Retro Reviews: X-Force #1-12 By Liefeld, Nicieza, Pacella & Others For Marvel Comics

X-Force #1-12 , Annual #1 (August 1991 – July 1992)

Plotted by Rob Liefeld (#1-12)

Scripted by Fabian Nicieza (#1-12)

Written by Fabian Nicieza (Annual #1)

Pencils by Rob Liefeld (#1-9), Mike Mignola (#8), Mark Pacella (#9-12), Greg Capullo (Annual #1)

Inks by Rob Liefeld (#1-9), Bob Wiacek (#8), Dan Panosian (#9-12), Harry Candelario (Annual #1)

Coloured by Brad Vancata (#1-2), Joe Rosas (#3), Brian Murray (#4-5), Renee Witterstaetter (#5), Steve Buccellato (#6-9, 11), Dana Moreshead (#10), John Cebollero (#12), Mike Thomas (Annual #1)

Spoilers (from twenty-five to twenty-six years ago)

X-Force is one of the most influential comics of the 1990s.  It was the second to be given to a superstar artist who wanted to write (McFarlane’s Spider-Man came first) but didn’t necessarily have the chops, and its visual aesthetic (pouches, big guns, weird headgear, impossible anatomy) became the look to imitate.  But, beyond the chase cards and tiny feet, was it any good?  I think you already know the answer to that, but let’s look at it anyway.

The Team:

  • Cable (Nathan; #1-12)
  • Cannonball (Sam Guthrie; #1-12, Annual #1)
  • Boom-Boom (Tabitha Smith; #1-2, 5-12)
  • Warpath (James Proudstar, #1-7, 9-12)
  • Shatterstar (#1-7, 9-12, Annual #1)
  • Domino (actually someone named Vanessa; #1-12)
  • Feral (Maria; #1-7, 9-12)
  • Siryn (Theresa Cassidy; #3-7, 9, 11-12, Annual #1)
  • PowerPax (Frankie Powers, future X-Force; Annual #1)
  • Darkchild (Ilyana Rasputin, future X-Force; Annual #1)
  • Cyberlock (merged Doug Ramsay and Warlock, future X-Force; Annual #1)
  • Sunspot (Roberto DaCosta, future X-Force; Annual #1)

Villains

  • Forearm (Mutant Liberation Front; #1, 7, 9-10)
  • Kamikaze (Mutant Liberation Front; #1)
  • Wildside (Mutant Liberation Front; #1, 7, 9-10)
  • Reaper (Mutant Liberation Front; #1)
  • Stryfe (Mutant Liberation Front; #1, 6, 9-10)
  • Thumbellina (Mutant Liberation Front; #1)
  • Zero (Mutant Liberation Front; #1, 6)
  • Gideon (#1, 3, 5, 10, 12)
  • Arianna Jankos (#1-2)
  • Black Tom Cassidy (#1-5)
  • Deadpool (#2, 4-5, 10-11)
  • Juggernaut (#2-5)
  • Tolliver (#5, 10-12)
  • Toad (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #5-7)
  • Blob (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #5-7, 9)
  • Sauron (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #5-9)
  • Masque (#6-7, 9)
  • Pyro (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #6-7)
  • Phantazia (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #6-7, 9)
  • Thornn (Brotherhood of Evil Mutants; #6-7, 9, 11)
  • Sumo (Mutant Liberation Front; #7, 9-10)
  • Hydra (#8)
  • Saul (High-Lord/External; #10)
  • Nicodemus (High-Lord/External; #10)
  • Burke (High-Lord/External; #10)
  • Absalom (High-Lord/External; #10)
  • Pico (Tolliver’s servant; #11)
  • Crule (External; #12)
  • Scheduler (Annual #1)

