Right off the bat, I have to say that the cover to X-Force #11 is one of my favorites so far.
Bazaldua (Art), Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Edgar Delgado (Cover Art) Guru-eFX (Colors) Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer), Dustin Weaver (Cover Art)
August 12, 2020
It’s a fakeout, of course, but it’s a good one. The Krakoan text on the last page of the last issue read “Code Red,” which seemed like an easy Omega Red nod, and so the cover delivering on that despite him not being in the issue at all was a fun, fun bit of comics silliness. I’ve praised Weaver’s cover work prior and it’s just as good here; it has some of that 90s style energy, but with a more modern sense of dynamism, and I enjoy it.
Continuing on the subject of art, duties for this issue are handled once again by Bazaldua, and it was definitely more noticeable this time around; for all that the consistent coloring helps to blend the styles of both them and Cassara, there’s a way that Bazaldua handles proportions which doesn’t quite mesh; Beast especially here is much more lean than he’s traditionally been depicted, and at a few points it’s apparent that Bazaldua isn’t quite as lush with facial expressions. Still, they do draw action very well, and that works for an issue where everyone suddenly has to fight tiny demon men.
Oh right, the tiny demon men. The “main” plot of the book centers around yet another set of deceased, augmented human soldiers whose bodies have been weaponized to target Krakoa. Rather than simply exploding, these ones create homunculi, which duplicate in smaller and smaller forms, spreading around the island to cause chaos. It’s honestly a pretty thin framing device, even if it makes for fun hijinks, but that’s okay, since the real meat of the story comes afterward.
As homunculi chaos is kicking off, we get to see Domino checking in on Colossus, and just…why, girl. Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve better! Then again, if the X-Men ever made good life choices, they’d live terribly boring lives. At any rate, she’s trying to get him to stop avoiding her, and he immediately starts on this long soliloquy about the things he’s been through and how hard it all is for him, and honestly, shut your mouth, Piotr. While he’s whining, someone named Kayla comes up and says some very cryptic but very controlling stuff that reads like an attempt is being made specifically to isolate him. Immediately after this page comes our first data page, a chapter of…a journal? A memoir? Something written by our Russian Chronicler, at any rate.
The data pages actually remain the weak point, as ever; for all that they’re conveying useful information, and for all that—this time—they don’t replace a significant chunk of the action, they’re still blocks of text as opposed to the visualized data that House of X and Powers of X started the trend with. It’s a little difficult to parse them in the act of reading a comic; I find myself going back to them after finishing the issue, since I have to engage a different reading mode entirely. That said, the two here are at least entertaining; they have a distinct romantic style that reminds me of reading classical literature. I enjoy that, both for its distinct voice and for the skill it takes to write in that manner; a departure from the data pages even in earlier X-Force issues. All in all, it presents somewhat of a mixed bag.
Moving on, the decision to make X-Force feud with Russia specifically is interesting to me. Domino’s intent in seeking Colossus out is for this reason; they need him, specifically for Russia. The chronicler is Russian (and, I suspect, the Kayla who appeared above), and the entire issue is titled ‘Red Dawn,’ after the jingoistic film of the same name. These references place the issue at a weird juncture; Russia as a threat is a relevant issue for our time, but specifically invoking Red Dawn is more than just “Russia bad,” because the ‘Red’ in this context specifically is a pejorative for communists, not just Russia as a whole. Invoking that clutters the subject, because the two things aren’t interchangeable, and also because, indeed, much of the Krakoan model is a very socialist one. That conflict is eased somewhat by the nature of its use; no specific character invokes “Red” in the pejorative, merely the issue’s title, but it’s still a bit of contextualization that doesn’t quite read right. That said, pitting Krakoa against a nation does help solidify the scale being set in this era; this isn’t just a community of mutants, but a nation, and even in conflict, it’s being recognized as such.
At any rate, the issue with the homunculi escalates, and Colossus finds that he must join the fray, against this strange woman Kayla’s express wishes. She begs him not to leave, and he says very heroically and dramatically that he must, so that he can return, before charging off. He enters the fray of battle, monologuing to himself about how the X-Men turn order into chaos, and other such victim-blaming platitudes. I spent most of my last review talking about how awful Beast is, and he’s truly the worst, but I maintain that Colossus is a strong (heh) second, given the toxic masculinity that pervades his every thought and decision. He holds himself as a hard-suffering, tragic hero, but we know otherwise; he is not a sensitive artist but an unstable, rage-driven abuser, who has systematically targeted vulnerable women and taken advantage of them, before then denying any responsibility in the consequences. I said before that X-Men stays interesting in part because its characters make bad choices, but Colossus’ pattern of behavior is a bit more than that; it’s a series of choices that show a willful disinterest in learning from his mistakes.
This is all to say that I enjoy Benjamin Percy’s portrayal of him; in much that I praised him for having characters ask after Domino’s well-being previously, I enjoy that Percy lets Colossus be terrible here, he lets the character’s actions stand while using the story around those actions to highlight what’s wrong with them. It’s careful, thoughtful character work.
So, as the A and B plots weave together toward the end of the issue, we’re finally treated to the sight of Quentin Quire having a romantic interlude with Phoebe Cuckoo, which struck me for two reasons. One, it appears the Cuckoos have a type, and that type is young, cocky assholes with undercuts. Two…QUIRE?! Phoebe. Phoebe. He started the riot that killed your sister. I get that doesn’t hold the weight it did prior to Krakoa, but come on. Honestly though, I expect the Cuckoos are smarter than that, and with the way Esme was sharing her encounters with Cable, what are the odds they pit Quire and Cable against one another for fun? It just…seems like a very Cuckoo thing to do.
After this we’re given our obligatory “Quentin Quire dies” scene (seriously, love this for him), and the payoff of X-Force #11’s “Red” fakeout. I won’t spoil it, but it’s not Omega Red they have to worry about…can’t wait for next issue.