Sunday, January 04, 2009

X-Force #7-10

"Old Ghosts"
Writers: Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost
Artist: Mike Choi
Colourist: Sonia Oback
Letterer: Cory Petit
Editor: John Barber

Since I'm only doing full reviews at the end of each arc, it makes more sense to look at the whole story. So let's kick off 2009 with "Old Ghosts", the second X-Force arc.

It's a definite improvement on the first six issues, which took themselves far, far too seriously, and ended up being unintentionally funny. Partly, that's because Clayton Crain is replaced on art by Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. Their work is perhaps a little too pretty for this sort of story, but it's got more energy and less oppressive atmospherics. And partly, it's because the writers have tinkered with the tone: bringing Domino and Elixir into the cast gives them some characters who are neither grim nor tortured.

There are some welcome signs of long-term planning here. Although notionally written as a four-issue arc, these stories spend a lot of their time building up subplots for future use: reinstating an assortment of revived villains as expandable bad guys for future stories, and setting up Archangel and Wolfsbane's latest round of mental health problems.

All for the best. But does "Old Ghosts" hang together as a story in its own right? Well, not really.

The main plot has the team trying to recover a Legacy Virus sample which has fallen into the wrong hands. In itself, this is a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. The plot of Secret Invasion: X-Men - published simultaneously - hinged on the fact that the X-Men already have a cure for the Legacy Virus, and aren't too worried about releasing it any more. In X-Force, the very same thing is portrayed as a threat of extinction. You can't have it both ways - and no matter how lax your attitude to continuity, there shouldn't be such an inconsistency between two stories coming out at the same time.

Moreover, it turns out that the bad guys already have other samples of the Virus anyway. So the whole thing is a wild goose chase, and doesn't seem to have added anything - save for a random fight against expendable Marauder clones, and a faintly silly (though quite well paced) climax with X-23 diving into molten steel.

Alongside this, there's an apparently unrelated B-story with Warpath going home and fighting a giant magical demon bear. This is a homage to an old New Mutants story from the mid-1980s, but how many readers will understand that, I'm not so sure. And this part of the story is a real mess. It's a seemingly pointless fight, resolved by a random guest star: the Ghost Rider, who literally just happens to be passing, and whom the plot awkwardly casts in a grindingly inappropriate "wise old sage" role.

Mind you, it's worth noting that after struggling with the big bear in earlier issues, Choi and Oback do a much better job with it in issue #10. They haven't tried to emulate Bill Sienkiewicz's design from the original story - more of an abstract shape than a physical creature - but they've given it a hazier quality and put more emphasis on the colouring.

There are some interesting elements in these four issues, and some ideas with potential for the long term. X-Force has certainly shaken off the worst excesses of its opening story. But "Old Ghosts" is still too scattered and unfocussed to be a satisfying four-issue story in its own right.

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