X-Force #-1, 63-87, 89-94, 97-101 and X-Force/Champions ‘98 (February 1997 – April 2000)
Written by John Francis Moore (#-1, 63-76, 78-83, 85-87, 89-94, 97-100), Joe Harris (#77, 101), and Tom and Mary Bierbaum (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
Plot by John Francis Moore (#84)
Script by Jay Faerber (#84)
Pencils by Anthony Castrillo (#63-64), Mark Pajarillo (#64), Adam Pollina (#-1, 65-67, 69-72, 74-75, 77-81), Pop Mhan (#68), Andy Smith (#73), Mike Miller (#76, 92), Jim Cheung (#82-84, 86-87, 90, 94, 98-100), Angel Unzueta (#85), Terry Shoemaker (#89, X-Force/Champions ‘98), Tommy Lee Edwards (#91), Anthony Williams (#93, 97), Chris Renaud (#93, 100), and Steven Harris (#101)
Inks by Mark Morales (#-1, 63, 65-75, 77-83, 86-87, 90, 94, 98-100), Chad Hunt (#63), Jon Holdredge (#-1, 64, 92), Marlo Alquiza (#64), Al Milgrom (#-1, 68), Mark Prudeaux (#71), Rich Perotta (#71, 100), Walden Wong (#71), Scott Hanna (#73), Sam Parsons (#73), Mike Miller (#76), Rob Stull (#79, 83, 86, 90, 94), Ray McCarthy (#84), Bud LaRosa (#85, 89), Harry Candelario (#86, 92, X-Force/Champions ‘98), Scott Koblish (#90, 93-94, 100), Derek Mei (#90, 92), Al Williamson (#91), Hector Collazo (#92-93), Jimmy Palmiotti (#92), Rodney Ramos (#94), Scott Elmer (#97), John Czop (#100), Rick Ketchum, and Sean Parsons (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
Background Assists by Guillermo Zubiaga (#79-81)
Coloured by Lee Ann Clark (#63), Marie Javins (#-1, 64-66, 68-70, 72, 74-77, 81-87, 89-92, 98-100, X-Force/Champions ‘98), “Team Bucce” (#66), Steve Buccellato (#67, 78-79), Michael Higgins (#-1), Gloria Vasquez (#69, 75, 80), Digital Chameleon (#71), John Kalisz (#73), Kevin Tinsley (#93-94), Mike Thomas (#97), Wilson Ramos (#100), and Matt Hicks (#101)
Spoilers (from seventeen to twenty years ago)
I dropped X-Force before the end of Fabian Nicieza’s run, and before the Age of Apocalypse, which did not interest me one bit. I generally stayed away from Marvel from 1994 through 1996, picking up only a few titles. I did get interested again around the time the Onslaught storyline was playing itself out, because I liked the idea of a Marvel Universe that lacked its central characters. I had zero interest in the Heroes Reborn universe, but did check out the titles still set in the 616. The thing is, when I looked in on X-Force, it was being written by Jeph Loeb, and while I didn’t have the rigid anti-Loeb policy that has worked so well for me over the last dozen years, I was not about to start buying a title he was writing. A little while after he left, I did give X-Force another shot, mostly because I was attracted to Adam Pollina’s artwork. I’ve since moved back to the beginning of John Francis Moore’s tenure on the title, although I did just pick up his first two issues expressly for this column.
The team had not gone through a lot of lineup changes, other than the addition of Caliban and the departure of Cannonball, but they did get new matching uniforms, Boomer changed her name to Meltdown, and apparently they were all living at the Xavier Mansion again.
Let’s see which characters he was working with on this title:
- Meltdown (Tabitha Smith; #-1, 63-67, 69-87, 89-94, 97-101, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Cable (Nathan Dayspring Summers; #63-64, 67,69-70, 75)
- Siryn (Theresa Rourke Cassidy; #63-87, 89-91, 99-100, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Shatterstar (#63-65, 67, 69-70, 76)
- Rictor (Julio Esteban Richter; #63-64, 66-67, 69-70, 76)
- Warpath/Proudstar (James Proudstar, #-1, 63-66, 68-87, 89-94, 97-101, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Sunspot (Roberto DaCosta; #63-87, 89-94, 97-100, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Caliban (#63-67, 69-70)
- Domino (#66-73, 76, 82-87, 89-94, 99-100)
- Moonstar (Dani Moonstar, rejoined #71-87, 89-94, 97-101, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Cannonball (Sam Guthrie; rejoined #84-87, 89-90, 92-94, 97-101, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Jesse Bedlam (Jesse Aaronson, joined #90-94, 97-101)
- Dr. Doom’s defences (#63)
- Wolfgang Von Strucker (#64)
- Blob (#65)
- Mimic (#65)
- Commander Ekatarina Gryaznova/Gryphon (Zero Tolerance/Aguilar Institute; #67-70, 82)
- Wildside (Mutant Liberation Front; #67-68)
- Dragoness (Mutant Liberation Front; #67-68)
- Forearm (Mutant Liberation Front; #67-68)
- Tempo (Mutant Liberation Front; #67-68)
- Locus (Mutant Liberation Front; #67, 75, 78-80, 85)
- Zero Tolerance Nimrod Sentinels (#67-69)
- Ozymandias (Apocalypse’s servant; #67, 69)
- Ringmaster (#-1)
- Dr. Martynec/Martin Edwards (#-1, #72-74)
- Bastion (Zero Tolerance; #68)
- Vanisher (#69-71, 81)
- Mister Blackshear (#72, 74)
- Reignfire (#72-75, 78-80, 97)
- Zero (#73)
- Stryfe (#74)
- Blackheart (#74, 98)
- Selene (#75, 94, 97-99)
- Snakeskin (#76)
- Arcade (#76)
- Mojo (#76)
- Short Circuit (#79-80)
- Dr. Joshua (Damocles Foundation; #79-80, 97)
- Jinku and the Lava Men (#81)
- Argos the Hunter (The Sword/Damocles Foundation; #83-84, 97)
- Odysseus Indigo (Damocles Foundation; #83-84, 86, 93, 97)
- Stranglehold (The Sword/Damocles Foundation; #84, 97)
- Zona (The Sword/Damocles Foundation; #84, 97)
- Pyre (The Sword/Damocles Foundation; #84, 97)
- Pandemonia (#85)
- The White Queen (Emma Frost; #87)
- Magma (Allison Crestmere, former member of New Mutants, New Hellion; #87, 89-90)
- Paradigm (New Hellion; #87, 89-90)
- King Bedlam (Christopher Aaronson; #87, 89-90)
- Switch (Devon Alomar; New Hellion; #87, 89-90)
- Feral (former X-Force, New Hellion; #89-90)
- Armageddon Man (#89-90)
- Hallowe’en Jack (#92)
- Astarte (Eternal; #93)
- Electryon (Eternal; #93)
- Genoshan Magistrates (#94)
- Dr. Chandra (Damocles Foundation; #97)
- The Gatherer (Celestial device; #97)
- Hellfire Club soldiers (#98)
- Hela (#98)
- The Demon Bear (#99)
- The Queen of the Star Swords (#100)
- Hades (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Nathaniel Richards (Reed Richards’s father; #63-64)
- Archangel (X-Men; #67, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Thunderbird (John Proudstar; #-1)
- Destiny (#-1)
- Mystique (#-1)
- Deadpool (#71, 73, 76)
- Brunnhilde (Valkyrie; #74)
- Karma (Xi’an Coy Manh; former New Mutant; #75)
- Cannonball (Sam Guthrie; former X-Force; #75-76, 83)
- Skids (former New Mutant/former Mutant Liberation Front/Acolyte; #78-80, 85)
- Power Man (Luke Cage; #80)
- Iron Fist (Danny Rand; #80)
- Misty Knight (#80)
- Colleen Wing (#80)
- Pele (Hawai’ian goddess, in the form of Risque; #81)
- Arcadia Deville (#83-84, 97, 99-100)
- Ulysses Dragonblood (Deviant; #83-84, 97, 100)
- Lucas Wyndham (MUSE; #83-84)
- Dr. Derek Parsons (MUSE; #83-84)
- Nicole Lomenzo (MUSE; #83-84)
- Jennifer Kale (#85, 87, 100)
- Tarot (Marie-Ange Colbert, New Hellion; #87, 89-90)
- Husk (Paige Guthrie; #87)
- Banshee (#91)
- Ry’Lor (alien; #93)
- Pete Wisdom (#94)
- Delphi (Genoshan memory box-maker; #94)
- Jenny Ransome (Acolyte; #94)
- Quicksilver (#94)
- Magneto (#94)
- Various alternate reality versions of past members of the New Mutants and X-Force (#100)
- Man-Thing (#100)
- Hercules (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Iceman (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Black Widow (X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- John Blaze (formerly Ghost Rider; X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Dimitri Fortunov (illegitimate heir to Latveria; #63-64)
- Commander G.W. Bridge (SHIELD, former Wild Pack; #63-64, 66, 69)
- Risque (Gloria Muñoz; #65-66, 69, 99-100)
- Sledge (#66, 68-69, 71, 81, 97)
- Moonstar (SHIELD agent, MLF, former New Mutant; #67-70, then rejoins team)
- Michael Whitecloud (#-1, 72)
- Richie Alegria (#71-74)
- Mary (mutant girl in Almost Reno; #77, 86)
- Jesse Bedlam (Jesse Aaronson, #82-87, 89, X-Force/Champions ‘98)
- Lucinda Guthrie (Cannoball’s mother; #83)
- Lou Smith (Tabitha’s father; #87)
- Julianna Sandoval (Bobby’s once dead girlfriend; #98)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- John Francis Moore begins his run having Meltdown wake up in an idyllic American town with no memory of how she got there. The place seems abandoned, and when she spots a policeman, he turns out to be a mannequin. When approached by another real person, she reacts by attacking, but then begins to talk to him. He is Dimitri Fortunov, who helps her remember that she was trying to enter Castle Doom in Latveria. She begins to narrate her story, which has her and most of X-Force (Cable, Siryn, Shatterstar, and Rictor) running through a forest in Latveria, having left Sunspot, Caliban, and Warpath (who oddly shows up in one panel to chat with Rictor) behind as backup. They meet with Nathaniel Richards, who explains that since Dr. Doom disappeared in the Onslaught storyline (which took him, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers to Franklin Richards’s pocket universe), Castle Doom has been on lockdown. Cable knows Richards, and they’ve agreed that they should secure Doom’s time machine. They access the castle through secret tunnels, after Tabitha takes out the laser grid, and get attacked by large robots, that they make quick work of. Tabitha falls through a trap door, and it taken via a Cloud City-style slide to another robot which zaps her, and she’s now back to where the story started. We learn that the same thing happened to Dimitri, and that he is the grandson of the Baron that Doom deposed when he took over Latveria. We also learn that the town they’ve been trapped in is a miniature model constructed by Doom and the Puppet Master when Cable appears overhead. In a Roma (not that Moore used that word) village where Cable has friends, Bobby, James, and Caliban chat with a local girl who wants American music. When James hands her a Lila Cheney CD (because that’s what you bring on missions in foreign countries), the girl, Sofia, passes out. Cable and Richards are able to revive Tabitha and Dimitri, but not his friend Sergei, who had helped Dimitri enter the castle. They discuss his legitimacy. We learn that three other people are in the castle as well. The team makes it to Doom’s time platform, and explain to Dimitri why they need to destroy it. It turns out that those other people are GW Bridge and some SHIELD types, and they are there to seize the castle. Dimitri pulls out a grenade to try to stop them, escalating things, and Dimitri gets blasted into the time machine controls. It starts up, but with an expanded temporal field. In the Roma village, we learn that Sofia has ‘the sight’ and that when she touched James, she had a vision of his future, which is why she passed out. We also learn that Castle Doom has disappeared.
