[26 April 2012]
PopMatters Comics Editor
This was going to be a very different review, much easier. I was going call it “The Iceman Goeth…”. I’d have looped into publicly airing out some grievances and some expectations around the Eugene O’Neill. I’d have used this as a launching pad to get into the idea of inner bonds and community and the complexity of social structure, some 5,000 years ago by punning my way into “Iceman”, which I’d at that point take to mean Ötzi. I’d then perform the prestige…I’d say that social bonds have always been complex, and that 5,000 years ago, high in the Alps, it was not so very different from a bar in Greenwich, in 1912, where erstwhile anarchists discover they need their false hopes and idle dreams more than they realize. But I can’t write any of that. Not after “Frozen Moment”, issue #24 of Uncanny X-Force.
It’s not quite two years gone yet, the calendar-run on Uncanny X-Force. But #24 still feels like a closing down, a tying off of loose ends, still is a powerful, singular statement. We won’t get to the two-year mark on Uncanny X-Force, but after “Frozen Moment” I can’t even begin to imagine what that two-year mark will look like. I know this though, I’ve been around for every issue of Uncanny X-Force, and there’s been a reason for that. In its own way, Remender’s carved out an Uncanny X-Force that is as powerful and as singular and as enduring as the Simpsons.
The story starts in an unexpected and unexpectedly hopeful place. In the Qabalah, in the story of the two hands of God. One, Gevurah, is the Hand That Strikes In Anger. The other, Chesed, is the Hand That Gives In Love. There is a surprisingly, almost Cartesian, hopefulness that offers up a narrativization of the work of These Two Hands. Gevurah, this tale that animates The Hands goes, is the first to move, the first to work. In Anger, the path is cleared for Goodness and Joy to manifest and take root in the world.
But part of growing older, is also growing up. And coming to terms with the idea that such positive, affirming rationalizations, as much as we’d hope for them to be, simply aren’t always the case. If anything, we’ve had to come to terms with this newer, world-grown-colder outlook at the opening of every issue. The intro to Uncanny X-Force boots up thus: “Some evil won’t stop. Some evil no prisons can could, no force can contain, no plea can soften. Sometimes to truly save lives, the only option is to take them…”.
We’ve seen that very positive story of Anger First play out in an entirely different way in primetime television. At the start of the 90s the Safe, Warm Sage of the Cosby Show came head to head with the broken-down ramshackle dysfunction of the Simpsons. Whatever the Cosby Show was, it wasn’t a hopeful show. It felt more like a welcome retirement, sweeping in just one generation after the Civil Rights movement. Not to say that the Simpsons hasn’t dulled itself after more than twenty-one years at bat, but in the beginning, going up against the Cosby Show, it certainly was a powerful statement. It was the idea that more often than not we live down to our weaknesses, rather than live up to our expectations. It was the idea that not every problem will always be solved, and certainly not in the neat closure of the scope afforded by a 21-minute show.
For his own part, Remender has enacted this idea of growing-older-is-also-growing-up at a deeper more conceptual level over the past 26 issues of Uncanny X-Force (although this is issue #24, there’ve been two “point one’s”, #5.1 and #19.1). Not only is this growing-up an idea which appears at the level of narrative mechanics, where characters are forced into tough, life-and-death choices. But this notion of “growing-up” also appears in the thematic working through of the genre as well. In the early issues of Uncanny X-Force we’ve seen the rise of a genre we can easily understand.
There’s been a pulse, strong as a jackhammer, running like zeropoint momentum through those earlier Uncannys. We knew the stakes intuitively. The team would pull together, confront the bad guys, face incredible odds, and be brought face-to-face with an impossible moral choice. The genre itself was safe, and warm and sage, like an episode of House or the Lone Ranger. But slowly over time, those genre conventions got stripped away. Until we’re brought here, to “Frozen Moment”.
This is a cold, ugly kill. The putting to death of the Age of Apocalypse Iceman (Robert Drake, not our own more familiar, Bobby Drake, now resident teacher at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning), is a moment that is drawn out over the course of the issue. It’s exactly what it should be. The disillusion and the frustration of being thrust into a morally ambiguous position, and taking an unacceptable action to escape it. A shotgun wouldn’t do it, a plasma grenade wouldn’t do it, but Robert Drake is eventually put down by his closest friend. It’s the long, slow anger of watching the past burn away, watching the hope of a friendship burn up, as Kurt Wagner, Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler, enacts a morally indefensible action, by hand.
This isn’t about cold, clinical surgical strikes. This is about betrayal. The betrayal that brought Robert Drake to this point of being a psychopathic killer, and the betrayal of Kurt Wagner’s ideals, necessary to undertake this indefensible action. So by the end of the issue, we really have worked our way back to The Iceman Cometh…. This really is a story about necessary illusions, and the question, after all of this unsanctioned life-taking, can the members of X-Force ever really return to the more honor-bound ideals of the X-Men?