When last we left off of X-Force, prior to studying the blade, Hank McCoy had arrested Piotr Rasputin on suspicion of espionage and treason. Hank being the worst, and Piotr being a very close second, this was a real, “worst guy you know just made a great point” situation.
Joshua Cassara (Artist, Cover Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Guru-eFX (Colors), Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer), VC’s Cory Petit (Production), Dean White (Cover Artist)
December 16, 2020
I think the thing that’s consistently catching me off guard is the sudden snap back to ongoing narratives in the wake of X of Swords. It’s not necessarily a complaint, mind you; I appreciate that X-Force knows what it’s about and where it’s going. That’s very apparent here as we open in media res, with the interrogation of Colossus (by Jean) underway. Jean is steadfastly keeping Beast out of said interrogation, and has enlisted Wolverine’s help in enforcing that decree—it’s very clear that after the revelations regarding Terra Verde and Beast’s subsequent leading of Colossus on a prisoner’s march, that she doesn’t trust him one bit.
These are the kinds of interactions I’m fascinated by. Jean and Hank go back, as in “all the way to the Original Five” back. They were more than contemporary classmates, they were friends, and it’s clear now that something is fundamentally broken between them as a result of Hank’s actions of late (what’s a genocide or two, right?). Still, here she is, after deciding previously that she was going to quit the team, and I appreciate this perhaps most of all. Much has been made of Jean’s supposed lack of character by certain subsets of fandom, but this is something I know to be true about her—she’s never, ever afraid to roll her sleeves up and get dirty if the cause is just. She may not love the complicated (more technically, absent) morals of Hank’s team, but given the chance to protect a fellow X-Man and mutant from his schemes, she doesn’t hesitate. This is a clear and concise direction for her that’s entirely affirming: the former Phoenix alight with the fire of righteousness. She’s a shining counterbalance against both Colossus’ selfishness and Beast’s heartlessness, and it’s utterly necessary in order to balance this book’s tones and themes against the output of the rest of the line.
There are of course several other plot lines that still need picking up, and it’s a masterful tease that we get this running throughline when we still haven’t unraveled the mysteries of:
- The identity of the mysterious “biographer” in earlier data pages,
- Whatever happened to Domino’s memories when she was resurrected, and who was behind that,
- The actual identity of the traitor from the very first arc, the person who killed X-Force‘s only lead, and
- What’s going on with Mikhail and the Cerebro Sword.
These are all, mind you, hanging in the air against the immediate threats of both Dracula (via Omega Red) and the resurgent threat of the telefloronic, symbiotic Muerte Verde, who make a surprise return, given that they appeared to be dealt with back in X-Force #10. Then again, perhaps they were, and this is simply the ancient plant god Ak’, mentioned thus far only in a data page in X-Force #9. Either way, there’s a throughline in the way that artist Joshua Cassara presents these threats; he’s fond of oppressive, page-length vertical panels as these roots and tendrils creep along, catching victims by surprise. Given these sorts of layouts and the skill with which he’s depicted body horror since the start of this series, it’s gripping work, and if Guru-eFX doesn’t have quite the love for heavy darks and lurid colors that Dean White did at the start of this series (as evident in the cover to this issue, no less), there’s still a pervasive unease in the finished pages that isn’t lessened in the slightest by one attack occurring on a beach in the middle of a sunny day.
X-Force is still not a book I expected to love as much as I do. We’ve so often seen books like these, full of “muddled” morals, as an excuse for characters to simply do violent and unheroic things. Here, though, against the backdrop of Krakoa, we’re finally getting the book I’ve always craved in that milieu: Thoughtful, troubling, and not afraid to ask about the cost of doing this kind of business.