Guest Stars

  • Nick Fury (SHIELD; #1, 5)
  • Spider-Man (#3-4)
  • Henry Peter Gyrich (#5)
  • Val Cooper (#5)
  • Lord Arize (Annual #1)
  • Longshot (Annual #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Sunspot (Roberto DaCosta; former New Mutant; #1, 3, 12)
  • Commander G.W. Bridge (SHIELD, former Wild Pack; #1-2, 4-5, 8, 11-12)
  • Weapon X (Kane, former Wild Pack; #2, 7-12)
  • Domino (the real one, #8, 11)
  • Grizzly (Wild Pack; #8, 12)
  • Hammer (Wild Pack; #8)
  • Cable’s computer and robots (Professor, Scott, Hank, Jean; #8)
  • Rictor (former New Mutant, then Weapon PRIME; #10-12)
  • Tigerstryke (Weapon PRIME; #11-12)
  • Wendigo (Weapon PRIME; #11-12)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The series opens on X-Force standing around in Antarctica, where Cable has located a Mutant Liberation Front base.  They somehow get into the complex (on one page they are outside, and on the next they are in) and begin to fight the anonymous MLF soldiers (who are presumably human and powerless, which is weird).  The fight is joined by four of the MLF – Forearm, Kamikaze, Wildside, and Reaper.  Shatterstar cuts off Reaper’s hand, and Warpath knocks out Forearm (apparently he keeps getting stronger).  Stryfe watches from some monitors, and starts the base’s self-destruct sequence.  Feral and Wildside fight, maybe over the fact that they have the same haircut, until Zero comes to teleport him away.  They see Stryfe, and Cable shoots at him while he teleports away too.  Domino shoots Forearm, and the whole team “bodyslides” back to their vessel and fly away as the base explodes feebly.  In Manhattan, Bobby, who is still in his New Mutants outfit, trains with Gideon while they discuss business.  Back in Antarctica, SHIELD Commander GW Bridge surveys the damage, and comes to the conclusion that Cable and his group need to be stopped (I guess because SHIELD is more okay with the MLF than they are X-Force).  At X-Force’s new base, which is one of Larry Trask’s old Sentinel bases, Sam questions why Cable let the MLF get away.  They talk about Cable’s son, who was apparently not his son but his friend Tyler, who ended up working with the MLF, and dying during one of their operations.  This is a weak retcon.  Somehow this story makes Sam like Cable more.  Domino then chats with Cable who uses a telekinetic power we haven’t seen before to clean up the tools he was using, and Domino acts surprised by this.  She warns him about keeping secrets from the team.  At the World Trade Center, Bobby and Gideon attend a business meeting where they expect to buy out the Jankos Company.  Arianna Jankos arrives with Black Tom Cassidy and armed goons and threatens all the businessmen.  Bobby is told to wait and see what happens.  Cassidy tells them that they are all his hostages.  Bridge talks to Nick Fury on the video screen, and Fury also wants Cable brought in (but is, I guess, okay with the MLF).  Bridge decides he needs help from Canada, and calls for help from Weapon X.
  • Issue two opens in Quebec, where Kane, also known as Weapon X, is watching Deadpool and a bunch of goons working for Tolliver as they steal boxes of NATO software from some docks.  He engages and he and Deadpool fight.  Kane fires his hand at Deadpool, Baron Karza style, and is able to stop him.  GW Bridge, who is up on some crates watching, shoots Deadpool, and he and Kane begin to argue.  Bridge wants Kane to come with him to bring in Cable for questioning.  We learn that they knew each other some seven years prior, and that Kane doesn’t want to help.  While they talk, Deadpool teleports away.  In the Adirondacks, X-Force begin a training exercise where they have to track and catch Feral in the woods.  This is a long scene, which establishes that Boom-Boom now has wrist-shooters for her time bombs.  Feral gets caught up in the exercise, and ends up gutting Sam with her claws.  Cable knocks her out, and the rest of the team carry them back to their base.  In New York, we see that Black Tom Cassidy and Arianna Jankos are setting up some device on the roof of the World Trade Center.  Sam, who is hurt, and Cable, talk about whether or not they should emulate Feral’s ferocity.  The last few pages are narrated by the Juggernaut, who is brought back to the world by Cassidy’s device.
  • Siryn flies to the World Trade Center to deal with her uncle Black Tom Cassidy.  She confronts Juggernaut, and he knocks her away.  Black Tom shows up and fires at her, she almost falls to her death, and then is found by the X-Force scoutship.  Inside, Bobby and Gideon talk about being hostages for days, and think about trying something.  Black Tom and Juggernaut confront them.  On the X-Force ship, Cable wears a really weird shiny suit of armor to welcome Siryn aboard.  They make plans, and send Warpath to confront Juggernaut.  This fight knocks them off the WTC, while the rest of the team (minus Boom-Boom, who doesn’t appear in the issue but we are told is piloting the ship) fight the Jankos goons.  Black Tom rants a little, and Gideon and Bobby attack him.  They fight, and when it looks like Black Tom is going to win, Cable and Shatterstar appear to shoot him, which leads to his pulling out a detonator.  Warpath keeps fighting Juggernaut, and Spider-Man swings by, deciding that Warpath can handle himself, so he heads up to check on the hostages.  As he does, the WTC explodes on a middle floor, in an image that presages 9/11.  From here, the story is continued in Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man series.
  • Issue four continues from the Spider-Man story, which I assume explains why Gideon and Sunspot are not in the story anymore.  Spidey, Warpath, Feral, and Shatterstar are fighting the Juggernaut, who seems to be getting larger.  Domino is also there, also fighting the Juggernaut.  Cable is in the ruined World Trade Center building, posturing and threatening Black Tom Cassidy.  They shoot at each other, and Cassidy falls down an elevator shaft.  He asks Cable to pull him up, but instead Cable shoots him.  Deadpool is somewhere in the shaft, and he holds a gun to Cassidy’s head, telling him that Tolliver wants him.  Outside, Siryn is now also fighting the Juggernaut.  On a helicopter, GW Bridge is listening in, and talking about how they are going to bring Cable down (I guess he’s okay with Juggernaut rampaging).  Everyone (except Cannonball and Boom-Boom, who we haven’t seen yet) keep fighting Juggernaut.  Cable is there too, and he tells Juggernaut about having killed Black Tom, but then Deadpool teleports Juggernaut away without being seen by anyone.  Bridge and another SHIELD guy arrive and tell Cable that he’s under arrest.  Cable teleports his team away, leaving Spider-Man, and we finally see Sam for one panel, as the team flies their ship home.  This is the issue where every page was drawn in landscape form, which makes it hard to read as a comic, and must be terrible in a trade paperback, and impossible in an omnibus.
  • I think that issue #5 might be where things really start falling apart for this book, which has been more or less readable and enjoyable up to now.  This issue has some problems that stem from sloppy editing and planning, such as:
    • Characters on the cover who do not appear in the issue (now a staple of Brian Michael Bendis comics)
    • Gideon’s usually green top-knot pony tail being coloured blonde
    • Cable’s metallic arm looking like normal flesh across his two separate scenes
    • There’s a scene where Boom-Boom says something, and Cable acts like it’s Sam he’s speaking to
    • GW Bridge’s outfit changes drastically from one page to the next

