As someone who came to the X-Men during the 90s and can't get enough X-continuity, it's hard not to wonder if "Uncanny X-Force" isn't some wonderful dream that I'm having. Month after month (aside from the slightly duff note of the recent Magneto issue) the book has been fantastic, delivering everything that appeals to my X-nostalgia in a modern package. It's so good, I'm not even bothered by Deadpool's presence.
This month, Remender takes the team to the "Age of Apocalypse." How? Doesn't matter. Time hole. Whatever. Aided by Dark Beast, their intention is to collect a Celestial "life seed" and use it to expel Apocalypse's influence on Archangel, thus saving him from being consumed by it. Naturally, things don't go as planned.
Although Remender is telling a story which is rooted in the now, it's clear that he's having fun going back over old continuity references and re-positioning them to reflect modern changes in the X-Men characters and their world. If you haven't read the original "Age of Apocalypse," it'll probably seem like the usual clutch of alternate-universe background details. But if you have read it, this issue has the kind of depth which makes you think that Remender isn't just a writer: he's a fan too. Everything from the original Age of Apocalypse to Creed's appearances in "Exiles" are brought together, while the awful AoA anniversary series is neatly smoothed over, as well.
But far from being just for X-geeks, the story also has a convincing stab at working on its own terms. While there's plenty of charm in learning what happened to the AoA after the bombs dropped, Remender keeps "our" versions of the characters in focus, and chooses to use the AoA X-Men members who will have the most emotional impact on Psylocke and Wolverine - particularly in the final page cliffhanger.
Artistically, this issue maintains the title's high standards. Oddly, Mark Brooks' usually distinctive style has been toned down a little. We still get the fluid, energetic layouts and attention to detail that makes his work such a joy to read, but his normally upbeat visuals have been given a darker, grittier tone which sits well in the much more depressing world of "Uncanny X-Force". It's always enjoyable when a good artist reveals even greater range, and Brooks does just that here.
With its mixture of strong characterization, continuity porn, and plot-focused storytelling, "Uncanny X-Force" is undoubtedly the X-Men book for X-Men fans. With Kieron Gillen on "Uncanny X-Men" and Mike Carey on "X-Men Legacy," the line is under the auspices of some fantastic writers right now, and Remender sits comfortably alongside them. Let's hope he sticks around.