In most of their incarnations, I love X-Force. There’s something about the mix of dark melodrama (they killed a kid!) and ridiculous, over-the-top Rambo meets Reeves in John Wick nature of their lineups and storylines that appeals to me in a very popcorn-gritty-action-movie-esque way. Naturally, then, when I heard that writer Ed Brisson — one of the trio heading up the first 10 issues of Uncanny X-Men, which I’ve been enjoying immensely — and artist Dylan Burnett, of Cosmic Ghost Rider, were offering a take on the team, I was intrigued, if not downright giddy at the prospect.
Unfortunately, the first outing leaves a lot to be desired.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
FROM THE ASHES OF EXTERMINATION! Cable is dead…and now, the original X-Force team of Domino, Cannonball, Shatterstar, Boom Boom and Warpath. must hunt down the murderer of their former leader! The mutant militia are hot for blood…but when their target is the time-traveling younger version of their fallen mentor, is there a line they absolutely cannot cross? And what does Deathlok have to do with all of it?
Sounds like the quintessential X-Force plot, eh? Intrigue! Timelines! Personal Politics! Revenge! It does, in fact, have all of that and more than a few interesting twists and turns, to boot — make no mistake.
Opening with an appropriately dark vignette of a mutant kid on the run from strike force out to kill him, Brisson walks the line between melodramatic and believable very narrowly but sufficiently. Even in the funnier bits, of which there are quite a few more than I anticipated — such as Domino referring to Deathlok as a “Ted-Bundy-Bot,” let alone the whole idea of Deathlok strapped to Kid Cable’s back gunning down baddies together — there’s a kind of intentionally off-color energy to the whole thing that serves the new tonal direction for the book well. If this kind of darkly funny, serious but sardonic direction is the new norm for X-Force, I can certainly get behind that. Especially, given how absolutely hilarious and over-the-top the backup Boom Boom story, which is one of the better parts of this debut, is.
That being said, the narrative makes no concessions to new readers in its plotting, and if you’ve not read Extermination, you may be lost on what’s gotten us here, especially as the stakes start to ramp up at the end of the issue. Kid Cable is a compelling character, and I’m pretty interested in the direction Brisson is taking the story from here — a kind of uneven alliance between a group of murderers — but there’s almost no contextualizing for the re-formation of X-Force, Kid Cable, or the events in Transia (in which the story is mostly set) which harms the foundational work a first issue would otherwise do. It’s not just detracting, but downright hard to consider this a standalone issue.
Similarly, Burnett’s art finds itself lacking a distinctive foundation. Where Cosmic Ghost Rider and Interceptor — another Donny Cates joint that Burnett worked on for Vault comics — had very honed aesthetics, X-Force feels kind of…aimless. The initial pages, mutant hunting and all, offer a really dark take on this world that I expected to see Burnett lean into, especially given the awe-inspiring Pepe Larraz cover that would imply as much, but actually end up leaning away from it in surprising, confusing fashion. Warpath has a hulking frame and constant eye shadow that’s more akin to character design from The Umbrella Academy, while Domino has an elongated face and rosy red nose that ends up giving her the appearance of having a cold, accompanied by a sometimes serious, sometimes dejected Deathlok, the team’s character designs feel hobbled together and a unifying vision. They function perfectly well in Burnett’s fluid, explosive, and really fun action scenes — of which there are quite a few in this issue alone — and one two page spread panel indicates a real knack for cool, unified fighting scenes, but there’s some definite honing that could be done on a big picture scale to bring things together a bit better, making the world feel more unified.
All said and done, there’s a lot of potential here that doesn’t feel totally realized or harnessed by the creative team just yet but does speak to a real intention to try something new that I find compelling on merit. The diversified narrative voice is welcome, and the Kid Cable arc is undeniably intriguing if a little frustrating (it looks like more on that is coming in issue five, if solicits can be believed) while the art is untethered to itself but really energetic on a micro scale. An imperfect, but wholly fascinating debut at the very least.