When I first heard Rick Remender was taking on an X-Men book, I was excited. When I heard that Fantomex would be on the team, I knew it would be pretty much the best mutant book on the stands. Two issues in, Remender and ridiculously talented artist Jerome Opena have yet to prove me wrong. X-Force, in its latest incarnation as a murder squad, was never the most compelling concept to me. A “grim and gritty” edge to mutants never struck me as all that necessary. They were always a subculture that was hated and feared, now near-extinction. Doesn’t get much grimmer or grittier than that.
But Remender has added a healthy amount of his own tendencies towards weird pulp narrative artifacts (like introducing what is basically a Batcave for the X-Men). Adding an “Uncanny” to the title isn’t just arbitrary. The comic does a fantastic job at recapturing what was great about the Uncanny X-Men issues I grew up with — the Chris Claremont stories where the New Mutants hung out in Asgard for an annual, or where a stuntman from an alternate universe crash landed in the Danger Room and turned the X-Men into baby versions of themselves simply by exposing them to magic goop. “Uncanny X-Force” is a fiercely and beautifully strange comic.
Jerome Opena turns in a stunning performance in this issue, on several levels. First off, there is plenty of crazy action that he handles with aplomb: mutants fighting giant robots, mutants fighting giant monsters; all kinds of crazy stuff. Secondly, in this issue, Remender has created an all-new set of horsemen for Apocalypse, and he has opted for a non-traditional approach. Instead of being fearsome hybrids of mutant powers and weird technology, they are four deeply unsettling and creepy avatars of their respective evil forces. Opena’s designs are disturbingly recognizable and in some cases almost mundane, making them all the more fearsome. But Opena is most impressive in a comparatively simple scene involving Psylocke and Angel, discussing their relationship. The relative calm of it allows Opena to show how good he is at capturing expression and character “performance” along with his almost Peter-Chung-levels of draftsmanship and design. It’s a beautiful couple of pages on several levels, and Dean White’s subtle color work also does a wonderful job of heightening this scene, and the rest of the book.
While it’s only two issues in, Rick Remender and Jerome Opena have already established their own unique voice on “Uncanny X-Force.” They’ve created an engaging and beautiful book that, far from being just another mutant universe book clogging up the racks, does things that no other comic on the stands is doing. So far, at least, it looks like I was right: there’s just no other mutant comic out right now that’s as gleefully entertaining as this one.