X-Force: A Force to be Reckoned With Review – Over the Edge
Written by: Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, and Todd McFarlane
Art by: Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane
Published by: Marvel Comics
Even if you’ve never read any 90s X-Men, I’m fairly certain you’ll have some familiarity with it.
Some character you like came from there, some event from that time gets mentioned once in a while, you’ve stumbled upon some ridiculous plot point or design in some list online, etc.
It’s the point where X-Men was at its peak, sprawling and wild, and I have read almost nothing from that era. Keeping up with comic book continuity can be a challenge at the best of times, but X-Men… Oof.
You keep up with one book from the 60s to the early 80s, then all these tributaries start appearing and by the 90s you’re dealing with Alpha and Omega Issues, Mini-Series for every other character, a book called X-Men alongside a book called X-Man.
So, since my editor said that we’re doing an X-Men week in the absence of new issues, why not take my first plunge into the swamp of 90s X-Men and do it with the most 90s book I could think of: X-Force, appropriately drawn and plotted by the poster boy (or redheaded stepchild, depending on how you look at things) of 90s comics, Rob Liefeld.
Is it as garbage as I’m expecting it to be? Or is there something actually worthwhile to this book? First, the plot.
Collecting the last three issues of New Mutants and early X-Force issues (and one Spider-Man issue), this book tells the beginning of the Mutant Mercenary team, X-Force! After a number of complications, the New Mutants are disbanded, with most of the members leaving, and the remaining ones joining up with some new characters to create X-Force! What is X-Force? Well… They’re fighting a War… That’s about as far as they explain it.
Ok, in fairness, the idea is that they’re meant to do the more morally compromising things the regular X-Men can’t or aren’t willing to do. In this particular story, X-Force has to deal with Stryfe, eternal enemy of their leader Cable, as well as Black Tom, staging a takeover of the World Trade Cente and bringing back Juggernaut from an alternate dimension.
Now, if that plot summary seemed a little vague and kind of spread out… Well, I can only work with the material gives me. X-Force is a book that’s hard to get a handle on because there’s plenty of intrigue and fighting but not a lot of actual events. There’s some stuff with a S.H.I.E.L.D agent called Commander Bridge tasked with bringing in Cable, the debuts of plenty of new characters (including Deadpool and Domino) and a lot of threads to follow… but, y’ know, not much happens.
As an example, here is a quick summary of X-Force #2:
– Deadpool fights Garrison Kane.
– Commander Bridge appears and he talks to Kane about how they really need to get Cable.
– X-Force has a training scenario.
– Black Tom brings back Juggernaut
Decompression wasn’t even a thing back then and this still feels like decompressed storytelling. That plot with Black Tom and the WTC takes, not only two issues of the comic but a third McFarlane Spider-Man issue that crosses over. And, I can tell you, that story did not merit three issues.
Ok, so the story isn’t very good, but surely the characters make up for it, right?
Well… It’s not like the characters are absolutely terrible… They’re just all kind of… the same. Most of them are super serious mercenaries who are out to do really dark and morally compromised things… Except when they also join in with the jokey, quippy characters.
Yeah, that was a thing that struck me about this comic, how the characters who are supposed to be dark and serious, also start making quips. Hell, Shatterstar is introduced as a warrior who’s focused on his mission and who has no compunctions about killing and then a few issues later he’s like:
And it never stops. For any character.
At one point, I even said, out loud, “Shut up!” at the comic, cause I was so sick of everyone quipping or throwing in a joke. Because Fabian Nicieza is just not good at writing quips.
Beyond annoyance though, this writing style makes the characters mix together in your mind and there aren’t a lot of scintillating dynamics to speak of. With a group that’s made of so many disparate characters, from across time and dimension, you’d think there’d be a well of conflicts to draw from. Alas, the most we get is Feral going… Well, feral during the training exercise and almost killing Sam Guthrie.
A plot point that goes entirely ignored the next issue where they immediately start working together again.
So with elements left by the wayside and paper-thin stories, what else does this book have to offer, just in terms of its writing? Welp, you got me there. The whole thing just has this waft of incompetency behind it. Like when you get together with friends and you start talking about how “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Cable shot this guy?” and then someone adds “Oh yeah, and if there was this hot chick called Domino, right?” and someone else “Oh! Oh! And Spider-Man joins in!”
I can sort of see what they’re going for, but it just seems like they were looking for excuses to have fights or nonsensical twists.
Speaking of, let’s get to the main feature of X-Force, the art by Rob Liefeld.
Now, I know what you’re expecting. At this point, the crapness of Liefeld’s art is legion. However, X-Force is one of his earlier and most popular works and I wanted to approach it with an open mind. After all, maybe he got worse as time went on or maybe he just stopped caring or maybe he needed people to reign him in, unlike at Image.
So, I tried to clear my head from prejudice and approach the book all by itself.
It was still absolute garbage.
Well, what did you expect? I’m not gonna be the one to reevaluate Rob Liefeld’s work, the man is borderline incompetent.
There is certainly something to be said about an art style that focuses more on over-the-top musculature and overall bigness. Someone like Tradd Moore, for instance.
But the thing with Liefeld is that he just can’t draw. Just in this book, Rob Liefeld makes almost every kind of mistake that any artist can make:
Accidentally hilarious face
From what I recall, Liefeld is an auto-didact and I think what may have happened was that he practiced enough to be acceptable, got a job at Marvel and then everyone immediately loved his artwork and said he was one of the greatest, so why even bother learning more?
His incompetency feels like it comes from a lack of practice and lack of proper restraint. In that way, he is very much a kind of unrestrained version of our childhood action movie fantasies.
Y’know, Pouches and Guns and Cyborgs and Shootin’.
Through that perspective there is something… I guess charming about his art… but that doesn’t go very far when you have to actually read the damn thing.
Oh yeah, and McFarlane also has his Spider-Man issue. It looks better than Liefeld’s art but let’s just say it’s not exactly his A-Material either.
Also, Horizontal Comics.
No. Just… no.
Dave Sim and John Byrne tried it and it’s arguable if it even worked for them.
In conclusion, I can’t really recommend X-Force: A Force to be Reckoned With as a good book. If you were around in the 90s, you might get a nostalgia kick out of it. For the rest of us, it is, at best, an interesting historical curiosity.
You can see where it’s taking certain influences from the past (the darkening of comics in the 80s), you can very much see the imprint of the era when it was made and you can see where future comics are trying to circumvent some of its tropes.
In that way, it does offer some value… but that’s basically where it ends. Unless you’re already curious, I can’t recommend this book.