A friend of mine once told me that reviewing a single issue of a comic book can be like reviewing a movie after seeing 20 minutes. To that end, I waited for 3 issues of X-Force before reviewing it. Issue #116 implied a satirical, unconventional and intelligent book. The third issue into Milligan and Allred’s run cemented my support of this book.
I should preface by stating that I have never been a fan of the whole X-Thing, so to speak. That is not to say that X-Men have been without merit, but the X franchise has always been a great example of the commercial exploitation of comic fans’ loyalty to the characters. I understand that comic books are a business venture and must generate profit to survive, however the X franchise has often leveraged shelf space and market domination tactics to support itself. Through that rather thick veil of commercialism, it has often been difficult for me at least to see any characters worth caring about. As a result, I have little connection with X-Force’s established continuity and characterization; this review will view the current X-Force issues accordingly.
The commercialism evident in the comic book marketplace and the American culture in general is the backdrop to this book creating a rather unique title in this newly recreated X-Force title. The first issue shows us a number of largely unlikeable, self-absorbed and possibly even despicable characters. A new team member, Anarchist, blatantly commits a criminal and dangerous act while proceeding to laugh in the face of traditional law enforcement. The next sequence provides a tour of the X-Force cafe which markets dolls and hats and whatnot in an effort to generate profit off of the marketable team. (To bridge comics with reality for a moment, this restaurant is very reminiscent of the Marvel theme restaurant once found in Universal Studios Hollywood.) Next we witness team members panicking about their physical beauty and their individual clout with the public. Edie, an X-Force member with the ability to teleport herself and others explains the team’s culture by saying:
“The best seat in the house. Money. Sex. Fame. Power. All this…isn’t that what it’s all about? The missions we go on…they’re just the sideshow we have to deal with so we can have this life.”
She also delights at the thought of a forest she just purchased being converted into more profitable commercial property and politically vies to become the leader of the team. By the time the team is charged with rescuing a kidnapped boy band modeled after N’Sync, I was so inundated by the commercialism that the thought of any more American pop culture made me want to puke. My hope was that this book had found a solid new ground and would live up to its potential. After reading three issues, I believe that it has.
The next two issues introduce us to a new team and a new team leader called the Orphan. The team is similarly arrogant and quarrelsome, except for Orphan who becomes a voice with whom the reader can empathize. In this issue, previous members of X-Force attack in order to defend the legacy that they themselves had established. Cannonball provides the contrarian point of view to Edie’s aforementioned egocentricity:
“[For the new team] it’s about media manipulation. It’s about merchandise. It’s about money. And it’s about time the people out there knew how you were degrading the once proud name of X-Force. […You are] more interested in pimping your public image than protecting your own kind.”
Edie and Cannonball’s opposing points are the crux of this comic.
In the midst of this hotbed, the Orphan, an appropriately hypersensitive mutant, struggles to find his place in this world and possibly on this team. The most engaging part of this title for me is that the Orphan seems to want to live in this world with honor and dignity and perhaps to live up to a standard that Cannonball implies, but he has to live in the reality that Edie describes.
Milligan implies that capitalism has become a means to cast off one’s own morality in the name of protecting one’s own interest and securing one’s own future. In the third issue (#118), the team attempts to rescue a child by purchasing necessary information from a contact in the child’s native country, Bastrona. This contact, Diego, betrays the team while the country’s militia try to kill X-Force. The team debates how best to kill Diego while Orphan declares that they shall not kill. Diego defends his actions by saying that he is just like X-Force and Americans in general:
“I mean, I’m … a capitalist, selling his services to the highest bidder. I want to go to America, see. I want to be enterprising! And buying a ticket to the States costs big time.”
Given Edie’s earlier remarks, it becomes difficult to find fault with Diego. Both sides have casually abandoned any morals they may or may not have had in pursuit of their own interests. What the greater good might be is never even considered.
Someone once said that the United States’ middle class was liberal during a recession because they feared losing their jobs and conservative during economic growth because they feared missing their chance to get rich. Milligan, along similar lines seems to be showing us the world we live in: self interest seems to drive everything.
That might not be a bad thing, but regardless, it appears to be an accurate reflection of what much of the comic industry, sports industry, music industry, politics and perhaps even the American culture overall has become.
In the face of all of this, Milligan provides a mutant in its original form. The Orphan is a true freak. He is ugly and nobody likes him. His teammates do not care if he lives or dies. Edie would openly prefer the latter so she can move into the team leader position. He considers suicide nightly. Given what he is surrounded by, it is not difficult to see why.
It is hard for the reader to not see parallels to the world we live in, and to ask what guides our choices. The satire is of course funny, but biting at the same time. Like any good satire, it compels the reader to think about our world and how we relate to our community. In other words, “does this apply to me?” should be asked.
In terms of action, it’s still an action packed book. It is impossible to know who will live or die in this book. Allred’s artwork is great. It is not flashy. The backgrounds are always strong which grounds the characters in a world around them, and in this book, the world around them is almost its own character. The individuals have human proportions, well, the characters that ARE human at any rate. The dynamic positions of the characters is in no way melodramatic and largely accurate. On a side note, this just feels like yet another strong production by editor Axel Alonso. I always feel like someone should write a review of his editing. He seems to always strive to create intelligent books by generating new perspectives on familiar themes and/or characters.
All in all, I find the book to be a great one, well worth reading. I hope it keeps up.