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Uncanny X-Force #4 – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Jerome Opena (penciller)

The Story: The team break into Clan Akkaba’s ship, only to be confronted with the age-old question:  If you could kill an evil person when they were still just a child, would you?  By the end of the issue, the question gets answered.  With a bang.

What’s Good: This was a hell of a heavy week for the X-Titles as there were eight new releases on the shelves (nine if you count Deadpool).  I’ve no clue why Marvel felt it was a wise choice to glut the comic shop with more than 70% of the X-Men line in one day (actually, I’m pretty sure I know exactly why), but there is one benefit of reading X-title after X-title.  The best one stands out easily, and boy, is Uncanny X-Force the best X-Men comic out there or what?  You’ve got Deadpool feeding Archangel his own raw flesh in order to save his winged behind, you’ve got nods to past X-continuity with Apocalypse’s new Ship, you’ve got the BEST use of Archangel’s paralyzing neurotoxin feathers ever, and you’ve got a great final act in which the team is torn apart because of a tough choice that would give anyone pause.  Speaking of that final act, Archangel truly shines in that last confrontation with Apocalypse.  Not only do we get to hear him struggle with his inner dark side, but the confrontations he has with both the villain and Psylocke are rife with tension and emotion.  I really was on the edge of my seat.  (Well, edge of my bed, but you get what I’m saying.)

Fantomex gets the most of the spotlight this go-around, as Remender gives him awfully witty lines like, “Gads!  Evil fodder types eagerly spiriting towards certain demise.  How gauche.”  Awesome.  In addition to the great dialogue coming out of the (anti?) hero, we get some promising foreboding about the character’s intentions towards Psylocke and, of course, there’re those last few shocking pages of the story-arc.  Spoiler warning time.

(SPOILER WARNING)

I’m not terribly surprised that the “Will they or won’t they kill a kid?” dilemma came up.  It was pretty obvious that’s where the story was going from the beginning.  I’ve got to say, though, I did not expect Fantomex to be the one that pulled the trigger.  Honestly, I was never sure who the executioner would be or whether or not Apocalypse would even die.  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, though.  This way the X-Men proper (Logan, Warren and Betsy) don’t get the blood of a child on their hands, and we avoid Deadpool either cracking a joke and ruining the gravitas of the moment or killing the kid and somehow becoming all tortured and brooding.  Of course it was Fantomex!  Also, I’m excited that this allows Remender to really dig in to Fantomex, a character that for all intents and purposes is his to do with as he pleases.  Wolverine and Deadpool have their own titles, and Angel and Psylocke are X-Men with ties to other titles, but Fantomex?  Pretty much all Remender’s. Oh, and that final silent page?  Pitch perfect ending.  Really.

As for the artwork?  One sentence.  Jerome Opena is a god.  (Okay, maybe not really, but wow, is he pretty freaking close!)  (Fine, two sentences.)
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Generation Hope #3 – Review

by Kieron Gillen (writer), Salvador Espin (penciller)

The Story: Hope and the Fi- er, Four Lights, in order to stop the X-Men from killing Kenji, decide to take him down themselves.  Hope sees a fiery bird, stands up to Cyke, turns into a giant monster (In Japan of all places!  The nerve!), and puts the smack down on the Big Not-So-Bad.  Then, she goes sleepy-time.

What’s Good: Well, the good news is this is definitely the best issue of Generation Hope to be released so far.  The bad news?  Well, that’s not saying much.  Gillen finally manages to shine the spotlight on our actual cast in this installment and not on the X-Men guest stars (Cyclops, Wolverine, & Rogue) that have been hogging it for the past two issues.  Hope receives some much needed development of character and personality as she’s forced by circumstances to stand for what she believes in, whether or not that falls in line with big daddy Cyclops’ train of thought.  I enjoyed most of these scenes (especially the one where Kenji realizes her motivation), despite the fact that they felt telegraphed and teetered on the edge of becoming inspirational.  (Kudos to Gillen for at least acknowledging this fact through a character’s dialogue.  “Captain who?”  That was a good one.)  There’s also a welcome moment reminding us of her connection to the Phoenix Force.  Hey, at least they didn’t forget about it, right?

All in all, this issue succeeds mainly because the first arc has come to an end.  Much like the X-23 title experienced unevenness because of it’s ties to the “Wolverine Goes to Hell” arc, this first trilogy of issues suffered from being something of an addendum to the “Five Lights” arc in Uncanny.  Now that it’s over, maybe we can do away with the adults and concentrate on what makes these kids interesting.
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Uncanny X-Force #3 – Review

by Rick Remender (Writer), Jerome Opena  (Penciller)

The Story: After a brief batch of origins for the Final Horsemen of Apocalypse, we watch our X-Force team as they simultaneously regain the upper hand against our villains and lick their wounds.  Apocalyp-kid struggles with ordering our heroes’ death, showing that he may not be all bad yet.  Oh, and Deadpool pitches a tent, Archangel eats junk food and Psylocke deals with a romantic suitor.  Really.

