The final page of The Dark Angel Saga‘s opening half delivered one hell of a shock, which is always pleasing. X-Force travelled to an alternate universe where they hoped to locate a device to prevent Angel, now with Archangel in control, ascending to the role of Apocalypse, were betrayed, and seemed to have been trapped in a hellhole. On their eventual return they were faced with a freed Archangel who’s captured Fantomex’s world and new allies set on ushering in an age of subjugation.

If there’s any hope that X-Force will set things right before an atrocity occurs, that’s wiped away by the end of the opening chapter. Rick Remender underlines that Angel’s transformation is seemingly permanent, and does so horrifically. At times the ride hasn’t been as smooth as intended while Remender builds toward everything that comes to fruition here, but the way the finale rolls out is near flawless. So many ideas introduced over the previous three volumes flourish during a desperate battle. As in earlier chapters, there are times when Remender presumes readers know too much of what’s going on elsewhere in the Marvel universe, such as a sequence with the Dreaming Celestial coming from nowhere. Anyone who’s been paying attention will figure out who’ll enable the day to be saved, but probably not the tragic way it actually occurs.

When read as part of the first volume of Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender: The Complete Collection and The Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender Omnibus, the jump from Mark Brooks art ending the previous book and the return of Jerome Opeña will be noticeable. Here it’s a new book, so the returning artist fits right in. Opeña’s art opened the series, and he’s a slight cut above everyone since. His strong layouts offer viewpoints other artists wouldn’t conceive, and there’s no skimping when it comes to filling the panels with people or detail, which is very textured (although the colourists play a part). Every panel makes compositional sense, be it action or conversation. Esad Ribić also returns to draw a few pages of the finale, but there’s a plummet down to the art Robbi Rodriguez provides for the epilogue. It’s completely out of tune with the naturalistic style of every other artist who’s worked on Uncanny X-Force, and his distorted, angular people are dropped into the most basic of backgrounds.

Remender escalates the stakes and the desperation all the way to the end, and there’s a role for almost everyone who’s survived events earlier in the series, good or evil, which means plenty of surprises. It’s fantastic, ambitious and satisfying, and only the poor last chapter art drops it from five stars. Remender continues with Otherworld.