Monday, February 21, 2011
Uncanny X-Force #5 - A Tough Act (of Awesome) To Follow
If my words come off as a little hoarse in this review, don't be alarmed. I've been singing the praises of Uncanny X-Force so much that my vocal chords look like the frail threads holding Lindsey Lohan's career together. There's a lot to get excited about with this book. It has the rush of a fresh line of cocaine without the limp dick and scarred nasal pathways. Rick Remender took the events that came after Second Coming and created a compelling new X-men series that's dark, gritty, bloody, and has a hot Asian chick who likes to run around in a swimsuit. So there's something for everyone, even perverts.
The first arc of Uncanny X-Force hit the ground running. There was no build-up to a big fight. The team set up shop and their first mission was against Apocalypse, a villain that you can't be diplomatic with. You either have to wipe him out or become his evolutionary prison bitch. It was an epic battle for the new X-Force. It demonstrated that even though Cyclops officially disbanded the team in Second Coming, there's still a need for it. However, a twist was thrown in at the end. When X-Force reached Apocalypse, they didn't find the big bad supermutant who looks like an 800-pound-gorilla fucked a sentinel. He was just a kid. Granted, he was a creepy ass kid. But he was a kid.
It made for a powerful moment. X-Force is about killing threats before they manifest, but even with psychopaths like Deadpool on the team they couldn't go through with it. Well...except for Fantomex. After Wolverine, Psylocke, and even freakin' Arcangel decide to spare the kid, Fantomex steps in and shoots kidpocalypse right in the head. He killed the threat. He essentially completed their mission. However, the success wasn't all that satisfying. If anything, it sewed the seeds of discontent.
That's where Uncanny X-Force #5 picks up. It has the daunting task of following up the Apocalypse story. That's like trying to satisfy a porn star who just got plowed by four Calvin Klein models. It's a lot to measure up to and that's not just a cute dick joke. Fantomex takes center stage, being the guy that pulled the trigger in the last arc. He seems to be avoiding his fellow X-Force teammates. That's understandable because when you kill a kid, your friends tend to think less of you. For those who don't know shit about Fantomex other than the snooty French persona he uses to seduce women, there's a nice little summery of who he is. Fantomex describes where he came from. It's a Star Trek inspired place called The World, where millions of years of evolution can pass in only a month of real time. This is where Fantomex came of age. He was conditioned to be a mix of man and sentinel. In the same way a social outcast immerses himself in World of Warcraft, Fantomex is reconnecting with The World.
He hasn't been around to the World in a while. It stands to reason that the women in the real world are more appealing. Since his absence the World has become corrupted in the same way a shady porno file from a torrent site fucks up a computer. Remember, the World is essentially like Tron without Jeff Bridges and the flashy cars. Now that Fantomex has more free time, he investigates it further. He enters the world again to find out that the World may have been corrupted by illegal downloads of Japanese anime and images of perverse Disney drawings.
To prevent his home town from going haywire, he reveals that he has what can only be described as a secret fail safe. It's very vague. It's not really that clear what Fantomex is doing or where he is. It's only clear that something is fucked up about the World and he's trying to fix it. After the Apocalypse arc where everything flowed so nicely, this is a bit of a jolt. At the very least, it sets the stage for the conflict in this arc. Fantomex's old stomping ground seems appropriate given the shit storm he kicked up with his teammates.
While he's enjoying his little time out, X-Force is holding a special meeting to discuss Fantomex's shenanigans. Killing Kidpocalypse isn't one of those things they can just let slide. It's not like stealing pens from the office supply closet or fooling around with your boss's daughter (even if she does have great tits). Psylocke, Angel, and even Deadpool voice their discontent over what Fantomex did. Killing kids isn't what X-Force is supposed to be about. Even Deadpool was uncharacteristically coherent. This was a far cry from the guy who actually fed pieces of his arm to Angel. This guy is supposed to be nuttier than squirrel turds and he's coming off as emo. It's not just jarring. It's distressing.
Wolverine being the jerk he is basically brushes off all their concerns. In his eyes they did the right thing. They completed the mission. That's all that mattered. He tells those who can't stomach what they do to leave. This is a guy who has enough demons to start his own football league complete with cheerleaders, coaches, and a shitty Al Davis type owner. Psylocke and Angel come off as being painfully human, not liking the idea that they killed a kid. Wolverine brushes it off as if it were tick. Granted, ticks can fuck you up if they drain enough blood, but this is Wolverine we're talking about here. He's the one that put this team together and unlike Cyclops, he's not doing a very good job of leading it.