Anyway, this issue opens with Deadpool delivering Black Tom and Juggernaut to Tolliver, who we finally get to see as a shadowy figure wearing a fedora.  Karl Lycos returns to his house to find that Toad and Blob have taken his girlfriend hostage.  Toad wants Lycos to become Sauron again to help him follow his dream of freedom for mutants or something.  Gideon is on the news laying the blame for the World Trade Center attack on Cable.  Cable, Domino, Boom-Boom, and Sam watch this, and talk about how Cable’s approach to ‘war’ is giving them bad names.  It sounds like Sam doesn’t trust Cable anymore, but he wants to stay to help him fight, so that he can keep an eye on him.  James goes running while listing instances where Americans have persecuted or betrayed his people, and thinks about getting revenge on the Hellfire Club, including Leland, who I thought was dead at that point.  Shatterstar exercises as Feral watches and objectifies him.  He doesn’t like that.  Siryn tells Cable that she wants to stay with the team, and he warns her that things are going to be getting bad.  GW Bridge meets with Nick Fury, Henry Peter Gyrich, and Val Cooper to discuss Cable.  Fury refuses to have Cable ‘sanctioned’, and Bridge wants to follow his current plan of tracking down Cable’s old associates.  Gyrich lets them know that Project Wideawake, the Sentinel program, is operational again.  Toad has some weird machine that drains Karl Lycos’s girlfriend of her lifeforce, turning Lycos back into Sauron.

