by Rick Remender (script), Billy Tan (art), Dean White (colors), and Cory Petit (letters)

The Story: Psylocke and the rest of X-Force go out to take down the Shadow King, but is Archangel the greater threat?

The Review: While it’s not packed with dialogue or overly dense with panels, in telling a complete story from start to finish in 22 pages, Remender gives us a really meaty issue, one that feels like it’s packed with story and worth more than it’s $2.99.  This is a full comic book that does the absolute most that it can with its 22 pages, leading to a well-rounded and satisfying package.

This is also an issue that demonstrates just why Uncanny X-Force is among the very best team books on the market.  Each character is filled with various internal conflicts, making every member just as compelling as any other.  Take for instance Psylocke, who is a big focus this month.  She’s a good woman unable to fully reconcile the killer she finds herself ending up as.  It’s not an unfamiliar story, yet Remender still fills it with just enough sorrow and emotion to make it feel genuine.

Then there’s Warren, and really, what an issue this is for him.  Psylocke’s mental battle with his Archangel side is gritty, dark stuff and when Betsy takes on the Shadow King within the landscape of Warren’s mind, it leads to some really cool stuff that makes for a battle more meaningful and, really, more special than a standard beat-em-up.  This mental battle leads to more emotion and more awesome, over-the-top visuals than any round of fisticuffs could.

But really, the best part is how the story resolves.  Remender leaves us in a tremendously interesting grey area.  Is Warren still Warren, or has Archangel taken over?  Indeed, there are suggestions that it may not be as simple as that, that it’s not one or the other and that rather, we’ve been left with a hybrid…if it that wasn’t always the case to begin with.  That, ladies and gents, is fantastic superhero comic book writing right there and writing that suddenly makes a character more interesting than ever.

Meanwhile, Billy Tan does his very best Jerome Opena impersonation and what results is some of the best work of Tan’s career.  It seems that every time I see Tan, he’s gotten better.  Here, his work is detailed, enhanced by the gritty colors provided by Dean White.  I actually prefer Tan’s work to Ribic’s interiors and he is a very able substitute for Opena.  His depictions of the explosive mental combat between Psylocke and the Shadow King is robust and creative and Tan also does a fantastic job in depicting the wide range of tortured emotion this month.  He also makes for some good horror in his depictions of a ravening Archangel.

My only overall gripe with the issue that just barely keeps it shy of an A-grade, is the Shadow King himself.  Yeah, he’s creepy, but Remender never really fully develops him or his motivations this month.  He’s just the bad guy and hence ends up nothing special, Remender relying on references to past continuity to fill in the blanks and provide the build-up for the character.  It’s clearly due to the limits on space and given how much Remender does in 22 pages already, it’s hard not to cut him some slack when he shows that he can’t truly do everything.

Conclusion: A fantastic issue of a fantastic comic.  Give it a go.  Better still, even if you’ve not been reading from issue 1, this is a very accessible place to jump on.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans