REVIEW: X-Force #8

Writers: Christopher Yost & Craig Kyle

Pencils: Mike Choi

Colour Art: Sonia Oback

Publisher: Marvel Comics

I was supposed to be reviewing Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #1 this week, but like many (probably all) of us in the UK, for some reason it wasn’t shipped. The only other book I purchased this week was X-Force #8, which is now just in mid-story, which seems a rather odd place to be from a review standpoint… but hey, at least it gives me the chance to say a few things about the development of this series – one which is driven by an interesting, clear, but sometimes rather challenging concept.

The raison d’etre for this book is simple – X-Force are the X-Men’s secret black ops squad, used to take out the threats to the mutant race that need dealing with permanently, while avoiding the central X-Men edict that they do not kill. Unsurprisingly, then, this is a dark, violent book which to date has stuck to its game plan pretty well. This has some obvious advantages – readers know exactly what they are getting with this title, and as it such it can clearly position itself towards the more mature audience. The concept of such a unit within the X-Men also does make some kind of sense, given that they are in a war for survival since M-Day. This is a different book to the other X-titles, and those who aren’t that keen on this type of tale can pretty much leave it alone (although I am sure there will be the odd crossover or two somewhere fairly soon down the line).

There are a number of downsides too. Firstly, are there really that many threats to the X-Men that require this type of response on a regular (i.e. monthly title) basis? This remains to be seen, but I can certainly envisage a situation would require the writers to shoe-horn in ever-escalating threats for this team to deal with that might be out of place in the overall story of the X-Men. Oh, and yes, one more rather unfortunate by-product – we get yet more Wolverine.

I have read a fair few criticisms of X-Force online, but I have to say I rather like how it has been handled so far. Okay, so it is fairly one-dimensional, but then X-Force doesn’t pretend to be too much else. While providing us with lashings of action and death, Kyle and Yost have been careful to not let character development fall by the wayside – it might not be front-and-centre, but its certainly there, and I can feel some interesting dynamics slowly being formed.

And in Clayton Crain, the first arc had a great choice in artist, his painted and moody style really fitting the tone of the book perfectly, although at times the printing is a little too dark and hard to decipher (I’m not in a position to say whether this is down to artist, colourist, or printer).

Besides Wolverine – who of course is a perfect fit for the roster and team leader, apart from the fact that he isn’t Multiple Man – the team consists of some intriguing individuals. Personally, I’m delighted with the return of Archangel, and although I’m still unsure as to how this is going to fit into the plans over at X-Men Central (sorry, I mean Uncanny), it looks like Matt Fraction et al have this thread covered. Wolfsbane, Thunderbird, and X-23 are all different enough to promise some interesting team dynamics as the after-effects of X-Force’s missions begin to unfold.

Anyway, onto this particular issue… well, there actually isn’t all that much to say about it from a story / plot perspective, which is not all that surprising considering where it stands within the current arc. X-Force hunt down The Vanisher, who last issue stole the mutant-killing Legacy Virus, but fail in their initial attempt as a the mission is compromised by a meeting with Domino, a member of the previous incarnation of X-Force. Putting their differences aside, the team eventually capture their prey through rather extreme measures, which is of course this team’s MO.

It works ok at filling out the issue, but much of this action seems a little contrived, serving to illustratie how far X-Force are willing to go, and bringing Domino back into the fold. The whole idea of a black-ops squad attacking a minor villain in broad daylight on busy streets (albeit with a sniper) seems a little silly, as is the claim that Domino simply didn’t recognise Logan in his new costume.

Putting that aside however, this is still quite an entertaining issue, with enough scope allowed for character development and exposition which this series really needs if it is to survive beyond being a monthly 22-page bloodbath. There is quite an interesting sub-plot involving Thunderbird, and he could easily develop into the strongest character within this team’s ranks.

This arc sees Mike Choi and Sonia Oback come in to relieve Clayton Crain on art duties. I am a big fan of Choi’s work, but although there is some excellent art on show here, I’m not convinced that his style is the right fit for the tone of this particular book. At least, however, the editors seem to have put some thought into the fact that at least this current storyline is slightly lighter in mood than the previous arc, so the change is less jarring than it could be.

So far, I’d call this series a success, and as long as Kyle and Yost continue to focus on character (they certainly have a great roster to play with), without letting the plot and concept take them too far off track, then I think I will continue to enjoy this. But so far, this particular storyline isn’t quite living up to the promise of its opening arc.

Rating: 6.5/10