Credits: Jeph Loeb (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Lanning/Morales/Russell (inkers), Marie Javins & Electric Crayon (colors), Comicraft (lettering)
Sebastian Shaw reunites with Tessa and builds new armor for his ally, Holocaust. Soon, while Sunspot is spending time with Caliban in the sewers, Holocaust kidnaps both of them. Later, Warpath and Siryn are abducted by Sebastian Shaw in Manhattan. Outside of a nightclub, Shatterstar stops a group of thugs from beating up a young man. He’s suddenly attacked from behind. In Pennsylvania, Boomer returns to her hometown and attempts to reconcile with her father. Soon after he reveals to her that her mother is actually alive, Shaw and Holocaust arrive. Holocaust destroys her father’s trailer and then carries Boomer away.
This issue has a fairly thin plot, but the dialogue is filled with little hints about various plotlines. Sebastian Shaw was killed off in X-Factor #67, when his son used his intangibility powers to give him a heart attack while he was trapped inside an exploding building. There’s no explanation of how Shaw survived, but he now has a scar on his face, which I guess is supposed to be an acknowledgment of his death scene.
Tessa is referred to as a telepath, and even uses telepathic powers, which is a mistake. She was originally described as someone with a “computer-like” mind, and wasn’t even explicitly referred to as a mutant. I think the modern retcon explanation is that she has low-level TP powers but rarely uses them.
According to Sunspot, he can’t turn back to his human form. He also claims that his powers disrupt any holographic image inducers. Warpath claims that he almost died during X-Force’s off-panel fight with Reignfire. His near-death experience inspired him to stop living in his brother’s shadow, explaining his change in appearance. Later on in the issue, he begins to use a new power he’s somehow developed, enhanced hearing.
Loeb drops a few hints that Shatterstar might be gay in this issue. After turning down a woman outside of a nightclub, he thinks to himself about how much he misses Rictor, and then stops what’s inferred to be a gay bashing. I’ll again point out that Loeb’s interpretation that Shatterstar’s gay is apparently based on a misreading of X-Force #43, which established that he had no concept of sexuality. This, combined with the Tessa mistake in this issue and his characterization of Caliban, makes me wonder if Loeb was just skimming through back issues before writing these characters, or perhaps basing his interpretations on vague memories of the actual stories.
This is really just a setup for next issue’s fight with Shaw and Holocaust, with some character moments thrown in. If all of the little hints slipped into the characters’ dialogue actually went somewhere, maybe this wouldn’t feel like such a thin read, but read individually it doesn’t add up to much. Most of the character beats are just reiterations of what’s been established in previous issues, so we end up with more pages to establish that Caliban is childlike, Sunspot is feeling isolated, Warpath acts like a sap around Siryn, Shatterstar misses Rictor, and Boomer’s upset about what happened with Sabretooth. The only new revelation is that Boomer’s mother might be alive. I don’t recall this going anywhere, but I like the fact that someone’s exploring Boomer’s family life for the first time. Revealing that her father isn’t a rabid bigot and feels bad about the way he treated her is also a nice variation on an old cliché. The superhero elements of the issue don’t really work, simply because Shaw has no motive to attack X-Force at this point. The only explanation given is that Shaw is reclaiming his life and that “Xavier, the X-Men, the Hellfire Club, (and) Shinobi” will all pay. Well, this is X-Force, not X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Unlimited or any of the annuals or specials starring the team. Drafting X-Force into a fight with another team’s nemesis with no discernable justification feels lame, and it just exasperates the loss of identity this title has experienced in the preceding months.