- Sunspot, Warpath, and Caliban are surprised that the castle has disappeared, and they worry about their friends. The locals tell them of how the castle was always strange, even before Doom moved in. In the castle, Meltdown, Siryn, and Rictor figure out that they’ve gone back in time. When Shatterstar comes across some of the help (including the woman that talks to Sunspot in the present), he appears as a ghost. Cable, Bridge, and Richards argue for a bit before figuring out that they are out of synch with this time. Dimitri realizes that his grandfather, the Baron, would still be alive. We see the Baron get confused in his study when some of Doom’s equipment appears. He talks to Wolfgang Von Strucker, and we learn that Nazis have been using the castle to work on some device to harness cosmic energy. The two SHIELD agents that were with Bridge are seen by Nazis, but Siryn stops them. Everyone meets up, and Cable explains that the time machine can be fixed. Tabitha notices that Dimitri has snuck off. She tries to talk him out of warning his grandfather about Doom, but then they overhear Von Strucker telling his subordinate to kill the Baron. The team splits up, with some going to protect the Baron, and others going to disable the Nazi machine so they can safely go home. When Shatterstar saves the Baron, he notices the familiarity in Dimitri’s features. Rictor and Siryn destroy the machine, but it blows up. The time machine fixed, the team returns to its own time. Cable destroys the time machine, which makes Bridge angry, but he decides to let them go. Richards has a rather villainous thought at the end of the issue about how he and Cable might not always be friends.
- James Proudstar is swimming in the lake at the Xavier Mansion, when he is surprised by the appearance of Rique, who is someone that I guess he started dating or flirting with or something during the issues I didn’t read. They flirt back in his room, and Risque reveals that her name is Gloria Muñoz. Siryn interrupts them, and turns down their offer to go club hopping. She leaves angrily, and we learn that she’s jealous that James has someone. James and Risque wander the East Village, turn down a fortune reading, and go to a club where Risque knows the bouncer and owner. When she goes to the washroom, a patron recognizes her, and James overhears him talking to a friend about why he is afraid of her. Shatterstar and Siryn practice sword fighting in the Danger Room, but are interrupted by piano playing. They join Sunspot and Meltdown, who are watching Caliban play the piano. Heading back from the washroom, Risque runs into a shadowy figure who argues that she hasn’t competed a job, and that The Blob is there to get Warpath. Caliban is distracted by his audience, and becomes upset that he can suddenly no longer remember how to play the piano. Blob confronts James, and Risque using her imploding powers to distract him. They run out the back, and straight into Mimic, who is also there to get Proudstar. They fight, and are able to stop their two attackers. As the police arrive, they make reference to ‘Zero Tolerance’, while the crowd complains about mutants. At a nice apartment that she’s borrowed from someone, Risque tells James that she was hired to collect him for someone who needs his powerset. She’s drugged him, and he collapses.
- Most of issue 66 is narrated by Risque, which helps round out her character a lot. She has gone to Florida after betraying James, and is hanging out at Wackyworld, a Disney rip-off, where she is being pursued by the mutant-tracking Caliban. We learn that she saw X-Force staking out her hotel room, so she went to the park thinking she’d be safe in the crowd. She continues to evade Caliban, Sunspot, and Siryn. In New York, Domino arrives on a flight from Brazil, but is stopped by security. Apparently she is just returning from the events of her own miniseries. Caliban continues to pursue Risque, and when he catches her in a funhouse, he suffers from a bit of a seizure. She is about to leave him, but doubles back out of compassion, which allows X-Force, without Cable or Shatterstar, to catch her. They begin to interrogate her. We see James waking up in a large room filled with electronic junk in Detroit. He’s been unconscious for ages, and is confused. Sledge, a large mutant who uses crutches, introduces himself and says he needs James to help him with something, and in return, he offers a favour. Sledge has proof that Michael Whitecloud, a former friend of Proudstar’s brother, believed dead in the Camp Verde massacre, is still alive. Apparently Whitecloud knows the secrets of what really happened to James’s people. Domino has been held in a storage closet, but is brought out to meet with GW Bridge. X-Force, having been informed by Risque, arrive in Sledge’s workshop, where James tells them to stand down, having made a deal with Sledge. Risque’s meeting with James is awkward, and he snubs her, walking away. (Really, I don’t see why she couldn’t have just taken James to meet Sledge, since his purposes don’t seem too nefarious at this point). Bridge tells Domino that he needs her help saving a SHIELD agent from an upcoming Zero Tolerance action, and reveals that Dani Moonstar works undercover for SHIELD.
- The Mutant Liberation Front has taken over a centre for cancer research in Missouri. Zero Tolerance arrives outside to take control of the hostage situation. Inside, we see that Wildside is now leading the MLF, and is acting on a tip from an informant in the Justice Department that this facility is developing a new strain of the Legacy Virus. He’s working with Dragoness, Forearm, Tempo (who has returned to the fold), Moonstar, and Locus. Moonstar stops Wildside from killing a guard, and the team figures that they’ve been set-up. Locus informs them of the Zero Tolerance presence, and quits the team when Wildside strikes her. Moonstar recognizes Domino, Siryn, and Sunspot posing as reporters outside, and suggests that Wildside bring them in for an interview. We see that these X-Forcers are hoping to protect Dani. They bluff their way past Gryaznova, the Zero Tolerance commander in charge, but we learn that she knew who they were from the start. Cable checks in on the ailing Caliban, who is worried about how he seems to be going all Flowers for Algernon on everyone. After Caliban falls asleep, Cable chats with Archangel about the effect Apocalypse has had on all three of them. The rest of X-Force, without Warpath, who has left for a bit, monitor’s Domino’s team as they enter the cancer centre. Gryaznova wrecks the satellite dish on their TV van, and when they go out to check on it, she zaps them. Inside, Dragoness recognizes Domino, and Wildside attacks them. Dani stops him, and while Forearm stops Dragoness, recommends that they release the hostages and all surrender to SHIELD instead of Zero Tolerance. She admits to being an undercover SHIELD agent, but isn’t able to implement her plan, as three of the hostages become ZT Sentinels. Ozymandias watches Caliban sleep, and does something to him so that his illness will get worse, sending him to Apocalypse.