What’s Good: Remender opens the issue with one-page origins for each of the new Final Horsemen that were introduced in the previous issue and boy, is it a good idea.  One of my favorite things from the last installment was this new team of baddies and to immediately get the skinny on them here was something I didn’t know I wanted, but I’m really glad I got.  To make it even better, each of these new villains has an interesting tale to tell and as a result, this opening sequence doesn’t feel like an information dump but rather an entertaining aside.  Sticking with the villains for another minute, while it’s certainly not too surprising that the writer decided to have Apocalypse’s usual cold-bloodedness tempered by now residing in his younger, more innocent host, I don’t hate the move.  If anything, this adds a bit more drama and uncertainty to X-Force’s mission to assassinate him.  I’m sure the whole “Would you kill Hitler as a kid” dilemma will rear its ugly head and I’m trusting Remender to bring something new to the table in that respect.

In the heroes’ corner, the script allows for plenty of great moments in regards to our intrepid travelers.  Psylocke and Fantomex in particular get to enjoy quite a few ingenious moments, whether it’s Psylocke finding clever telepathic ways to give X-Force a respite from the pain they’re experiencing or using the love her presence inspires in the horseman War to find a way past his mental defenses.  Fantomex’s illusion casting was also a nice touch which made for plenty of surprise reversals, but I do have to confess to not remembering this ability of his from previous appearances.  Maybe I’ve just finally hit the limit of my comic book fact recall.  Actually, Remender and Opena deliver so many great little moments in this issue that I could be here all day giving them praise. I will however, make special mention of two more, though:  Deadpool’s character-centric tent gave me a good chuckle and Death’s perfectly devious attack on Wolverine via his adamantium skeleton gave me a good wince.  Throw in the badass cliffhanger and you have, well, a frankly near perfect issue.
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Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #5

by Peter Tomasi (Writer), Fernando Pasarin (Penciller)

The Story: Our Emerald Warriors clash with a group of mentally-controlled GL rookies convinced that they’re Sinestro Corps members.  After narrowly escaping the battle and suffering a shocking loss, Gardner’s secret pact with Atrocitus comes to light and we’re shown exactly what has driven him to make such a deal.

What’s Good: Fernando Pasarin delivers a strong body of work within these pages and does a great job of reminding me why I’ve always been a fan of his pencils in the first place.  Not only does he come through with some solid storytelling, but there are plenty of awesome visuals to be found here.  The Green Lantern symbol-inspired constructs the rookies use to imprison our heroes is wonderful little treat that I’m surprised I don’t remember seeing before.  Also, The final image with Gardner’s visions painted on the wall in blood is also an effective visual, although most of the characters are simply faceless figures.  That might be intentional, though, so I’m not going to complain about it too much.  The interesting and frankly, gross, way that Atrocitus communicates with Gardner is yet another inspired choice and makes for another nice visual.   On the scrip end, the villain’s forcing the rookies to commit suicide was suitably harsh and shocking and I could believe the reaction it elicited in Kilowog, he having been their drill sergeant.
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Uncanny X-Force #2 – Review

by Rick Remender (writer), Jerome Opena (penciller)

The Story: Problems arise when Archangel discovers that his teammates are worried about his allegiances and are, in fact, training to kill him if the need arises!  Meanwhile, the Clan Akkaba continues their indoctrination of the resurrected and reborn Apocalypse.  It all ends badly when the X-Force travels to the Blue Area of the Moon and tangles with the full force (pun intended) of the Final Horsemen!

