Thursday, August 21, 2008

X-FORCE #44 – July 1995

…Already In Progress…

Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Chris Eliopoulos (lettering), Marie Javins & Electric Crayon (colors)


Summary

At the X-Men’s mansion, X-Force tries to listen in on Cable’s conversation with Professor Xavier, but Domino kicks them outside. Cannonball is afraid that Cable will disband X-Force now that the Generation X students have taken their place as potential X-Men. Sunspot flies in, but his presence makes most of the team feel uncomfortable, leaving him alone with Cannonball. Shatterstar and Boomer prepare to train in the Danger Room, but find Sabretooth is inside. They’re shocked to see that he’s behaving like a peaceful animal, living inside a holographic fantasy forest. Cannonball warns them to stay away from Sabretooth, but Boomer thinks that he’s changed since Wolverine’s attack. Cable telepathically calls the team into Xavier’s office for a meeting. He reveals that X-Force will be working closer with Xavier, now that the Legacy Virus has been exposed and mutants are facing a more dangerous future. The team receives new costumes, except for Cannonball, who has been promoted to the X-Men. Domino enters with the team’s newest member, Caliban. When Rictor learns that Cable will be expanding his powers and communicating telepathically with the team, he decides to leave because he’s uncomfortable giving Cable access to his thoughts. Later, Cyclops calls Cannonball for his first mission as an X-Man. Meanwhile, a restrained and gagged Siryn is brought to the Weisman Institute for the Criminally Insane.


Continuity Notes

The new characterization of Sabretooth debuts here. The original idea was that Wolverine’s attack damaged his brain, turning him into a tame housecat. Like a lot of ideas from this era, this storyline only receives a half-hearted resolution months later.


Sunspot is now able to easily fly, claiming that Cable helped him put “that Reignfire stuff” behind him and “feel whole” for the first time. Cable’s powers are also expanded, as he’s able to casually communicate telepathically with the team. Warpath is given a bo staff to train with, which is treated as if it will have some impact on the character, even though it goes nowhere.


Caliban joins the team in this issue, and is colored purple for the first time. I can’t tell if the purple is just supposed to be a highlight on his white skin, but Caliban is consistently colored purple as this run continues. He’s also portrayed here like a mentally challenged child, which doesn’t seem consistent with his previous appearances (he always seemed more alien and strange than explicitly childlike to me). Warpath appears to be close to Caliban, which surprises his teammates.


Loeb might be implying that Rictor and Shatterstar are gay here, but it’s very ambiguous. Rictor doesn’t want Cable inside his mind, perhaps implying he’s in the closet, and Shatterstar is distraught that his “best, only friend” is leaving. By the way, the idea that communicating telepathically is the same thing as actually reading someone else’s thoughts doesn’t make sense to me. None of the X-Men freak out when Xavier, Psylocke, or Jean Grey talk to them telepathically.


Miscellaneous Note

According to the Statement of Ownership, average sales for the year were 355,542 with the most recent issue selling 257,700 copies. This fluctuation in sales is equivalent to the total sales of a Top 20 comic today.


“Huh?” Moment

This entire issue is narrated by a letter Cannonball writes to his mother. Apparently, Cannonball not only speaks in a Southern accent, but physically writes in one as well, so his letter is filled with “Ah”s, “if’n”s and “nevah”s. Loeb also gives him an odd compulsion to underline every other word, and the worst Southern accent I’ve ever read in comics.


Review

This issue marks the beginning of the Jeph Loeb/Adam Pollina run. Even though Nicieza moved this title very far away from its original “x-treme” approach, this issue marks the largest change to the book’s status quo so far. Pollina’s art bears no resemblance to Tony Daniel’s Image-friendly look, which automatically gives the book a softer feel. I’m not sure how to describe Pollina’s art, since it’s pretty graphic and design-y, but still has a grounding in reality. I enjoyed it as a teenager, and it still looks nice today. Since Loeb is apparently going for a “New Mutants revisited” feel for this run, his art seems appropriate. More and more, the original Image look is beginning to disappear from the books. Now that Roger Cruz has moved on to a Joe Mad impression, it looks like Ken Lashley is the only artist with a conventional early ‘90s look working regularly on the titles. Jeff Matsuda becomes a regular penciler a year from now, but I think he’s shaken the Liefeld influence at that point and doing full-on manga work.


Loeb certainly makes this series his own with the first issue, which I have mixed feelings about. It’s admirable that his has a specific idea of what this series should be and isn’t flailing around, looking for a direction. I’ll also give him credit for at least doing a transition issue, which explains most of the cast changes. Even if I’m not thrilled by a lot of the changes, I’ll admit that this isn’t a car crash like this month’s X-Factor issue. Bringing the cast back to Xavier’s does have a nostalgia appeal to it, and even if all of Loeb’s characterizations aren’t perfect, he’s able to make the cast seem likable enough. However, the new direction flies in the face of a lot of Nicieza’s run, and it often feels like Loeb’s just unnaturally inserting himself into the book. Giving Warpath a bo staff is a good example of this. Warpath is the team’s strong man who can lift buildings and punch bad guys into orbit. What does he get out of carrying around a wooden stick? It’s only there because Loeb apparently thought he’d look cool with it, or perhaps because Caliban was taking the role of strong guy, so Warpath had to be given something else to do. (At fifteen, I could see how awkward and arbitrary this was. I was convinced that the bo staff wouldn’t last, but a friend who was still new to comics didn’t understand my cynicism. Well, it turns out I was right, Guy-I-Haven’t-Seen-In-Ten-Years.)