- Most Marvel comics cover dated July 1997 participated in the Flashback promotion, where they were numbered -1, and told a prequel story. This one centres on James and John Proudstar before either discovered that they were mutants. James, almost twelve years old, is playing with his cat when he is chased by a cat-like monster. Running, he runs right into his brother John, returning from two years in the Marines. John catches up with his family, and learns that his mother is suffering from cancer. He takes her to the local clinic, where the diagnosis is confirmed by Dr. Martynec. At the same time, we see the young Tabitha Smith being driven on a trip with her father and stepmother. John takes James to a carnival (which is amusingly run by the Ringmaster). John meets with Michael Whitecloud, a former reporter, who believes there is something suspicious in how many Apache are being diagnosed with cancer. He wants John to help him break into a local lab. James watches a magic act, walks past Tabitha, and visits a fortune teller, who sees his future and then lies about it. She turns out to be Destiny, and is there hanging out with Mystique for reasons that aren’t clear. The carnival’s tiger, which it’s been established is pretty angry of late, gets loose and almost attacks James, but John steps in and wrestles with it until an employee can tranq it. Later, John breaks into the lab, letting Whitecloud in. They discover that James followed them. They also learn that Dr. Martynec has been up to no good, experimenting on how radiation can affect DNA. He turns into the cat-creature from before, and while he is fighting John, James shoots him. James and Whitecloud take off, while John fights him. Martynec causes the lab to explode, figuring he can recover from the injuries he’ll sustain. John just gets away safely. Later, we learn that Mrs. Proudstar doesn’t have cancer, and Whitecloud heads off to research gamma bomb tests.
- August returns us to present continuity, and the cancer centre where some of X-Force and some of the MLF are being attacked by three Zero Tolerance Sentinels. The Sentinels fight for a bit, before sort of joining up their energy, building towards an explosion. Domino decides that the best thing to do would be to blow them up first, using some plastique explosives she has with her, trusting that her luck will protect her. Sunspot and Siryn escape with Moonstar and Forearm, leaving the rest behind. They return to the news van they came in (would that be a fake news van?), to find their friends missing, and other Sentinels approaching. They drive off. In the centre, Gryaznova searches the wreckage, where she finds the hostages unharmed, learns she’s captured Wildside, Tempo, and Dragoness, and is pleased to discover Domino. Sledge watches various TV broadcasts about mutant situations, making it easy to place what’s happening here in the larger context of the Operation: Zero Tolerance event, and then goes to chat with James Proudstar, who has agreed to help him by going through some sort of extra-dimensional portal to do a job for him, in return for information on Michael Whitecloud. Gryaznova has a typical squabble with the FBI over prisoners’ rights, and then has a videoconference with Bastion, the leader of Zero Tolerance. She lies about having Domino in custody. Forearm, upset with Dani for lying to him, leaves, while the others worry about their missing and captured friends. Domino wakes up in a lab, drugged, and has a chat with Gryaznova, who has attempted to piece together Domino’s history (although she misidentifies Gloria Muñoz, Risque, as her in one panel). We learn that Gryaznova was injured during one of Domino’s Six Pack missions, and that she is after revenge. She zaps Domino, who later wakes up in an operating room, just as some masked doctors put her under anesthetic.
- Domino, a little dazed, and with surgical scars on the back of her neck, finds herself in the middle of an interstate in Oklahoma, where she is almost hit by a truck. The trucker tries to help her. Some Zero Tolerance guys are transporting the three captured members of X-Force – Meltdown, Rictor, and Shatterstar, who are unconscious in pods. They are told by Gryaznova that they are going to be making an unscheduled stop. Siryn and Sunspot are worried about their missing friends, and frustrated that they can’t contact anyone at the Xavier Mansion. Dani, still with them, contacts GW Bridge for information. Cable helps Caliban escape the X-Mansion, which is being occupied by Zero Tolerance. Sledge monitors Warpath, who is in another dimension completing a job for him. Risque comes to check on James. James, lost in this dimension, finds himself on solid land. Gryaznova incapacitates her own men, and rendezvouses with three scientists, one of whom is the guy who experimented on Sunspot at Gideon’s behest. It’s clear that they are going to complete some sort of hasty experiment on the captive mutants. We also learn that they saved Gryaznova’s life, and positioned her to work for Bastion. In the other dimension, James is led by a cat that looks like his childhood pet (while looking very different from the same pet, which we saw in the -1 issue). It leads him to the man he’s been sent to find, the Vanisher, but it looks like a large gathering of cartoonish animals are not going to let them go anywhere. Siryn and Sunspot assault the Zero Tolerance vehicle with their friends and the scientists in it. Gryaznova goes all Sentinel on them, while the scientists, running through Sunspot’s flame wall, escape, saying something about how Bobby is actually Reignfire. Moonstar is able to disable Gryaznova. Domino can’t contact anyone at the X-Mansion either, and is still hanging out with her new trucker friend.
- Sunspot, Siryn, and Moonstar revive their captured friends, and Meltdown seriously considers killing the unconscious Gryaznova, but settles for blowing up her vehicle. Cable, having apparently gotten Zero Tolerance out of the X-Mansion, goes looking for Caliban. When he finds him, he’s terrified, as Ozymandias is there to return him to Apocalypse. Ozymandias messes with Cable’s mind, making him believe that Caliban is with friends. In the other dimension, Vanisher helps Warpath survive the creatures attacking him by suggesting he tell a good story, which is what he begins to do. Domino seems very uncertain, until X-Force arrives to pick her up in their PACRAT. They wonder about her newly-shaven head, and she explains that Gryaznova has done something to her. As the team talk, they are intercepted by another flying vehicle, that is piloted by Cable. They fly together to a safe house in North Carolina. As the others enter the house to get cleaned up, Domino tells Cable that she’s leaving to regain her sense of balance. Later, the team is updated as to James’s and Caliban’s whereabouts. Cable feels that the team should go underground for a while, and has created new identities for everyone (including Dani), but the team does not like that idea. Dani does not want to live as anyone but herself after being undercover for a year. Julio wants to go stop his family’s criminal activities, and Shatterstar wants to accompany him (hint hint?). Cable is a little annoyed at their reticence to follow him, and acknowledging how well-trained they are, leaves.
- Issue seventy-one, which is the first of the book’s ‘new direction’, opens with the core members of the team – Bobby, Theresa, James, Tabitha, and Dani, stuck on the side of a road in Ohio, as Tabitha tries to fix their car. We figure out that they’ve gathered James from Detroit, and are heading cross-country. They get picked up by a couple in a VW van, who look a lot like Velma and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, who give them a ride to the closest town. There, Tabitha learns that they need time to get their car fixed, so they have to spend the night. Domino is at a doctor’s in Virginia, where she learns that Gryaznova put a device in the base of her skull that is affecting her reaction time, and that it can’t be removed without paralyzing her. The team eats lunch, and Bobby discovers that his finances have been frozen because of a legal matter. Deadpool goes to visit Theresa at the X-Mansion, and is surprised to find that all of her stuff is gone. James and Theresa book a room at a motel, and sneak the others in. As they get ready for bed, James explained that while stuck in the other dimension with the Vanisher, he realized, while telling an old Apache coyote legend, that he’s been stuck in the past, and that it was time to move on. He escaped with the Vanisher, and Sledge gave him Michael Whitecloud’s location in Nebraska. As the team keeps chatting, they hear a ruckus outside, and rescue a guy, Richie Alegria, from a pair of armed thugs. He offers to hire them, and shows them a suitcase of money.
- A gangster, Mister Blackshear, arrives at a hotel in Chicago with two goons (spouting references to 90s TV and movies) to meet with Richie Alegria, who is protected by Bobby, Tabitha, and Dani. During the ensuing argument, the team learns that Richie might not have been honest with them, and that he owes money to Blackshear’s boss. James, riding in a car with Theresa, has a nightmare about his dead tribe, although in his dream, his team is also dead. They arrive at the address Sledge gave them, and James enters a fleabag hotel looking for Michael Whitecloud. Seeing him coming, Whitecloud tries to slip away, but Theresa catches him. Domino goes to a bank to withdraw a fake ID and some cash from a safety deposit box, but a robbery takes place as she tries to leave. She wants to ignore it, but her conscience gets the better of her. The team decides to leave Richie, but he follows them, and convinces them to help him in a completely legitimate business venture so he can make enough money to pay off the mobsters, and finish the film he’s making. They agree to help. Whitecloud tells James and Theresa about how he discovered a secret project, Project: Stepladder, which experimented with a mutant virus. He hid a radiologist, Lucius DeWitt, and a test subject, Gordon Thorpe in Camp Verde, but when he returned from a trip into town, found the whole community dead, as we saw back in New Mutants #99 or so. Since then, Whitecloud’s been on the run. He gives James the number of a bus locker in Topeka that has all of his proof, but as he is about to tell James who is behind Stepladder, his head explodes. Later, the police give a surveillance photo to someone named Martin Edwards, who recognizes James. In Ohio, a figure who looks a lot like Sunspot goes to the restaurant where the team ate earlier, and kills a waitress, making it clear he’s looking for X-Force.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1997 reports an average press run of 243 000, with newsstand returns of 87 000.
