When it comes to the ’90s, we have lots to talk about. There’s the early ’90s with great stuff like Acts of Vengeance, Foolkiller, Armageddon 2001, and more. There’s the late ’90s with Kingdom Come, Avengers, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., and more. The ’90s are more than just one title or even one genre, (Although as I am sure you have discerned, I’m a super hero guy), but sometimes it seems like they are boiled down into one guy.
No matter how many times I talk to folks about ’90s comics and insist that they are fairly good, and no matter how many times I even manage to find someone open-minded enough to let me talk to them as though ’90s comics might actually be worth looking at, they almost inexorably have to savage Rob Liefeld.
And I don’t mean just say they don’t like him, but you hear everything from how idiotic he is to how he can’t draw to how he ruined comics to how he wants to destroy Denmark.
Ok, you never hear that last thing; what you do hear though, is how much he loved shoulder pads, pouches, and big guns. Hey man, he’s guilty of that, and guess what? IT’S USUALLY AWESOME!
My biggest issue with all this now is how anyone fails to see how this captured the zeitgeist of the early ’90s perfectly. Someone could take a gander at that, not know anything about superheroes, and could tell it is ’90s as hell. Liefeld has faults, but he captured the essence of this era perfectly. The ’90s were all about being bigger, bolder, and more confrontational than ever before. We were extreme, and we didn’t give a shit who knew that or cared about it.
Look at the way wrestling was in the ’90s, or the way we Alternative Music rose to the heights it did. Look at what we did at Woodstock ’99! We wanted to be in everyone’s face, breaking all the rules, and making the big dot-com dollars! We were all going to be rich, famous, and good-looking. Obviously, I got all three, which is why I make so much money writing these blogs, people everywhere can’t stop saying my name, and folks never look away from my picture. Or something different, whichever.
For better or for worse, these were the values then, and for better or for worse, X-Force was the embodiment of these values. They were hard. They were edgy. They were led by a kick-ass, take no nonsense, character who believed in delivering the dream that Xavier had conceived that mutants and humans could live in harmony right to the doorstep of those who would destroy that dream. He also carried a GIANT GUN to said doorstep. And while that doorstep is a metaphor, that giant gun is most certainly not.
My first exposure to X-Force came in the form, like many of my early ’90s comics exposure, of the 1991 Marvel Universe card set. They’re just so cool. Look at them! There’s all sorts of delightful minutiae for a guy like me to devour. First appearance? Durability Stats? Did You know? Um, now I do, and I am ecstatic.
That’s sort of a stupid Did You Know. You can’t see his leg, but I can tell from this picture that his leg and arm are obviously cybernetic, and cybernetic legs count for little as far as cool goes. I mean, they don’t suck or anything, but they don’t scream cool the way a cybernetic arm does. Although nothing beats a cybernetic eye with crosshairs on it. I am a freaking mark for those. HOW COULD THEY MISS?
But I digress, I wanted to show you the card that introduced me to X-Force…I reckon I can now!
I’m sort of a sucker for a few things, some of which y’all are already aware of, like cyborgs. That alone would have had me enthralled with X-Force, but it didn’t stop there. We also get a giant Native American, and while Warpath seems rather racist now, I loved him then, as he tied into my love of the Atlanta Braves. (I know, you’re thinking, what about the Kansas City Royals, Dean? Relax, they’re still number one. The Braves are my second favorite team.) Throw in a guy with cool pilot goggles and a lady with a Spuds Mackenzie eye named Domino and I was instantly spellbound. I didn’t even need to know anything else about the team, but the fact that they were once the New Mutants rang a bell for me.
I had a weird New Mutants comic when I was very young. I got it when I was five, and I didn’t really comprehend it. I remember Warlock being in it, and it being over my head, but I mostly remembered those guys looking like this:
Still, when I saw the connection between The New Mutants and X-Force, comic books became another thing I could know more than others about, and since trying to make others feel stupid was how I dealt with my insecurity at that time, this was truly a treasure trove of defense for me!
X-Force spent their first few issues kicking ass and looking cool, and if you tell me anything more important to a 13-year-old-boy than kicking ass and looking cool, I will tell you that we don’t discuss such things here and you are crude for having such a thought.
I would also show you this splash page from X-Force #1.
Where is Cable jumping from in that picture? He seems like he is hanging from an invisible trapeze, and let’s be honest, if he was, that would just make him even more hardcore. Also with all of the other stuff we see Cable do, being in possession of an invisible trapeze would be completely unsurprising.