Even though bringing the team back to the mansion might be a nice nod to the long-time readers, it’s an awkward fit with the previous issues of this series. Cable now claims that X-Force existed to train future X-Men, which just isn’t true. That was the original goal of the New Mutants, which was abandoned when the teens met a new mentor who disagreed with Xavier’s methods and molded them into X-Force. This new leader was of course Cable, which makes the inconsistency even more glaring. Bringing the team back to a school setting not only undermines the past several years of continuity, but it’s made instantly redundant by Generation X – Marvel’s new title about teenage mutants living in Xavier’s school. The specific schools might not be the same, but it’s virtually the same premise. Loeb makes this even more obvious by having the characters themselves question if they’re redundant now that Generation X has formed. Loeb introduces the problem, and then bizarrely resolves it by giving this title practically the same setup as Generation X. Aside from the commercial appeal of having X-Force hang out with the X-Men more often, I really have no idea why Marvel went in this direction.


I do agree that Generation X puts X-Force in an odd position since both titles are about teenage mutants, but making the books seem even more similar isn’t the way to go. Moving back to New Mutants’ original setting makes the cast look like incompetents sent back to school, or just junior X-Men taking up space in the real team’s house. They’re caught in-between being teenage trainees or real X-Men, which doesn’t work. In one scene, Cannonball is actually starstruck to even be speaking to the great Cyclops, which is absurd. He’s practically grown up around the X-Men by this point, he shouldn’t be stammering around any of them. I’m not sure if Nicieza knew what to do with X-Force after a second teen mutant book debuted either, but he at least made the team independent and occasionally emphasized how their approach differs from the X-Men. Now, the team’s back as a junior-league X-Men, which makes it an even more redundant part of a bloated line of titles.

6 comments:

Teebore said...

Cannonball being promoted to the X-Men: great idea.

Cannonball subsequently being starstruck by the X-Men (in spite of having grown up alongside them) and acting like a rube on the team (in spite of being a capable and effective leader of X-Force): terrible idea.

Compare the post-AoA "rookie X-Man" Cannonball to the Cannonball from the Nicieza/Capullo run: they're basically two different characters.

Like most of Loeb's run, for every decent idea there's a ridiculously bad one.

As for Rictor's concerns about Cable reading his mind when speaking to him telepathically, I just always chalked it up to Rictor being, generally, a stupid git, to borrow a phrase.

Scott Church said...

I hated this issue. I loved where the book was going before the world change. I actually loved Tony Daniels art too at the time, not as much looking back but as a kid I thought it was great.

I hate Pollina's art, HATE IT. Still do, I think that faces are just jacked, wait for the Terressa/Deadpool cover coming where her face is so messed up it's sickening.

The story just drift offs here where it had an original intent and then it would change the next issue to being kids having fun and moving around doing nothing, not really a book I cared to read when Gen 13 was doing a much better job of that at the time with MUCH better art.

Also leaving Reignfire without an ending sucked to me. I thought that was an awsome story going on, I loved the MLF and thought it was awsome the team had a traitor. We get back and everyone is just buddy buddy again and Sunspot is all powered up now with no explanation.

I thought Loeb's run just sucked, just as his work at marvel is sucking right now.

Cannonball was very confident in X-Force before and even a bit brazen. Now he's just so shy and home country boy that is stupid. Umm, when did that happen, did AOA give him brain damage.

Calliban added to the team was stupid and also a downgrade of the character. I think he was last sean in the X-Cutioners Song and then X-Factor before that and neither times he appeared he was a blithering idiot, when did this happen, never explained.

Shatterstar was one of my favorite characters at the time and they totally screwed him over for this, taking away anything cool about the character and basically making him a human later on. BLAH

rob said...

I too absolutely hated the way Cannonball was ineffective and starstruck as an X-Man. And I think this status quo change really made the team tamer. They're back at the school, completely redundant and all wearing lame team costumes. Any edge that the group/characters had under Nicieza is gone. I don't hate Loeb's run, but I enjoyed John Francis Moore's much more.

The only thing approaching X-Factor's level of jarring changes is how they dealt with Reignfire (ie. not at all). Theresa's disappearance is at least a developing mystery, so overall this issue fares much better than X-Facotr#112 on that level.

I don't know if I'm in the minority, but I've always loved Pollina's art. I didn't mind that the characters looked different and the overall style was such a change from most X-books that it has always stuck with me.

LurkerWithout said...

I think I'd prefer the bo staff over the knives Warpath uses now so he can qualify to be on X-Force: Team SNIKT...

But yeah, they basically dumped all the character growth Sam had done over the years to make him the "rookie"...

wwk5d said...

I like Pollina's art as well. The writing...well, i liked it when it first came out, but looking back on it now...not so much :) It's too bad, they ruined Cannonball with this run. Ah well.

thecomichunter said...

This is from 2008, so probably not worth commenting on, but I have a soft spot for this book.

I owned a lot of comics before this one, but this is the issue that turned me into a collector. I loved the idea of where the story was going, and loved (and still love) Adam Pollina's art. It was the most refreshing thing I'd ever seen, already of the Image-style art style that was everywhere.

I own over 30 copies of this book... I buy every copy I come across! hahaha

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