Because the Big Two love to flood the market with relaunches, spinoffs, and reboots, it’s now actually considered a landmark when a series reaches 25 issues. At least, that’s what the page that breaks up the main story from the back-up content indicates when it calls this issue of Uncanny X-Force precisely that. It’s nice that a series can hit those nice round numbers, but it would have been a real landmark if this series had hit 25 issues without having to switch artists so much. Between Billy Tan, Greg Tocchini, a few others, and now Mike McKone, most of this series’ run has been without one-third of the reason this title is so popular, which is a shame.
There’s nothing wrong with fill-in artist McKone. His art is clean and workmanlike–probably the reason he’s Marvel’s go-to pinch-hitter–so you can at least tell what’s going on, though his depiction of Wolverine on the last page of Final Execution: Chapter One looks really chunky and odd (where the rest of the story he has a sleeker look). The problem with McKone, though, is that his clean, tidy images don’t really fit with the tone of Uncanny X-Force. He can draw Deadpool infiltrating an inter-dimensional showroom for grown assassins (the main plot this issue), and he can draw a morning-after conversation between Psylocke (who has become emotionally disconnected since The Dark Angel Saga) and Fantomex (who might actually be developing emotions), but you can tell he’s not a good fit for it. Series semi-regular artist Jerome Opeña, on the other hand, has a rougher edge, where his characters are frayed around the edges like they could snap at any moment, which is perfect for a series that includes Wolverine, Deadpool, and a version of Nightcrawler from a hellish alternate reality. Opeña handles two back-up stories this issue, both typical tales for the title’s most overexposed characters: Purity, a Wolverine short set in
insert Asian country Thailand where Logan meditates to combat his berserker nature (or Every Wolverine Story Ever), and Appetite for Destruction, where Deadpool faces off against vampires who fatten people up…or something…and it’s really weird and silly (like Every Deadpool Story Ever?). Then again, that seems to be what Rick Remender has been going for with this series: take whatever elements from the last twenty-five years of X-Men mythos he feels like (sex, violence, soap opera plotting, and the just plain weird), dump them in a blender, then jab some sparklers in it before chugging.
That’s the sort of junk-art, garage rock type of thing that requires either a soundtrack by The Heavy, or an artist willing to go nuts with it. McKone’s too reserved: his images, whether it’s the White Sky Showroom and its saleswoman, Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler having a flashback to his universe’s Blob murdering his wife, or X-Force cutting up some artificial assassins (complete with a meta-fictional narration by Logan about how “This is what they want from me.”), it all falls a little flat. Looking again at the back-up stories, and how Opeña uses angles and foreshortening, the way he has his characters emote, and the heightened sense of violence, absurdity, and sexuality in his pages, I could see Final Execution having a lot more kick under his pencils than with McKone’s. Colorist Dean White–and his painterly set of blues, reds, and purples–makes up for the lack of energy in the main story, even if they don’t crackle like they have with Opeña.
The issue does touch on some more interesting stuff with the teenaged Apocalypse clone Genesis, integrated into the school Wolverine had set up over in Wolverine and the X-Men, and Remender is clearly having fun writing the back-and-forth dialogue between the characters, such as Logan’s sarcastic remarks at hearing Nightcrawler will be sticking around, which gives way to the latter’s droll comment later when two teammates abruptly quit. I also enjoy how Remender (and Jason Aaron over on WatX) have done a darker twist on the superhero narrative by having Wolverine divide his time between trying to be the adult, responsible headmaster of a school and performing black-ops murder, extending the Schism arc from last year to the characters beyond which team they chose to be with (Kitty Pryde and Beast have an uncomfortable conversation about X-Force). If the X-Men titles have to be drowning in the convoluted backstory, as they have been for decades now, at least this has been a more inventive use of those trappings. If only the art could consistently match the setup.