- Issue seventy-three opens on James and Theresa being held at gunpoint by a pair of cops in Nebraska. It becomes clear that they are working off the books, and as they try to tranquilize James, the mutants turn the tables on them. We learn that they were told there was a bounty on our heroes, but they don’t know who hired them. A pair of cops, including Detective Napoleon Sanders, watch the bank footage of Domino stopping the robbers from last issue; Sanders vows to find her. Domino, meanwhile, continues to bemoan the presence of the device in her spine, and decides to take difficult mercenary jobs to help improve her physical condition. This leads to a short cameo by Deadpool. Martin Edwards is on James and Theresa’s trail. They arrive at the bus station where Whitecloud had hidden his notes. Just as James retrieves them, Edwards shows up, and we learn that he is Edwin Martynec, from the -1 issue. He turns into a dog-man, and they fight, but Martynec knocks them both out. Tabitha writes a letter to Sam, bringing him up to speed on the team, as she, Dani, and Bobby continue to roll with Richie. A mysterious figure, probably Reignfire, burns down the hotel where the team hung out last issue. Martynec has strung up Theresa and James, and he talks about how he was always working for Stryfe (he even has a busted-up Zero), and that he was behind the murder of everyone at Camp Verde. Theresa breaks free, and she and James fight Martynec. He injects James with amphetamines, and he has a heart attack. Theresa goes nuts, taking out Martynec, and the issue ends with her trying to resuscitate James, and announcing him dead.
- Theresa works desperately to resuscitate James, but we know he’s dead, because we see him in Hell. He thinks he sees his mother, but it’s really a demon. While fighting off demons, he is found by Stryfe, who has brought him there so he can take his place in the mortal world. In Missouri, Dani, Bobby, Tabitha, and Richie hang out in a country and western bar. Dani leaves for some air, and is met by Brunnhilde of the Valkyrie, there to tell her that Warpath has died, but that his spirit has been diverted to the wrong place. The team leaves Richie to enter Hell and help their friend. James continues to fight Stryfe, who we are reminded, murdered his entire village. Richie is found by Mr. Blackshear and his goons, but they are killed by the mysterious figure who is probably Reignfire (especially considering how much he hates Bobby). Theresa continues to work to save James’s life, and reflects on just how much he means to her. In Hell, the almost defeated James begins to rally, just as Blackheart arrives to disparage Stryfe, with whom he’d made a deal. The rest of X-Force arrive and join the fight against Stryfe. Dani fails to use her mental abilities on him, while Blackheart starts to dig into Tabitha and Bobby’s fears, although they overcome them by working together. James regains his strength and gives Stryfe a beating, voiding Stryfe’s deal with Blackheart. Theresa is happy to see James recover, and then the others show up in a burst of light. They talk about using Whitecloud’s papers to make sure that anyone else involved in the Camp Verde Massacre pay.
- Issue seventy-five is double-sized, and as pure a testament to the late 90s as you could read, although in mostly a good way. The team has gone to Texas to take part in “Colossal Man”, which is basically the Marvel version of Burning Man. We learn that Richie didn’t want to join them, and doesn’t need their help anymore. They join a large group of weirdos to party in the desert, although Theresa’s not really into it. Bobby, Tabitha, and Dani run into Xi’an, who is there with two of her ‘girlfriends’ (reading this now, it’s not a surprise that Xi’an was written as a lesbian later on), and she joins her old friends. We learn that Selene is also in the desert. James and Theresa talk about all the changes James feels he’s going through after learning the identity of his family’s killers. He leaves her to walk around and think. A shadowy guy named Nathan is at the event, and he’s doesn’t need his future told, as he’s been there already. As Bobby and Tabitha party, Xi’an points out to Dani that they look like they’re in a relationship. Dani and Xi’an talk about life, and get noticed by Selene. Tabitha uses her powers to do some explosive juggling, and Bobby draws a bigger crowd using his abilities to make fire. Among his audience are Locus and (presumably) Reignfire, who we learn is behind Bobby’s fortune being frozen, and who plans to take out his friends before confronting him. Dani joins James in a drum circle and uses her powers to allow him to ‘see’ his family again. They are attacked by Selene. Bobby and Tabitha kiss while dancing. Selene explains to a captive Dani that she is there because some sort of cosmic convergence is going to imbue an Asgardian artifact she has with power, only she needs the blood of an Asgardian to access it. Dani’s blood does just that, but while Selene is distracted by her growing power, Dani revives the unconscious James, who in turn frees her, and they are able to attack Selene, while the artifact ends up inside the Colossal Man effigy. Tabitha and Bobby aren’t sure what to do after their kiss, so they go to get pierced, but then Sam Guthrie, Tabitha’s supposed boyfriend, shows up and they all act awkwardly. The Colossal Man statue starts rampaging (fueled by the Asgardian energy), and Sam, Bobby, and Tabitha move to intercept it. It turns out that the man named Nathan is actually Cable, and he’s been keeping tabs on the team. Xi’an works on crowd control, while Dani is able to defeat Selene by showing her her worst fear (old age). As the others try to stop the statue, James gets ahold of the Asgardian runestaff, and pulls it out of the structure, which Tabitha then destroys with her biggest bomb yet. Later, the gathering ends, and Cable walks off feeling confident that the team will be alright without him.
- Adam Pollina took an issue off after the double-sized #75, and is replaced for #76 by Mike Miller, who does a fine job of things. The team, with Sam still visiting, is bowling in Texas. Sam and Dani fall back into their competitive ways, while Tabitha and Bobby can’t agree if they should tell Sam that they kissed. The team discusses their next steps, and they reject Sam’s invite back to the X-Mansion. On an empty oil tanker, Domino fights a guy called Snakeskin, the eighth straight person she’s fought in a gladiatorial style job application we learn she’s accepted as a way to strengthen her reflexes. The trial has been arranged by Arcade, and Domino’s next opponent is Shatterstar. We learn that Arcade is holding Rictor prisoner, after having lured him and Shatterstar into a trap, and that if they don’t fight, Julio will be killed. The team heads out of the bowling alley after Tabitha uses her powers, and again, Tabitha urges Bobby to not say anything to Sam about the kiss. As Domino fights Shatterstar, she questions his confusing origin. She is able to take him down, and is congratulated by Arcade (who tells her Julio has been freed) and her new employer, Etienne Rousseau. Domino cuts off Arcade’s head (and of course he turns out to be a robot) and arrests Rousseau, which was her reason for being there in the first place. The real Arcade watches on a video screen with Mojo, who hired him to test Shatterstar (which is basically the same Arcade plot from Nicieza’s run, isn’t it?). Tabitha and Bobby get some time alone, and confess that they both keep thinking about one another. They kiss as Sam walks into room to get his wallet, and he gets very angry, storming off. Bobby goes after him, but Sam still leaves in anger, leaving Bobby and Tabitha to explain to their friends.
- Issue seventy-seven is a little odd, in that it features a guest writer, but is done by the book’s usual art team. A pair of kids are hiding in a shack in the town of Almost Reno, New Mexico, and the boy shows the girl that he has a mutant ability. A week later, the boy’s body is found in the desert by the local police, and we learn that this has happened before, when SHIELD agents arrive on the scene. As it turns out, X-Force is also in town, thanks to Theresa having taken a wrong turn while driving. All but her read about the dead boy, who burned to death, while eating at a local diner, where they are not well-received by the locals. A cop basically tells them to leave town, and when Bobby uses the facilities, he is further threatened by a couple of oafs. As everyone reads the map, they discover a ‘restricted area’ that used to be a military testing site, and decide to investigate a little. The girl from the opening scene is at the doctor’s with her mother and overhears them talking about how she’s like the others; she runs away. Theresa, James, and Dani go to where the boy’s body was found, and suffer a psychic attack from the girl, Mary. Bobby and Tabitha do some research at the library, and begin to think that all the children in the town are mutants. As the team start to calm Mary down, they are approached by SHIELD guys with guns. As things get tense, the girl uses her mind powers to take everyone down. They go to the sheriff’s office with the SHIELD guys, who explain that government radiation testing a generation before has affected all of the children in the town. Tabitha talks about her childhood to Bobby, and goes and sits on a swing with Mary. They talk for a while, and Tabitha helps her to come to grips with her telepathy and stuff. When the SHIELD guys come again, Mary knocks them all out, and the team leaves, feeling that Mary is going to be okay.
- Reignfire turns up at the house of the CEO of Dacosta International, with Locus, and threatens him. Tabitha has a bad dream, based on a Jerry Springer-like show, about betraying Sam. When she wakes up, we learn that the team (aside from Dani) is staying with Sally “Skids” Blevins, their old teammate, in Boulder, where she goes to school. Skids is trying to live a normal life, rejecting her mutant past. Bobby goes to join Tabitha in the shower, but it turns out to be Theresa he walks in on, and she reacts angrily. The noise draws Desmond, one of Skids’s roommates, who flirts with Theresa. Dani is visiting her parents, and while out for a ride on horses with her father, Reignfire shows up. Dani thinks he’s Bobby, but Reignfire denies this and takes Dani out. Tabitha and Bobby argue about their relationship status. Bobby plays soccer with some college kids, while James and Theresa go to a pub. Locus abducts Theresa, and James jumps through her closing portal. Reignfire attacks Bobby, killing one of his new soccer friends. Tabitha and Sally run towards the fight. Reignfire absorbs Bobby’s powers, and Sally saves Tabitha from his attack, even though it outs her as a mutant on campus. Locus takes Tabitha and Sally away. In Las Vegas, we see that Reignfire has all of X-Force (except for James) strung up over a sacrificial altar, where Bobby is strapped down. James watches from the shadows.