While the team deals with their share of problems, Fantomex visits the French Alps to catch up with another part of his past. This time it's not some French maiden he didn't call after a three way. It's an old blind woman who was involved in raising him in the World. He calls her mother even though she doesn't have the stretch marks from giving birth to him. Again, it may not be clear if you're not familiar with Fantomex's history. But Remender does a good job of having the scene explain itself. The woman explains how she tried to instill some ethics in him to counter the other harsh training he received. This conflicts with his recent actions and Fantomex makes it clear that he has a problem with it. He's part mutant and part sentinel. There's a "Target: Aquired. Lethal force authorized" part of his brain that's hard to ignore as the affair with Kidpocalypse demonstrated.
This nice moment with dear old mom quickly goes to Hell when they get some unexpected visitors. And it isn't neighbors asking for a cup of sugar. They're assassins. Sugar is for pussies. Blood makes brownies taste so much better. They're assassins in the form of familiar heroes like Elektra and Captain America. However, it's pretty clear they aren't human. They talk like sentinels with the whole "target acquired" and "primary objective" speech. Seriously, not even lame superheroes talk like that.
Fantomex fights off the assault and tries to protect dear old mom. They quickly reorganize, taking a page out of Terminator and showing their robot side to make them more badass. As lame as it sounds, it actually works. Fantomex gets his ass thrown around a bit like a newbie at a state prison. Then the robot Spider-Man shows up and grabs his mother. Fantomex tries to save her, but like with Kidpocalypse there's no room for mercy in this book. Robo-Spider snaps the old woman's neck. So that means in one issue, a kid is killed. In the next, an old lady is killed. It's official. This book is pretty hardcore. The sad part is that robo Spider-Man is still on a higher moral ground than real Spider-Man because he never made a deal with the fucking devil! But I'd rather not get into that discussion.
Fantomex is now pissed. Now those "Yo mama" jokes are personal. He fights back, but somewhere along the line these robo-heroes steal The World from him. Again, it's not clear where or how this happens. Did he drop it? Did he get pick-pocketed? Did someone reach into his pocket when he wasn't looking? It's another one of those confusing developments that the other X-Force books didn't have.
At this point Fantomex realizes that he's not going to win this battle on his own. All the smooth talking and French arrogance in the world won't help him. So he uses EVA to send a distress signal to the rest of X-Force, hoping that they're not too pissed at him to not help. Although if they didn't show up, it would be understandable. It may even teach Fantomex a lesson, but given that this is Fantomex we can't have that. He had to remain the arrogant French asshole to stay in character.
He manages to slip away when Hawkeye gets bold and hits him with an exploding arrow. Seriously, a bullet would have worked just as well. He's playing keep-away now until X-Force shows up, assuming they're not going to take their sweet time to fuck with him. He's in bad shape and it seems as though he puts some distance between him and the robo-heroes. Then he comes face-to-face with the guy who may be behind this whole mess. He's Deathlok and that my friends is how the name of the arc, Deathlok Nations, makes sense. Given the title it's not much of a surprise, but at least it makes sense. It's a good way to end the first issue of this arc and for those who enjoyed seeing Fantomex get his ass kicked, it leaves plenty of promise that his ass will be more tender than hamburger meat when the next issue rolls around.
So after reading this issue, will I finally be able to give my vocal chords a rest? Can I finally go to my throat doctor and avoid having to tell him to fuck off when he warns me of permanent damage? Well I'm okay with saying that this issue is awesome. Uncanny X-Force remains a top quality book. If you could only buy one X-book a month and you chose this book, you would get plenty of awesome X-stories. However, after the last arc the bar is so high that this issue had a lot to live up to. As a result, some of the minor flaws become a lot more glaring.
On more than one occasion, it's not entirely clear what's going on. It's not clear where Fantomex is at the beginning or what he's doing with the World. Those who don't know Fantomex's history may be a little lost at times. It's not clear when he loses the world during the fight with the robo-heroes. On top of that Deadpool was horribly out of character. He didn't even crack a poop joke. That's a big deal for some fans and it may turn them off this series in a big way. It shouldn't because there's still a lot of awesome material to go around. Rick Remender makes it a point to document the aftermath of Fantomex's decision to kill Apocalypse. The fight scene with Fantomex and the assassins was very well done as well. The death of his mother was a good shocker and Deathlok's appearance at the end was a nice treat. So this issue is still more than worth picking up.
If I hadn't read the last arc of Uncanny X-Force, I may be inclined to score this a little higher. I've given high marks to this series for every issue thus far, yelling at the top of my lungs how great it is. This time I can give my lungs and vocal chords a rest. This issue is great, but it's not worth recording an album over. Overall, I give Uncanny X-Force #5 a 3.5 out of 5. The minor issues were made a lot bigger by the standards this series set up. There's nothing that can't be overcome in the next issue. For now, Uncanny X-Force is still a strong title. If Rick Remender can refine those little things, I'll gladly go back to straining my vocal chords. Nuff said.