To borrow from The Clash, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force is the only X-book that really matters. It’s not just the fanboy bait of pairing members like Wolverine and Deadpool on a clandestine hit squad that make the book the best of the current mutant heap– The brilliance of X-Force lies in its continual mining of classic Claremont-era territory with the added twist of modernity, topped with the fact that Remender is simply not afraid to make decisions with his storytelling. More than any other mutant book hitting the shelves each month, the final pages of any given issue of Uncanny X-Force deliver cliffhangers, and more importantly, actual resolutions to the stories presented, often shocking resolutions at that. As basic as it sounds, having a good sense of what makes a narrative arc work is in awful short supply in mainstream comics these days. Remender takes the X-Force team on wild journeys across multiple dimensions, but at the end never loses sight of the assassination squad’s reason for being– these are the mutants willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the bad guys. The end result is character-driven mayhem that fits these former X-Men like a glove.
Issue #23 of X-Force wraps up the otherworldly Otherworld arc. Psylocke, presented here in her Lady Britain version, is running against the odds to get the captured Fantomex away from the clutches of the multidimensional Captain Britain Corps. At the same time, an evil wizard goat (not a typo…the villain here is indeed a goat) with the bloodlust of a Viking leads an invasion of Otherworld that threatens to eradicate millions of multiverse denizens.
Sound chaotic? It is. Of all the X-Force arcs to date, this one has been the toughest to get into. While it has been fun to explore Psylocke’s strained relationship with her brother, Captain Britain, and see some of the old Excalibur cast reunited, there isn’t a lot of time for reader to let it all soak in. Granted, this is X-Force and action is to be expected, but there are a lot of X-tropes flying around in this arc, and it requires readers to mentally shift gears quickly and without thinking too much about the reality-bending plot. Remender treads a thin line here, and it’s a credit to his talent that he mostly pulls it off.
There are some fantastic dialogue moments between Wolverine and Deadpool as they romp through a Lord of the Rings style realm. Deadpool reminisces about his Advanced Dungeons and Dragons playing youth, Remender writing the character at his nutty best. Fantomex’s gory battle with the sinister Barrister is another highlight. New team member Nightcrawler (Age of Apocalypse version) is given room to stretch his legs here, and readers are shown that while the “BAMPFS” may be the same, this isn’t the “elf” Kurt Wagner we all grew up loving. The story bogs down a bit, unfortunately, at its core. The conflict between the three Braddock siblings doesn’t quite gel. It is simultaneously the center of the action and lost in it.
The chaos of the story is matched by the equally chaotic artwork of Greg Tocchini. The art is certainly different from most standard superhero comics, and offers some really interesting panel compositions and figures. The goat-warrior villain of the book has a blatantly cartoony vibe, which is kind of nice to see in a comic book once in a while. Captain and Lady Britain look great, and the skinless Barrister is appropriately horrible. During the action beats, however, the swirly, ethereal art ends up looking a bit jumbled and, frankly, messy. There’s no doubt that Tochhini is a talented penciler, but the final product makes you wonder if having him paired with a different inker or colorist might temper his style enough to give the artwork some added clarity and weight. Still, kudos to Marvel for stepping outside of the comfort zone in the art department, as I’d rather see art like Tocchini’s than not. Hopefully next time Tocchini is on art duties he is matched with better production values to really make his pencils sing and help the reader grok the story without squinting to make out what’s going on.
Issue #23 of Uncanny X-Force wraps up one of the weaker arcs in the run, yet still delivers great character moments and fun mutant action. If you haven’t cared about the X-Men since 1989, this is a book that will put a smile on your face, and strange diversions aside, remain at the top of your read pile each month.