- At the Damocles Foundation, Dr. Joshua, the guy who experimented on Bobby for Gideon, grabs a molecular disruptor gun and takes a few days off. In Las Vegas, Reignfire has X-Force and Sally tied up in an unfinished Babylonian themed casino. While Reignfire threatens Bobby, Locus goes looking for James, not knowing that he’s in the casino too. Tabitha gets a hand free, but none of the mutants can use their powers thanks to a mutant called Short Circuit, who Reignfire is manipulating. Bobby talks about how he thought he was Reignfire (I guess this all happened in the Nicieza or Loeb issues I never read), but we learn instead that he had made Bobby believe that. When Cable kicked Reignfire out of Bobby’s head, he was left without memories for a while, but has since then been working at destroying Bobby’s life. Dr. Joshua races into Vegas, remembering how he’d used some of Bobby’s blood in a test on a young mutant who then became Reignfire. Reignfire starts to steal all of Bobby’s heat in an attempt to kill him. James attacks Reignfire’s subordinates, knocking out Short Circuit. He and Locus fight; Sally uses her powers to save James, but that causes her and Locus to be teleported far away. Bobby tries to take his powers back from Reignfire, but is unsuccessful. The others push the attack on him, as the casino starts to burn. Tabitha opens a hole in the ground for them to escape through, and James takes the unconscious Short Circuit with him. Theresa and Bobby fly through the roof, pursued by Reignfire. Dr. Joshua arrives and shoots Reignfire with his disruptor, causing him pain. The villain blasts the doctor, and Bobby retrieves the weapon, using it to destroy Reignfire’s body. The problem is, he’s a non-corporeal being, and he takes over Bobby.
- DaCosta International’s board, at their San Francisco headquarters, discuss Bobby’s transformation and threat, and decide to take steps to protect themselves. Reignfire and Bobby fight for control of Bobby’s body in Las Vegas; Dani tries to help with her powers, but is injured by the feedback. Tabitha is able to get him to back off after placing a timebomb in his pants. Theresa finds and interrogates Dr. Joshua, who reveals that his disruptor gun might be helpful. Theresa finds it and gives it to James, who makes jokes about how Cable used to look. Locus and Sally are in the mountains of Latveria. They begin to fight, but are stopped by a figure in green robes with a cat (I’m guessing Agatha Harkness). Reignfire rampages through an Elvis-themed wedding chapel; the team catches up and combine their powers with the disruptor to separate him from Bobby. Bobby absorbs his powers back from the barely corporeal Reignfire. SHIELD show up to take Reignfire and Joshua into custody. The team wonders what happened to Sally, and how they are going to get their stuff from Boulder. Bobby flies to San Francisco to meet with his board, where he finds the Heroes for Hire ready to stop him from hurting them. Once all is explained, the team is flown to Boulder and then San Francisco, where they find Bobby, with access to his fortune restored, has rented a large warehouse from his company for them to live in. First, though, he tells the team he’s treating them to a trip to Hawai’i.
- Issue eighty-one is Adam Pollina’s last, which is a real shame, as he was the reason why I started reading this title again. He has such a nice feel for these characters, and his slimmer, expressive approach to the figures made them feel so much more realistic (while still being very ideal). The team is in Hawai’i, and after falling off a surfboard, Tabitha thinks she sees an army of tiki gods marching under the ocean. The others are unable to find this. The team learns that a volcano has become active lately. The team goes to a luau, but James goes for a walk and runs into Risque. She needs his help, but after what happened last time, he’s not interested in providing it. As he leaves, she is attacked by a lava man, who doesn’t pursue when they run away. She tells the team that Sledge, Vanisher, and her came to Hawai’i to steal the ‘Heart of Pele’. After they got it, they were attacked by the Lava Men, who were also after it, but then the Vanisher took off with it, and now it looks like the volcanoes are going to blow and destroy Hawai’i. The team climbs one of the volcanoes, and quickly find Sledge, but also find a large group of Lava Men. Their leader, Jinku, demands the return of the ‘heart’, and when he learns they don’t have it, he wants to kill them. Sledge convinces him to let the team get the heart back. Bobby and Theresa find the Vanisher, distract him, and capture him. Once Jinku has the heart, we learn he wants to use it to destroy the world; the team fights him, and manage to destroy his doomsday weapon and retrieve the heart again. At this point, they learn that Risque is really Pele, the goddess of the volcano, and that she needs Bobby to return the heart to the centre of the volcano. After that, she offers the team whatever they wish, but they just ask that the rest of their vacation go undisturbed.
- Jim Cheung took over for Adam Pollina with issue 82, and while he’s more polished and slick than Pollina, it’s a good fit for this book. We learn that Domino had attempted access to place called the Aguilar Institute, but was caught by the guards, and brought to someone called The Gryphon, who was pleased to see her. The team returns from a night at the movies to their new warehouse home, to find that a mutant named Jesse Aaronson has broken into their home and is waiting for them. He explains that Domino is in trouble, and that it’s his fault. He had contacted her because he wants help finding his brother, who has been missing for fifteen years. He knew that Domino was looking for Ekaterina Gryaznova, the Zero Tolerance agent that put the device in her that is affecting her powers. They went together to the Aguilar Institute, where Gryaznova was, but Domino was caught by the armored guards while Aaronson fled. Bobby arranges for a company helicopter to take them upstate to the Institute. Meanwhile, Domino speaks to Gryaznova, who now calls herself the Gryphon, after undergoing further transformations. The team attacks the Institute, and fight the guards, while Aaronson sneaks inside, and uses his mutant ability to scramble electronics to free Domino, and disable the device messing up her powers. She takes a few moments to recover, and then begins fighting Gryphon, saving Aaronson. As she is about to lose, Gryphon activates the Institute’s self-destruct, which Aaronson is not able to stop. They try to flee, but are stopped by guards, until the rest of X-Force arrive and Dani stops them. They all get out before the place explodes. Back in SF, they agree that they need to look into the Institute and whoever is funding them, as they are experimenting on mutants. Domino is happy to be back with the group, and tells them that she and Cable have parted ways. Aaronson makes it clear that he’s going to stay with the group until his brother is found. Somewhere else, someone with a grey hand is informed as to Aaronson’s location.
- Sam Guthrie, feeling disenchanted with life in the X-Men, returns home to his mother’s house. He learns she has a disease that will require a hospital stay, and that she will likely move the family after she recovers, which upsets Sam some. Flying around for a bit, he sees a young glowing girl running into some abandoned mines, and follows. He is attacked by a big green guy named Ulysses. Jesse Aaronson is out at a club in San Francisco when he recognizes two men in black suits and flees them. He is caught in an alleyway by a woman he knows, and they are joined by the two men. They want Aaronson to return to Montana with them, but he doesn’t want to go. X-Force arrives (no idea how they knew where to be) and it looks like a fight is brewing, but calmer heads prevail when Domino recognizes one of the men – Lucas Wyndham, an astronaut who worked with Peter Corbeau and the X-Men. He explains that he and the others, Dr. Parsons and Ms. Lomenzo, are part of MUSE, an organization that helps mutants. Sam fights back against Ulysses and the girl, Arcadia, whom Ulysses wants to stay out of the fight. They knock Sam out and leave. Back at their warehouse, Wyndham (how many people are named Wyndham in the X-books?) explains that MUSE is the Mutant Underground Support Engine, and that they track and try to assist mutants, and that they have a very extensive database, which is how Jesse was able to find X-Force. We learn that Jesse’s parents were killed in a car accident when he was young, and that he and his brother Christopher were separated. Jesse had a number of problems which only got worse when his mutant powers developed, but then MUSE took him to their base and helped raise him, grooming him to become an agent. Domino says that she is going to help Jesse find his brother, but Dr. Parsons insists that Christopher doesn’t exist. Jesse still insists that he can find him. Ulysses and Arcadia are attacked by someone called Argos the Hunter, from something called the Sword. Just as he is about to take out Ulysses, Sam gets involved, helping them. After Argos is taken out (killed?), Sam offers the pair help, but they refuse. At that point, the rest of the Hunters arrive.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1998 describes an average press run of 169 000, with newsstand returns of 61 000.
- The Sword arrive in Kentucky and revive Argos. Ulysses, Sam, and Arcadia watch from hiding, and Arcadia discovers a picture of X-Force in Sam’s wallet. The Sword attack. The MUSE folk leave Jesse with X-Force, and Domino defends him when Tabitha doesn’t want him around. The team disappear in a flash of light, leaving Domino with Jesse. X-Force appear in Kentucky, summoned by the powers that Arcadia is not supposed to be using. Sam joins his friends in fighting The Sword. When Dani tries to summon one of her psionic arrows, she is unable, which has something to do with something that happened in the X-Men’s comic. Sam saves Tabitha, and things are awkward between them. It looks like all of X-Force is down. Domino, back in SF, calls in her satellite service to find the team. Ulysses fights to defend Arcadia while Sam and Tabitha take out the two Sword people guarding the rest of X-Force. They also take down the Sword members directly fighting Ulysses, and Arcadia begins to use her abilities to turn The Sword into crystal so she can smash them. When Dani touches her to stop her, Dani turns blue and starry (think Captain Marvel’s power cosmic), and we learn that Arcadia has no control over her powers. Ulysses puts Arcadia to sleep, thereby fixing Dani and the Sword. We learn that Ulysses and the Sword are Deviants, and that rival Deviant factions want to use Arcadia as a weapon on one another, which is why Ulysses is on the run with her. They leave in the Sword’s vessel (with them as prisoners). Sam talks about wanting to rejoin X-Force, while admitting that he will do his best to put what happened with him, Bobby, and Tabitha behind him. They head to the Guthrie farm. In New Mexico, we see that grey guy again (all of him this time), and he talks about either recruiting or destroying X-Force, since they’ve interfered with his plans.