  • Stryfe, wearing slightly different armor from his earlier appearances, delivers a long monologue to Zero about how everyone (by which he means Gideon, Cable, Bishop, Trevor Fitzroy, Charles Xavier, and Magneto) think he is a loser and a failure, but that this is playing into his plans.  He also takes off his mask, to remind us all that he looks just like Cable, with a mullet.  Toad and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (which now also includes Pyro, and Phantazia, who only appears in a single panel and doesn’t speak) go to meet with Masque, to talk about folding the Morlocks into the Brotherhood.  Thornn, who looks like a cross between Tigra and Feral, insists that the Morlocks join them, on the condition that they must kill Feral; Toad agrees and adds all of X-Force to his list.  Cable and Domino share a (hinted) post-coital soak in a very long tub, and talk about how Cable receives his weapons from AIM, and whether or not he should tell Sam and Boom-Boom about his past.  Those two make lunch together, and are interrupted by Feral, who Boom-Boom hates since she hurt Sam.  Feral has a bit of a fit.  Shatterstar and Warpath fight so that Shatterstar can better train, with Siryn watching.  It is established that Proudstar keeps getting stronger.  As their sparring ends, Pyro and Blob somehow sneak up on them (they are in the woods outside their base) and grab Siryn.  Toad also appears from nowhere, bragging that the Morlocks knew where their base was.  Sauron also joins in (but not Phantazia), and it looks like there is going to be a big fight.  There are some pages from the Cable Guide, wherein we learn that Cable doesn’t know Domino’s last name, that he thinks of Cannonball as his son, that he has also noticed Proudstar’s growing strength, and that he regrets that Sunspot left the team, even though he thinks Warpath is better, and that Gideon is a mutant who can’t be trusted.  These pages make it a lot easier to advance the larger plotlines without actually having to show anything other than teammate on teammate fight scenes for half of each issue.  Very convenient.
  • While none of the issues before it were particularly well-written, things get really bad over the course of issue seven, as Nicieza basically just strings together cliches to make up his stilted dialogue.  The issue starts with Siryn, Warpath, and Toad discussing the use of the word ‘evil’ in the name of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants while Shatterstar fights Sauron in the sky.  He drops to the ground and goes looking for a weapons cache while Fantazia, Masque, and Thornn (whose appearance in completely different than it was last issue) sneak into X-Force’s hangar.  They move to plant explosives, but are confronted by Cable, Feral, Cannonball, Boom-Boom, and Domino (who disappears from the rest of the issue).  Warpath fights Blob while Siryn takes out Pyro.  Toad uses a new power to put green goop on Siryn’s face before being shot by Shatterstar, who now has as many guns as Cable.  He and Siryn, joined by Warpath, who has knocked Blob into a ravine, head after Sauron.  In the base, Thornn turns off the lights before being attacked by her sister, Feral.  Cable fights at Fantazia, who can disrupt his guns or something.  Cannonball flies into her (she’s like a Liefeldian version of Cloak) and ends up with his blast field all disrupted.  Cable calls for the team to get outside (it’s too hard to fight in the dark, and I guess they forgot where their lightswitch is).  Feral refuses, and is choked to unconsciousness by Thornn.  Sauron enters the base just as Cannonball flies towards him.  Sam’s blastfield is disrupted, so Sauron is able to impale him with the spiked end of his wing, just as Cable and Boom-Boom arrive.  Tabitha pronounces him dead.
  • Issue seven also had a back-up feature starring Weapon X, who is tracking bootleggers north of Vancouver.  He easily stops the generically-suited goons, before being attacked from behind by Forearm, Wildside, and Sumo of the MLF.
