The previous volume of Uncanny X-Force was incredible – 35 issues (plus two .1s) of quality comics. Rick Remender wrote up a storm and some of my favourite artists did stints on the book, particularly Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic and Phil Noto. So I’ve got some high expectations for this book. New writer Sam Humphries took over from Jonathan Hickman on Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates last year, and whilst his work didn’t fire my imagination in the same way as Hickman’s, he has kept up the quality that people have come to expect from the Ultimate line since it’s 2011 relaunch. New artist Ron Garney’s work, however, I am much less familiar with. Add to the new creative team a shake up in X-Force’s line-up, removing A-list headliners Wolverine and Deadpool, and we’re definitely looking at a different kettle of mutants.
The focus shift is immediately apparent. For this issue, at least, Uncanny X-Force is Psylocke’s book. Not surprising, as Remender took Betsy Braddock on a real journey in the pages of the previous volume of this title. Here, the trend of Marvel NOW to build on the work done by past creative teams, instead of throwing it out and starting from scratch, is continued. Remender spent a lot of time exploring Betsy’s character and she’s evolved from the scantily clad ninja girl to a hard-boiled and embittered assassin. Gone is the 90s Jim Lee leotard (and those pointless legwraps), and we have a much more wetwork appropriate black and grey bodysuit. She’s joined on the new X-Force by Storm, who has issues of her own to work out in the wake of AvX and the disintegration of her marriage to Black Panther (Wolverine and The X-Men #24, also out this week, explores this a little more and helps the X-books feel more connected). They follow up a lead passed onto them by Wolverine, which turns out to be from his old friend Puck (formerly of Alpha Flight) and sets them on the trail of Psylocke’s old enemy Spiral. Combined with the return of Bishop and the prospect of three clones of Fantomex on the loose, this feels simultaneously fresh and familiar. Not only does the issue build on characters and plot threads from the previous volume, but it also integrates new threads from the larger X-Universe, making the book feel much more connected. What is so pleasing about this in the case of Uncanny X-Force is that it is all done so organically. Nothing feels forced, and as much as I miss Remender’s line up, I’m looking forward to getting this new band together.
This being a first issue, there is a lot of set-up, but the issue doesn’t short-change us for action. Humphries’s plotting is slick and nicely paced, and even the obligatory flashback flies by as we head into the first action set-piece. The dialogue pops nicely off the page, and there’s a zesty energy to the Storm/Psylocke exchanges that helps give a sense of simmering bitterness and anger just below the surface. Puck is a joy to read, sparky and gruff, and I’m looking forward to him being on the team, as it’s a character I’m not too familiar with.
The slick and quality feel also extends to the issue’s visuals. Ron Garney’s pencils are clean and dynamic. There’s a pleasing sense of motion, and his layouts never fall into a uniform pattern which helps the sense that everything is moving forward. His characters are rendered with a real life, their moods writ large. Psylocke’s constant disgruntlement writ large in the scowl that she wears for most of the book. It’s a long way from the more textured pencils of Opena and Ribic in the previous volume, and maybe a little too slick and clean for a black ops book, but it is a strong statement of new beginnings, and the action beats in particularly are alive and exciting. Marte Gracia and Israel Gonzalez’s colours really help this along, contrasting the black and grey of the leads with vibrant backgrounds in green and pink, and bathing the nightclub scenes that make up the latter half of the book in washes of blue, green and orange, making the page into a sort of traffic light patchwork of violence that really draws the eye and helps pull you through the action. Also of particular note are the panels of Psylocke’s flashbacks, which are portrayed in black and white with splashes of indigo, the colour of her trademark psionic energy. The page of her speaking to Wolverine in his office at the Jean Grey school portrays this as sunlight spilling through his window, and the effect is very striking, drawing attention to Garney’s skillful and clean line work.
All in all, this relaunch of Uncanny X-Force is off to a very strong start. The slick art doesn’t quite capture the black ops feel that I’ve come to expect from the title, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work. The new team, both on the page and behind the scenes, have big shoes to fill, but if this is an indicator of what’s to come, then I’m on board and very excited.
Oh, and mohawk Storm is really, really cool.