- Sally and Locus are locked in a dungeon in Latveria, where they’ve been since teleporting there a little while back. We learn that their captor is Pandemonia, a demon who was locked away for six hundred years. While it looked like she might be Agatha Harkness when she first found the two, outside (not locked away in a castle), she doesn’t look like that now. She puts a control spell on the two mutants and asks them about others. Tabitha sits around the warehouse worrying about Sally, and hears a noise downstairs. When she goes to investigate, she finds Bobby, James, and Theresa unconscious and in thrall to Pandemonia. Sam and Dani are jogging on the beach in Santa Cruz, and return to their vehicle and the waiting Jesse. Jesse annoys Sam. They return to the mansion to find its inside magically transformed. Pandemonia sends her thralls after them, but they escape. They go to an occult bookstore for answers, where a man named Benchley directs them to the magician Jennifer Kale. She identifies Pandemonia. They return to the warehouse, and try to subdue their friends. When Dani uses a spirit dagger on James, she gets all power cosmic-like again. While the others distract Pandemonia, Kale casts a spell that reveals Pandemonia’s true self, and frees the others from her influence. Dani’s new powers help push the demon through a portal to the Chaos Plane, and all is good again. Locus leaves, and Sally expresses concern for Dani, who is still glowy. In LA, Domino speaks to a doctor who has information on the Aguilar Institute, and shows Domino a girl from Almost Reno, who is transforming into a creature.
- The 1998 Annual, featuring a team-up between X-Force and the briefly reunited Champions, more or less fits here. Some northern California cult is trying to summon Hades or something. X-Force, without Domino, but with Jesse, is driving through the mountains when an earthquake knocks their car off the cliff-side road. They survive, and see a gigantic hand coming out of the mountain. They investigate, and find Hercules fighting Link, the leader of this cult. He wants to sacrifice a woman named Victoria, who Sam rescues. Link and the cult retreat, and Hercules explains how the Champions once stopped Hades from bringing the Titans back to destroy the Earth. He remembers that Zeus forced Hades to provide the team with a spell they could use were the Titans to ever rise again. James calls in the old Champions while Victoria flirts with Sam, annoying Tabitha. The Champions come, and Iceman and Archangel don’t really act like they know X-Force. They position themselves to work their spell, but Dani realizes that the spell is fake, and actually helps summon the Titan forward. We learn that Victoria had betrayed them, and that Link is actually Hades, and there is fighting. Apparently there’s a curse that the Titan will destroy whoever raises it, so Hades had maneuvered the Champions into that role, but then he brags about what he’s done, so the Titan, which is really just a pair of hands so far, hears this. Hades runs away, leaving Victoria behind. Theresa gets the Champions to continue their spell, further opening the gateway the Titan is passing through, so Dani can use her powers to scare it into retreating. Black Widow awkwardly tries to praise Theresa’s leadership skills, while Victoria even more awkwardly makes the case to Sam that Bobby and Tabitha care for him. This was pretty forgettable.
- Issue eighty-six starts with the team, including Domino and Jesse, in the town of Almost Reno again. They find it abandoned, except for a burning teen that attacks them. James defends himself, inadvertently killing the kid, who they determine was dying from his mutation anyway. Domino fills everyone in on the fact that the Aguilar Institute was behind the experimentation in the town. They search for people or clues, and find the young girl, Mary, from their last visit, and a rocky boy, in a diner. Tabitha, Theresa, and Dani make contact, while Domino and the guys discover a suite of surveillance devices. Mary tells the women that one boy’s powers went nuts in school, and that the SHIELD agents from before evacuated the town, although Mary and the boy, Zak, hid. The SHIELD agents arrive, and demand that the children be handed over. Zak attacks them and is shot. He starts to suffer from the same reaction that the other children did, but Dani’s mutating powers somehow heal him. At this point, Domino threatens the agents, demanding information on the Aguilar Institute. Mary lets them know that the agent is thinking about the Damocles Foundation, just as a car pulls up and Odysseus Indigo, the head of that foundation, steps out. He’s the guy we’ve been seeing over the last few issues. He shuts down Mary’s powers, while the team connect him to Ulysses and the Sword. He also shuts off Tabitha’s powers, let’s Domino know he’d funded Gryaznova, and that his work is to save humanity. He’s been using the children of Almost Reno to learn more about mutations, having introduced mutant and Deviant strains into their genetics, but all but Mary have had adverse reactions. He offers to take the kids and X-Force in, to help them, but they stand firm. He backs down, leaving the kids with the team.
- Issue eighty-seven opens with a flashback to five years previous, where a self-assured young man is being interviewed by Emma Frost for admittance to the Massachussetts Academy, and repels her attempts to control him telepathically. As he leaves, he runs into Tarot, one of the Hellions, who he is in love with, and who he promises to return for. In the present, James is approached through a foggy night by Tarot, who was believed to be dead. She warns him that X-Force is in danger from both within and without, and then disappears. Domino tells Jesse that she has news of his brother. His parents were spies for the National Security Department, and she has a lead on the location of their supervisor. When they arrive at the seniors’ home where he lives, Domino discovers that an intern has been paid to share information about anyone who comes looking for him to a certain phone number. Bobby and Sam work on taking down a wall in their warehouse. Sam talks to Paige on the phone, and learns that his mother is doing well. Bobby offers to go out with Tabitha, but she turns him down, claiming she needs some time to herself. He doesn’t like the rejection. Tarot speaks to someone off screen, and tells him to expect guests. Tabitha has dinner with her father and his new wife, who she didn’t know about. Her father has joined the Triune Understanding, from Kurt Busiek’s Avengers, and this concerns Tabitha, who refuses to attend a meeting with him. Leaving, she runs into Bobby, and reacts angrily to his having followed her. Dani consults Jennifer Kale about the cosmic energy she now channels, but Kale has no answers. Domino and Jesse break into the house that the intern called, and are attacked by Magma and an armored figure, who when touched by Jesse, looks a little like Warlock. A psychic attack drops Domino and Jesse, and they are joined by Christopher, his brother. He explains that he was kept by the NSD for a while, then escaped to use his mutant powers for his own ends. Now he runs the New Hellions (consisting of Magma, Paradigm, Tarot, and Switch). He offers Jesse a place.
- At this point, I dropped this title, having felt my interest waning after Pollina left the book. As I was re-reading these issues, though, I felt like I wanted to get to the end of Moore’s run. I went to a very reliable comics store, but wasn’t able to get ahold of every issue I needed. More surprisingly, these books aren’t available on-line at Comixology or the Marvel Store. So, that means that from here to the end of this column, there are going to be some gaps in my coverage. That annoys me. Because of this, I haven’t read #88.
- Issue eighty-nine begins in 1959, with the capture and imprisonment of the very powerful Armageddon Man. In the present, Paradigm controls all of X-Force through some techno-organic tendrils, and they are working together to retrieve the Armageddon Man out of his containment capsule in an unused nuclear power plant in California. Jesse watches all this with concern, but his brother and some of the New Hellions talk about how King Bedlam is going to make use of this new weapon. Jesse learns that Magma is in this for money, and we learn that Christopher is going to use the threat of the Armageddon Man to blackmail the government. In Nevada, Feral (who is a New Hellion apparently) and Switch kidnap a senator. As X-Force is under Paradigm’s control, we learn that Dani still has some consciousness, and she uses it to explore Paradigm’s memories of being a young mutant raised in a Hong Kong lab exposed to a techno-organic virus. The others arrive with the Senator, who was present when the Armageddon Man was originally stopped (he was an army officer then). King Bedlam puts his plan in motion. Jesse has second thoughts about his brother, and Tarot, who remains loyal to him, also tries to get Jesse to stop him. Feral, Switch, and Magma continue to badger the senator. Christopher finds Jesse trying to leave, and persuades him to stick around and be on his side. Tarot uses her powers on Paradigm, so that he can see things from her perspective somehow, and this results in Dani gaining her freedom. She uses her new quantum energy to disrupt him, and frees X-Force from his control, and neutralize him as a foe. Christopher goes to strike Tarot for her actions in this, but Jesse stops him. X-Force bust in on their fight, but think Jesse is still on Christopher’s side. At this point, the Armageddon Man busts out of his containment shell.
- Jesse tries to get away from the madness happening at the nuclear plant, but can see that the weather conditions are getting worse as the Armageddon Man becomes more powerful. King Bedlam uses a psionic-amplifier to try to control the AM, and when reasoning with Bedlam doesn’t work, Sam flies in to try to stop the AM. Feral tells her former teammates that she has the Legacy Virus, and when Siryn signals for the team to attack the New Hellions, Feral slices Siryn’s throat with her claws. Bobby flies Theresa to a hospital while everyone else brawls. King Bedlam uses his powers to psionically disrupt the team, but Jesse comes and destroys Christopher’s device. Free, the Armageddon Man makes the weather worse than it was. Jesse and Christopher fight and argue, and we learn that Christopher used his powers to cause the accident that killed their parents. Seeing that he can’t win, King Bedlam retreats with the New Hellions, leaving X-Force and Magma (who Sam got through to) to stop the AM. Teamwork works, and with the help of Dani’s new powers, they are able to bring him down and restrain him. Paradigm arrives and informs them that he is leaving to look for new technology to incorporate into his body (this part was weird). The Senator Bedlam had kidnapped promises to make sure the AM gets some help. As the team leaves, they pick up Jesse, who is walking down the road alone, I guess officially offering him a spot on the team. They join Bobby at the hospital where Theresa is recovering from surgery. We learn that her vocal chords were severed and that she may never speak again.
