X-Force #3: A Double-Edged Sword of Damocles

Jean Grey wearing the Cerebro helmet

After strongly disliking the first issue, and rather enjoying the second, I suppose it’s fitting that here at the third, I feel…simply fine. It’s worth noting that due to the double-sized first issues of the entire Dawn of X line, this would normally be the fourth installment of the series and a culmination of the opening arc. It certainly brings forth some resolutions, but are they worth it?

X-Force #3

Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Joshua Cassara (Art), Guru-eFX (Colors) , Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer)
Marvel Comics
December 11, 2019

I mentioned before that the hype around this book before launch made me skeptical. It specifically positioned X-Force as a CIA style book, which is a little bit different than even the black ops nature of prior X-Force teams. Those, while sometimes morally dubious, were always functioning in defense of an oppressed people. Now, in Krakoa, mutants have a home, a place to thrive, and indeed have conquered even death in a way that baseline humans have not. They are targeted and hated, certainly, but the paradigm has shifted; they are now a nation state with the ability to strategically deploy anywhere on the planet. They are, from the viewpoint of other nations, a credible threat in a way they never were before. Even here, they are still acting defensively; Krakoa has been invaded and attacked twice now by different human factions, and some kind of intelligence response is necessary. My issue comes in the specific association with the CIA, which…is not a defensive organisation, as much as it would like to pretend that it is. It is the organization responsible for the destabilization of countries around the globe, the installation of puppet dictators who oppress their own people so that Americans may benefit from the exploitation of those countries’ resources. It should therefore be somewhat understandable that this concept, introduced into the X-Men, makes me nervous, especially if it’s misunderstood in the way that it seems to be.

It also makes me nervous because I am so, so tired of “what if superheroes were bad, actually” type stories. They are done, and they are old, and to specifically position the X-Men in this manner given the nature of the mutant metaphor (apart from whether that metaphor is successful) is to betray the core tenets of storytelling that the property is built on. I’m not saying that X-Force is headed that direction, but I do see the potential, and it worries me.

Well, I’m glad it makes you feel good.

The crux of the issue is that Xavier has been revived, as we all knew he would be. My comments on the pacing of this stand; it is made to seem like a grand revelation when he simply steps out of a Krakoan gate after the world believes he is dead, but it isn’t a revelation, because we as readers have known that this is possible for months now. It’s a weak bit of writing, I think, to be so focused on inspiring awe in other fictional characters within your book that you forget what your real audience already is aware of; the real audience is the one that is there to be thrilled! I maintain that this arc should’ve resolved within that first, double-sized issue, a chance for Xavier to stunt from the start, to hang the entire weight of the story’s momentum on the power of his seeming inviolability. We do not need several issues of “will the X-Men make it through this” at this juncture in the overarching Dawn of X story; if this is meant to be a major shift from what has come before in X-books, then let it be, rather than continuing the same story beats we’ve already seen.

Prior to his revival, there is a conversation between Beast and Jean that…well, it’s significant, philosophically, I think, but not in the way that the creative team here would like it to be. Beast asks if he thinks that they’ll miss dying, which is a strange bit of phrasing; first, it’s not that the X-Men can’t die anymore, it’s just that it doesn’t stick. They can still take mortal wounds, they can still perish, it’s just that they have a system that’s akin to a backup hard drive. It’s not even real resurrection, in a sense; it’s like a save state being restored into an entirely new body. This level of misunderstanding of the concept on the part of one of the X-Men’s chief scientific minds is strange to read. I similarly am not fond of Jean’s response; that not fearing death makes her a better hero. The joke of Jean’s dying has always rankled me; it’s been a source of mockery for a long time, but the joke itself glosses over the thematic import of death as it applies to Jean; she died, and was reborn, because she was the Phoenix. She’s rejected that identity, but the import of a cycle of death and rebirth for the Phoenix has never, to my mind, been adequately explored; too many writers focused on the threat of the Phoenix force itself and not the thematic weight of the concept. To see this, here, tells me that at least someone has put some thought into it, but I can’t say that I agree with the conclusion, or the trivialization that it represents.

Elsewhere, we see more of Quentin Quire (Kid Omega) and Wolverine, as they wrap up the mission of investigating the source of the Reaver attack on Krakoa; they find and release Domino, who is badly wounded by the Reaver process of harvesting her skin and grafting it to themselves. It is an interesting take on the concept of Reaver self-modification, but I’m not sure it’s one I agree with; grisly and compelling as it is for a villain, Reavers are infamous for their hatred of mutantkind, and I cannot see them willingly making mutant flesh a part of their own.

There’s also the question of Domino herself; a skilled and capable operative and an X-Force veteran since the first incarnation, it’s frustrating to see her captured here, as it was frustrating to see Jean in a moment of wishy-washy “Can I save Xavier? I just don’t know!” Add to that the concept of Sage being outsmarted by Reaver contingency plans and you have a trio of women who should be experts in their field but who are just not measuring up, whilst the men around them excel. To see this, and to see it happen on top of Domino being subjected to torture and agony, only able to continue functioning with the explicit help of Quentin Quire telekinetically providing support, is to see a picture painted of women being inferior and dependent on the men around them. It is, once again, amateurish, and it’s also ahistorical in the face of X-Men’s longstanding traditions of powerful, capable women. I suspect that this was not an intentional move to position these women in this way, that it was instead simple carelessness, but I can’t say I appreciate either idea as part of a six-book project designed to restore the franchise to prominence.

In the data pages, it’s mentioned that Xavier has taken the sword Magneto fashioned out of his prior Cerebro helmet and hung it, point down, above his bed. His own personal Sword of Damocles, designed to keep him alert and uncomfortable. It buzzes still with data, somehow, a constant stream of information that threatens at any moment to pierce his skull. That, at least, is a well-crafted thematic weight; so too do the information streams in X-Force inspire those feelings in me.

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.