  • Issue eight is weird, in that it is mostly a flashback story featuring art by Mike Mignola, with only a two-page framing sequence by Liefeld himself.  Interestingly, the ad for ETM, a mail-order comics service, lists Youngblood, making it clear that Liefeld’s time on this book is limited.  The issue opens with Cable and Boom-Boom expressing surprise that Sauron has killed Sam.  This reminds Cable of a time that he and his Wild Pack (himself, Domino, GW Bridge, Kane, a big red guy named Grizzly, and another guy named Hammer) attacked a Hydra base to steal a ‘fiber ionic fibrillator’ from the guts of an ‘energy matrix channeler and converter’.  As they start to take it apart, a video of Baron Von Strucker plays, warning them of a twenty second countdown on a bomb.  Hammer gets the device just as Cable ‘bodyslides’ them out.  It turns out that they were working for AIM, who knew that the device didn’t work anyway.  The Wild Pack split up, and Cable ‘timeslides’ back into the future, where he is attended to by his robots, who are named after the original X-Men.  He talks to Professor, his computer, who tells him of a new ‘awakening’, Sam Guthrie.  We figure out that Cable and his computer have been together since he was very young, and that Professor has faulty memory banks, but also that Sam lived into the 24th century.  Cable decides to go back in time to meet and teach Sam, to prepare him to become a ‘high-lord’, when he ‘wakes up’.  Back to Liefeld’s art, Cable continues to be surprised that Sam is not coming back from the dead, and he shoots Sauron.
  • Cable rushes to take Sam to the medi-lab in their base, while Sauron pursue him and Boom-Boom.  Cable leaves her to stop him, and she is instead attacked by Thornn, who is in turn attacked by Domino.  In the Medi-Lab, Cable talks to Sam’s corpse, explaining that as a ‘High-Lord’ he should be coming back to life by now.  Sauron shows up and Cable shoots him.  Outside, Warpath, Shatterstar, and Siryn look for more Brotherhood, and are attacked by Blob, who they maneuver to the edge of cliff, which he jumps off of, once he realizes that Shatterstar could kill him.  In the Medi-Lab, Feral attacks Sauron, who claims he wants to get her to join him in his fight against “mammalian flesh”, because I guess he thinks that cat-people aren’t mammals.  Cable shoots Sauron, and is attacked by Thornn (meaning she somehow got past Domino and Boom-Boom, which makes no sense).  Thornn claws Cable’s face, revealing that at least half of his face is cybernetic (is this still canon?).  Sauron and Thornn are down, but then Masque shows up with Phantazia.  He moves to use some sort of device that looks like an MPC, but the rest of X-Force shows up, and Shatterstar runs him through with his sword, killing him.  Warpath protests, but they are interrupted by Sam, who is alive and confused.
  • Kane’s backup story continues, now drawn by Mark Pacella, who makes you realizes how gifted an artist Liefeld is in comparison.  Kane is still fighting the three members of the MLF; Forearm, Sumo, and Wildside.  He talks about his modular fighting systems (meaning he can pull off his arm and club you with it, just like Arm-Fall-Off-Boy).  They fight until one of Zero’s teleportation portals appears.  When the MLFers jump through it, Kane follows, landing at the feet of Stryfe.
  • It feels like Nicieza is exerting more control over the storyline with issue ten, as Liefeld steps down from art duties, and Mark Pacella turns in some truly hideous drawings.  The issue opens with a number of tight cuts between scenes featuring Gideon and Kane.  Gideon arrives in the Swiss Alps where a meeting is taking place between the High Lords – Saul, Nicodemus, Burke, Absalom, and Gideon himself.  They discuss the fact that Gideon was wrong in assuming Sunspot would be the next of their kind, and Gideon’s plan now involves using someone or something called Krule to retrieve Cannonball from Cable without him knowing about the other High Lords’ involvement.  Gideon also talks about killing Bobby.  At the same time, Kane is fighting the same three MLF members he fought before, only now at their base.  He monologues about his detachable hands some more, and comes before Stryfe, who unmasks, revealing that he is really Cable.  This throws Kane.  At X-Force base, Cable has the team gather Masque’s and Sauron’s bodies (it wasn’t clear in the last issue that Sauron was killed) while Cable takes Sam to the infirmary.  Cable informs Sam that he’s immortal, and explains about the High-Lords, who are also called the Externals.  He tells him Gideon is also immortal, and that this is why Bobby was lured away from the team.  Boom-Boom interrupts to say that the rest of the Brotherhood got away (Thornn is in their custody), and Cable asks that the team be gathered so that he can go deliver Masque’s head on a pike to the Morlocks.  Kane is upset to learn that Stryfe is Cable, especially since he’s seen them fight; Stryfe knocks him out.  Boom-Boom and Sam talk, but it’s mostly about Sam’s questions.  Kane returns to the Department K base, demanding that he be put in touch with Bridge about his new information, and learns that Rictor is there to work with him to stop Cable.  Tolliver and Deadpool talk about the fact that Domino hasn’t been in touch with them for a while, and Deadpool is sent to remind her that she works for Tolliver (this is new information).