The issue culminates around X-Force raiding the headquarters of the greatly-named Mutant Liberation Front. That name is amazing. There should be more “front” teams in comics. I mean, I guess they’d all have to be bad guys since terrorist groups seem to have a TM on using Front in their team name.
The MLF ruled though, and they looked so distinctive. I liked Reaper with his scythe, Tempo in her quasi Iron Man get up, and Forearm with his…four arms. Also, there were like a million guys in the MLF, from their Cable-clone leader Stryfe (hey sorry if I spoiled that for you!) to the enigmatic Zero. There were all the guys I have mentioned plus Zero, Kamikaze, Wildside, Sumo, Dragoness, Strobe, Tumbelina, and more. The idea of the numerous legions vs. the elite but small task force is an intriguing one in all sorts of fiction, but it was made familiar to us all in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
TMNT had swords on their cartoons too, but as awesome as it might have been and as much as we wanted to see it, Leonardo never did anything like this to Baxter Stockman or Slash, the Evil Ninja Turtle.
Later, it would sort of become a thing that Reaper had body parts cut off. I think he wound up with a cybernetic hand and leg. After that, he ended up in the Ultraverse. That’s a different conversation for a different article, though. For now, just understand that Reaper was in the MLF, which was awesome, and therefore, by extension, Reaper is awesome.
I like Forearm a great deal, too, but I know his name is silly. You don’t have to chastise me.
What I don’t like about X-Force is the entire “should I kill or not” trope that dominated superheroes also comes up quite often, It’s extra annoying here because Cable is all “I can kill, but you can’t” to the rest of X-Force. It reminds me too much of my own issues with authorities.
Of course, Cable is super awesome, so even when he is being a tight-ass, he is still a cyborg being a tight-ass. Perhaps I would have tolerated authority better if the authorities had glowing eyes and metal arms.
I have complained about this before, and I am sure I will complain about it again, but it is just so stupid. Kill or don’t, but quit the damn whining about it. It’s as if many writers decided faux pathos and trite dialogue somehow substitute for genuine character development. I’m not against tension or indecision in characters, but this gets old fast. I’ve seen it in Darkhawk, and now I have seen it here. Something tells me I am going to see it a lot more in this blog, whether I like it or not.
What I do like though, is Rob Liefeld’s Juggernaut. Nothing can stop the Juggernaut, so nothing should look more powerful than he does, and few have drawn him with the inherent power and danger that Liefeld imbued him with.
My favorite Juggernaut pic though, is this one. In fact, it may be my favorite Juggernaut image of all time, which is saying something, because Juggernaut is my favorite super-villain. Juggernaut looks angrier than a kid who had his pie stolen. Not as sad though.
X-Force is one of those titles that you love or hate. I have been on both sides of the fence on it, and I like the view from both yards. I can see why both sides come down on the side they come down on, and to be honest, I came into this expecting to detest it, or at least be meaner and snarkier about it. Instead, I found myself enthralled by the magnitude of Liefeld’s art. I found myself smiling as I recalled my days as a teenager who loved the excesses of this comic and just wanted to drink up the entire medium. I smiled when I recalled how I became the comics hipster we all are at some point, denigrating Liefeld’s work as though it was inherently awful. Now, I’m a man who appreciates that somehow, the dichotomy of those views make me work, and by bridging them together, I can appreciate the work for what it is while still recognizing its flaws.
There’s lots of X-Force left, and much of it doesn’t have Liefeld at all, but some of my favorite moments of the book (aside from the X-Statix stuff, which is crazy good), come from the period just after Liefeld leaves and forms Image; we will get to those next time I tackle X-Force, which will be quite sooner than later! I had much more fun than I thought I would here; I miss X-Force tons, and I never would have believed it had I not gone back and devoured these Liefeld classics. That’s right, I said classics. No matter how you feel about him now, Liefeld changed the game. X-Force changed the game. No matter whether the change was for better or for worse in your opinion, the paradigm shift that came about can be directly attributed to Liefeld. His early ’90s work had an energy and style that translated into what the era wanted at the time, and despite my days as a hipster, I find myself wanting more of his work now. I don’t think I will be as kind to Youngblood, but X-Force is truly amazing in its own way, despite the flaws. Give it a once-over and see if you don’t wind up agreeing with me, much to your shock and dismay over betraying the silly notion that you have held for years that “Liefeld ruined comics.” If your self-revelation doesn’t cause you to die of a heartattack, then pick up the next issue of X-Force and enjoy the grandeur.