Review by Ian Keogh
The first Complete Collection of Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force was in effect one long story over twenty chapters. This is slightly different, although for the most part dealing with the emotional fallout of what happened in the first volume. Events there left Angel completely changed, Psylocke traumatised, although not to the point of being incapacitated, and the Nightcrawler of an alternate universe added to the team, more chilling and calculated than the better known X-Man. Also brought more to the fore was a cloned version of the X-Men’s most dangerous enemy, Apocalypse, although one of several ongoing moral questions is whether it’s inevitable that this young teenage boy will become the callous slaughterer of millions.
There are ten chapters of fallout, previously issued in slimmer paperbacks as Final Execution Book One and Final Execution Book Two, but before then we have what was originally gathered as Otherworld. It’s the only prolonged dip during Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. It’s decided that Fantomex has to answer for crimes committed. He’s abducted to Otherworld, the gateway to all alternate dimensions and put on trial. It’s a story that never sparks into life as it should, wastes Captain Britain, and in Greg Tocchini has an artist unsuited to the needs of widescreen superhero action.
Before the main event there’s a more satisfying standalone story about the renegade Iceman from the same universe as Nightcrawler, once a good friend, now a villain. Satisfying comedy adventure has a tragic conclusion that establishes Nightcrawler’s priorities, which are important in what’s to come. Two short stories that didn’t make the slimmer paperback collections are also included, Deadpool played for laughs and a more serious Wolverine effort, both drawn by Jerome Opeña, but in a grittier style than used in the previous volume.
The closing story eventually leads to a reckoning with a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who kidnap the Apocalypse clone with the intention of unleashing his world-destroying potential. A number of ethical themes are weaved into a superhero slam-bang, accompanied by a side dish of psychological issues, occupying several of the cast. Mental manipulation is also high on the agenda, so no-one, hero or villain can ultimately trust their own their own senses. It makes for a frequently surprising finale. Before then X-Force pay a visit to the future to witness the ultimate extension of their policy of acting as judge, jury and executioner.
Phil Noto draws considerably more of this collection than anyone else in his clean and straightforward way, good with facial expressions and actions, although credit to Mike McKone on the single chapter for being the only artist who convincingly portrays Psylocke as Asian. Noto isn’t as explicit as other artists have been in showing the bloody results of violence, although is landed with a character whose skin has been removed, which isn’t pleasant.
Remender has put considerable thought into how several seemingly invulnerable characters can be killed, and the results are, as intended, a guilty sadistic thrill. X-Force are a team who kill their opponents, and the morality of this has been a constant subtext that has no convenient answer. Even at the end when some characters are questioning their actions there’s one who goes into the final showdown knowing they’ll have to kill to ensure a better world. Once the ‘Otherworld’ section is done with, this is a thrilling collection matching the first.
Anyone who’d prefer an oversized hardcover collection the entire series can have it as Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender Omnibus.