Sunday, January 30, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #4 - A+ Awesome

Michael Bay discovered a winning formula for movies long ago. The equation was so simple that even Sarah Palin could understand it. Take a bunch of badass guys, a few hot chicks, and include a variable degree of space, explosions, and bloodshed and that all adds up to a kick-ass movie. Now unfortunately, Michael Bay forgot to add a little something called depth in his equation. That's what separates good movies like Transformers 1 from not-so-good movies like Transformers 2. Uncanny X-Force does follow this equation to some extent, but Rick Remender one-ups Michael Bay by adding the kind of depth that separates a quicky in a bathroom from some forty-year-old whore from a waffle house from a porn star orgy at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas.

Uncanny X-Force has taken the X-Force concept that was established by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost and turned it into one of the best X-books on the shelves using this model. This book spun right out of the events in Second Coming. Cyclops may have disbanded X-Force, but Wolverine still saw the need to have a team that will go out and kill the assholes who don't care for the whole mercy concept that heroes often impose. Their first target is no lightweight. X-Force's first mission involves none other than cherry lips himself, Apocalypse.

For the first three issues, Rick Remender has avoided the temptations that Michael Bay would have otherwise given into like Lindsey Lohan at a Colombian dance club. He took some time to develop a dynamic between these characters. Apocalypse isn't just an enemy. He's someone who has ties to Angel, who wrestles with his Arcangel persona constantly. That's led to a renewal of his relationship with Psylocke, who has to wrestle with the idea of fighting him should Arcangel overtake the Angel. It added extra motivation for her when X-Force traveled to the moon in search of Clan Akkaba, who were believed to be giving Apocalypse the Jean Grey treatment. Psylocke left Arcangel, Wolverine, Fantomex, and Deadpool behind to deal with Apocalypse's horsemen while she went after the mac daddy of Ancient Egypt. When she finally found him, she was shocked to see that the Apocalypse they were looking to put six feet under was just a kid. Even if you're part of a kill squad, the stakes change when you have to kill a kid. Not everyone can be as comfortable with it as Ted Bundie in a sorority house.

Uncanny X-Force #4 doesn't start with Betsy though. It goes right back to Wolverine and the others, who were on the receiving end of Apocalypse's horsemen. That's like being tackled by James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers without any pads and no referee to throw the yellow flag. Wolverine ends up having to drag Fantomex's French ass out of a pile of rubble, which must be a metaphor for World War II in some respects, and politely reminds him that Clan Akkaba's ship is about to teleport away with Psylocke inside it. And by politely remind I mean to say he calls Fantomex and I quote "a faux French son-of-a-bitch." This is about as polite as Wolverine can be so Fantomex kindly obliges and uses EVA to stop the ship from teleporting away.

Wolverine's manners aside, Fantomex bought X-Force some time. With that time, Arcangel and Deadpool are still trying to get back in the fight. In the last issue Arcangel was wounded and Deadpool pulled him away so he could get his act together. Now Deadpool doing first aid is like Ray Charles doing brain surgery. He's not someone you would want to trust with your health. However, Arcangel is no condition to contact his insurance provider so they can screw him over. Deadpool is helping Arcangel recover by making him eat. What's he feeding him? How about bits and pieces of his own flesh? No, that's not a typo or some lame setup for a dick joke. Deadpool is actually cutting off slabs of flesh and force feeding it to Arcangel. I'm not sure if this counts as cannibalism, but damn it if it isn't badass. Only Deadpool can make something as taboo as cannibalism funny as hell.

While X-Force is getting their act together and channeling their inner Jeffery Dahlmer, Clan Akkaba is getting more pissed off than MC Hammer's accountant. Fantomex tricked the ship into thinking it already teleported away. It didn't. He did the equivalent of fucking up their GPS while they were stranded in the middle of Rapeville, Texas. The residents in this case are worse than hillbillies drunk on moonshine. Fresh from their dealings with the four horsemen, Wolverine and Fantomex dive in and give Clan Akkaba the Charlie Sheen porn star treatment. After getting their asses served to them with a side of fries in the last issue, it's a thing of beauty.

