With continuing art by Garry Brown, X-Force #19 wraps up a very necessary introspective arc about Quentin Quire’s transition into adulthood.
Garry Brown (Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Guru-eFX (Color Artist), Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer)
April 21, 2021
Y’know, I was rereading some of the Marvel NOW!-era X-Men stuff last week, and I was reminded of the time a teenage Quentin met his older adult self as the Phoenix. I’ve remarked before on the changes in Quentin over time; his proto-fascist roots and his repositioning under later writers as a quirky alt-kid. It’s been a frustrating thing to see at times, because it felt like there was no real depiction of that change; he went away for a while, came back and attempted to resurrect Sophie Cuckoo on his own, went away for a while again, came back and tried to literally destroy the island mutants were living on at the time out of petty revenge, and then, a year later…simply got to be a quirky student. It’s a role he wasn’t allowed to earn, and it’s a role that overlooks both his complicity and frankly his blatant danger to his fellow mutants. The kid with multiple attempts at fascism got several free passes, and the others, his intended (and sometimes actual) victims, were forced to simply accept him back into the fold. I’ve never liked this, because it’s a patriarchal permissiveness that ignores the needs and the safety of the marginalized, and frankly it’d be a great story beat if it were at all intentional. The problem is, it’s not.
I digress. In the Battle of the Atom event, Quentin Quire, then in his alt-kid phase, met his older self, who had by that time claimed the mantle of the Phoenix, as prophesied back in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Given the chance to ask one, single question of his older self, Quire betrayed his youthful shortsightedness:
My other criticisms of the character aside, this moment was a great one for me; it perfectly encapsulated just how much growing Quire had to do (and not just in the mutton chop department). He’d gotten to skip from one phase to another without any meaningful growth once, but there were still large, large gaps between where he was and where he might one day be. I’m very gratified to read those changes taking shape on page in the current X-Force.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s strange to read an arc featuring Quentin focused on the pain he’s caused innocents—baseline humans, even! But it’s an enjoyable strangeness; for once, he’s a step removed from the harm, because it’s not him, not directly, but a dark mirror under the control of XENO. That makes for a crucial step; these crimes bear his signature but not his methods or motives, and it forces him to confront exactly what he’s capable of when left unchecked. It’s interesting to me, because the easy thing to do would be to look at that dark mirror and say “well, it’s just a reflection, it’s not actually me.” Instead, we’re seeing actual growth on Quentin’s part; for all that he remains an obnoxious shithead, he’s finding that he can both do that and be a responsible, put-together adult. (As someone who works hard to be both of those things myself, I’m annoyed with how relatable he suddenly is.)
I wish, though, that a story this pivotal to a popular character had been tasked with a more appropriate artist. It’s not that Brown is bad, because he’s not; look at these panels above. He’s great at framing, at the depiction of environments and finer details. The way the folds of the blanket cover Scott’s curled form, the acute detail to shading on his face in the foreground of the last panel, even the frumpy look Jean has as someone who’s awake in the middle of the night and would rather not be—these are all signs of someone who’s really honed their craft, who knows what they’re doing. The trouble is just that it’s a jarring shift from the book’s standby, Joshua Cassara. When he’s not directly depicting things like environments or body horror, Brown’s linework has a hard-edged cartooniness to it that doesn’t jibe with the overall tone of the book. It creates a weird composite; when the team is fighting terrifying psychic monsters, the art’s great, but when teenagers are being dramatic with one another in the way that they so often are, it’s off-putting. The boon is once again in the color work of Guru-eFX, which softens some of the more jarring differences between artists.
I’ve talked here and there about how it feels like some of the threads Benjamin Percy’s working with across his two books feel like they’ve been left untugged a bit too long, but this issue felt like a welcome change. Between the necessary character growth for Quire and the direct lead in to further work by XENO, all roads are pointing to the promised future conflict with Mikhail Rasputin, a promise bolstered by the appearance, once again, of the mysterious Chronicler in the data pages. When Xavier’s shattered helmet was reforged as the Cerebro Sword and mounted above his bed, I called it a Sword of Damocles. It’s lived up to that in the months since, as Mikhail holds it over the heads of not just X-Force, but all Krakoa. The story’s building to something big, and just a couple of months ahead of the Hellfire Gala, too. It’s enough to make a body wonder…