Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

21 November 2006

X-Force, v. 1: New Beginnings

Collects: X-Force #116-20 (2001)

Released: October 2001 (Marvel)

Format: 128 pages / color / $14.95 / ISBN: 078510819X

From the very first issue, it’s clear X-Force, v. 1: New Beginnings isn’t your Rob Liefeld’s X-Force.

It’s hard to imagine any more dramatic break with the ideas of the title Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza kicked off in 1991. First, there’s the flat, cartoony art of Mike Allred. Somehow, Allred manages to make his decidedly 2-D art full of more action and dynamism than Liefeld ever managed to inject into his grotesquely muscled and dramatically posed figures. Allred’s art was unlike anything else Marvel was publishing at the time (or now), dramatically setting X-Force apart from the rest of the catalog.

X-Force, v. 1: New Beginnings cover Peter Milligan’s writing took Allred’s art and made it seem even more frenetic than it already was. Allred’s “simple” art clashes nicely with Milligan’s post-modern, media conscious, slick plots and meta characters. There is an incredible difference between Milligan and Allred’s X-Force and the X-titles that came before: these aren’t angst-ridden mutants sworn to defend a world that hates and fears them. These are savvy, glitzy mutants who are flip and blasé in the face of missions that are far more lethal than anything the previous X-Force — or the X-Men — ever face. The first issue decimates the team; the next mission takes a heavy toll on the replacements and survivors.

When the issues reprinted here came out, many fans’ reactions were vitriolic, and the editors took great glee in reprinting the letters they received from fans who either didn’t like the new direction or didn’t get it. In this spirit, the back cover features blurbs from comic professionals (positive comments) and comics reviewers (negative). My favorites are from Tony Isabella (“Lord knows what hideous malady we may have caught from this most wretched creation” and Eric J. Moreels (“Below average”).

Comparing this to “average” comics is self defeating. New Beginnings is a new idea, a different way of looking at heroes — cynical men and women who risk their lives because of the rewards they can reap from it. It is a mutated sense of noblesse oblige, which Zeitgeist, the team leader, comments on in the first issue; the old X-Force looks at the negative side of this when they attack an X-Force press conference (showing little media savvy themselves). But despite their amoral fronts, X-Force does good, often at great cost to them, because that is the cost of the fame they desire.

All of this doesn’t even touch upon the great character design and individual personalities / voices of the team members (and given team turnover, this is very impressive). The dialogue is funny without sacrificing character or plot; the plots are simple but not simplistic. Perhaps most remarkably, Milligan reminds the reader the new X-Force still exists at the periphery of the Marvel Universe, calling upon Professor Xavier or Wolverine to show where this title fits in the Marvel framework.

Marvel doesn’t do titles like this any more. And that’s a shame, really.

Rating: (4.5 of 5)

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