Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Mark Morales w/Scott Hanna & Sean Parsons (inks), Comicraft’s Kolja Fuchs (letters), John Kalisz (colors)
Summary: Warpath and Siryn arrive in Kansas, where they retrieve the envelope containing information on Project: Stepladder. They’re confronted by Edwin Martynec, who transforms into his feral form and takes them captive. To their surprise, Martynec has a Zero robot as an assistant. He reveals to Warpath that Stryfe was Stepladder’s secret leader, and the person behind the destruction of Camp Verde. Siryn and Warpath break free of their restraints, but Martynec injects Warpath with an amphetamine. Siryn knocks Martynec out, but is unable to revive Warpath. Meanwhile, Domino’s interference in a bank robbery attracts the police’s attention, X-Force travels with Richie Algeria to New Orleans, and Domino contacts the Hellhouse to find mercenary work.
Continuity Notes: Edwin Martynec first appeared in the X-Force Flashback issue. Officially dead since the Arroyo Labs fire, he now goes by “Martin Edwards.” He explains that Stryfe recruited him for Project: Stepladder to “genetically engineer his next generation of mutant disciples.” Some of the previous issues weren’t clear, but John Francis Moore is obviously going with the idea that Zero wasn’t a unique robot and is part of a series.
Review: Stryfe? Zero? X-Force had long abandoned this era of its history (and didn’t even feature Cable by this point), so it’s surprising to see Moore revive these characters. Revealing that Stryfe was behind the Camp Verde massacre clearly isn’t what the original creators had in mind, but I like the idea. Moore’s two obvious solutions for resolving the murders are to create a new villain as the culprit, or to tie it to an existing one. He combines the two ideas, revealing that Stryfe was involved in genetic engineering we never knew about and Camp Verde had to die to keep it quiet. Considering that Stryfe created the Legacy Virus, this actually isn’t a big stretch. The fact that the Liefeld characters were already considered kind of embarrassing by this point works to the story’s advantage. The revelation comes out of nowhere, but it works as a legitimate surprise and not cheap shock value. Moore also keeps up with the subplots, touching base with the rest of the cast and setting up a potential romance between Sunspot and Meltdown (Sunspot tells her that Cannonball’s lucky to have her while she’s writing him a letter). I’m disappointed Adam Pollina didn’t draw this issue, but Andy Smith’s art works fairly well. He’s thankfully improved since that Strong Guy Reborn one-shot.
Credits: John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inks), Comicraft (letters), Marie Javins (colors)
Summary: In Hell, Warpath is attacked by Stryfe. Stryfe claims that he’ll be released from Hell if he delivers Warpath to Blackheart. As Siryn tries to revive Warpath, a valkyrie visits Moonstar and the rest of X-Force. She informs them that Warpath is wrongly being kept in Hell, and opens a portal for X-Force to enter the afterlife. Stryfe defeats the team, forcing Warpath to fight back and protect his soul from Stryfe. Blackheart lets the team go, revealing to Stryfe that this was all a plan to give him false hope of escaping Hell. Warpath’s soul returns to his body, as the rest of X-Force emerges with him in Martynec’s destroyed lab. Meanwhile, the mystery man tailing X-Force kills the mobsters harassing Richie Algeria.
Continuity Notes: Sunspot is using Spanish exclamations, which isn’t accurate since he’s from Brazil (a future letter writer points this out and the editors apologize). Blackheart taunts Meltdown, telling her that even her closest friends are unaware of the things she did while living on the street. These hints have shown up a few times before, usually with the veiled suggestion she might’ve been a prostitute.
I Love the ‘90s: Have I mentioned the Concert Connection ads before? This is a phone service that offers news on celebrities and musical acts such as Alicia Silverstone, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, Dru Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the Backstreet Boys. The ad lists three different numbers to call, with prices ranging from seventy-one cents a minute to $2.99.
Review: Even when Moore lays off on the subplots, he still crams a lot into one issue. This issue probably should’ve been a two-part story, but I guess he wanted to have the cast reunited in time for a new story in the seventy-fifth issue. Consequently, there are some good ideas here, but the hyper pace doesn’t give them much room to breathe. Blackheart tormenting Sunspot and Meltdown, forcing them to face the worst pieces of their souls, is exactly what you want to see when your heroes go to Hell. However, doing the scene in exactly three panels robs it of a lot of impact. And while I’m sure many fans were thrilled to see a nod towards Moonstar’s past as a valkyrie, if you’re not familiar with that continuity, the scene probably reads as “Who’s that woman on the winged horse? Moonstar was a what? They’re in Hell now?”
Even if some of the scenes go by too fast, Moore still uses the main story to advance a few of the ongoing storylines. After their confrontation with Blackheart, Sunspot comforts Meltdown and tells her that her past doesn’t matter. The superhero fight and romantic subplots also merge as Siryn reflects on her relationship with Warpath while she tries to resuscitate him. The two characters have had “the potential romance” storyline building since the start of the series, and while Moore isn’t rushing to have Siryn finally embrace Warpath, he is manipulating events so that Siryn might see Warpath as more than a friend. Warpath, who seems to be Moore’s favorite cast member, also fights some metaphorical demons in Hell and begins the “let go of the past and embrace life” part of his revenge journey. All of these ideas are incorporated into the main action story, which says a lot about Moore’s skills as a writer. I just feel that this probably should’ve been the double-sized anniversary issue, because the story needs more room.