Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Uncanny X-Force #5

Though it is but five issues old, already Uncanny X-Force has asked a series of morally-vexing questions refined enough to distance it from the other titles in Xavier’s family. By its very definition an unusually dark wing of the school, the latest revision of this team features a roster that’s united by the residue of evil on their soul. Archangel, Deadpool, Wolverine, Psylocke, Fantomex – these characters have more in common than marketability; they’ve each been tampered with by a dark third party, emerging from their personal trial a profoundly different individual than they were before. Unsurprisingly, that experience has given them each a very different take on the world at large, and as a result they’re much better equipped to deal with problems that fall into the gray area between right and wrong.

Beneath this month’s gorgeous cover is an equally stunning set of compositions from the pencil of Esad Ribic. It’s been some time since I’ve been so impressed by my first encounter with an artist. Ribic’s work has magnificent flow, streamlining every action – no matter how varied – into a beautifully choreographed ballet. His cast strikes original poses at every turn, the camera deciding on novel angles to catch them in the act. His pages are as clean as a restrained animation cel, but also bursting with hidden secrets. When the story moves in its most unexpected directions, Ribic hands in his best work. Rick Remender opens this issue with a set of theories, hints and metaphors that even the best in the business would have a hard time hammering out into a coherent visual, where Uncanny X-Force's artwork only shines more brightly. It could carry this series by himself if it had to.

When he’s knee-deep in the shit, I love every bit of Rick Remender’s writing. He’s opening doors nobody knew existed, exploring the limits of what a Marvel mutant story can be and coming back with answers to questions I didn’t know I had about the X-Men. Those opening pages I mention above are breathless material, an exploration of abstract concepts that veers so far in the direction of science fiction that I wasn’t sure if the cover should bear an X or an F4.

It’s great stuff, so wonderful that the jarring shift into standard material – bickering teammates, dissenting opinions about the last mission, etc. – was as unexpected and unwanted as a land mine. There are enough books on the market that delve into that kind of material, and they do so much more effectively than Remender manages in this issue. As well crafted as his left-field, right-brained dalliances into Warren Ellis territory might be, this writer has a severe disconnect with most of his book’s cast, but it’s most obvious with Deadpool. Granted, the moral quandaries that define this series wouldn't carry much weight without a bit of debate, but of all the characters to take the clear, coherent ethical high ground in an argument, Remender chose Wade freaking Wilson? The author’s unfamiliar approach to most of the cast is a real problem that’s going to plague his writing until it’s addressed, but only in Deadpool’s case does he completely jump the rails. Wilson is the chaotic wild card, not the steady voice of reason.

This issue’s best moments provide a compelling argument in favor of a sci-fi angle to the X-Men family. Remender and Ribic each blossom in the cerebral world that’s explored in the majority of this issue, but while the artwork remains constant throughout, the writing is quickly bogged down when the scene shifts to more generic territory. There’s a lot of hope to be found in this series, but also a lot of uncertainty. If Remender can manage to get a handle on the rest of his cast like he has Fantomex, he’ll be in business. Until then, it’ll just be worth borrowing for the artwork.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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