Sunday, January 22, 2012

Uncanny X-Force #20 - With Liberty and Awesome for All

I have a mixed history with the law and justice in general. For the most part, I'm for it. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of my colon whenever I see a murderer, a child molester, or the head of an investment bank get sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison with the assumption that he'll be someone's bitch. On the flip side, I erupt into uncontrolled rage when policemen with nothing better to do bust me or a buddy for having a bag of weed or stumbling down a street at two in the morning after getting shit faced drunk. I like to think that there's a healthy balance. Superhero comics have always utilized justice as a theme of sorts, righteous or otherwise. Nobody will cough up a lung when a villain gets busted and sent to jail. But when someone that's supposed to be a hero is on trail, that's when shit gets heavy.

Justice is kind of a moot point in a series like Uncanny X-Force. By definition, these guys are breaking the law, no more than two of the Ten Commandments, and probaby making baby Jesus cry at some point. They're lying to their friends, their enemies, and their allies about what they do. They go out in dark uniforms and take care of threats in a way that they can't be very heroic about, which usually involves bloodshed and poop jokes from Deadpool. Justice was hardly an issue during the Dark Angel Saga. When the world is about to go to hell, laying down the law just seems stupid. While this event may be over, the circumstances surrounding it have not been resolved. Since Rick Remender's brain is supercharged by ten nuclear reactors, he continues to explore this theme in the pages of Uncanny X-Force #20.

It's the first issue since the Dark Angel Saga ended and the first issue that's officially part of X-men Regenesis. Forget for a moment that Remender has to follow up a story as awesome as the Dark Angel Saga. Before that story even began, there were still issues. Things like Fantomex killing kid Apocalypse can't exactly be glossed over. There are other outside issues that haven't even come up yet. Issues like how Psylocke can be part of a secret kill squad while her brother, Brian Braddock aka Captain Britain, is a nationally known hero. As is often the case, you can't keep secrets from nosy siblings. They'll find ways to get dirt on you even if they have to hire the CIA. When this comic begins, Psylocke wakes up in her brother's hero pad. It turns out that when Psylocke's powers were expanded in the Dark Angel Saga, that re-established a link to her brother and exposed all her dirty X-Force secrets. Probably exposed what she likes to have done to her with a strap-on too so Brain is probably fucked up enough. In addition, he flat out admits that he abducted her in her sleep so they could address this whole being part of a kill squad ordeal. He argues that her place is with her family and Wolverine and his gang of secret thugs. It sounds almost as unpleasant as when my sister explained to me why I needed to buy her tampons at three in the morning.

But Captain Britain isn't just abducting his sister from some bad influences for her own good. No, that would make too much sense for an overbearing sibling. He brought her to his headquarters because he needs her help. Like a sibling that buys you dinner only so they can ask to borrow your car for the weekend, she lures her into his domain known as the Tower Omniverse. It's dangerously close to being a Green Lantern ripoff, but it doesn't involve tacky jewelry or cliched oaths. Regardless, Captain Britain and his corp of of justice-loving comrades have good reason for getting a high powered telepath. Their corp has been under attack by an army overpowered sociopaths from various realities. It's sort of like a vacation spot for every movie villain in history so while Brian may have good reason for wanting his sister back, it's still a dick move. He somewhat makes up for it by revealing some special tech that would give her back her old body. But that wouldn't mean she wouldn't be a hot Asian chick anymore. That should serve to make Captain Britain worse than Hitler in the eyes of every X-men fan.

While Betsy is having an impromptu family reunion, Wolverine and his X-Force buddies are welcoming their newest member with a Danger Room exercise. One of the other aftermaths of the Dark Angel Saga was that AOA Nightcrawler decided to stay. Not because his world is a shitty wasteland that a super powered tyrant anally raped into desolation, but because some of his AOA buddies decided to set up shop in 616 as well. So he figures it's only proper that he hunt them down and kill them. What better team to help him than X-Force?

However, it's not as bittersweet as you might think. During the course of the training, AOA Nightcrawler demonstrates in a number of gruesome ways that he is NOT the same god-loving Nightcrawler that Wolverine and every other 616 fan knows and loves. This guy is cruel, ruthless, cold, and makes lame James Bond puns. He says outright that he's not there to replace their dead Nightcrawler. He's in 616 to get revenge. It definitely rubs some like Wolverine the wrong way, who on some levels I think is trying to replace Nightcrawler. He even gets on Deadpool's nerves. You know you're a special kind of asshole when you annoy someone like Deadpool.

Despite AOA Nightcrawler's apt for taking a shit on the memory of their fallen friend, he's there to stay. He makes that clear to X-Force and they're not in a position to say no. They need someone to pick up the slack left by Angel being mind-fucked in the Dark Angel Saga. They may end up being down even more because after the Danger Room session, Fantomex's old friend the Ultimaton shows up to inform them that not only has Psylocke been abducted. Fantomex has been abducted as well.

