Gimmick or Good? - X-Force #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1991's polybagged with collectible trading cards X-Force #1...

X-Force #1 (published August 1991) – plot and art by Rob Liefeld, script by Fabian Nicieza

Given the “X-family” top 50 greatest stories list recently compiled by the readers of Comics Should Be Good, I thought the timing was right for Gimmick or Good? to tackle one of the biggest phenoms of the “gimmick era” of comic books: X-Force #1. The X-Force series was born from the first X-family spinoff title, New Mutants, which ran for 100 issues during the 1980s and early 90s. When a babyfaced Rob Liefeld took over on pencils for New Mutants #86, he helped transform the struggling series into a big-time seller, playing a critical role in the creation of popular new characters such as Cable and Deadpool. These characters, and others, were the backbone for X-Force #1, which sold more than four million copies, due in large part to the fact that issue was polybagged with five separate “collectible” trading cards. To this day, it remains the second highest-selling comic book in history behind Chris Claremont/Jim Lee’s X-Men #1.

But what about inside the comic?

While Fabian Nicieza gets scripting credit for the issue, make no mistake that this comic is unquestionably marketed as a Liefeld creation, who is listed on the masthead as providing “everything but …” Given Liefeld’s meteoric rise in the industry during the early 90s, this was probably a smart move by Marvel and helped move more copies of the book (along with all those trading cards). But from my perspective, history has not been kind to Liefeld’s legacy and by proxy, his work on X-Force #1.

Let’s start with the art, since there’s really not a hekcuva lot of story to talk about outside of some generic good guys vs. “terrorists” tale that lacks any characterization, fun or passion. I’m sure the bulk of CSBG’s readership is well-versed in Liefeld’s artistic flaws: unrealistic human anatomy, reliance of absurdly oversized guns and weaponry, and just overall inconsistencies from page to page. Despite the fact that you already know these things, let me point out a couple of examples and you can tell me in the comments section if I’m being too nit-picky or if my criticism is spot on.

Here’s Cable, the undisputed star of this comic book series. He has a small head, and a shoulder-to-shoulder span that I’m guesstimating to be about six-feet. Which also means the bazooka-laser gun he’s brandishing is about sox-feet long. His legs look like they’re as big as stone columns that are found in the Roman Forum.

Is this the most anatomically offensive Liefeld drawing I’ve ever seen? No. But it’s pretty awful, and what exacerbates it is how inconsistent his characters are. Here’s Cable a few pages later. Is this the same guy?

Here’s Shatterstar cutting off a hand that’s flying in a fashion that defies physics (I know, I know, using laws of science in an argument about comic books is generally straw man stuff, but seriously look at how that hand is flying!):

By the end of the comic, we have S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander Bridge, who looks like he visited the head shrinker that did a number on Beetlejuice at the doctor’s office:

I don’t even know what to make of this:

Don’t you love just looking back at this stuff and being reminded of all the greatness that is 1990s comic books? Don’t act like you were above it. This thing sold four million copies based primarily on the fact that a LOT of people loved this kind of art at one point.

That’s not to say that Nicieza is off the hook here. Some of the dialogue is just brutal. There’s one sequence in particular involving Feral that’s just hackneyed good guy/bad guy fisticuffs banter complete with some terrible puns related to Feral’s cat-like qualities. Did we really need a “Purrrfectly” line thrown into a superhero comic book that was written in 1991? I thought that joke went away when Julie Newmar’s run on Batman ended in the 60s.

Of course Nicieza doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of plot, and he would go on to script much more riveting stories involving the X-Men in a few years. X-Force #1 just feels like it meanders from one fight scene to the next, each one sporting a different smoking laser gun, or a samurai sword. The only time my attention felt remotely grabbed was when Black Tom Cassidy, a classic X-Men villain, showed up as the hired muscle for the generic evil corporate Arianna Jankos character.

If there’s some artistry to this comic that I’m just being ignorant/ambivalent too, please tell me about it. From my vantage point, the story is boring, the art is cringe-worthy and I’m not invested in any of the characters one iota. How much did you get if you resold the entire set of trading cards?

Verdict: Gimmick

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