Monday, May 23, 2011
Uncanny X-Force #10 - Awesome Worthy of (Dark) Angels
The world of Uncanny X-Force is like the juicy side-boob of a Swedish swimsuit model in a Vogue photoshoot. The overall picture is nice, but it's definitely the best part! Rick Remender has been on a tear with this title. He's basically given the finger to all the other X-books and said "Ha! I can do it WAY better!" And he's backed up that claim with each issue. Uncanny X-Force has a simple formula (if you happen to have a masters degree from from the Harvard school of awesome). He takes a small set of characters, puts said characters in intense yet unique predicaments, ensures there are ramifications to those predicaments, and gives the characters a very human approach to those predicaments. There's probably some quantum mechanics in there, but I'd rather not get into details while I'm not high. The most important element of Uncanny X-Force is that it takes the concept of a secret X-men kill squad that does missions normal X-men can't or won't do and makes it more than blood-soaked torture porn. Doing stuff like this would fuck a normal person up in ways that would require years of therapy and a shit ton of meds. Even when things have gotten bloody, X-Force has struggled to deal with it at times and that often fuels subsequent stories.
The past few issues of Uncanny X-Force have been pretty basic. Since the Deathlok arc, this series has thrown in a few one-shots. They include such charming stories as hunting down old Nazis and psychic battles against Shadowking. Now Uncanny X-Force is set to begin a new arc and for this, Marvel is breaking out a bug gun that's been gathering dust somewhere between Joe Quesada's porno stash and Tom Brevoort's twinkie stash. That gun is Age of Apocalypse, the alternate reality that Marvel created back in the 90s to cash in on a bloated What If gimmick. Yet it was entertaining and memorable, putting a new twist on characters that take more than a few beers to conjure. Never one to use gimmicks just once, Marvel isn't done with Age of Apocalypse and Uncanny X-Force is their shiny new tool with which to milk it.
Now I have mixed feelings about this. The Age of Apocalypse universe is near and dear to my heart. It was a charming little take on a much darker twist on X-men. So the idea of mixing up the main Marvel universe with this guilty pleasure of a series doesn't sit well. But given the quality and strength of Uncanny X-Force, I'm willing to give Rick Remender a chance. He already set the stage when X-Force faced Apocalypse as their first enemy. He deserves a shot at taking it a step further.
Before the series can take a trip down AOA lane, it begins by touching on another issue that's been brewing for a while. It involves the whole notion of having a secret kill squad of X-men. Secret being the key word. You see, X-Force doesn't really work if someone spills the beans that there are X-men out there proactively hunting people down and killing them. Granted, those people are assholes, but some have a problem with this. Unfortunately, there are too many pussies in the world. Amahl Farouk, who the X-men know as Shadowking, understands this. Having recently confronted X-Force and gotten his psychic ass kicked, he's out for a little payback. So what does he do? Crank call them? Steal their credit cards and use it to buy fifty strippers and a few bricks of blow? How about leak footage of X-Force's exploits to a journalist? I'd still go with the strippers and blow, but I guess that works as well.
While the reporter is in the process of shitting his pants, someone calls Angel and lets him know that someone is about to spill X-Force's secrets. Now this matters a lot to him because being the overprivlidged rich guy of the team, he paid for much of X-Force's resources. If word got out he was sponsoring a kill squad, that can't be good for his family company or trust fund. So he abruptly cancels a Danger Room session that involves a World War II (or World War I, it's hard to tell) scenario to take care of it.
Arcangel is so bent on stopping this news from getting out and protecting his family's billions that he basically tells off his girlfriend in a way just short of telling her to shut the fuck up. This is not a smart thing to do when you have an evil split-personality and your girlfriend is a hot telepath who gives you the privileged of seeing her naked. This comes on the heels of Angel having killed someone during their last mission against Shadowking. So when he flies off without even listening to Psylocke's concern, she gets worried and Fantomex uses it as a chance to flirt with her. Now Fantomex is still a massive tool, this is Psylocke we're talking about here. He can be forgiven for wanting to get into Psylocke's panties.
The only issue that some may have here is that it seems a little...abrupt. In previous issues, Angel didn't show any signs of being one bad phone-call away from becoming of a total douche. He's also never disrespected Psylocke like this. Not that I'm against a little drama, but this just seems to be happening a little fast. It's not terribly contrived, but it makes a bit of a leap in terms of progression.
While Psylocke runs off to warn Wolverine about her boyfriend's hissy fit, Arcangel seeks out the man threatening to play tabloid jerk-off with X-Force. He starts by finding the guy who called him. By find I mean sneaks up on him when he's getting into his car. This understandably scares the shit out of him, but it's implied (and never shown) that he royally fucks him up.
This can't sit well with the guy who actually got the information from Shadowking. He learns on the news that someone killed his editor. That means he's now officially on the top of Arcangel's shit-list. So before he can unload the video Wikileaks style, Arcangel confronts him in a way that would clear the bowels of a constipated elephant.
Arcangel isn't in a reasonable mood. He's not inclined to ask politely for the video files and the name of the guy who gave it to him. He's more in the mood to cut his throat and use his blood as anal lube. You almost feel bad for the reporter, but then again I lost my trust for the media years ago so I can't have too much sympathy. Before Arcangel does a Sopranos style interrogation, Wolverine busts into the scene. His inner musings retell of how he came to respect Angel. Now that respect is as valuable as a Zimbabwe penny.
