Uncanny X-Force – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Rick Remender (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Rick Remender started out as an animator before breaking into comics, working on films like Anastasia, The Iron Giants, and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, amongst other works. From the years 2000-2003 he taught a class on comics at the Academy of Art University, whilst also writing, illustrating, and inking multiple series. In the mid-2000’s, Remender launched a plethora of creator owned work before finding his way to Marvel in 2008. Remender quickly ascended towards being a top talent for the company, producing enjoyable runs on books like Punisher, Secret Avengers, and Venom. Remender’s most well-known work for Marvel is undoubtedly his 35 issue run on Uncanny X-Force, following a team of mutants with dark pasts that band together as a black-ops team.
Uncanny X-Force Blah Volume 1
A team of merciless mutants is put together by Wolverine to take on covert missions of dire importance that would destroy anyone with a pure soul. Wolverine brings together the Uncanny X-Force, consisting of Fantomex, Psylocke, Archangel, and Deadpool, all of whom are willing to do whatever it takes to complete the missions they are given. Their first mission takes them to outer space, as they hunt down the reincarnated form of the frequent X-Men foe, Apocalypse. This time around things are different are this form of Apocalypse is nothing more than an innocent child, decades away from becoming the benevolent destroyer he’s supposed to be. Armed with his four horsemen to protect him, Kid Apocalypse watches on as the X-Force struggles with the difficult task of whether or not to kill a child. Their misadventures bring them back down to Earth quickly and awaken a dark beast within Archangel as he begins to struggle with keeping his darker inhibitions at bay. Struggling to find balance between being Warren Worthington and Archangel, the longtime member of the X-Men reconciles his struggles in the loving arms of Psylocke, although, try as she may, it all may be too late to save his soul. With his destiny as the future heir of Apocalypse knocking, the X-Force then must decide if killing one of their own is yet another step too far for this team.
Rick Remender takes several members of the mutant community to dark places with his Uncanny X-Force. Taking a core cast of incredibly flawed characters to begin with, Remender pushes these members of X-Force in ways that just eat at their soul, forcing each and every member of the team to make at least one incredibly harrowing or difficult call. The first mission the team is placed on, dealing with killing the reborn child form of Apocalypse, nearly destroys every member of the team before they even get the chance to see how they truly function as a team. I personally believe that Rick Remender’s take on Uncanny X-Force works because of how well he explores each individual member of this “team”, even though they hardly constitute being such. With Wolverine, Remender casts a clear leader, putting a man who isn’t shy to spill some blood, at the front of a team that needs to do terrible things to ensure that harrowing events can be averted before they even occur. Remender touches on the roots of samurai culture planted on Logan over his rather long life which creates an interesting contrast for some of the calls the character needs to make. Overall, Remender shows he has a firm grasp on the emotional core of the character, displaying a deep understanding of what makes him tick over and over again.
In Deadpool the reader finds an incredibly interesting character that feels like so much more than his usual, comedic self. Typically, Deadpool is seen as a character who only cracks jokes and breaks the fourth wall, of which he still does during this volume of Uncanny X-Force, but it takes on an almost macabre tone at times. The entire tone around the story is rather dreary, with Deadpool often breaking up the grim nature of things with a joke or two, but we see that the lengths the team needs to go to to complete missions begins to wear on him after a time, exposing that he is a character who actually has some level of personal sensitivity and morals. It’s one of the more fascinating takes on Deadpool, exposing readers to a side not often explored.