Clan Akkaba doesn't take it like Saudi housemaid though. They call in reinforcements and they seem to do the trick. At one point it seems Wolverine and Fantomex are reenacting the Alamo or something because they're outnumbered and outgunned. No amount of badassery can overcome sheer numbers. Just as no amount of faith can stop a bullet. Just ask the Pope (the old one). Wolverine and Fantomex get their asses handed to them again, this time with a side of shrimp cocktail laced with Devil Spit hot sauce. That's because they conveniently forgot about the Four Horsemen, who so thoroughly beat them up in the last issue.

However, Wolverine and Fantomex actually employ a little strategy this time. Michael Bay should take note. Remember how Fantomex used EVA to hot wire the ships teleportation systems? Well that wasn't just some contrived plot to buy more time, which is why I didn't make a poop joke about it earlier. That little trick was part of a tactic and with it, Fantomex uses Clan Akkaba's own ship to teleport them to a distant planet where they'll be about as much a threat as David Hasselhoff's at the Oscars. It's a snide trick and one that demonstrates a solid twist in the action. It's like getting a free hand job from a masseuse and not nearly as messy.

Some witty dialog later and we catch up with Deadpool and Arcangel. While Wolverine and Fantomex take out the horsemen, these two take out Clan Akkaba's head hancho. While he's boiling in his own piss at how he just got pwned, Deadpool and Arcangel rub salt in the wound by taking him out of the fight in the same way Manny Pacquiao takes out people in a boxing ring. Except Deadpool and Archangel are a little less violent. There's only so far a mutant kill squad can go sadly.

Now that Clan Akkaba is as inept as the Tunisian government, Arcangel and Deadpool meet up with Wolverine and Fantomex. They've taken out the horsemen. They've beat down on Clan Akkaba like an Eastern European housewife. That only leaves Apocalypse. Now keep in mind Psylocke went ahead of them and tried to take him out earlier. Well when the others catch up to her, they're understandably confused when they find a creepy looking kid who could easily win himself a role in a direct-to-DVD sequel of The Shining. Almost as creepy is Psylocke is defending him.

Now granted, it takes stones to defend a kid so creepy he looks like he belongs in an Anthony Hopkins horror flick. But Psylocke makes it clear that no one is going to harm him. To her he's a child who is being influenced by Clan Akkaba. He's like a kid who had to grow up with Michael Jackson. Even if he is Apocalypse, killing him wouldn't be proactive. It would just be an act of douche-baggery. This does not go over well with Arcangel, who Psylocke ironically said she would protect from Apocalypse. He's still royally pissed at Apocalypse for the whole evil body mind control. I know, some people just can't let certain shit go. So in an act that's sure to earn them some couple's therapy and banishment to the couch, Arcangel attacks Psylocke in an effort to get to Apocalypse.

He's not the only one either. While Arcangel has Psylocke occupied, Wolverine is in a position to finish the job. He's killed plenty of people before so why should killing Apocalypse, a guy who once turned him into a horsemen, be worth losing any sleep over? Well Wolverine may be a dick at times, but he's not without honor. And for some reason killing a kid isn't that honorable. So he stands down. Psylocke also gets the better of Arcangel, which should indicate who gets to be on top during sex. She still stands down before giving her lover the ultimate face piercing. She's not about to kill her boyfriend for some kid who may or may not be an evil tyrant in the making.

Then Arcangel does to his teammates what Fantomex did to the horsemen. He pulls a fast one and basically shoves his girlfriend and Wolverine aside. He then goes for Apocalypse, looking as pissed as the Catholic Church towards that new Skins show on MTV. He's in position to put him in permanent time out. Nothing is stopping him. Then at the last minute, he goes from roid rage to soaking pussy. Arcangel may be pissed, but he's still got some Angel in him. That Angel is enough to pull him back from doing the ultimate move in being a dick. Psylocke consoles him, hinting that he might not be banished to the couch after all. Wolverine discusses plans to take Apocalypse back with him. They may be able to do what Ted Williams couldn't and rehabilitate him.

It could make for a very interesting story, X-Force trying to make Apocalypse something other than the alpha douche that the X-men have always known. Imagine what it would be like, Apocalypse on the side of the X-men. Magneto changed his tune. Why not the X-men? They would be unstoppable!

Well as you may expect, that doesn't happen. Since Wolverine, Psylocke, and Arcangel won't do it, someone else has to step up and be the asshole. Now you think Deadpool would be that guy. Well he's crazy, but not an asshole. Fantomex on the other hand...well, he's French. So he's okay with being the dick that no one else will be. How big a dick is he? He shoots kid Apocalypse right in the head. That's right, Fantomex executes a kid. Granted, it's an evil kid who looks too creepy for Brad and Angelina to adopt. But he's still a kid. It's a powerful moment and one that would silence an entire world if they weren't already on the freakin' moon.

