After the cliffhanger of last issue, X-Force #5 gives us pure action the entire way through, which is good, since it feels like we’ve been waiting for a resolution to this since last year. [CHORUS OF BOOS. —Ed.]
Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Joshua Cassara (Art), Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer), Rachelle Rosenberg (Colors), Dean White (Colors)
January 8, 2020
With the team’s deployment going sideways from the moment they hit the ground, Sage and Domino scramble to pull an alternate plan together. As you might expect in a book where Wolverine is deployed on black ops missions, things get…bloody. The blood is actually the first thing I want to focus on here; there was a time, a couple of decades past, when Marvel Comics were much more squeamish about blood than they are today. I don’t want to get too into the cultural forces around it, but it is interesting to me how completely they’ve shed that. It’s most noticeable in a book with Wolverine, I think, because of the nature of his role and powers. As late as the early ’90s, depictions of blood, when they appeared, were typically colored black, for multiple reasons. One was simple contrast; given the color technology of the time, black simply stood out better against costumes and flesh tones, and was a good way to provide a dramatic flair.
The other reason was the idea that comic books (at least at this point) were still ostensibly for children, and Editorial had concerns about being too graphic with depictions of blood to young audiences. The current X-Force volume is hardly a new departure from this concept—as I said, this idea has been put to rest for a couple of decades—but I was reminded of it nonetheless by the way blood is depicted in this issue, thanks to colorists Dean White and Rachelle Rosenberg on top of Joshua Cassara’s art. They make a great team; the blood discolors clothing with stains, it glistens in light, it hangs, frozen in panel, in gravity-defying blobs. It’s visceral and almost on the verge of upsetting, but thrilling nonetheless.
I wrote, when talking about that issue of Uncanny X-Men, about retributive violence, but I didn’t really go into that or what it meant. What I was talking about was the fact that we, as readers, like to see the bad guys lose in stories. We specifically like to see it, for better or worse, we like to know that the people doing harm are having harm done to them in return. It’s a thrilling bit of voyeurism, whereupon we can nebulously imagine justice done to our enemies. It’s one of the primary factors of action in a story; the bad guys get a leg up, they achieve something that harms the heroes, and we as readers are thinking “oh no!” We know it will be fine, but we still want to see it, and fiction provides a way to satisfy that urge in a safe fashion. That idea is the crux of this entire issue of X-Force. I said earlier that it’s pure action and I wasn’t kidding; nearly every single page is devoted to a battle resolving the closing of the Krakoan portal last issue, and providing that catharsis in grisly detail.
In fact it’s so grisly that I almost wonder if the creative team here is playing with that idea of catharsis; is it graphic with purpose, or just for the sake of being so? I suspect the former; there is a panel a few pages in where Wolverine pulls himself together enough to kill a Reaver, and the sight of him over that Reaver’s body was so intense that I muttered an audible epithet at the sight of it. He is immediately shot full of (so! many!) bullets, and we’re shown a panel of him lying on the floor, filled with slugs, looking unquestionably dead (he’s fine, he just wasn’t quite able to get his feet under him).
The idea of violence is even commented on within the story; as Domino and her backup team of Forge and Gateway arrive, Beast takes over comms with the team, cautioning them against murdering every single Reaver present. Of course, this isn’t due to the second law of Krakoa—X-Force is exempt—it’s because they need someone to question, since no one survived the attack on Xavier that started the series. This idea is fascinating to me in light of the ethical points that Mystique made last issue; Beast says outright that the consideration is only a practical one. It’s clever, and it’s successful; I’m interested to see how this is handled.
Less successful are the data pages; unlike the spell diagrams of Excalibur or the Operations reports in Marauders, X-Force’s data pages are simple, multi-paragraph essays from an unknown perspective. Because we don’t know how this information is being given to us, we can’t really get a proper bearing on its context to the story; additionally, because of the way it’s written, it feels like information that could’ve simply been conveyed in regular panels. Taken like this, in black text on a stark white page, it’s just…there. It’s the epitome of telling without showing, and in the visual medium of comic books it’s simply a letdown.
In the end, of course, it all shakes out. X-Force gets their prisoner, Logan and Domino reflect on the mission and the scars they carry, Beast and Jean get to learn, finally about the Court of Owls The Man With The Peacock Tattoo. For what happens next, we’ll have to wait.