I’ll just get this out of the way up front. Since its debut over a year ago, Uncanny X-Force has on the whole been a consistently excellent book. From the chilling climax of its opening arc to the conclusion of writer Rick Remender’s epic Dark Angel Saga, the series has without a doubt proven itself a worthy successor to Kyle and Yost’s superlative run on the previous incarnation of the title. That’s why I was so stunned to find myself as let down as I was by the recent Otherworld storyline (running from issue 20 to 23). Between an uncharacteristically dull plot and art that I felt wasn’t nearly up to the standard I’d come to expect, I couldn’t help wondering if Remender had hit a slump. So it was with some trepidation that I cracked open this latest issue.
Fortunately, my fears were almost immediately allayed as Phil Noto’s pencils provided an immediate and refreshing contrast to the style employed by Greg Tocchini on the previous story. On top of this, it fast became clear that Frozen Moment was simply more of an X-Force story that Otherworld was, as we see Remender picking up plot points he’d established at the conclusion of the Dark Angel Saga; specifically that of Nightcrawler’s Age of Apocalypse counterpart hunting down and exacting revenge upon other AoA ex-patriots (Iceman, in this case). This continues throughout the issue, culminating with, as Remender writes “Just two old friends and a fight to the death”. Meanwhile we’re also given some follow up to the conclusion of Otherworld, which saw Psylocke kill her brother in the present to prevent his future crimes. Though the lion’s share of the issue is dedicated to the fight between Nightcrawler and Iceman, the Psylocke subplot was nonetheless handled effectively. In addition to addressing loose ends from Otherworld (the revelation that Betsy traded her capacity to feel sorrow to a denizen of Otherworld), it culminated with a physical encounter between her and Fantomex, furthering a plot thread that stretches back to the series’ beginning.
As I alluded to above, a major problem with Otherworld was from the fact that it was just not an X-Force story. The modern incarnation of the team can best be described as the X-Men’s black ops squad, and as such is best served by the sort of stories that proceed from that. To borrow another of Remender’s turns of phrase, Otherworld featured “a Led Zeppelin song’s worth of wizards and faeries”. While that sort of thing has its place, it’s hard to argue that that place is in a book about a wetworks team. Frozen Moment, by contrast represents a return to what the series does best: a team of black ops X-Men on an assassination mission, balanced with plot progression and character development. When all is said and done, I am happy to report that, despite the previous arc’s misstep, Remender – and Uncanny X-Force – still has plenty of gas in the tank.