Digital ComicsAlliance: ‘Uncanny X-Force,’ ‘Heart,’ ‘The Boys,’ and ‘BPRD’
We’re rearranging Digital ComicsAlliance a bit, just to keep things fresh. From here on out, look for an in-depth review of one story and an assortment of brief reviews of other books that are worth reading digitally, posted every weekend. There are a lot of great digital comics out there, and this way we can hopefully cover more ground and put the best books in front of your eyes. This week, I’m digging into Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña’s Uncanny X-Force and how it cleverly subverts the incredible sexiness of the X-Men franchise. After that, we’re talking about Heart, BPRD Hell on Earth, and The Boys: Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker.
The X-Men franchise positively throbs with sexual tension. Its aesthetic tends toward sleek and shiny technology operated by ultra-fit hardbodies in skintight costumes, and even when grittier artists like John Romita Jr were manning the series, we still understood were looking at supermodels who lived in a high-tech mansion. The work of artists like John Byrne, Joe Madureira, and especially Jim Lee embody the platonic ideal of the X-Men.
The X-Men are, and always will be, the prettiest little superheroes you ever will see. The men have chiseled jaws, six-pack abs, and adorably tousled hair. The women are statuesque bombshells, with flowing hair and catwalk poses. The X-Men are Jean and Scott’s eternal love, Jean and Wolverine’s temptation, and Rogue and Gambit’s unrequited passion. It’s as much about deep kisses and romantic drama as it is about fighting for a world that hates and fears them. Even after their numbers were massively reduced and the team was relegated to a tiny island, casual sex, romance, and relationship drama abound. You can’t have the X-Men without soap opera.
But the archetypal clean and shiny sexiness of the X-books is subverted (or inverted) in Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña’s Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution, where Opeña takes three of the sexiest X-Men — Wolverine, Archangel, and Psylocke — and coats them in a thick layer of grime.
Everyone’s as fit as they usually are, but the movie star good looks are long gone. Wolverine is short, squat, and hairy; Archangel is slim and tall, but has the demeanor of a serial killer. Opeña even pulls away from the uber-sexiness of Psylocke, which is remarkable, considering that she’s one of those characters who has been contorted into so many unlikely and faux-sexy poses that she shouldn’t be able to stand up straight. Opeña’s steps back from her omnipresent thong shots and reduces the constant focus on her butt, and turns her usual ridiculous, bra-less breasts into more believable silhouette. When she wakes up from a nightmare, she immediately pulls on a robe instead of lounging around in her lingerie.
This doesn’t mean that the series is completely devoid of romantic or sexual tension. No, not at all. Remender is just approaching the aspirational aspect of the love lives of the X-Men with something a little meaner. Rather than your traditional Jean/Cyclops/Wolverine love triangle, where the choice is between a sweetheart who may be a little boring and a wild man, Remender sets Archangel against Fantomex for Psylocke’s favor.
Fantomex is rich, stylish, suave, and unbearably childish. Archangel is a broken man, desperate to keep the beast inside him, but he isn’t that attractive kind of dangerous, where it’s just edgy enough to add a little spice to the relationship. He’s the type of dangerous that will actually murder you in his sleep if he loses control. And Psylocke? She needs an exit strategy, but she can’t go anywhere. She has to protect Archangel from himself, and that means keeping the ugliest parts of her lover’s mind at the forefront of her mind.
It’s a triangle held together with the thinnest of spiderwebs, and you don’t wish you were any of these three, because the compromise and violence that has thoroughly poisoned their daily lives has seeped through to their relationships. People wanted to be Jean, Cyclops, or Wolverine. Who wants to be a possible murderer, a faux-Frenchman raised in a vat, or the woman who has to gaze into the abyss every night?
These are anti-X-Men comics, where the smooth and sexy Blackbird has been replaced by EVA’s organic ugliness and the love triangles make you feel weird inside, and not in the cool, puberty-inducing sort of way that kept us all reading X-Men as kids. The violence is on another level, too, because Remender and Opeña take the gimmick of the series — “These are the X-Men who kill people better than anyone else” — and tackle it head on. The fights get dirty. Blood sprays. People die screaming. Heads roll, on panel or off.
Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution is the best the X-Men franchise has been in years.
Sports comics are depressingly rare. We get the odd sports manga over here, but we have precious few homegrown sports comics. In Heart, Blair Butler and Kevin Mellon get what can make sports comics so great. It’s not the sport itself. It’s the passion. The sport, and the rituals surrounding that sport, is just a delivery system for the raw emotion that comes from picking up something new, mastering it, or losing. Butler and Mellon nail the determination that’s required to become competent at anything that’s challenging and that incredible feeling that comes when you start to get good. The crux of the story is one man’s attempt to make something of himself, and MMA is the way he chooses to do that. This is a good comic in a rare genre.
Creative Team: Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letterer)
Platform: Dark Horse (iOS app that syncs to your account on the web)
You know post-apocalypse stories. Everyone dies, the world gets blasted flat, and everyone wears tattered clothes. You know pre-apocalypse stories, too. Those are the ones where the hero pushes the self-destruct button at the last minute, saving the day, the world, and the damsel in distress. BPRD Hell on Earth: New World is neither of those. In New World, the apocalypse isn’t imminent or just passed. It’s here. It’s now. The heroes stood up to fight against the coming tides of darkness and soon found that some things are beyond the ability of man. New World is a great example of how a new status quo should work. Old readers will be immediately hit with an “Oh snap!” moment, and new readers will find a world that’s like ours but just different enough to draw them in to learn more.
Garth Ennis is at his best when he gives his characters chances to just talk. He writes good stories, and his action scenes are well thought out, but my absolutely favorite part of his work is his dialogue. He gets relationships, romantic or otherwise, and reading his conversations are a treat. This miniseries, which features the return of The Boys co-creator Darick Robertson, is exactly what I want out of Ennis. Billy Butcher’s father finally kicks the bucket after a lifetime of douchebaggery, and Butcher comes back home to have one last conversation with his father. We get an origin story that’s wonderfully realized, thanks to some sharp art from Robertson and typically killer dialogue from Ennis. The middle issues even serve as a pretty sweet approximation of a romance comic, I’d argue.