The first issue of writer Ed Brisson (Extermination, Uncanny X-Men) and artist Dylan Burnett’s (Cosmic Ghost Rider, Reactor) re-launch of the sometimes serious, sometimes senselessly scandalous but always scintillating X-Force was fun, if disparate. The second issue is, unfortunately, only the latter.
First, the good. In an attempt at clarifying the kind of muddy stakes that the first issue left us with, Brisson steeps this issue in connections to Extermination and even the more recent Uncanny X-Men successfully and fully immersing us in the world this narrative takes place in. There’s certainly no lacking for big picture stuff here, and some of the twists and character introductions, as expected as they might be coming off of the conclusions of both of those series, are well executed and still shocking. The general themes around mutant autonomy, discrimination, and resistance might be better served without a kind of uneven direct connection to Romani peoples and their struggles across Europe, but the ways in which they all tie back to several major and minor plotlines is well done.
In return, however, this focus on establishing big picture stuff (admittedly strangely missing in a decontextualized first issue) means that all of the minor plotting and characterization go more or less out the window. There’s no heart to any of this. Take this snip of dialogue as an example:
Shatterstar: “Look me in my eyes”
Kid Cable: “I’ll stab your damn eyes if you don’t drop that blade!”
Practical, yes, but spartan — lacking any specific character traits or tells. This is especially strange given that the preceding issue established such a darkly funny tone I assumed many fans would be ready to ride with, but has been stepped away from here. I would welcome a return to it as scenes pass by with exposition, introduction, and stakes but little voice or merit. It’s not all ineffective — one particularly good bit from Kid Cable has him saying he had a plan, it just didn’t work — but it’s on the whole lacking.
Similarly, Burnett’s art lacks a certain definition into the second issue as well. There’s more flair here than before, and one can really see the fun, frenetic energy he brought to books like Cosmic Ghost Rider taking hold — especially in an explosive two page spread that gives each character a moment to shine, but their application is diminished quickly. The primarily problem is a lack of consistency as characters’ faces warp and elongate, become grizzled and cartoonishly shocked without a unifying manner — as if they’re jumping genres or even artists across not just pages but the same conversations, panel-to-panel. It’s entirely distracting and inconsistent in a way that doesn’t totally detract in massive, cool and fun action sequences which Burnett sincerely succeeds at but cannot be avoided in dialogue which the narrative equally relies on.
And that’s the larger issue with X-Force thus far. It set itself up to succeed in both a massive action capacity as well as an intriguing character driven drama one, but the creators don’t seem interested in serving both of those masters in one issue, hoping to bounce back and forth in an unsustainable way that works in short bursts but not on a bigger scale — too much to offer with too little to hold onto. Now that things are in a clearer focus, I’m really hoping that the narrative and art can both take a solid step into something cohesive, but my confidence is undeniably shaken.