If Deadpool is meant to showcase how good Remender is at showing the different sides of a character, then Fantomex, Psylocke, and Archangel are all designed to show how well Remender can evolve characters. At the start of this volume, it’s easy to find Fantomex as a character who isn’t that compelling. He ultimately begins making calls that are equally necessary and terrible for the team, but are also needed for progressing the character along as well. By this volume’s end, it’s hard to argue against Fantomex being your favourite member of the team as he becomes such a fascinating character with so many layers to him thanks to the hidden agendas he has in place. He’s a character who appears to be constantly self-serving but you can’t help but be endeared to because of how engrossed within himself he is. It’s not to the point where he’s obnoxious, it’s to the point where is he almost a character of tragedy, caring for himself so much that it doesn’t cripple him but actually enables him to be a better man. When you speak of tragedy in this story though, it’s hard to not transition from the nature of Fantomex to the relationship between Psylocke and Archangel. The two lovers are strained because of the duality of Angel/Archangel, as both sides of his personality are at war with each other constantly, with Psylocke caught in the middle trying to keep Archangel in check. This dark creature grows inside of Angel, threatening to destroy everything the team sets out to accomplish, with Psylocke constantly trying to keep the beast at bay. How Fantomex influences the relationship between these two characters, as well as how it forces Psylocke’s character to develop beyond her zone of comfort, is a long narrative thread across this entire volume but one that ultimately pays off in a satisfying manner.
If it wasn’t evident enough by my quick analysis of the members of the team, this story has a lot of moving pieces. Each character has some form of personal stake in the team at one point or another as things progress, whether it be Wolverine dealing with his feelings for a lost lover, the entire team dealing with the consequences of their action, Psylocke trying to protect Angel, Fantomex trying to push his own agenda, or many other things on top of that, there is always larger pieces of a puzzle at play. Rick Remender most certainly plays a long game, not only with the personal struggles of his characters but with the overall plot as well, with key elements of the first arc paying off towards the end of this volume. He even manages to seed in subtle hints of what’s to come at times, while other moments he’s incredibly blatant about what he intends to do. There’s a reason that this volume features over twenty issue of story and it’s not for the sake of convenience for collectors. It’s because so much is constantly happening that it’s important you pay attention.
One of the only downfalls a reader might find with this volume of Uncanny X-Force is how much it does rely on prior knowledge of these characters and their pasts. If you don’t know about how or why Uncanny X-Force was established in the first place, branching out of other previous X-Men titles, you could feel a little lost at times. Similarly, there’s already pre-established connections between character like Angel and Psylocke, of which the reader has to pick up on. It really is a book that relies on prior reader knowledge, which is completely fair of Remender to do but something readers should still be aware that they might need to know about characters like Apocalypse and Archangel or have some knowledge on what exactly makes Fantomex tick. There are times when the story is really strong because of how Remender crafts unique takes on characters or creates new characters entirely, but then there are moments where, if the reader is reading this as their first X-Men story, they may feel lost. With that all in mind, Rick Remender tackles certain places and timelines from X-Men history, like “Age Of Apocalypse”, in a manner that is highly accessible to the reader. In a few short pages Remender manages to show you everything you’d need to know about the state of that timeline, what occurred, and where things have gone as a result. It’s powerful stuff that can be hit or miss but for the most part Remender knocks the ball out of the park with his Uncanny X-Force.
Collects: Uncanny X-Force #1-19, #5.1, and material Wolverine: Road to Hell #1
Best Character: Fantomex
Best Scene/Moment: Fantomex steps up – Issue 4
Best Line Of Dialogue: “You ever get creeped out by the idea of The Watcher? Real-ly encroaches on lil’Wade’s private time.” – Deadpool
Best Issue: Issue 3 – The Apocalypse Solution: Chapter 3. This early issue gets a nod for its fantastic work with creating characters. In this issue we are introduced to Apocalypse’s four horsemen and their stories on how they came to be. Each character gets a one page introduction that tells you everything you need to know about them. From there the story launches deeper into Uncanny X-Force’s struggles against these four horsemen as they try to decide if killing Kid Apocalypse is their best course of action.
Why You Should Read It: Simply put, Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force underscores how a lot of team books should be. It highlights each character in an interesting way that examines their significance to the team whilst also building their own separate storyline. Remender explores why each member of this team is crucial but also why each member needs the team to back them up. This comic has some of the best depictions you’ll ever find for characters like Wolverine, Deadpool, and Fantomex, while it also gets you interested in other important minor characters like Apocalypses’ four horsemen or even Deathlok. It’s grim, dreary, and all around a rather dark story but it’s still incredibly rewarding.