- Tommy Lee Edwards drew issue 91, but while his atmospheric approach matched the gloominess of the issue, it often felt like he’d never seen these characters before from the way he drew them, especially Proudstar, who often looks middle-aged and overweight. Theresa is brooding on the Golden Gate Bridge over the loss of her voice and her powers, and she considers jumping. The team (except for Sam, who is visiting his mom) worries about her, and are joined by Banshee, who has come to check in on her. James convinces the team to go look around for her. Theresa reminisces about her time in X-Force and how she focused on being a good leader over personal development. Tabitha breaks up with Bobby, who is then approached by immigration agents who ask that he accompany them. Dani and James chat with Banshee, who fills in Theresa’s backstory and talks about how he wasn’t a good father. Theresa buys some alcohol and thinks back to when she used to drink with her uncle, Black Tom Cassidy. Domino, looking for Theresa, realizes she is being followed. It’s the detective from Washington who started looking into her way back after Operation Zero Tolerance. While they talk, she is teleported away mysteriously. Theresa thinks about opening the bottle she bought, but instead goes to an AA meeting. Banshee leaves, and Tabitha tells the others that she and Bobby broke up. Later, Theresa returns home and hands James a note explaining that she is leaving for a while to stay with an aunt.
- Issue 92 mostly focuses on Domino, who has been teleported to an unknown location. She finds herself in luxurious accommodations filled with her favourite things, and is told that she will meet her abductor, who is providing the love-drenched narration for the issue, shortly. She explores the facility she’s in, not knowing that her abductor is directing her movements. She meets a scientist working on a chaos engine, which keeps her from being able to leave, and then meets her captor, Halloween Jack. Jack is in love with her, and wants her to stay with him. Bobby meets with officials from immigration, and is told that he must leave the US, or face conspiracy charges due to his connection with Reignfire. Domino continues to resist Jack’s advances, and he reveals that he’s from the future and knows that she is going to die in a coming conflict involving X-Force. She runs from him, and tries to disable his chaos engine. Cable appears to help her, but it’s really Jack, who is a shape changer. They fight, and she bests him. Having damaged his engine, Domino forces Jack to agree to teleport them both away. Instead of taking her to San Francisco, he takes her to Vegas where she leaves him, and phones someone named Victor to try to make amends for something. In SF, the rest of the team hangs out in the park. James feels bad that Theresa has left, while Tabitha worries that they haven’t seen Bobby since she broke up with him. A beam of energy destroys their frisbee, while an off-screen voice tells Dani that the world depends on her power.
- An alien sits on a throne, and the narration tells us he’s sat there for centuries, perhaps talking to his pet lizard. We see that X-Force is on a tropical island fighting gigantic insects. Sam tries to create a funnel of air to draw them off, and receives a power boost and assistance from Astarte and Electryon, who powerful Eternals. We learn that they have brought them to the island because some sort of chaotic energy transforms this place, and that only Dani’s new cosmic abilities can stop it. In a flashback, we see the powerful pair’s first meeting with X-Force some hours before, and their journey together on an Eternal vessel where X-Force is given transceivers to wear behind their ears. Back in SF, Domino returns to the almost empty warehouse, and finds Bobby packing because he is being deported. On the island, the team continues to fight their way through the transformed flora and fauna, and their Eternal friends keep disappearing and reappearing. They lead them to an ancient temple, inside of which they find the alien engine they’ve been looking for. Jesse attempts to use his powers on it, which causes it to emit some sort of wave that captures and changes everyone except Dani. When she tries to use her powers to destroy the engine, they disappear. At this point, we learn that the two Eternals have been sapping her power through the transceiver they gave her, and that is their purpose for being there. They blast Dani through the floor. Domino says goodbye to Bobby, who expects to return within six months. A delivery van arrives and gives her a parcel addressed to Sam from Genosha. Dani finds herself on the floor, and is attacked by the alien we last saw on the first page. They read each other’s minds, and he learns her story, while she discovers that he came to Earth millennia ago, worked to elevate humanity, but became upset when they wouldn’t worship them, and destroyed their culture. Since then, he’s isolated himself as penance, using his engine to make the island a dangerous place so he’d be left alone (the constant danger served the Eternals’ purpose by making Dani expend her energy). He teaches her how to access her power, which he describes as limitless, so she can fix her friends. She suggests he get back into the world. We learn that the Eternals work for Odysseus Indigo, who is still hunting that Arcadia girl. X-Force confronts the Eternals, and Dani single-handedly defeats them. They see Ry’Lor’s vessel leaving, as he promises to go back to the worlds he’s wronged and fix them, but first Dani asks if he can take them back to SF.
- The team (which is now just Sam, Domino, Tabitha, Dani, James, and Jesse) are in Genosha, trying to slip into the main city without being noticed by the remains of the Magistrates, or Magneto and his Acolytes, who now run the island nation. They stop a Magistrate patrol while on their way to meet their contact, who turns out to be Pete Wisdom, previously of Excalibur. Wisdom leads them to a shop filled with boxes; when Tabitha opens one, she relives a woman’s memory of saying goodbye to her child during the Second World War. Sam reveals that Wisdom sent him one such box, which showed him someone’s memory of a night in Kentucky when the person whose memory it was tried to protect a group of small children, including a young Sam, from a fight between two powerful beings. Wisdom has promised to explain what happened after Sam helps him. We learn that a Black Air (British spy organization) satellite crashed in Genosha, and that the CPU sits in a Genoshan facility, but that Magneto doesn’t know about it. We meet Delphi, the owner of the shop and person who builds the memory boxes. She is a native Genoshan. She offers to use her boxes to prepare the team for the mission. In Brazil, Bobby, unhappy with the life of the idle rich, intervenes when he sees a woman being dragged away by two men. As it turns out, the men are demons or deviants or something, and the woman is Selene, who wants to make an offer to Bobby. Tabitha gives Delphi a memory for a box, as the others already have, and we learn what they learned instead (including some rapid fight training for Jesse). Jenny Ransome informs Quicksilver that X-Force is on the island, and he wants to deal with them before his father finds out. The team prepares to infiltrate the Genoshan genetics complex, which is the sight of an ongoing fight between the Acolytes and some Magistrates. Domino and Jesse go one way while the rest of the team goes another, and run straight into Quicksilver. Talking to Pietro doesn’t work, so Sam knocks him out by taking him by surprise. The team gets to the cybernetics lab, and we learn that the CPU Wisdom is after is really a brain (reminding me of Grant Morrison’s Martha). When Wisdom picks “Archie” up, something is triggered, and we see that Magneto, or at least his silhouette, is on his way.
- I didn’t read #95 or #96.
- Issue 97 opens with an explanation of how the Celestials seeded the Eternals, Deviants, and humans, and how they left behind devices called Gatherers. In an old Deviant city now used by the Damocles Foundation, Odysseus Indigo, Dr. Joshua, and Dr. Chandra work to revive a recently discovered Gatherer. They intend to implant the remains of Reignfire, which they have under their control, into the Gatherer to power and operate it. They are watched by Selene and Sunspot, who are discovered and captured by the Sword. Sledge meets with two people in his junkyard, just as X-Force (without Domino) enter the property and begin to attack his robotic guard dogs. He goes to see them – apparently Sam has discovered that he shared an adventure with Sledge when he was very young, and that it involved his father and another Gatherer, but Sam’s memories were wiped until Pete Wisdom came along. Sledge informs the team that another Gatherer has been discovered, and introduces his guests – Ulysses Dragonblood and Arcadia Deville, the girl responsible for Dani’s recent transformation. Apparently the two young women (Anthony Williams draws Arcadia as much older than Jim Cheung did) are now somehow connected. Ulysses explains how he broke from the Damocles Foundation, and wants to stop his brother from using the Gatherer. In the Deviant city, Selene and Bobby talk, and she tells him that she is now in charge of the Hellfire Club and wants him to join. Ulysses has a traitor in the Damocles Foundation teleport the heroes into their city, where they learn of a captive mutant who they decide to free first. They are surprised to find Bobby, who is upset that they didn’t talk to him when he was deported despite their not being there, and Selene. The doctors implant Reignfire into the Gatherer, just as our heroes and their allies attack. Odysseus shuts off the mutants’ abilities, and Ulysses attacks him. As they fight, Sledge gets ready to destroy the Gatherer, but he is stopped by Selene. She takes control of it, and turns it on the Sword, devolving them instantly. Odysseus releases everyone’s powers, and Arcadia and Dani link their abilities to destroy the ancient device. This makes Selene angry, and she turns on them all.