It makes for a striking and ominous ending. X-Force leaves Clan Akkaba and kid Apocalypse behind. They then fly back to Earth. Nobody says a word. It gives the impressing that the ride back is wrought with the most awkward silence in history. It's hard to really tell here what the characters are feeling. I think that's the point for Remender. By not saying anything or even showing any thought bubbles, you get a feel for just how conflicted X-Force is. They began this series resolved to the fact that they were going to kill threats before they screwed them over. Apocalypse is a pretty big threat so you would think that they wouldn't have to worry too much about moral implications of killing that asshole. Well in the face of a chance to kill him, most of them couldn't do it. When someone did, it was awkward as hell.

It's a very conflicted yet fitting ending for the first arc in this series. Rick Remender could have easily just had X-Force storm in like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and mow down Apocalypse like he was a Nazi in a World War II video game. That would have been too easy. Instead, he revealed that maybe this team of killers aren't as mentally equipped to be killers as they let on. They're painfully human. When confronted with a situation, they're not always able to do what needs to be done. Bear in mind this was their first mission and it was against freakin' Apocalypse of all people. If they can't be proactive and kill him without it being awkward, then how are they going to handle future missions?

It's a profound ending and one that goes beyond the action within the issue, which in and of itself is pretty damn awesome. Rick Remender is working with a team of hardened X-men, yet he doesn't portray them as such. In the end he doesn't show them to be part of a kill squad. He shows them to be painfully human, which makes them more X-men than X-Force in a sense. That made Fantomex giving kid Apocalypse the mafia neck tie feel all the more profound. It strikes the team and it strikes the reader. Normally a story that involves X-Force or Apocalypse isn't that complex, but Rick Remender pulls it off beautifully.

So the first arc of Uncanny X-Force is over and with this issue, I have a hard time finding something to criticize. Everything about it was flawless. The dialog was great, the action was great, the characterization was spot on, and the ending was deep and profound. I hate to keep bringing up Michael Bay, but Rick Remender should sign and mail him this first arc of Uncanny X-Force with a note saying that this is how you do over-the-top action stories with killers, hot chicks, and aliens. Of all the new series to emerge in wake of Second Coming, this is by far the best. So for Uncanny X-Force #4, I give it a perfect 5 out of 5. If you buy only one X-book a month, Uncanny X-Force is the way to go. Nuff said!


  1. We're in agreement again,Jack,I enjoyed every last second of this story,too!The ending was full of suspense and drama,unlike that of the Second Coming and Utopia,and every single character got the respect they deserved.

    Also,you get an extra kiss for high-lighting that Betsy was fabulous throughout the story-arc! :-D

  2. At first I was skeptical at yet *another* X-Force title with yet *another* X-Force team. However, I was plesantly surprised with how this arc turned out. What struck me the most was the characterizations and how well it was fleshed out (Warren especially stuck out for me). It's been a long time since I've been pulled into an X-story like this (and of course, your reviews are a determining factor for me). The artwork matched the dark and gritty plot and overall I think, when the time comes, I'll actually purchase this as a trade paperback.

    Nice work with the review, Jack!

  3. Selene, thanks for the comment! I'm glad we're on the same page. Uncanny X-Force is a great change of pace from the other X-books. It doesn't take place on Utopia and it doesn't involve influence from the main team. Plus, the action is great! It's also the first book where Betsy has really shined! I'm glad she has a role in this series. Not only have they rekindled her romance with Warren (which I was always fond of), they made her a moral center in the team. She stood against the others when they reached Apocalypse and all but Fantomex saw her way. I think that says a lot about this series and I'm really happy with how it turned out!

    And Rekkanaoryo, I understand your skepticism. I shared it too at one point, but this series has blown me away! The characterizations, the actions, and the story is all top notch. Everyone has shined here from Angel to Betsy to Fantomex. So many great elements have been set up that I really couldn't find a flaw to criticize or make a poop joke about. lol If you're going to get one book from the racks, this is it! Thanks a lot for your support and for all your recent reviews on X-men Supreme! Hope you enjoy the new volume!