2 Davids, 1 Book: ‘Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution’
Welcome back to the triumphant return of 2 Davids, 1 Book, as David Brothers and David Uzumeri take a look at Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña's first arc on Uncanny X-Force, "The Apocalypse Solution." Spinning out of the end of the Second Coming event, the general premise of this title is that Wolverine has gathered a new X-hit squad after Cyclops disbanded the old one, since he believes it's still a necessary evil and wants to continue it without having Scott on the hook if things go wrong.The team consists of Wolverine, Deadpool, Psylocke, Archangel, and Fantomex, and the first arc pits the team against a newly reborn Apocalypse -- a mere child with seemingly no innate malice. The series is beautifully illustrated by artist Jerome Opeña and colorist Dean White, who never forget to put storytelling above gore, even considering the contents of the book.
David Brothers: I'm coming to this without having read more than something like three issues of the prior series. Can you clue me (and the readers) in on what came before, if any of it matters?
David Uzumeri: Long story short: It doesn't. The Kyle/Yost X-Force run was a very different book, way more character-focused and, to be frank, whiny. Judging by this first arc and the preview of the fifth issue, Remender's going for a way more big-ideas tone than Kyle and Yost's character dramatics involving X-23 and Wolfsbane going off and having furry children after yiffing with a Norse wolf god thing.
Brothers: Well... gross. I'm the ignorant half of the duo this time, for lack of a better phrase. I wasn't into the last stab at X-Force, and I haven't been much of a fan of Remender's Marvel work. I only tried Uncanny X-Force because a few friends -- you included, I think -- told me that it was great. I picked up the first arc and was very pleasantly surprised.
Uzumeri: The general premise of this arc is that X-Force finds out the evil mutant demigod Apocalypse has been reborn, but they're not sure how or where. After tracking him down on the moon and defeating his four "Final Horsemen," all of which are new mutant characters created by Remender and Opena, they finally find our that he's actually in the body of a child and freak out about the ethics of assassinating a kid. Archangel, of course, has a special connection to Apocalypse, who once transformed him into the Horseman Death.
Brothers: But, oh, one caveat about me being the ignorant half of our duo this time: I love Archangel, probably far more than he deserves. Have ever since I was a kid. So he in particular played a part in why I checked this out, and I love what Opeña's doing with his wings. I don't know if you're at all familiar with the '90s Archangel stuff, but his wings were basically just razor knives. I like how they look like soft feathers with a razor's edge now.
Uzumeri: Yeah, that's really visible in the scene where Deadpool is feeding his own flesh to Angel. It actually seems believable that these are the regular feathers transformed, rather than a Shazam!-esque replacement.
Brothers: And geez, how gross is that feeding scene?
Uzumeri: Gross but, in my opinion, hilarious. I loved that little bit.
Brothers: What's your take on Remender's writing?
Uzumeri: I wasn't sold on him initially, but something really clicked for me with his writing after Frankencastle, and I've really enjoyed basically everything he's done since. This arc is absolutely no exception. He hit on all the big beats without laboring them. We were just presented with these four final Horsemen, instead of the usual plot where he tries to turn the X-Men into them. Everything's introduced at mass craziness immediately, instead of building up to it. Ship, Ozymandias, Akkaba, it's all here.
Brothers: One thing I hear people say pretty often is that cape comics can be hard to get into because of the history. I think this suggests otherwise, because it reminds me of the comics I was reading when I got in, which were full of Apocalypse, Stryfe, and all of this other absurd crap that was just treated as a given, rather than something to labor over. So you hit the ground running and get caught up in the pace. It's a nice feeling. I was pleasantly surprised with how well Remender wove in most of the major minutiae around Apocalypse, and did it without dwelling on any certain point ad nauseam.
Uzumeri: People are smarter than companies give them credit for a lot of the time, I think. I mean, then again, I'm already familiar with almost all of this material, so I could be way off regarding how well it went over -- it's still selling, though, so we're definitely not the only people who like it.
Brothers: There were two parts of this I liked more than the others. Angel's internal struggle with the his primal desire to kill Apocalypse versus the idea of murdering a child first and foremost, but also Fantomex in general. I don't think anyone managed to quit nail him post-Morrison, but Remender comes the closest, near as I can tell. It's still not quite as fantastic as Morrison's version, but I'm feeling it.
Uzumeri: Fantomex, you may remember, is a genetically engineered supermurderer and French art thief originally created by Grant Morrison during his run on X-Men. Remender remembered details about Fantomex that everyone else didn't, like that he isn't actually French, for instance. With a little bit more under the surface, too -- you get the confused kid underneath who's basically only six years old when it comes to being in the real world, and his borderline schoolboy crush on Betsy. There's layers past just I AM FANTOMEX, A BADASS.
Brothers: Yeah. Speaking of schoolboys! If you could go back in time and kill Hitler... would you?
Uzumeri: That's the question asked here, and the new X-Force basically prove their no-compromises attitude by saying: Yeah, yeah we would.
Brothers: Well, I think some of them wouldn't have! Psylocke, for example.
Uzumeri: I mean, it happens: in the end, X-Force ices the kid. Fantomex straight up shoots a kid of MAYBE eight years old right in the head, one who was basically begging for his life and playing with superhero action figures. I mean, he certainly seems to have a lot of faith in nature over nurture to justify this.
Brothers: I thought this was going to go one of two ways: Archangel kills him or the kid lives. I wasn't expecting Fantomex to do it, and in such an out of nowhere way.