Wolverine manages to knock Arcangel out a window, forgetting that the guy has fucking wings. You might as well lock a fat guy in a chocolate factory. The terrified reporter doesn't seem to realize this either. Like a good coward in the liberal media, he runs towards the nearest exit. Yet for some reason, he's still surprised when Angel is there to meet him. Seriously, did he really think he could outrun a guy with wings? Even the media can't be that stupid.
Having thrown Wolverine into the nearest pile of empty beer bottles, there's nothing stopping Arcangel from giving the reporter a taste of North Korean justice. Yet just as the reporter is praying to several deities in between shitting himself, Arcangel starts to struggle with his Angel persona. The non-asshole side of his personality is having a hard time subduing his inner douche. He fights the urge to kill him the way some people fight the urge to punch Bill O'Reilly. It's a great moment that shows the inner struggle that Angel has been wrestling with since the beginning of this series.
I wish I could say his good side wins out, he apologizes to the reporter, and agrees to pay a couple of hookers to toss his salad. But this is Uncanny X-Force. That kind of Disney crap doesn't fly here (even though Disney does technically own this shit). Good Angel can't beat out Evil Angel. So rather than risk him giving the reporter the same treatment the Navy SEALS did to Bin Ladin, Psylocke steps in and knocks him out with a little telepathy. That's what you get when you're an asshole to your girlfriend. She fucks up your mind. She doesn't need telepathy, but let's just say if all women did then every man on this planet would be effectively castrated.
Once Angel is forced into nap time, Psylocke wipes the mind of the reporter and they take the deranged Arcangel back to their base. The prognosis isn't good. No one in X-Force is a science geek. All they know is that Arcangel is beating out good Angel and there's nothing they can do about it. Rather than risk taking him to someone on Utopia and having them blabbing their secret, they come up with another approach. Since Arcangel is a product of Apocalypse, they need someone who knows Apocalypse. That someone is Dark Beast.
Now if you'll recall, Dark Beast has been bunking with Bernie Madoff since Dark Reign ended. His stint in Dark X-men lasted shorter than William Shatner's singing career. So X-Force has to spring him loose. It's not clear how they did this. Again, Remender sort of rushed it. Freeing Dark Beast sounds like something that would take a serious operation. Instead, X-Force just hires some cute girls to get the armored car carrying him to stop. Then somehow off panel, they break him free. I'm not sure of the details. It's left to the reader's imagination. Seeing as how I've torched my mind with LSD, it's a little hard to ignore. The point is they have him and for some reason, he agrees to help him. Given he's probably been bored to death since his capture, that's not too hard to believe.
Dark Beast gives a much clearer prognosis. When Fantomex killed Kidpolcaypse, he triggered a sort of succession plan. The loss of Apocalypse means that someone else is set to ascend to his role. That someone is Arcangel. Apocalypse seeded his mind to ensure that if anyone got the better of him, he would find a way to come back and kick their collective asses. This is bad news for Arcangel. The only way to prevent him from inheriting Apocalypse's mantel is to retrieve what he calls the 'life seeds' that were created by the Celestials. Seeing as how the Celestials are somewhat responsible for Apocalypse's bullshit, it makes sense. There's just one problem. The only way to find them is to venture into the Age of Apocalypse. And there, my friends, is how this crossover of world officially begins!
Uncanny X-Force now poised to clash with Age of Apocalypse. This issue didn't just jump right into it. It gave X-Force a damn good reason to take a trip to a decimated wasteland where Apocalypse was once top dog. It plays on one of Uncanny X-Force's strengths. It doesn't just have shit happen as if it was written by someone off his ADD meds. It takes an issue that's been building and cranks it up fifteen notches so that your ears bleed and your brain melts. Killing Kidpocalypse is where it began. Angel's recent struggles with Arcangel was the next step. Now those events have progressed to a dangerous new threat, one that puts Angel in a very grim position. If his friends and girlfriend want to save him, they need to do it in the Age of Apocalypse.
It's a great setup with a great backdrop. If there is any issue, it's that at times it feels rushed. For some, it went a bit too quickly from restraining Arcangel to busting Dark Beast out of custody. Hell, getting Dark Beast in the picture could have been a full comic in and of itself. Not that I'm not eager to get to the juicy Age of Apocalypse type awesome, but given the magnitude of the story it's usually best not to rush it. I also felt as though Psylocke's struggles to help her lover weren't emphasized. Angel really went off the deep end here, this after in previous issues he and Psylocke have shown few signs that it was at that point. I get that he was put in a tough situation, but you would think Psylocke would have a lot more to say about it. Again, it felt a bit rushed when she ended it with a psionic blade to the head, even if that scene was pretty awesome.
But I'm getting dangerously close to nit-picking here. Uncanny X-Force #10 is still an awesome comic. It's a great way to set the stage for Age of Apocalypse story. It progresses nicely even if it feels rushed. It brings Angel center stage in a way he hasn't enjoyed in quite some time. It also brings Dark Beast into the picture! It's a bonus on top of a bonus! Like a two-for-one deal on lap-dances at a strip club. The purpose of this issue seemed to be about getting people excited for Age of Apocalypse. Well after reading this issue, I can safely say mission accomplished without making a George W. Bush joke. Uncanny X-Force #10 gets a 4.5 out of 5. Now bring on the Apocalypse! Nuff said.