It wasn't that long ago that Rick Remender launched a bold new book that emerged from the ashes of X-men: Second Coming. That book was Uncanny X-Force and it was one of those few books for which I reviewed every damn issue on this blog and did it with a hard dick in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Very few comics have such distinction. In this day and age where for every Avengers we get a Battleship movie, we've come to not expect consistency from the people we trust to entertain us. Uncanny X-Force was one of those rare gems that kept delivering at a high level. If it were a drug, it would be so potent that the DEA would shoot users on sight out of fear that they would no longer need our corrupt modern clusterfuck of a world to be happy. And when it ended after over two dozen issues, it was sad day for comics.
But at least some of the folks who work at Marvel took basic economics so they understand that ending something won't kill the demand for it. The success of Twinkees, Jimi Hendricks, and Tupac for proof. While Rick Remender has moved onto bigger and bolder projects in Uncanny Avengers, Marvel understands that he left a large audience in withdraw from the end of Uncanny X-Force. So it's perfectly logical that they would relaunch it again as part of Marvel NOW!
This time, it's Stan Humphries at the helm. He's taken on the challenge of relaunching Uncanny X-Force under a different set of circumstances with a different cast of characters. It's not going to be the same team that Remender put together, but there will be some carry-over. Psylocke, who was by far the most fucked up by the events of Uncanny X-Force, was billed a major player. She has to do something for making up for boning Fantomex. But this comic also promises to bring in an array of new X-men, including Storm. Those are awesome ingredients to work with, but even the best ingredients can taste like shit if you don't know how to work a stove. Rick Remender set the bar pretty damn high with his run. Can Stan Humphries measure up?
The relaunched Uncanny X-Force #1 is similar to the first Uncanny X-Force #1 in that it follows up a major event for the X-men. And I’m not just talking about Avengers vs. X-men (thank Odin because I’m sick of having to reference that pile of shit), which left Storm divorced and inclined to get a new haircut (see Wolverine and the X-men #24 for an explanation of that). The end of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force has the team break up in wake of its final battle against the Brotherhood. Those events left Psylocke exceedingly pissed off and unfit to be a teacher at a school for mutant teenagers. After having boned Fantomex, who can blame her? But beyond being jaded, she reflects on how they lost control of X-Force while Storm tries to get a handle on the many lingering scars. It might have just been easier to assume she was having a bad case of PMS.
In the end, however, Wolverine ends up firing her, but not without giving her a way to work off her anger. In a quick flashback, we find that Wolverine is trying to be overly pragmatic for once and distance himself from having been part of a secret kill squad. But he still sees the need for an under-the-radar team of X-men to take on threats that are best not associated with a school. One of those threats involves a new drug that has suddenly emerged. It’s not just your typical zombie-creating bath salts either. This drug is called Tao and it’s not because it involves some mystical eastern bullshit either. It’s an acronym for “together as one” and basically what the drug does is create a hive mind from the gullible masses stupid enough to ingest it. As we’ve seen in other recent comics like Uncanny Avengers #3, a hive mind can do a lot of damage. But as someone who knows a thing or two about exotic substances, I still say it sounds like an ecstasy knock-off. And if given the choice between linking my mind with others or sweating to death while I feel like I've just banged a thousand supermodels, I'll stick with the supermodels. But that's just me.
Thankfully, Wolverine didn’t throw Psylocke into this mission blind, gagged, and drunk (there’s a 50 Shades of Grey joke in there somewhere, but I’ll save that for another review). He included a lead with this mission and Storm, sensing Psylocke is in an incredibly reckless state of mind with no non-amnesiac Angel or chocolate to sooth her, decides to tag along. That lead is actually Puck, the vertically challenged yet oh so lovable member of Alpha Flight that has been MIA from Marvel for too long. His first reaction to seeing Psylocke and Storm is to hit on them. I admit I would probably do the same thing. Once they’ve convinced him his penis is best left kept in his pants, he agrees to help them find the source of the drug. Because who wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to be on a mission with two beautiful women that involves potent mind-altering drugs? It accounts for no fewer than 85 percent of all my wet dreams.
Once they reach the club, however, they found out that the source of this drug isn’t some Pablo Escobar wannabe who saw Scarface one too many times. It’s Spiral, another character who has been MIA for quite a while. We last saw her during Matt Fraction’s Sisterhood arc. I guess she got bored serving Cyclops’s deranged disembodied S&M enthusiasts for a wife and try another venture. I suppose that after you’ve tried to dig up the body of Jean Grey, getting into the drug scene is sort of a relief.
Whatever her reasons, Psylocke makes good use of her new “fuck the world” attitude and attacks Spiral without so much as a “What the fuck are you thinking dealing drugs that aren’t any better than your typical hit of ecstasy?” It may sound brash, but it actually fits nicely with the Psylocke that Rick Remender developed so thoroughly during his run. This is a woman who is unstable and upset. Her throwing herself into a battle with this kind of bravado both makes sense and is sexy as hell. If this doesn’t give you a boner, you had best up the Viagra dosage.