Uzumeri: Since the next arc centers on the World, I really get the feeling that Fantomex is the main emotional journey in this book, and the character Remender's most interested in.
Brothers: I'm hoping you're right, because Remender's done a great job so far. I loved the silent outro of the last issue. Because I mean, what do you say? Even if it was the right move, you still just blew a kid's brain out.
Uzumeri: Remender gets him in a way nobody other than Jason Aaron has -- Matt Fraction tried, but I don't think he quite pulled it off, and I haven't read Frank Tieri's take although I know he showed up in that Weapon X book. That's another thing about this book -- it really reinforces the fact that, even though House of M undid the whole mutant culture thing, the spectre of Morrison's run on New X-Men still looms incredibly large over the current status quo.
Brothers: Sublime is in Uncanny X-Men right now, right?
Uzumeri: Yeah, not to mention the entire Scott/Emma relationship.
Brothers: It seems like Morrison took the X-Men to the limit, but before it could be something fresh, Marvel recoiled in shock. Now it's baby-stepping its way back.
Uzumeri: I think it was just a matter of the people they chose to follow him, honestly. It definitely became more pronounced when the franchise moved to Axel Alonso's purview.
Brothers: You know, I think this is the most exciting X-Men launch book in ages. Remender and Opeña managed to hook me right off the bat on the story's own merits, without any of the hype machine telling me what to buy.
Uzumeri: Well yeah -- New Mutants took a few issues to really find its voice and get as good as it did, and it didn't have the slam-bang first arc of this. This arc was big because it was a big story, not because we were told it was a big story.
Brothers: Yeah, exactly. And it wasn't even a pressing story, was it?
Uzumeri: No, the Apocalypse stuff was 100% out of nowhere. There was a prelude in the Wolverine: The Road to Hell oneshot, but that was written by Remender too and that was an anthology issue of preludes to ongoings.
Brothers: This is the type of story that would have been an event back in the day. I like seeing this in and out in what, four issues? That's a good move.
Uzumeri: I honestly expected it to end up in Kid Apocalypse joining the group or something, but instead he just got offed. I imagine there are still repercussions to the story coming, but it still came and went pretty quickly, and without impacting other titles during its duration.
Brothers: Also: there was no speech about how "Heroes Don't Kill."
Uzumeri: Yeah, everyone was totally willing to do the killing thing, it was just the whole child thing that weirded them out. Understandably.
Brothers: It was pretty mature overall. Really well done.
Uzumeri: In retrospect, Fantomex's decision makes perfect sense, since he's the only member of the team who was never a child. He was grown full-born in the World. Logan, Betsy, Warren, hell, even Wade all had childhoods.
Brothers: He looked like he still regretted the move, or at least felt some sort of sorrow.
Uzumeri: Yeah, but was that because he saw some of himself in the small child, or because he knows this way it'll take longer to get into whatever passes for Betsy's pants?
Brothers: My guess is the former. He was raised to kill mutants.
Uzumeri: That's actually very true; he's also a creature of supposed destiny. Which raises the question of if he actually DID kill the kid, or if that was just Fantomex misdirection. Either way, there's no way in Hell I'm dropping this series -- this first arc very quickly established it as a mature book without being in an immature way. It's not violence for its own sake, it's very clearly going to also deal with the CONSEQUENCES of that violence, and that's what makes it adult.
Uzumeri: It is total A-list material. I've seen his art before and enjoyed it, but something about Dean White's coloring really brought out a whole new dimension here -- what used to seem crowded and sketchy now just blends in to the style. Let's get it out of the way: there's a definite Leinil Yu influence here.
Brothers: Yeah, Opeña's work is super dirty, but not in the scratchy way that someone like Bill Sienkiewicz is. He's very line-y and gritty.
Uzumeri: It's an ugly book, and I mean that as a compliment.
Brothers: That's a good way to put it. This and Charlie Huston & Juan Jose Ryp's Wolverine: The Best There Is are Marvel's two ugliest books, and they look fantastic. I've seen Opeña off and on, but never on a book I followed regularly. I can't tell whether or not this is a quantum leap for him, but it definitely looks great.
Uzumeri: I don't know if it's a quantum leap for HIM as much as it's a quantum leap for the finished product by bringing in Dean White.
Brothers: White's colors are always great. He made Scot Eaton look fantastic on Black Panther a few years back. He's crazy talented at bringing out the best in an artist's work, which is something I have to repect.
Uzumeri: Remember that Fall of the Hulks joint he did with Romita Jr.? It's ridiculous; he's absolutely one of the best in the industry, he's on the Dave Stewart/Matt Hollingsworth level, no question.
Brothers: I like how each scene in Uncanny X-Force has its own palette. The outside scenes are all this blue/gray, the interiors are ancient and yellowed, and then there are these bright splashes of color in fight scenes that really pop.
Uzumeri: Everything in E.V.A. has this purple hue, yeah.
Brothers: The Opeña/White combo is great enough that I sort of wish they'd done away with the sound effects. They aren't jarring or anything, but I think the art sells the impact on its own.
Uzumeri: I'm growing increasingly tired with sound effects inserted at the letterer level in general. Do it right or don't do it at all. And I swear to God, I've had it up to here with "cute" sound effects inspired by Incredible Hercules. That joke has gone too far, and totally kills the immersion.
Brothers: I think the only sound effect that would be a worthwhile addition here is Wolverine's snikt, simply because it's genuinely iconic. Wolverine: The Best There Is uses it well.
Uzumeri: If you're going to do a SNIKT, then have Opeña draw it in.