Thoughts: There’s plenty to like about this second installment of the new X-Force title.  On many levels, I’d argue that it surpasses the first issue.  This time around, the issue is narrated by the resident female of the group: the telepathic, telekinetic, bathing-suit clad Psylocke and that fact successfully gives this chapter a nice bit of narration that grounds a lot of the events in the series.  Remender has given a level of humanity to Betsy that has been lacking from the character for years (Now, if we can only do something about her wardrobe.).  Her inner monologue about remembering the atrocities that Apocalypse will enact as a source of forward momentum for her in regards to their mission was nicely done.  Also, the reason Betsy joined and resumed her relationship with Angel was touching and made a good amount of sense, although I’m not sure I buy that  Kurt’s death would have caused such a reaction in her.  I don’t recall the two of them being particularly close over the years.  Nonetheless, it still resonates for me.  If anything, this second take at their relationship rings truer than it did when it was originally introduced during the Nicieza-scripted run.  It’s not only Psylocke that gets to benefit from the humanistic approach the writer has employed here.  Warren’s hurt reaction to the team’s training to murder him should he fall under Apocalypse’s control again was another very human moment and I felt not only his pain, but also Betsy’s when he realized the point of the exercise.  It hurts to feel betrayed, but it certainly hurts even more when you know that the people betraying you are right to do so.  As I mentioned in the review of the first issue, I’m very happy about the focus on the problem of Warren’s regression into the Archangel persona and form.  So much seemed to be going on in every arc of the previous volume of X-Force that the writers never got around to centering on the issue, but with the new raison d’être of killing Apocalypse, it’s organic to the plot and makes a lot of sense to have it come back around as a focal point of the story.  I have to confess that I do wish they’d give a little more airtime to Wolverine’s own past as a Horseman of Apocalypse, but I totally understand that not only would it dilute the Archangel element, but Logan’s dealings with the villain are the lesser of the two in terms of being intrinsic to the character.  There’s also a nice little moment to be found in the issue where Deadpool and Fantomex bond over their “superficial” reasons for joining X-Force.  It’s quick and nonchalant but it speaks volumes about their characters.
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X-Men Legacy #242 – Review

by Mike Carey (writer), Paul Davidson (penciller)

The Story: A small team of X-Men are chosen to aid the city of San Francisco in repairing the destruction left in the aftermath of Bastion’s attack on Utopia and the mutant community.  However, things don’t go as planned when underlying problems affecting both Hellion and Omega Sentinel lead them into a conflict that might spell disaster.

Thoughts: This issue feels about four months too late, which is a shame because it’s a rather good one.  It feels so late, in fact, that I’m convinced that this story and the previous arc, “Collision”, were switched in order for some reason.  Carey delivers the beginnings of an effective “breather” arc here (complete with baseball interlude) as we survey the damage done to, not only the city of San Francisco, but to one of the younger X-Men in the wake of “Second Coming”.  Hellion’s inner turmoil and rage at losing his hands and having them replaced with bionic ones is palpable and perfectly understandable.  Not only that, but considering his already volatile and sometimes selfish and arrogant personality, his violent reactions to being made to feel weak and at the mercy of others’ aid is fully expected.  His anger at the seeming contradiction of the X-Men being able to perform plenty of miraculous feats but not being able to give him new, flesh and blood hands also made a lot of sense to me and I’d be hard pressed to say that I wouldn’t feel the exact same way.  The writer also takes advantage of the same opportunity afforded to Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men title that allows him to pull various X-related characters into the story.  While Rogue and Magneto seem to be Carey’s version of Cyclops and Emma Frost for Legacy, it’s always fun to see new faces together such as Random, Omega Sentinel and Hope.
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Uncanny X-Men #530 – Review

by Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (penciller)

The Story: A dangerous flu virus has begun to infect the population of Utopia, forcing Cyclops to issue a quarantine of the island base.  The remaining mutants that were off-island at the time have decided to form a de facto team of X-Men to protect San Francisco for the duration, while Emma Frost, Fantomex and Kitty Pryde (also off-island) continue their clandestine mission to cover up Emma’s dirty little secret, a.k.a. Sebastian Shaw!  Also, the Collective Man makes a play for Chinatown and the Sublime Corporation create their own versions of the original five X-Men to capitalize upon the X-Men’s absence.

What’s Good: After the repetitive and bland previous story-arc, “The Five Lights”, Fraction has kicked into gear most of the sub-plots percolating in the background for the last few issues.  As a result, Uncanny X-Men starts off strong this month.  The actual “virus” events on the island are rife with suspense and I think Fraction was right to begin that scene and our introduction to the whole ordeal through the eyes of Anole.  Not only does it show him utilizing the large cast of characters afforded him, but also it puts a personal touch on the problem that pulls us in immediately.  I’m curious if this event will force Cyclops to take another look at the tactic of placing 95% of the mutant population so close together.  It’s full of negative possibilities, as we’ve seen recently in Second Coming as well, and even a man as stubborn as Scott Summers has to be open to the possibility that it’s a mistake.

Other things I’m happy to see in this issue:  The interesting combo of Angel, Northstar, Dazzler, Pixie and Storm as an X-team.  I hope we see more of them in this arc, although I’m nervous they’ll mainly be used to deal with the ersatz original X-Men also running around San Francisco.  The Collective Man sub-plot, touching upon a story element that Jason Aaron introduced back in his Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries a couple of years ago, was also welcome.  At the time it promised to be a development with plenty of story potential, possibly opening up a chance to meet a Madripoor-like cast of characters.  However, it was quickly forgotten and a return to it makes me smile.
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