Psylocke’s “fuck the world” attitude is not only in character, but it also provides a tactical advantage as well. It gets the attention of all the drugged out club-hopping douche-bags that would otherwise interfere. It allows Storm and Puck to slip behind them and make their way to the back of the club where Puck believes the drugs are kept. But like the guy who paid for a high class hooker without noticing the oversized Adams Apple on her throat, they were met with a surprise. Instead of a cache of drugs, cash, and imported German porn they found a mal-nourished little girl. At first, she looks like a prisoner. But it’s implied that she may be the source of this hive mind that fucks people up worse than an LSD trip at a Marilyn Manson concert. She proves it as well by having her drugged out friends gang up on Psylocke, Storm, and Puck. It’s not the most earth-shattering surprise, especially for an Uncanny X-Force comic. But it does help create the impression that this is the kind of shit X-Force is supposed to deal with.
Stan Humphries set the stage for a pretty awesome struggle with Psylocke, Storm, and Puck. Then for reasons that I can only attribute to a fire drill or paint fumes, the comic just changes direction completely without even a hint of a logical transition. It goes from two beautiful women and a midget Canadian fighting in a club to the return of freakin’ Bishop.
I know Humphries already announced that Bishop would be coming back prior to this issue, but fuck if his return isn’t more random than a gay clown at a Mormon temple. He doesn’t really say much. He just relishes the fact that he’s back in the past and not shitting in buckets in an apocalyptic future. That’s all he really does. There’s no hint that he’s somehow tied to this whole drug plot. He just returns out of the blue and we don’t know how the fuck it’s connected. I’m assuming that it is or will be in future issues, but I approach comics the same way I approach topless bars. I like to be teased at the very least.
If that transition wasn’t random enough, Humphries then takes the story to Paris where we catch up with Fantomex, or at least parts of him. While I’m glad he’s acknowledging the end of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force run by showing Fantomex as three different beings, the premise is even more fucked up than time travel. Both Fantomex and his female counterpart, Cluster, just finished robbing some French guy of his wine and cheese or something. Then when they’re finished, they fucking kiss. I don’t know if that’s just an obscene display of narcissism or the most elaborate form of masturbation ever, but it makes as much sense as an entire army of clowns at a Mormon temple.
Now I’m willing to overlook some inconsistencies in my comics, but this is another instance where Stan Humphries has to live in the massive shadow cast by Rick Remender. Part of what made Remender’s run so epic was his attention to detail. He found a way to really tie in the events of each issue into the whole series. It fit together so beautifully that if it were a bra, it would belong to Pamela Anderson. Humphries didn’t show that detail with this or the Bishop scene. I get why he’s bringing them into the picture, but I don’t get why he doesn’t at least attempt to connect it with the drug plot. Those are the kinds of details that keep good comics from becoming awesome and successful criminals from becoming prison bitches.
After reading this issue, I don’t think it’s fair to compare it with Rick Remender’s first issue of Uncanny X-Force. This is a different book with a different cast and a very different set of circumstances. And on many levels, it’s not even a new book. The events of this issue closely follow from the end of Rick Remender’s run. That can be good and bad in some ways because it means if you don’t know how the last issue of Uncanny X-Force ended (and the shame of a thousand cases of herpes from a transsexual hooker if you haven’t) then you’ll probably be a bit lost in this issue. Stan Humphies does a decent job of filling in the blanks, but I can see how someone who hasn’t been keeping up being more confused than a stoner watching a Matrix marathon.
But beyond the continuity of Humphries’ first issue, it has a number of other issues. While the story with Psylocke and Storm was well-developed, the other plots with Fantomex and Bishop were a bit all over the place. At times, it felt as though this comic had ADHD and someone swapped its Ritalin for caffeine pills. Don’t get me wrong. It was fun and ominous to see Bishop return from the future and Fantomex engage in what has to be the most elaborate masturbation effort in the history of the universe, but Humphries really didn’t make an effort to tie it into the overall story. I’m assuming that it’s going to come together at some point, but it sure would help if we had even a slight hint at a connection. It would also help if he didn’t use those lame censor bars when Betsy swears like an angry Brit at a soccer game, but I’m not going to go on that rant again. I don’t think my heart could handle it.
These flaws don’t detract from all the things Stan Humphries did right in this book. He clearly established all the necessary elements for this to be an X-Force book. You’ve got a rogue, disgruntled X-man in Psylocke still struggling with the shame of having boned Fantomex and a recently divorced Storm looking to take her frustrations out in ways that go beyond banging Wolverine (again, see Wolverine and the X-men #24). Together, they confront a threat that involves drugs, drug dealers, hive minds, and horrible dancing. That’s the kind of shit that X-Force is better at dealing with. It’s not the same as a creepy kid Apocalypse, but it’s close enough.
This comic is like a fresh mound of blow with a few patches of chalk dust mixed into it. You can’t get around the chalk dust, but it’ll still get you high. Uncanny X-Force #1 was as groundbreaking as it was cock-smashingly awesome when Rick Remender first introduced it. It would be a dick move to ask that Stan Humphries do the same with his Uncanny X-Force #1. He didn’t demonstrate the same talent and mind-blowing brilliance that Remender did his first time around, but he still did a good job of establishing this comic as a worthy successor. I give Stan Humphries’ Uncanny X-Force #1 a 3.5 out of 5. It’s a comic with a pissed off Asian ninja chick, a divorced weather goddess, an undersized Canadian, and a woman with six arms. Throw in a few cameras and you’ve got yourself an awesome porno, but even without the cameras it’s still awesome in its own right. Nuff said!