As the saying goes, the road to peace is one often stained in blood. Krakoa, Charles Xavier’s mutant utopia, was built on simple ideas about equality and understanding that all living things want to continue existing on their own terms. On paper, that sounds like a solid unifying theory for all walks of life. However, the darker side of humanity has other ideas, which take center stage in the stunning, shockingly violent X-Force #1 by writer Benjamin Percy (Wolverine: The Long Night) and artist Joshua Cassara (Falcon).
Of all the X-Men-adjacent titles, X-Force has always been the most steady wild card. From the bombastic strike force action stories from the ‘90s to the satirical run that evolved into X-Statix, change has been the only true consistent for the title, which has featured everything from silly stories to outright horror tales in its various permutations.
However, the most engaging X-Force stories have always been ones centered on proactive missions conducted by a small cabal of mutants who are willing to get their hands dirty even if it means compromising their ideals. Stories from Christopher Yost, Craig Kyle, and Clayton Crain's run on the series were filled with covert operations, political assassinations and espionage, which all played roles in securing the safety of mutants across the globe. There was a sense of importance and dark relevance to these stories. The same can be said of Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña's Uncanny X-Force, which easily stands among the best X-Men comics of the past decade.
Percy and Cassara's X-Force manages to carry the same weight as its predecessors and is the most relevant and terrifying book the recent "Dawn of X" initiative has offered thus far. Other ongoing X-titles like Marauders and Excalibur also deal with dire subject matter, but often fall into traditional comic book trappings by pulling their punches. X-Force #1 has no interest in doing the same. It boastfully parades out the ugly side and the deadly ramifications of the current state of X-Men comics but doesn't turn them into punchlines or glorify them. This is heavy stuff, and it should be.
Percy's script is tight. His scripted podcast (and its subsequent comic adaptation), Wolverine: The Long Night was smart, measured, and captivating from start to finish. His work explores how fantastical comic tropes would react to "ripped-from-the-headlines" horrors. It's often confrontational work that isn't afraid to chastise the unsavory behavior of the characters populated Percy's narratives. On a similar note, there is a cynical edge to X-Force #1 which in the hands of less deft writer, could teeter into fatalistic hopelessness. Thankfully, Percy is a deft writer, and his plot never forgets that lives are on the line in this brave, new world and that shouldn't be taken lightly.
Joshua Cassara is doing the best work of his career. From the opening scene featuring Domino to the shocking final splash page, the illustrations in X-Force #1 are wonderful and match the dark tone of the book. His gloomy, gloopy aesthetic take on Krakoa fits the omnipresent ominous feeling that permeates throughout this issue. Dean White's colors make everything pop, and Tom Muller's design work remains consistently enjoyable as it continues to tie all of the wildly different titles under "Dawn of X" together.
X-Force #1 is a nasty comic, but in the best sort of way. This dark vision of how bad things can go is never played as a cynical "told ya so." It's just another fact of the situation, and its an ugly one at that. How the members of this soon-to-be formed X-Force will handle their worst nightmare coming to life remains to be seen, but if the title's track record is any indication, X-Force will be the book for X-Men fans who want to see some gritty realism and global political intrigue that's treated with gravitas.