Joe Caramagna (Letters), Joshua Cassara (Art), Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writing), Dean White (Colors)
November 27th, 2019
I was not kind in my review of the first issue of the new X-Force title. It’s not the worst of the Dawn of X books, but it certainly was not a strong opener; it led with a death without an understanding of the stakes involved in the new paradigm, which led to a “shock” conclusion that was anything but. I’m happy to report that the second issue is a drastic improvement!
I maintain that my question of pacing in the first issue remains accurate; this one goes a long way toward explaining that and reaffirming my thoughts. We’re given a scene in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, in which Magneto gives us some very Magneto dialogue; poetic, dramatic, mildly threatening. This transitions into a discussion between him and Jean about whether or not she can bring Xavier back, which would’ve actually made a better conclusion to the last issue than my suggestion. You see, the problem here is that they are in heretofore theoretical waters; only Xavier has been implanting consciousness backups into reborn mutant bodies. Jean thinks she can do it, but she’s not positive, because she’s never had to do it before. This is new territory for her, which is interesting to me, because it makes the point that Xavier never trained Jean for this exact eventuality. She could not obviously have trained with putting his consciousness into a new body, but she could reasonably have trained with any of the others. Then again, it’s not like proper communication has ever been a hallmark of mutants.
These stakes make sense, though, they give weight and meaning to the concept of a death in this new post-Hickman paradigm. For any other mutant it wouldn’t matter at all, but for Xavier himself it is the first glimmer of instability in Krakoan power dynamics. Over in Excalibur, •┤Ȧ├• is already starting clandestine wars, while Sinister is scheming in Fallen Angels. These are both to be expected, but Magneto’s words here—”This was your plan, your island, your future. And so it will remain…as long as you return to us.”—tell us that he is not willing to wait long before simply doing things his way. This is the Magneto we know and love, and the implicit threat here adds another feeling of meaning to last issue’s chaos.
As Jean and Beast begin the process of attempting the resurrection, Wolverine does what Wolverine does, which is go hunting. He follows the Reaver trail (identified in the issue this time, not just in the script) to the Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, where he runs into none other than Quentin Quire, AKA Kid Omega. It’s a mark of this issue’s improvement that I continue to care about what’s going on at this moment, as I have not been a large fan of Quentin since his Morrison days. This comes not from a place of Morrison worship, but from the belief that he has not been made to properly atone for his actions during that era, or during the events of Phoenix: Endsong a few years later. He has, by and large, slid by on a flat “snarky character” depiction ever since, but I appreciate that here at least, he’s not pretending he doesn’t care. He obviously cares, or he wouldn’t be at the airport, following the same trail Wolverine is. This leads to another last-page stinger, one that feels more earned than the first issue’s does, even if I do not particularly enjoy the arc of the character it concerns.
On the art front, it’s hard to overstate how much lifting Cassara and White do for the mood and the tone of this book; the panel work Cassara does is clean and precise; he’s not pushing boundaries here but he’s showing that he really, truly understands the craft. He leans into dramatic angles and frank depictions of body horror that, while the probably aren’t for everyone, I found incredibly appealing. There is a scene mid-book or so where the fallen Reavers are lain upon tables for autopsies, and instead of the cold sterility of a lab, this is Krakoa. Vines and roots have overtaken the bodies, pulling back flaps of skin to expose organs and ribcages. It’s fascinating work, and it reminds me vividly of the death rites for the pig creatures in Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead, I hesitate to invoke that name given current knowledge of his politics, but the novel was formative in my youth, as was the graphic description of the Pequeninos’ deaths.
White’s colors really elevate the work Cassara has done here; there are a few scenes where I found myself stopping to simply appreciate what was being done. The first is that aforementioned autopsy scene; the bright magentas of organs alongside the earthy greens and browns of Krakoa made for a delightful (if visceral) contrast. The second is a scene involving Wolverine dealing with some computers that reminded me of nothing so much as the giant monitoring system the X-Men had in the Outback, and the way that was often colored; a bright glow washing out characters as they faced it in an otherwise dark room. White does similar things here, using colors that convey that glow in a much more conventional manner than has been seen in most comics in a very long time. The third and final is an absolute, incredible stunner of a splash-page featuring Jean diving into the sole surviving Reaver’s mind; her eyes are overtaken by her typical trails of psionic energy, and as they flare out, they envelop her head in a riotous halo of color and vague impressions of eyes distorted into peacock-feather shapes. It’s breathtaking in an absolutely literal sense; that was the effect it had on me as I first saw it.
There are in fact only a couple of minor stumbles in X-Force #2; the first, to continue discussion of color, is the depiction of Sage. It’s nothing so dire as a skintone color as with Marauders, but the simple fact that she is depicted wearing black, with black hair, glasses, and…a yellow coat. She looks like nothing so much as a slightly older Jubilee, and it’s a disconcerting effect. Her design needs something a little more unique to set her apart (perhaps, as Zack Jenkins said when he and I discussed it, a…sage-colored jacket. Please direct your boos to him at @XavierFiles). The second stumble this issue falls in the data pages; they’re pure exposition, detailing the events of the assassination and how the Reavers accessed the island, as well as how the trap on Domino was sprung in the first issue. They’re…very dry, and the information they communicate doesn’t really feel necessary; it doesn’t buoy the story much in any major capacity, especially as the events of the book render the first page meaningless. The second page is perhaps more useful, but honestly the best part about it is the name “Phineas Hook,” a fake identity used to draw Domino in. It is delightfully foolish that they used a Hook to go fishing for a mutant, true comics silliness in the best fashion.