20 Dec 2011

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-FORCE #18

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña, Esad Ribic & Dean White
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: We’re a day before the new comics hit the stands, and even a new Uncanny X-Force comic will be amongst their number, but I couldn’t let us reach the new delivery without explaining why Rick Remender’s title made it into my ‘Book of the Week’ slot in that right hand column. As always I will keep this as SPOILER FREE as possible as I suspect many more of you will be picking this up in a monthly collection or perhaps trade hard/paperback form in the coming months...and well you should!

It certainly wasn’t for that glossy black plastic covering, though it did play a very small part. Sometimes I do feel that the polybagged delivery of a comic is just a gimic - honestly, how many digital codes are Marvel expecting to be stolen from copies of Avenging Spider-Man sat on the shelves? Sometimes however, sheathing the comic adds an extra level of excitement to an experience you were already expecting to be exhilarating and in this instance I thought it made more of a statement about this issue marking the end of things started nearly two years ago in #1.

Nearly all ongoing, long-running superhero titles tend to end each issue with some sort of punctuated, cliffhanger moment and they’ve been present in Uncanny X-Force through the run so far, not least in UXF #17 which paused moments before the the love-triangle battle that many of us had been anticipating for months. What I’ve enjoyed about this particular title is that the beginning pages of the following issues normally shift the focus elsewhere to another thread of the story rather than sating our appetites straight out of the blocks. Here, Remender chooses to flick back to the brilliant battle of the elemental forces from the Age of Apocalypse as the ‘alternate’ Sunfire and Iceman wage their ongoing battle across three simple, uniform panels. This is followed by a brilliant scene involving the currently mind-controlled Deathlok fighting the brainwashing of War with some brilliant reasoning.

It’s then that we get to the proper ‘nitty-gritty’ of the fight that we paid the entrance fee for and it couldn’t be better. Opeña’s illustration of the deadly scuffle is succinct but for me the conflict was elevated by the psychological baiting and blocking that takes place between Archangel and Fantomex who are fighting over the future of the world while using their relationships with Psylocke as the ammunition. It’s evident that it’s a fight in which no one can possibly be a real winner and that’s where it really grips you; you’re waiting to see just how badly each character loses and whether any small glimmer of happiness is in store for the conflicted threesome.

Page after page you turn and more and more story hits you in the face, with Remender looking back to plot threads left hidden since the earlier arcs now laid bare, while also looking forward with equally troubling revelations that will surely vex this team in the years - by the gods of Asgard I’m hoping this writer remains with this title for that long - to come. When the surprises do pop out of the woodwork - there is a nice nod to a competing publishers ‘golden boy’ which made me offer up a wry smile - Opeña really gets to cut loose with his cinematic action stylings and I love the way that we get to catch small glimpses of wonder in the surroundings that make up the World. I’m not sure a colourist has been mentioned as often and with as much gushing praise as Dean White has been in the past couple of years, but if ever a palette specialist was solely responsible for providing a series with it’s own distinctive atmosphere it’s him. For a team that gets carved up so often (and dishes out the cuts and bullet-holes while they’re at it) White is very careful to use the sanguine rouge at only limited key moments which make them all the more prominent.

So what about the ending? Well, the last 9 pages really do offer up a little of everything and show the breadth of vision that the creative team have. From the intimate, heartfelt tenderness and remnants of hope that two individuals can find in the darkest of times (including a neat shift tot he art of Esad Ribic), through to the unending resilience that characters unused to being labelled as ‘heroes’ can have to make sure that the job gets done, we witness it all. Put simply, I believe that the first 18 issues of Uncanny X-Force has been one of the very best regular reading experiences I’ve ever had and this last instalment of The Dark Angel Saga is a fitting end to what I can only hope is an early chapter in a veritable tome of tales about this current X-Force embodiment. Essential and unmissable. 10/10


Tom P said...

100% agreed.

Joe T said...

Strongly disagree. I felt this issue was very weak, and it felt rushed. Victim of hype.