[14 October 2010]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Even the dialogue is perfect. Pitch perfect, elevated to the temperament and the pacing of the book.
“The monster’s axe contaminates with the cold thirst for war…,” Betsy Braddock’s Psylocke says as she rescues Wolverine. “Allow me to release it.” Her psychic blades penetrate Weapon X’s skull.
Even Betsy’s dialogue is perfectly tuned into the pitch of the book. Writer Rick Remender recalls those heady days of bygone Marvel comicbooks. Where grandiose verbosity of a book’s characters were a buy-in for young readers, allowing them to believe they were accessing an older, higher culture. It was important to read Thor as he pummeled through his Journey Into Mystery, surely. Thor used words like “Zounds” and “Ye Gods”, after all.
The story is tight and small. Compact. Not at all the wordfest of some recent books (Jason Aaron’s “Wolverine in Hell” storyarc currently being run in Wolverine) published by the House of Ideas. And it is literally a thrill-ride. Uncanny X-Force pulls you in and pushes you thru its narrative limits. It is like watching a Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino film. This isn’t the archetypal but the typical, the generic, the cartoon at play here.
Part of the pure joy of reading Uncanny X-Force #1 (and prospectively reading the entirety of the first arc) lies in Remender’s expert deployment and skilled control of narrative and situational tropes. Almost no panel is extraneous, each conveys some new element of the mood of the story, of the underlying character tensions (both within characters and between them).
Remender reads like a real scholar of comics. The narrative structure of Uncanny X-Force #1 echoes the original X-Men cartoon show of the ‘90s. Remender exploits one of the most recognizable, most under-exploited relationships (and perhaps most forgivable, if you side with the antifans of Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men) from the last decade of X-lore—Wolverine, Weapon X and Phantomex, Weapon XIII. “Assault on Weapon Plus” was an opportunity, one that showed a generational shift between Wolverine, one ultimate weapon, and another, generations down the line.
The real thrill of Uncanny X-Force #1 then, isn’t the action scenes. It’s not Deadpool leaping into danger. It’s not Wolverine contesting a centuries-old monster lurking in an Indiana Jones-type secret lab built into the ruins of a fallen civilization. It’s not the now mandatory mega-explosion that momentarily ends the team’s pursuit of their quarry. It’s not the hero-stance with which Angel, Wolverine, Psylocke, Phantomex and Deadpool survey the decimated battlefield, celebrity a brief, pyrrhic victory. It’s that slow brooding that Remender uses to build the tension of the chase and provide the framework for his team’s interpersonal politics. Remender writing Uncanny X-Force is Hitchcock in his prime, period. And Jerome Opeña’s exquisite command of visual narrative just makes him ideal for the artwork on this book.
Angel is finally in a position to wrestle with his darker alter ego, Archangel (developed years ago by the monstrous mutant bioengineer Apocalypse). But his relationship with Psylocke, one he needs to ground his Angel persona, is just about to hit the rocks. It doesn’t help the Phantomex himself is the third point in the love triangle, one that Psylocke herself seems to be growing more and more fascinated with. Deadpool’s aberrant lunacy has marginalized from the team, despite him remaining a formidable resource as a tracker. And finally, Wolverine. The cool, steady, psychopathic core of the team. Wolverine who is prepared to kill his co-captain Angel, should Archangel ever regain psychological control.
Reading Uncanny X-Force #1 is like watching that TV show when you were a kid. The one you only heard about late in the summer, long after everyone else already knew about it. The one you couldn’t wait to see. The one that delivered on its promise to be the biggest thing on the Fall viewing schedule, and would continue to be for the next few years.
But perhaps more importantly, Uncanny X-Force #1 answers the question, ‘Why?’. What is the core of the X-Force? Why are they needed? What’s it all about?
If what Brad Meltzer wrote in Justice League of America: The Tornado’s Path, “Some things deserve to be seen”, then the inverse must also be true. Henry James in “The Middle Years”: “We work in the dark.” X-Force are hunters, trackers, and if need be, killers. They roam the countryside chasing down threats that are too inconceivable, too dangerous to simply be left alone.
Marvel’s big narrative campaign for this year, its “Heroic Age” event, mirrors a world slowly beginning to slide out of the post-9/11 condition and back to a discourse of integrating fragmentary parts (as the recent Park 51 mosque debacle in New York demonstrates). But like events in the real world, Uncanny X-Force plays out the counterpoint. It is Magneto at the end of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie in 2000: “What if one day they come for you.” X-Force is about danger, and directly confronting danger. It is a lifelong hostage drama played out at the deepest psychological levels of its characters, and the price paid, for the freedoms that others will eventually come to enjoy.