25 Jan 2013

Cover To Cover: UNCANNY X-FORCE #1

Writer: Sam Humphries
Art: Ron Garney, Danny Miki, Marte Gracia & Israel Gonzalez
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: You can’t possibly follow what Craig Kyle and Chris Yost did with X-Force. You can’t. They’ve done so well with that book that anyone following up with a mutant Black Ops team using lethal techniques to get the job done is on a fool’s errand.

Oh, wait...

You can’t possibly follow what Rick Remender’s done with Uncanny X-Force. You can’t. He’s done such a fantastic job with that series that anyone following up with yet another iteration of the mutant Black Ops team (possibly) using lethal techniques to get the job done is on a hiding to nothing!

Why, here come Sam Humphries and Ron Garney now!

To be brutally honest with you good readers, I’d been sold on this title from the first time that I saw the Olivier Coipel cover. The idea of a book dealing primarily with female heroes and one dwarven Canadian mutant instantly appealed and the mystery on how Spiral - a long time affiliate of the walking joke that is Mojo, the intergalactic TV mogul - and ‘that female Fantomex’, now confirmed as Cluster, come to be part of the team was too much to pass up. It is therefore a terrific relief to discover that this latest #1 from Marvel’s NOW! line is of a very high standard indeed.

Humphries seems to acknowledge just how important Rick Remender’s contribution to recent mutant lore has been - something that Remender himself avoided, rather wisely in hindsight, for his series when picking up where Kyle and Yost had left off before him. To that end we are provided with a pleasing line in tongue-in-cheek mystery as the previous six months in the lives of Psylocke and Cluster are left in tempting shadow for now, the reasons for attitude changes certain to be addressed, though tantalizingly in later issues. He also gives Storm a large share of the focus, handing new and fresh-faced readers the sufficient, concise backstory without going overboard and highlighting the bond of friendship and camaraderie that exists between her and Psylocke thanks to several years of fighting the ‘good fight’ together.

It feels as if this introductory issue is a little light on plot in order to be heavy on characterisation and while there is a premise - strange drug dealing shenanigans resulting in a hive mind mentality between its users and the eventual formation of the X-Force team proper when tackling the problem - the greater sense of involvement and fun comes when it feels like Humphries is electing to get us acclimatised to this group of characters first and foremost. It’s almost as if he’s using a ‘softly-softly’ approach with the plot before the big bad antagonist in the form of Bishop comes into play properly and to be honest it’s a decision that seems to both work and make a lot of sense.

I mentioned ‘fun’ just a little while back and that to me appears to be the big difference in this new title as the only brief glimpses of mirth in Remender’s work came spilling from Deadpool’s mouth or the snap-happy banter that kept the previous team driven and determined in the face of constant defeat. Here, there’s more of a feeling that this team could possess the power to deliver a fatal blow, yet would be more inclined to hold it back or ignore it entirely. The conversations and interactions flow with wry sarcasm and humour that immediately set this apart from its predecessors. I do get the feeling that Humphries will be towing a slightly lighter line when it comes to the need for bloodletting - even the saucy language is present but blacked out for curious effect - and the important thing moving on from here is that he manages to capture that all important level of tension from the threat of Bishop, or some other party’s machinations that an Uncanny X-Force book deserves.

Bringing Ron Garney into the fold on pencilling duties provides this opener with a premium grade aesthetic that bodes well for the immediate future, his line work clear as crystal and for the most part avoiding the poster-girl, buxom route that perhaps another artist may have taken with a predominantly female cast. The pernickety bugger in me couldn’t help but think that perhaps Psylocke, out of everyone, seems a little glassy-eyed throughout and in longer shots her pupils aren’t even visible which distracts from Storm’s weather-witch look a little in some shared panels, but that’s a harsh criticism to point the finger at when compared to the general high quality feel of the issue as a whole.

There will be those readers who feel that they are willing to close the book on Uncanny X-Force with the finale of Remender’s work, especially in these cramped times for the Marvel schedule, but I believe that there’s certainly enough in this first new issue to suggest that remaining and important plot threads from the previous series will be addressed here in the short term to lure the old guard in. With Humphries' clear and firm grasp of the characters under his control and Garney & Co’s luscious visuals I can’t help but feel that there’s yet another promising X-title that has arrived to a very busy party and should have a few eyes turning its way this week!  8/10

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