“X-Force” has, so far, seen Kyle and Yost step up their game after an enjoyable if flawed run on “New X-Men”. Four issues in, the title is really hitting its stride, but there are still some minor problems holding it back.
Take this issue — lots of character work that builds off the established histories of the cast, taken from both recent and not-so-recent comics. Unfortunately, the big climax/reveal only really words if you’re already familiar with that history. As a long-time X-Fan, I’m torn between my position as a reader, loving the fact that Kyle and Yost are referencing Warren’s past as Archangel, and my position as a critic, who can’t help but notice they do absolutely nothing to remind us of that past before using it as a major story element.
It should be basic storytelling mechanics — all it would’ve taken is for Warren to make one early reference to what Apocalypse did to him and it makes the leap from “obscure” to “accessible” continuity. Anyone not familiar with those stories — and let’s not forget, Warren hasn’t had metallic wings for almost 12 years now, since “Uncanny X-Men” #338, kids! It’s not as if everyone reading this book is going to be familiar with the story.
I also have to question the logic of Wolverine, Warpath and X-23 parading around in front of non-X-Force members in colour co-ordinated outfits. For a covert outfit (no pun intended) they’re fairly blase about the need to remain secret from the other X-Men…
Anyway, those concerns aside, the story is otherwise pretty satisfying. Crain does a brilliant version of Wolverine, and Kyle and Yost write the characters accurately and respectfully. Placing Bastion as the main villain was a stroke of genius when they did it, and if he stays around long term, he might actually live up to the promise of being the “third pillar” of ideologies, between Xavier and Magneto, that his creators intended him to be all those years ago.
One thing that makes the story fairly unique among the X-Books is that the tone is unrelentingly bleak — almost comically so — with Wolverine delivering a speech about how Rahne is “who they’re trying to save” only for her to wake up, drug-crazed and brainwashed, and tear off Angel’s wings. Crain goes for some incredibly violent and powerful images, although this actually impairs the story on occasion — I was sure Elixir and Warren were dead, from his depiction, but later in the issue their condition was upgraded to “wounded.” Likewise, the final page splash lacks visual continuity with the narrative on the previous pages, and it took a little backtracking to figure out what exactly had just happened — a less than ideal situation for any reader to be in.
While it’s not perfect, “X-Force” is at least entertainingly imperfect, and there are far worse positions a title could be in. Kyle, Yost and Crain have many more chances to make their work click properly, and if they throw as much passion into every issue as much as they do this one, we’ll all reap the benefits soon enough.