Tuesday, April 13, 2010

X-Force #25

This is going to get a bit complicated, so stay with me here. Remember Bastion? Little pink cyborg from the future, hates mutants? He's developed and unleashed a special virus with the interesting perk of reanimating the X-Men's dead enemies. Having noticed this recent twist, a psychic vampire named Selene has borrowed that same virus and used it to revive the entire population of the obliterated mutant island Genosha. Her ultimate goal is to devour the spirits of the zombie nation, using the gathered power to then ultimately become a goddess. X-Force, naturally, is against that idea.

That's an awful lot to expect your readers to keep track of, and it's only the tip of the iceberg. X-Force writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost have been building to this moment, seemingly, from issue number one and that kind of depth just can't be summarized in two, three or thirty "previously in" paragraphs nestled inside the front cover. As an irregular reader, a lot of the events and characters in this issue skimmed right over my head, but they also didn't seem to lose a lot of weight in the process. A mid-issue throwdown between two characters I'd never heard of still felt like a big deal, even if I wasn't quite sure who I was rooting for or why. Kyle and Yost know how to effectively frame and pace a big story, although some of the accompanying dialog can get pretty cheesy.

Their partner, Clayton Crain, enjoys many of the benefits provided by fully painted artwork, but despite fourteen preceding issues with which to hone his craft, he also still falls into several of that medium's traps. On the positive side, his work is twice as rich and vivid as that found in more traditionally illustrated books. Crain's responsibility for both the layouts and the colors ensures that what we're getting is an exact replication of his vision, uncompromised by the competing ideas of an inker or colorist. At the same time, he's also without the guiding hand of a direct editor to reign in his more elaborate concepts or cut him off when he stretches too far.

That's often been my main complaint with painted sequential art: the creator feels so obligated to show off what he can do that he often forgets to ask himself whether or not he should. Crain's a talented artist, but he occasionally uses his digital paintbrush as a crutch, covering up a lacking composition with an unwelcome extra special effect or detail. Having said all that, however, he gives this series a look unlike any other. He is its personality, and when his work is hitting the right notes (which it is frequently this month) it's breathtaking.

If you've kept up with this series from the start, issue twenty-five should provide a fair sense of closure, at least as much as possible in an ongoing series. For the most part, though, it's just a slightly longer, more permanent continuation of what had come before. Excessively dark artwork, a shadowy, moody tint to the storytelling and a set of characters who don't really seem to understand the concept of real emotion – that's the current iteration of X-Force in a nutshell. It's not in the upper echelon of books on the market today, but it's also a small step above the glut of imitators jammed into the middle of the pack. Flip through it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5.5

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