- Bobby wakes up confused, and in a fantasy where he is rich and famous. Selene reveals that this is a fantasy, and makes her pitch for him to join the Hellfire Club. She tells him that she is keeping his friends in various Nightmare Chambers, making them live out their worst memories or fears (we have no idea what happened to Sledge, Ulysses, Arcadia, or the Damocles Foundation). James is reliving the massacre of his village, Tabitha the time she murdered someone, Sam a cave-in in Kentucky, and Jesse believes his in a mental institute. Dani is being held elsewhere. Selene tries to get Bobby to believe the President needs his help, but he sees through that too and storms off. Selene confers with Blackheart, who is part of the new Hellfire Club, and we see that she has a greater plan. Bobby rescues Tabitha, and then they rescue Sam. James has figured things out for himself, and he rescues Jesse just as the others get to him. The team fights Hellfire goons, who turn out to be demons, as Blackheart has a chat with Dani, who is now more powerful than he expected. Hela arrives to remind Blackheart that Dani belongs to her, and that to hurt her would lead to war. Dani joins the team, and they face Selene and Blackheart together. Selene offers to resurrect Julianna, Bobby’s teenage girlfriend who died to protect him, if Bobby joins the Hellfire Club. The next page shows the team walking away, surprised by Bobby’s choice. Selene explains to her newest inductee that Julianna’s consciousness will be implanted in the body of a recently brain dead girl in Baltimore, and that eventually, she will take on that girl’s life.
- Back in San Francisco, the team (including Domino, whose absence and return is never mentioned) rushes towards the Demon Bear, which has appeared in the downtown area, causing a panic. Dani recaps her history with the Bear, and Sam tries to knock it back, but ends up flying through it. Dani tries to blast it with her new powers, but it seems to feed on them. Arcadia turns up in the wreckage, and we learn that the bear is after her and Dani both. In an interlude, we check in with Theresa, who goes shopping with her aunt, and then checks out a mysterious looking antique shop where an old woman places a necklace around her neck that apparently is so cold it freezes her (perhaps metaphorically). The Demon Bear picks up Arcadia, and when Dani tries to help her, she gets picked up too. They are dropped into its mouth, where they fall for a long time and find themselves in a cave (because the Bear is a gateway to another dimension, remember). In New York, Bobby complains about having to wear Hellfire Club finery, and Selene argues back; we learn that Bobby is hoping to take down the Club from within. Arcadia tells Dani about running from the Bear, and they come across Arcadia’s childhood doll. Brightwind, Dani’s horse, shows up but flies away. The doll comes to life and starts telling the girls about how their connected abilities are what is giving the Bear life, and that they can take it apart. Members of the Triune Understanding observe Tabitha during the fight. Risque shows up just in time to save James from a falling sign. A SHIELD squad shows up with a giant cannon that they want to use to shoot the Bear, but Sam fears that will kill Dani and Arcadia. He and Jesse try to stop them. Inside the Bear, Dani and Arcadia link hands and use their powers to rip the Bear to bits. Emerging from it are four versions of Dani – one in a New Mutants suit, another in her Asgardian gear, the third in her MLF outfit, and finally the version we’ve gotten used to here (shorts and a mid-riff baring jacket). There is no sign of Arcadia.
- John Francis Moore’s last issue, the double-sized issue 100, is one of his weakest. The four Danis are servants to The Queen of the Star Swords, who is really Arcadia in the guise of a villain she used to imagine as a child. An early fight with X-Force goes badly, and the Queen retreats. The real Dani is discovered, yet she has lost her powers. The Queen starts building a massive cathedral on Treasure Island (we’re in the Bay Area, remember). The team regroups, and we learn that Dani is fading away. Ulysses joins them, and they enter the Cathedral, using Dani’s connection to Arcadia. Inside, they are separated. Bobby is low-key stalking the girl that Julianna’s consciousness was planted in. Jennifer Kale bluffs her way past guards to get to the Cathedral. Dani chats with Arcadia’s doll. James and Risque have a run-in with an alternate reality X-Force. Dani runs into Arcadia’s imaginary dragon, and they fight. Domino and Jesse find themselves in Limbo, and meet an adult team of New Mutants, where one character is first referred to as Sam, but then the rest of his team later talks about how he went away, so that’s confusing. Jesse is infected with the transmode virus. Cable saves Dani from the dragon, who was really Ulysses. Sam and Tabitha are on a world where their friends are all institutionalized for mental illness (except for Bobby, whose father is paying to have him kept there). Dani, Cable, and Ulysses run into a particularly edgy version of the team. Theresa’s voice and powers have returned thanks to the necklace she’s wearing, and it looks like she’s probably possessed. Sam and Tabitha run into three of the Danis, and as they fight, they end up being knocked through portals that lead to their friends, who once reunited, bring the three Danis to Real Dani, and she absorbs their abilities. The Queen arrives and calls forth tons more alternate characters, and as they all fight, she messes with Cable, turning him into his alternates. Jennifer Kale and Man-Thing confront the fake Cosmic Dani, while Real Dani uses Cable’s psimitar to strike the Queen. Cosmic Dani joins the fight. The Queen is defeated, and everything goes back to normal (including Jesse’s transmode issue). Man-Thing’s powers help Dani focus, and she expends her cosmic abilities getting rid of the Cathedral. It turns out Cable is from an alternate world, and so doesn’t come with the team when they leave. It looks like it’s all over, until Tabitha asks if they are on the right world.
- Issue 101 is a filler issue by Joe Harris and Steven Harris, about the fact that because of something that’s happened in the other X-Books, the team have lost their powers (something to do with the High Evolutionary) and are coping in a variety of ways. Sam’s powers crap out while he’s flying over the Bay, and he almost dies. At the same time, the story keeps checking in on a bullied kid who uses his ability to fly to impress people. When it goes away, he wants to jump of something very high, and is rescued by Tabitha.
John Francis Moore has a surprisingly long run on X-Force, yet it’s almost completely unheralded. The issues are not easy to find in collections, and most of them are not even digitally available (at a time when I thought everything was up on the web). That’s weird to me, considering that Adam Pollina is such a respected artist, and that Jim Cheung remains a big name until today.
Moore’s X-Force is a long way from perfect, but it’s also the best that the book ever was. His focus on character and team building was a welcome shift from the nonsense that launched the beginning of the title, although I feel like after Pollina left and the team relocated to San Francisco, things went downhill. The ‘on the road’ issues are definitely the best of the run, as each character got their short time in the spotlight.
I like the way Moore portrayed James Proudstar as a thoughtful and sensitive member of the team. He shook off the over-done muscles and his ethnicity was more reflected in his actions than his choice of dress. Likewise, Moore redeemed Dani Moonstar, up until the point when he gave her cosmic powers and sometimes turned her blue, which was just weird. Tabitha and Bobby’s relationship felt like the first real one in this title, and I especially liked how it complicated things with both of their relationships with Sam. Theresa maybe received short shrift, and Jesse Bedlam was a little undercooked throughout his set of appearances, but the team felt much more like a team, and acted like one.
These comics came out during that period where Marvel was trying to redefine itself (this stuff is contemporaneous with Quesada’s Daredevil, but before Morrison’s X-Men), and make itself something other than extreme, in the post-90s world. I feel like Moore’s “Real World” approach to having the team live and travel together was a little groundbreaking at the time.
Unfortunately, especially towards the end, Moore is not consistent. Some of his later plots are hard to follow (a cathedral with a magic dragon and a talking Raggedy Anne doll?), and characters begin appearing and disappearing randomly (like Domino and Risque). When Moore left the title, he had the following unresolved plotlines underway:
- Bobby joined the Hellfire Club to take it down from the inside
- Theresa is possessed by a magic necklace?
- The Triune Understanding is pursuing Tabitha
- Arcadia and Ulysses just disappeared, as did Odysseus a couple of issues before
I’m not sure if and when those plotlines were ever addressed again. I presume that Arcadia, Ulysses, Odysseus, and the Damocles Foundation were never seen again in the Marvel Universe, which is fitting, as they’re kind of terrible characters.
The art on this book is likewise pretty inconsistent. Adam Pollina’s work is wonderful. He redefines how the characters look, slimming them down (especially Proudstar) and making them look like real, albeit very attractive, people. His cartoonish style, and tendency to put halos around some characters, really worked for this title, and was the reason why I initially started picking it up off the stands again.
Jim Cheung is good, without being all that spectacular. You can see the beginnings of the artist he grew into being, but I often found his storytelling unclear.
Beyond that, there are a string of sub-par fill-in artists all over this run, which is too bad. As part of poor editing, characters often change their appearance drastically from one artist to the next (I especially like when Arcadia is aged and blonded in one issue). But then again, if the editing was tight, it wouldn’t have been late-90s Marvel.
After these issues, this book (along with X-Man and Generation X) was given to Warren Ellis to rebrand and grittify. I don’t have these issues, and am not all that tempted to get them. After that, Peter Milligan and Michael Allred took over the book and completely redesigned it, installing an all-new cast. I did pick that run up, and the X-Statix run that it turned into, but I’m not going to read them again for this column. Instead, next time, we’re going to revisit some of the core characters of this book by looking at a miniseries that came out in the middle of Moore’s run.
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.
If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you are going to be digging through some back issue bins. Most are not available digitally, and it doesn’t look like Moore’s run was collected. The best I could find for you is:
X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance
Tags: Retro Reviews, X-Force