[26 February 2014]
Very few professions outside of the circus involve having fun at work. Anyone else that tries to make light of their job is either fired or reflected in a Dilbert comic strip. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Work isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be a serious, boring, and tedious array of tasks that reward competence with a means to enjoy tasks that are exactly the opposite. However, there are a select few that dare to enjoy their work and even fewer dare to have fun with it. But an occupation that involves being part of a secret team of superheroes that skip the part where the heroes dutifully hand the bad guys over to the authorities doesn’t sound like a place where any sane human being would dare to have fun. Yet that’s exactly the sentiment that X-Force #1 conveys.
This issue is part of a second wave of re-launched titles that makes up Marvel’s All New Marvel NOW! initiative. While this has opened up many new creative avenues for other series, X-Force has been one of those avenues that has been meandering aimlessly since the end of Rick Remender’s run on Uncanny X-Force. There used to be two X-Force teams operating with a different set of characters, a different set of missions, and a different set of circumstances. But in the same way shining two flashlights together doesn’t make a room brighter, having two teams didn’t make the concept of X-Force more engaging. It just made everything more chaotic.
From the beginning, X-Force #1 streamlines the concept of X-Force and it does it in a way that not as brooding as it could have been. It’s still a much darker tone than the other X-men titles. At its core, X-Force is a team that takes on missions that can’t be accomplished through heroic means. They’re like the sewer system of a clean city. Nobody sees it or appreciates it, but it has to be there or things get very messy in the worst possible way. It has Cable returning to his role as a battle-hardened soldier who has a very low tolerance for incompetence and an immense bravado that allows him to dip his hands into the dirtiest missions. However, what really sells this new breed of X-Force is the perspective of its newest member, Marrow.
She’s a C-list character that has been MIA from the X-men comics for many years. She’s also one of those characters that has never been sufficiently developed, but she does have a certain edge to her. She’s tough, she’s brave, and she’s immature to a fault. That makes her the perfect guide in a sense for introducing this new era of X-Force. And she does it in a way wholly unfit for a shadowy team of X-men with questionable ethics in that she sees it as a fun new job. At times, she sounds like a kid that just got a job as a taster in an ice cream factory. Marrow sees the violence surrounding X-Force and likens it to music. That’s akin to calling rotting meat appetizing.
This tone offers an interesting perspective to X-Force, but it also detracts from the very serious mission that the team has taken on. It’s not a very novel threat. Someone has turned a mutant into a bomb and that bomb has already been used to secretly kill thousands of people. It’s a threat that seems to emerge every other month in the Marvel universe, but it’s a threat that X-Force is best equipped to deal with because those involved make it clear that they respond to violence and not diplomacy. And the way X-Force deals with this threat is appropriately violent and effective. Marrow’s playful and at times childish assessment of this mission is entertaining, although at some point it does become a distraction.
That point takes place when Marrow gets to act as the proverbial hammer that delivers the most violence against this mysterious foe. The way she talks to Cable, Psylocke, and her teammates sounds more befitting of a co-op mission in Call of Duty. It’s childish to the point where it detracts from the underlying mission for X-Force. While nobody can claim she isn’t having fun with her new role, it makes for an uneven tone throughout the book.
And it isn’t just Marrow’s immature perspective that creates this tone either. Fantomex joins the team as well and is quick to exploit his history with Psylocke in Uncanny X-Force. But unlike previous interactions, there’s little melodrama or romantic tension. Fantomex is about as charming as a drunken frat boy and Psylocke is as hostile to his remarks as Nickelback haters. While their romantic sub-plot has already played out, they have no excuse for lacking maturity. It removes any possibility of drama from the story.
This may be the biggest shortcoming of X-Force #1. In an effort to keep the tone of the book from getting too grim and gritty, it tries to inject a little infantile banter in between the mission. In the process it prevents the story from having a dramatic impact. In addition, the circumstances surrounding the mission lack details. There’s little explanation about what happened to the members of the other X-Force teams. There’s also little explanation as to why Hope Summers is now in a coma for some reason. While the concept itself works on paper, the transition to it and the execution are lacking. It’s like building a train set with half the pieces missing. Some parts of it come together while others don’t.
None-the-less, X-Force #1 succeeds in presenting a more classic incarnation of X-Force. This is a team that has a clear mission that won’t be mistaken for any other X-men team. Cable provides the classic, hard-nosed leadership to set the tone for a team of this nature. And its newest member Marrow provides an entertaining, albeit immature perspective. That perspective may not resonate with everybody, but it’s a concept that still works. It also proves that no matter how dirty a job may be, there will always be someone who finds a way to have fun with it.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/179381-x-force-1/