Normally I give my reviews in a good, bad, verdict format but this go around I have to break from that to explain why I'm dropping this very popular title. It's not a bad title, however, I just have too many personal issues with it to ignore them any further. I usually give a title an arc (3-6 issues) before I drop it and this issue has made it clear to me that it's time for me to move on. The problems I have with this series are clearly going to be the status quo for this series or at least this arc. I guess this isn't really just a review of this issue (which was the proverbial last straw) but the series as a whole.
Off the bat I have to talk about what made Kyle/Yost's X-Force work. It had two major advantages over Remender's current incarnation. First, the origin of the team and their mission made more sense in the context of the larger X-Men world and its events. Second, the team was much more balanced, dynamic and had a true sense of camaraderie. To contrast, the whole reasoning behind Remender's team just falls flat once you apply logic to it. What made Kyle/Yost's team work was that they were a sanctioned, black ops unit of the X-men. Cyclops gave the missions, the dirty jobs that needed to be done, and they did them. Now there's still a need for those jobs to be done, those threats to be eliminated. However, Uncanny's team operates independently of Cyclops. This poses one major problem for me, Wolvie, Psylocke, and Angel are all well known, easily recognized members of the X-Men. Any actions they take against their enemies would logically lead to blow back against the X-men on Utopia. Consequently exposing their covert activities to the rest of the community and further endagering the very people they intend to protect.
Let's talk about the differences in the makeup of the teams. For starters, Kyle/Yost's team was far more balanced. Sure they had lots of stabbers on it, but they balanced that out with Elixir, Vanisher, and Domino. These three brought unique skills and assets to the various missions they engaged in. Remender's team is throughly lacking in that department. His team's way too short on members and the ones that are there are stabbers (aside from Fantomex). When I look at Remender's team it seems like he chose popular X-Men characters to generate interests and sales. I mean Logan and Warren make perfect sense. They're former members of the last incarnation of the team. However I've got to wonder about the latter three.
Gentlemen, I love a hot British chick inhabiting the body of an even hotter Asian chick as much as the next guy, but why is Betsy here? I understood what skills she brings to the table, but what kept nagging me was the "why?". I've come to the conclusion that she was inserted for sex appeal and to be the token fem. One of the things that nags me most about this series is that of all the things to borrow from the prior run Remender chose it's biggest misstep, the Angel/Arch Angel dynamic. Angel battling his Arch Angel persona undercuts a decade plus of stellar character development. From his first appearance as Death in X-Factor, to the moments when he finally shed his tech-organic wings and regained his natural pigmentation was wonderfully written. It was a powerful narrative of a man and his progression. He confronted the darkness in his soul and came out better and stronger for it. All of that has been made void by that one decision. It seems that the only reasons this ill advised character development occurred was to A) provide shocking, dramatic effect B) make Warren more of a threat to fit in more with the violent nature of the team C) bring back a popular character. The only reasons that it's being followed through with is so that Betsy now has a logical reason to be on the team. I mean she has to help Warren keep Death in check, and that gives us a chance for a little romance too, what's not to like? We get kissing and killing, great bargain right? Le sigh...random as I find her membership I have to admit it makes much more sense than the latter two
I get the rationale for having two mercenaries like Deadpool and Fantomex on the team, deniability and all that good stuff. Now these are two of my favorite characters in comics, especially Fantomex. I really, really love the comedic dynamic they bring to the comic, especially their antagonistic interactions with one another. But once again their being here just doesn't feel organic to me. Especially, when it comes to Deadpool. I won't delve into his overexposure, which has been rivaling Wolverine's Coke like presence in comics for the past few years now. However, I gotta admit the moment I saw him lined up with the team in the last issue of Second Coming I couldn't help but think, "Really? Another Deadpool book?".
I keep hearing other reviewers remark how wonderfully he's being written in this series, what a unique voice and feel Remender's Deadpool has but I'm just not seeing it. What's so groundbreaking here? The fact that Remender doesn't use his now trademark internal thought boxes? He says and does pretty much the same exact things that he does in every other form I've seen him in since his boom in popularity. But I digress, why exactly is he here? Well according to him "The Money!", which is inline with his character, but that doesn't mean I have to accept that reasoning at face value. Reading his solo title during his time with the X-Men I could justify his appearance by saying that he's looking for someplace to belong and due to his violent methods he's rarely accepted in the mainstream hero community. In fact, he was outright told by Scott to scram and never, ever come back during his time on Utopia. Under these circumstances Logan and Warren reaching out to him meant a lot to him and him accepting this "job" then makes sense. But should I really have to work that hard to rationalize his presence? Rule number one of comics, plot/character development should occur ON PANEL!!!! I shouldn't have to fill in the blanks in a writers story, that's just bad writing.
If Deadpool's a wild card, then Jean-Phillipe is a Poke'mon card amongst a Bicycle deck. He too says he's here for the cold hard cash, but he can get that pretty easily, him being the Lupin The Third of the Marvel U. I guess we should chalk it up to him being a thrill seeking adrenaline Junky? All of these characters have skills that are suited for this job, but I can't shake the feeling that this team is well, not really a team. I just don't get that vibe from them, not like I do from the last squad, X-men, New Mutants, or X-Factor.
Another thing that's been bothering me is this first mission, to assassinate Apocalypse. Really? You and your small group of stabbers is going to storm his location and take on The Clan Akkaba and En Sabah Nur? You plan to succeed at this when larger, more efficiently prepared teams have failed? Speaking of other mutants, why was this determined as something only X-Force can do? It would be a logical wager to bet that Scott and the X-men would be more than down to George Bush the button on a threat as big as Apocalypse. And from how things are going it's clear they could more than use the backup.