Now why would Captain Britain and his corps go through the trouble of abducting a wannabe French douche-bag in addition to his smoking hot telepathic sister? Well while Psylocke is musing over her brother's offer to get her old body back and join a team that doesn't involve being on a secret kill squad, he also reveals that they took Fantomex to put him on trial. What's his crime? I mean aside from being a douche? He shot a kid in the head in the first arc of Uncanny X-Force. There are a lot of crimes that comics are willing to overlook. Even making a deal with the devil to absolve your marriage seems acceptable. But killing a kid? That just can't go unpunished. So with questionable jurisdiction, Psylocke finds out that her brother's people have put Fantomex in shackles and brought him up to this overblown courtroom that looks like something Judge Judy masturbates to.

If you're a little confused, you're in good company. And it isn't just because we may know the same pot dealer. Rick Remender is usually very good about not pulling shit out of his ass that doesn't stink. This whole bit with Captain Britain and his corps suddenly feeling the need to try Fantomex seems a bit contrived. And even if it's just something he learned about through picking at his sister's thoughts, why use it when he's trying to convince her to join him? It just seems too random on some levels.

On others, however, Rick Remender still shows his usual attention to detail. The trial isn't exactly the OJ Simpson trial. It's actually pretty detailed, going over what happened with the first arc of Uncanny X-Force and digging a little deeper into why Fantomex did what he did. There's actually a bit of commentary here if you're not too high to notice. Fantomex argued that he killed kid Apocalypse because the Akaba Clan had corrupted him. If he hadn't killed him, he would have become the tyrant that enjoys jerking off to images of mass genocide. But this was still a kid. He hadn't done any of that yet. His accusers argue that he was in no position to sentence this boy for shit that he could have done. It's an old legal issue. At what point does prevention clash with logistics? Both sides have a point, but only one side has the authority to determine whose guilty and since Fantomex acts like a dick when discussing his decision, it comes as no surprise when they hand down a guilty verdict. Maybe he should have hired Johnny Cochran.

While justice isn't being served, the rest of X-Force head off to find their missing friends. They use Gateway, a teleporting mutant from Age of Apocalypse, to lock down on Psylocke and Fantomex's signature with help from Ultimaton. It seems simple enough, but they end up running head first and balls out into that swarm of deranged sociopaths that Captain Britain showed Psylocke earlier. They take one step in and Deadpool gets his head chopped off...again. Another bloody X-Force battle ensues. All the while, Fantomex is about to get the kind of justice that's probably only reserved for gay Jewish men in Saudi Arabia. At some point Psylocke has to decide whether her brother's brand of bullshit is worth tolerating. It's something she'll have to decide in the next issue, but as someone who had to deal with siblings who thought they were superheroes by right I can say with confidence that Psylocke is screwed no matter what she chooses.

I always try to have sympathy for writers that have to follow up amazing arcs. Rick Remender is no exception. He put together one of the best X-men arcs in a decade with the Dark Angel Saga. No one should expect him to follow a story like that with something that's on the same level. If you do, then you're an asshole. This issue is not like the issues that made up the Dark Angel Saga. It's not even like the issues that led up to it. Uncanny X-men #20 is built as a shift in the conflict, but it maintains the strong coherence that Remender has set up. Using Fantomex's past douche-baggery and framing it as something that couldn't go unaddressed makes sense. The only problem is that it seems to be ill-timed.

At times, it felt like this issue should have happened before the Dark Angel Saga. That was before X-Force found out that Fantomex was cloning a new Apocalypse and trying to make him somewhat less of a genocidal tyrant. So it doesn't make as much sense to put him on trail now unless they're going to also try him for being a general tool all throughout the Dark Angel Saga. Unfortunately, there's no law against just being a douche-bag in comics.

Never-the-less, this setup does open the door for other compelling plots that also connect to the recent events surrounding the Dark Angel Saga. Wolverine and his X-Force crew learn first hand that AOA Nightcrawler is nothing like the Nightcrawler they know. He makes it clear that he's not in this world to dick around. He wants revenge. He doesn't care for God's love or forgiveness. That shit was the first thing that died in the Age of Apocalypse. In addition, the family dynamics between Psylocke and Captain Britain work well. What brother wouldn't be disturbed if he found out his sister had joined a kill squad and is falling in with the wrong people? Although in my experience, trying to get your sister to join your cause by kidnapping her is just begging for sustained testicular trauma.

Uncanny X-Force #20 is not a bad comic by any stretch. It still has Rick Remender's quality writing and organization. However, in the context of the Dark Angel Saga, it feels like a downgrade. If this issue was released before the events of the Dark Angel Saga, I probably would be inclined to give it a perfect score. But since no X-men comic exists in a vacuum anymore (except bullshit gimmicks like Xenogenesis), it's hard to ignore the circumstances. With this in mind, I give Uncanny X-Force #20 a 4 out of 5. It's still the above average, top grade X-book that X-men fans have come to know, love, and be painfully addicted to. It won't blow your mind like the Dark Angel Saga did, but it should leave you with a mild concussion at the very least. Nuff said!

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