Thoughts on Comic Books part 1: Uncanny X-Force.

My friend John is a huge Deadpool fan – the comic book character, not the Clint Eastwood movie.  Although, I can’t really comment on his feelings for the movie, we’ve never discussed it.  Could be both.  But, let’s talk about comic books for now.

So, Deadpool.  The “Merc with a Mouth” – a mutant (as is half the Marvel Universe) with tremendous healing powers, exceptional martial skills, and a fourth-wall breaking comedic attitude.  John likes him ’cause he makes jokes while he’s killing guys, and he’s one of the characters in the latest version of X-Force, now called Uncanny X-Force.  John and I share a love for stuff like Glenn Cook’s Black Company – gallows humor, dire situations, grit and determination. The X-Force team doesn’t spend their time saving innocents or patrolling their city, instead they go on missions.  They’re the secret assassin kill squad of the X-Men, operating in the shadows and doing the dirty work so that others don’t have to.

Now, I’m a big fan of the classic pulp hero, The Shadow.  And to me, the best take on The Shadow is the one where he’s the guy who believes murder is wrong and condemns your soul to hell – and is willing to sacrifice himself to bring justice to the weak and keep good people from having to even think about crossing the line.  It’s a similar thing with the X-Force team – even as Wolverine’s busy re-establishing a school for young mutants, he’s secretly out killing bad guys who’d threaten a young mutant’s chance at a care free life.  So: noble sacrifice; gritty situations; action and grey morality.  All good.

Also, there are 25 issues out so far, so I got to read a big meaty chunk all in one go.  That made me happy.

Uncanny X-Force is funny and gritty and action-packed.  It also changes and leaves its initial premise in that run of 25 issues – they start out as the team that “does what needs to get done, no matter the cost” but, in reality, they can’t live with the decisions made, and eventually the team completely disintegrates.  So, what started as the baddest asses out to do murder turns into an examination of the price paid for shifting ethics and moral compromises.

The roster of the team is tricky – they’re pretty much all variations on a theme, give or take a few distinct bits.  Archangel – he’s the original flying  angel, but messed up and now a deadly killer who can shoot his feathers to knock people out.  Psylocke – I can’t really even begin to understand her history, but she’s a telepathic ninja, essentially.  Fantomex – a stealthy mutant with deceptive abilities, and ninja skills.  Deadpool – a healing mutant with ninja skills.  And Wolverine, the mutant who’s the best at what he does, which includes healing quickly and having ninja skills.  That’s a lot of ninja skills to go around.

Here’s the real super power of this group – they don’t quit.  So, each mission essentially sends them to fight someone who is a terrible threat, but who out-classes them.  Then they almost get killed, and maybe they do even get killed.  But they don’t quit, so somehow they pull themselves back together and win.  Eventually.  There’s a lot of losing first.  But each mission ends with them bleeding and broken and just when you think the bad guys have totally got them, you find out it’s Fantomex’s deception powers tricking you and X-Force won 20 pages ago.

Reading 25 issues was perfect, and I think, where I’m content to stop.  The team had changed by the end of that run – one member dead/reborn, one member with his face cut off, one member losing part of her emotions, and a new member from another dimension.  And then most of them quit.  They’d also started in on the X-Men soap opera drama of building romantic relationships and love triangles between the various teammates.  And, when they’re all heterosexual and there’s only one female on the team, it gets pretty silly.  I think part of the X-gene that makes mutants also makes them really horny.  Same thing happened with Marvel Girl.

Anyway, all told, I’m not a traditional X-Men guy.  I know who the major players are, and I know the major stories, but I never really collected any of the books over the years, with the exception of the first bit of Excalibur (so that tells you where I fit in… way off to the side).  Still, a well-written action adventure tale, full of gritty situations and grey morality, and – surprisingly so far – actions with consequences.  By issue 25, it starts to get just slightly repetitive, but then it looks like they’re going to break the pieces apart and rebuild before it gets out of hand.  I’m happy to have read those books, and I will possibly check the series out again when it hits issue 50 to see what’s happened.



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