Since we're talking about Apocalypse let me air my grievances on how he's being portrayed. Why is Apocalypse a child, I get the whole "Omen" theme, but that doesn't mean it's good. For one thing it goes against continuity, and I know that's par the course for comics. I'm inclined to forgive that when it's not utterly stupid, which in this case it most certainly is. Last we saw Apocalypse in Messiah War, he was inhabiting the body of Strife, whom then "died" as a result of this possession. Ummm what happened to that body? Even if I choose to ignore this bit of recent history, the clan Akkaba awakening him seems a bit counter intuitive. Whenever he's stirred to action before his planned time it's one, always in his current host body (hence my question of why he's kid) and two, he punishes the clan for their weakness of needing his aid/power. And his punishment for them is death. Last time they did this, when they were being attacked by Dracula and his vampire hordes, he nearly killed all members of the clan himself after dealing with Vlad.
This characterization of Apocalypse just doesn't feel like En Sabah Nur, at all. Whenever he's entered the scene again he's always known who he is, what he is, and what he wants to do. He may have Ozymandias brief him on the happenings during his rest but he's always firmly in control and running the show and he always has a plan. Which is why having Kid A being tutored by Ship and Ozy is just asinine and a gross mischaracterization of one of Marvel, and comics, most powerful and imposing villains. From reading this series I get the feeling that Remender really doesn't have a grasp on who En Sabah Nur is, his motivations or his ideology. He just chose a big name villain that would cause a stir and generate fan interest. This is made painfully clear in this issue.
Since when has Apocalypse been Magneto? Since when has he considered the X-men, Xavier his mortal foes and bane of his existence? Short answer he never has. He only interacts with/acknowledges them when they pose a threat to his plans or can provide him with some material value. Apocalypse is not a human hating, mutant crusader. Apocalypse only cares, in whatever capacity he's capable of doing so, for the strong. Those with power, those who are capable of serving a purpose for him he favors. This is perfectly displayed in Age of Apocalypse when some of his top officials are HUMANS!!! Apocalypse firmly believes in the ideal of his clan, the strong live and the weak die.
The above mentioned is why this quote is a total crock of gobshite. "When the world is mired in weakness born of the false optimism that providence will improve for humanity, when this disadvantage is prevalent then it is time to separate wheat from chaff. Beginning the Age of Apocalypse." While this has the right tone, the message just isn't right. It's just not Apocalypse's ideologies being expressed. Apocalypse would just as soon go to war with human or mutant as soon as either would stand in his way. Never has he been the type to have planned some sort of mutant, genocidal jihad against homosapiens. And if this was the case why didn't he have this plan kick start oh, let's say during the Age of Enlightenment or some other time in history when people were at ease and optimistic? I mean with this being his criteria he could've just as well chosen to strike during the dot com boom.
My next problem is Apocalypse's "Final Horsemen". While I appreciate Remender's bucking of the typical trope of them being corrupted X-Men/familiar mutants, I gotta say the idea isn't properly executed. I can't talk about how much I love, love their unique and refreshing character designs. But they just don't feel distinct enough from one another to me. And this issue doesn't help solve that problem for me, despite its best efforts to do so. What made the older Horsemen incarnations work so well was that you could quickly perceive who was which horsemen, that is not the case here.
The only one who stands out in his role is War. Death and Famine could literally be interchangeable based on how we've seen them in action and how their powers function. Famine's power is creating a bio-auditory cancer that eats flesh and Death has the power to transmit various diseases through metals. Now what's so different between these two? In my eyes nothing, they could easily be the same character. In fact Death and Pestilence Could change roles as well. And Pestilence's powers are better suited for her to be famine, looking at her beetles one can't help but think of the biblical plague of locusts that ravaged the Egyptian's crops. Aside from their costumes I don't see much distinction betwixt these three.
Apocalypse gathers these four mutants from different periods of time to be his Final Horsemen, but why, and since when has this method been his modus operandi? What makes these four so special? What about their powers gives them the right to this distinction of being his ace in the hole? I'm sure anyone well versed in X-Men lore could think of much better candidates than these for this honor. These characters have potential and maybe Remender can flesh them out in the future. This issue manages to give them solid back stories which give the audience a peek into their psyches and motivations. And there's one moment when Death, under the influence of Fantomex, attacks Pestilence. The look of horror on his face at the realization of what he's done is truly human and a great moment in this issue. You see the genuineness of the bond they share when he calls her by her true name and not her codname. More moments like this need to happen in the future for the series and these characters.
Now despite all I've said above, this isn't a bad book/issue by any stretch of the imagination. I definitely see and understand the appeal of this book; It features popular heroes and an iconic main villain, interesting opponents for the protagonists, wonderful art and great action sequences, and it's fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. To sum it up, it's just a fun and entertaining title, and if you don't care about the history of the characters and the continuity of their world then it is even more so.
I however have been too invested in the characters and know too much about them and their relationships to fully enjoy this. If you've been out of the X-men loop for a few years then this is a book you'll highly enjoy. It has that nostalgic Extreme!!!! 90's feel that seems to appeals to the 18-25 demographic and casual fans who grew up on the animated cartoon. Even I must admit I felt a few warm fuzzies during the personal moments that Warren and Betsy share. But Nostalgia just isn't enough for me. This series has potential to be something great in the future, but right now it's not living up to that potential. Presently this book is favoring style over substance and that just doesn't appeal to me. Maybe things will get better after this arc. Only time will tell, but what I know right now is that I'm done with this series.