  • The first X-Force Annual fits here, although it also doesn’t, as it’s set some ten years in the future, after Cable’s death, and when the team is made up of Cannonball, Sunspot, Siryn, Darkchild (Illyana Rasputin), Cyberlock (the combination of Doug and Warlock) and Powerpax, a child with all of the Power Pack abilities.  This is the fourth chapter in the Shattershot annual crossover, but it doesn’t seem that the others are needed.  Basically, we learn that Shatterstar was put in charge of Mojo World a decade before, and since then has become as terrible a ruler as the Mojos were before him.  Arize arrives at the Xavier School, looking to get help to overthrow Shatterstar, and that’s what happens.  Like with just about every Mojo story ever, it gets a little tedious.  The annual is interesting because it’s the first that Greg Capullo drew X-Force, if you still consider this to be X-Force, but it’s all completely forgettable and never became canon.  A terrible backup story by Dan Slott and Sandru Florea shows Cable going over X-Force’s recent threats.
  • Cable and most of X-Force enter the Morlock tunnels to return to them Masque’s cloak, Sauron’s dead body (which is weird since he wasn’t even a Morlock), the still-living Thornn, and a warning to stay away from X-Force.  At the X-Force base, Deadpool, having knocked out Siryn, watches Shatterstar train, and then fights him, taking him out pretty easily.  He then goes after Domino, who he keeps calling Vanessa.  They fight for pages, and along the way we learn that Vanessa is supposed to be working for and reporting in to Tolliver but isn’t, that she and Deadpool used to be an item, and that she’s gotten too close to X-Force.  After a fight that sends the pouches flying all over the page, he defeats her and then walks away.  GW Bridge talks to Weapon X about Cable, and Kane tells him that he believes Cable is running both the MLF and X-Force, and that Department K is going to bring him in.  We see the unveiling of Weapon PRIME, a team made up of Kane, Rictor, and two characters I needed the internet to identify as Yeti (although in issue twelve he’s called Wendigo) and Tigerstryke.  Tolliver, still keeping to the shadows somewhere in Austria, visits his captive, the real Domino, to stand around and laugh at.
  • Liefeld’s last issue as plotter starts with Gideon arriving in a bar in Madripoor where Crule (previously spelled as Krule) is beating on some pirates.  Crule is a purple shirtless dude who has a long braid that leads from his forehead and has a mace on the end of it.  He and Gideon fight some, with Gideon winning, and telling Crule that he wants him to stop Cable for him.  Back at X-Force HQ, the team has learned that Domino has betrayed them, but not that she is not actually Domino (seems like a weird case of splitting hairs, doesn’t it?).  She tells Cable that Tolliver has been after revenge for a job that went poorly years before, and makes it sound like she took the job to help Hammer, who apparently was hurt when Kane was, and she sounds like she is blaming Cable for that, despite the fact that issue 8 showed the Wild Pack’s last mission, and they got through it fine.  The rest of the team, especially Boom-Boom and Feral, take things hard.  On a SHIELD vessel, GW Bridge is with the rest of Weapon PRIME (Tigerstryke and Wendigo are not really explained or introduced), and they recruit Grizzly, who has a bone to pick with Cable too.  They are en route to Cable’s base, where they hope to take him and X-Force down.  Domino contacts Tolliver and tells him that she is going to plant bombs in the X-Force base and kill everyone.  We see that Cable had her make that call, and that he wants to take the fight to Tolliver.  Kane and Rictor talk about Cable, and how Rictor first met him when he killed his father.  Crule and Gideon return to Gideon’s home, and introduce him to Roberto, who makes a crack about Crule looking like a villain.  Gideon gives him a major beating, and leaves him unconscious.  The SHIELD vessel arrives at X-Force’s base just as Cable explains to the team that they have to move.  There is a truly terrible full page sideways spread of Weapon PRIME posturing on one page, and on the next, we see X-Force reflected in Cable’s metal cheek.

