyclops or the X-men, they rely primarily on Angel's deep pockets. That's not necessarily a downgrade because Angel is rich enough to buy the equivalent of a bat cave for this team. It's got montages of old teams as well as all the equipment they would ever need to find out who needs killing. It proves once again that any problem can be sufficiently resolved by knowing someone who is filthy fucking rich.

Like Batman, X-Force does their share of detective work. They use Fantomex's artificial blood and some old samples from Cable to track the Celestials technology that Apocalypse loves to use. They find out that Apocalypse is kept very well-hidden and by well-hidden I mean he's on the fucking moon. Because if you're going to be a top tier super-villain, you've gotta have some kind of space base. If you don't the other villains would probably call you gay.

Before they leave though, Betsy and Warren share a brief moment. Like the first issue, there is a brief reminder here that these two are still romantically involved. They do have a history and that history has only been given perspective with the beginning of this series. It's been a long time coming, but it's very worth it. Betsy reminds her rich boy toy that she loves him and wants to celebrate that love by killing Apocalypse and doing it over his corpse. Well she didn't say that last part, but it was sort of implied.

So X-Force suits up and blasts off for space. As they approach the dark side of the moon that Pink Floyd never sang about, they have an Apollo 13 style disaster. Apocalypse and his cronies were ready for them and deployed his horsemen. These aren't familiar mind-controlled characters either. These are big time World of Warcraft style horsemen that attack X-Force as if doing so will automatically level them up while simultaneously blowing them. Keep in mind all this is happening in space so it gets even messier than usual.

More horsemen follow and they're a bit more subtle. Death looks like a Civil War era drummer who got caught up in a zombie parade while Pestilence looks like one of those creepy Asian women with the white makeup and the faces that give every child under the age of three nightmares. It's a rather unusual manifestation of Apocalypse's minions, but they're novel and they work. Throw Deadpool's often offbeat sense of humor in addition to a few references to old war songs from the sixties (with Deadpool, I can't make that shit up) and it acts as an extra level of awesome to a literally stellar fight scene.

As bizarre as these creatures are, X-Force is equipped to handle them because unlike the regular X-men this team isn't afraid to kick a little extra ass. It also helps that this battle is on the freakin' moon. So the usual laws of physics that make a battle awesome on Earth are stretched a little. Wolverine and Fantomex take advantage of that in handling War's World of Warcraft style avatar. It's the first move that X-Force aren't going to be completely schooled by Apocalypse's forces. They will put up a fight and look damn awesome doing it.

This brief moment of triumph doesn't last though. The rest of Apocalypse's horsemen show up to remind them they're not the ones with the advantage. Famine arrives to join up with War, Pestilence, and Death. Even though he looks like a fucked up version of the genie in Aladdin, he downs X-Force with surprising ease. As he does this, kid Apocalypse is watching on looking only half as creepy as he did before. But he's still given the chance that every kid dreams of at some point in his life. He's given the opportunity to decide how his enemies will be killed. For any kid that's been bullied or is just a douche-bag, it's a dangerous fantasy come true.

A lot happens in this comic. The book is of average length, but it actually feels longer than it really is. The book has the same feel as a Giant Sized X-men or an X-men Annual without having to pay the extra dollar and having to wait every year or decade for it to come out. Every page has something to offer. Every moment has a greater purpose. You really can't ask much more of a book. Uncanny X-Force has only had two issues yet in those two issues Rick Remender has managed to do more than most writers do in a dozen. It covers moments of drama, action, and exposition that all tie nicely together in a clear coherent way. If other X-men writers are to look at a template for how to make X-men comics awesome, this is it!

That's not to say there are some shortcomings, but they are exceedingly short. The art style of Uncanny X-Force is unique, but in this issue the style was a lot darker. At times it felt there was some unnecessary shadowing that didn't contrast well with the scenes. I know the first X-Force had the same style, but that was offset by Mike Choi's added brilliance. This book doesn't have that luxury so it's not as visually appealing as other X-books.

Aside from the aesthetics, there really isn't much wrong with this title. It's an awesome read from front to back, minus the shitty ads for Fruit Loops and winter movies. I can think of few titles as deserving of a 5 out of 5 than this book. Uncanny X-Force #2 may still be riding the wave of it being a new series and all, but unlike others it isn't a gimmick. This title is as awesome as it's numbering deserves and is officially making a play for being the best X-book on the racks right now. Nuff said!

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