Comics / Comic Reviews / Marvel Comics

Uncanny X-Force #1 Marvel NOW! Review

By Dan Horn
January 25, 2013 - 12:35

At the risk of sounding like a parrot (I think everyone who has had anything to say about the new Uncanny X-Force #1 has touched on this), Sam Humphries is in an unenviable position. Rick Remender's Uncanny X-Force series which ran from 2010 to 2012 will most likely be remembered by fans as one of the most revered comic book runs of the twenty-first century. Remender had a relative nonentity to reshape when joining the X-Force creative ranks, and his collaborators, from the brilliant color artist Dean White to prodigious pencillers and inkers like Jerome Opena and Phil Noto (not to mention the head-turning, identity-establishing covers of Esad Ribic), gave this new X-Force a scintillating potential, and ultimately an unstoppable momentum. Over the course of two years, that nonentity was elevated by those creators and was established as a must-read book, which now puts Humphries at something of a disadvantage.

Readers are still soaking in the greatness that was Remender's Uncanny X-Force. It isn't that his run was perfect; far from it. The Otherworld arc exhibits one of the series' gravest thematic missteps, a tonally aberrant slog through a nigh-pointless "epic." But Remender always managed to save face. Even when things seemed to drag on a bit to long, or plot devices became baldly apparent, readers were always drawn back into the thick of things, back into the savage fray, whether by virtue of Remender's intriguing characterizations, breakneck pacing, sharp wit, and flare for bombastic histrionics or the series' overall pristine visuals.

The predecessor series' success highlights an integral component to its éclat: perfection in serialized comic book storytelling wasn't necessarily translated from the creators' unwavering clarity of vision or from the unfaltering quality of the work; in the end, it came from sum of the book's parts and from its ambitions, whether or not they were all ultimately fulfilled. So, then, it isn't perfection that Humphries should be aiming for, but a unique voice; an ambitious approach to the newest superstars of Marvel's lineup. But, sadly, ambition is not what Humphries displays in this first issue of the latest incarnation of Uncanny X-Force.

UXF #1 occurs six months after the finale of Remender's saga and tells of Psylocke's unsuccessful attempt to transition back into a banal existence at the Xavier Institute after her turn at the helm of X-Force. Although the mutant black-ops cell had been previously disbanded after years of hellish missions had taken their psychological toll on the team, Logan (Wolverine), now the headmaster of the Institute, still has a need for covert operatives to address supernatural, underworld threats. Considering Psylocke's failure to readapt, Logan assigns her to a new mission in Los Angeles. Reluctantly, she accompanies the newly divorced Storm to a seedy club where drugs are being used to create an army of brainwashed devotees. A mystery lies in to whom or what are they devoted, but that point is overlooked by Psylocke when an old foe resurfaces at the club.

There's a disappointing reality on display here. While Humphries didn't need to be Remender to make Uncanny X-Force work quite so swimmingly, he needed to bring something else to the table, and needed to bring it right from the word "go." (Another interesting feature of Remender's UXF was that he seemed to realize the importance of establishing the book's violent themes within the very first pages and pepper in character incites after the reader's attention had been forcibly taken hostage, and his UXF #1 certainly opened with that necessary bang; Humphries' opening salvo lacks any similar visceral punch). The main plot here feels too familiar to be interesting, like it's been pulled from a hat of comic book cliches. Psylocke's characterization is strange: She's brash, thuggish and dimwitted, and most of all very angry. Humphries attempts to address her change in status quo with an "you've changed" moment, but that feels like an excuse to paint her as an archetypal mala mujer. Weirdly sparse and voiceless captions narrate actions and introductions like afterthoughts. Other disparate plot lines crop up here and there, but don't have serviceable transitions or any real purpose besides reminding readers that eventually there will be more members in the team. To his credit, the final page of the issue did raise an eyebrow, but while Humphries' X-Force is a wholly different animal from Remender's, I can't help but make direct comparisons between the two: I am severely missing that Remender wit; I'm missing the resonance of character depth; I'm missing the strong, interpersonal relationships; I'm craving the persistent motifs, abundant in Remender's run.

Much like Humphries' storytelling, Ron Garney's art has a lamentably superficial sheen. Where the Olivier Coipel and Laura Martin cover left me with a hankering for grit and dynamism, a page-turn reveals a glossy glamor reel. Garney's art is sumptuous, and as a longtime follower of the artist it is remarkable to note the arc of his stylistic evolution from his work on Captain America in the 90's to this particular issue now, but for a book stamped with a parental advisory and concerned with a mutant kill-squad, Garney's pencils, Danny Miki's inks, and Marte Gracia and Israel Gonzalez's colors feel more Saturday-morning-cartoon than ultra-violent-exploitation.

The failure of the artistic team to establish a discernible, let alone appropriate, timbre for the new series in conjunction with Humphries' lackluster showing and a high price point consummate a sour aftertaste that bodes ill for Uncanny X-Force. The book is not only doomed to live in its predecessor's shadow, but it gladly succumbs to the mediocrity destined for it in that penumbra.

Rating: 6 /10

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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