And with that, Liefeld was off the book that he created, and which was a huge catalyst for  change in comics, the X-Books in particular, in the 90s.  The story of how Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, Silvestri, Larsen, and Valentino decamped and formed Image Comics is a well-known one, so there’s no need to go into it all again here.  What’s more interesting to me is to assess just how this series was.

Usually I don’t end one of these columns mid-arc, but I feel that Liefeld’s departure was significant enough to be a point for pause and consideration, rather than wait until after Fabian Nicieza wrapped up all of his plotlines (or maybe ignored them?) to see what I think of his best-known work.

Looking over these comics, they are slightly better than I remember them being (I think because the truly terrible stuff is yet to come), but at the same time, they are not good.  Basically, it seems that Liefeld spent a year setting up a variety of groups of characters who hate Cable and/or X-Force and want them stopped, but without ever explaining their motivations.  I don’t really know what Black Tom Cassidy needed a bunch of corporate hostages for when he wanted to bring back Juggernaut.  I don’t know why Tolliver hates Cable so much, or even who he is.  And why is GW Bridge more concerned with stopping Cable than he is the Mutant Liberation Front, which was shown bombing science facilities back in New Mutants?  In the 90s, raw aggression was its own reason, I suppose.

Character-wise, very little happens in this run.  The new characters, Feral, Domino, and Shatterstar are basically ciphers, and while they get some surface attention, there is no real growth over the course of the title’s first year (excepting, of course, the eleventh hour revelation that Domino is not even Domino).  The slightly more established characters, like Warpath and Siryn get very screen time, and then there are the two holdovers from the New Mutants.  Boom-Boom is so much of an afterthought that there are whole issues where she doesn’t show up.  Sam, on the other hand, gets shoehorned into being an immortal mutant (which is clearly a plotline that was abandoned some time ago in the Marvel Universe).  

Cable’s relationship with Sam is constantly shifting, as Sam takes on the distrust and suspicion previously shown by Rictor, and this feels forced.  As well, the reasons for the team banding together (Warpath wanting revenge on the Hellfire Club, Shatterstar wanting help with his revolution back home, and Feral needing protection from the Morlocks) are largely ignored, in favour of the team spending a ton of time training each other.  In the 90s, teams got together just cause, I guess.

And then there’s the art.  I’ve listed examples of when characters’ costumes or appearances changed randomly from one panel to the next, but have decided to just ignore the usual easy examples of Liefeld’s terrible understanding of anatomy and the human form.  The only thing I can say about his replacement, Mark Pacella, is that he makes Liefeld look incredible.  

I feel like the early kinetic excitement of Liefeld’s New Mutants work quickly gave way to sloppy, rushed looking work that beat readers over the head with its sameness.  Pacella tried to ape his style with only a fraction of his technical skill, of which he had very little.  Things got really ugly really quickly.  

To be fair, I’m not sure what the working conditions were like for Liefeld and his collaborators at this point.  Clearly he was very unhappy at Marvel, but it also looks like he was working on this book and Youngblood at the same time for a little while (I can’t remember), although from what I remember of that book, it was much worse than this one.

So, how does Nicieza manage when he has sole control of the comic?  That’s what we’re going to be looking at next time.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links to find two collections that include them:
X-Force Epic Collection: Under the Gun
X-Force Omnibus, Vol. 1

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