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Thursday, February 25, 2016

X-amining X-Force #1


"A Force To Be Reckoned With"
August 1991

In a Nutshell
X-Force attacks the MLF and draws the attention of SHIELD.

Everything but: Rob Liefeld
Words: Fabian Nicieza
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Color Art: Brad Vancata
Baggy Eyes: Bob Harras
Baggy Boss: Tom DeFalco

Plot
After weeks of training, X-Force attacks the Mutant Liberation Front's Antarctic base. Though they take out a fair number of the MLF's troops, Stryfe manages to escape, triggering the base's self-destruct mechanism in the process. Meanwhile, Roberto and Gideon prepare for a corporate buyout meeting at the World Trade Center. Later, SHIELD commander G.W. Bridge inspects the remains of the MLF base, determining that Cable was involved and resolving to bring him down. Meanwhile, X-Force acclimates themselves to their new headquarters, Larry Trask's old Sentinel base in upstate New York, and Cable tells Sam a bit about his "son", Tyler. In Manhattan, Gideon and Roberto arrive for the meeting, but the head of the company being bought out announces she is refusing to sell, then brings in Black Tom Cassidy, who declares that everyone in attendance are now his hostages. In Canada, Bridge checks in with Nick Fury, who gives him a mandate to bring in Cable. Bridge then asks to be connected to General Clarke in the Canadian military, declaring it's time to bring in Weapon X.

Firsts and Other Notables
It's the first issue of X-Force, a series which will run for 129 issues, then get cancelled and restarted as X-Statix for another 26 issues, eventually settling in as one of Marvel's go-to "start it up, run it for awhile, then cancel and restart again" X-books in the 00s and 10s.

For a brief period of time (before the release of X-Men (vol. 2) #1 two months later, this issue held the title of the best-selling comic of all time, selling around 5 million copies overall. To date, it is still the second best-selling issue of all time (behind that X-Men issue). Of course, those sales were all to distributors/retailers, not to specific customers, which is why you can find plenty of copies hanging around in quarter boxes to this day.

Much of those sales were driven by the fact that this issue was polybagged (ie sold in a sealed plastic bag) with one of five different trading cards. Coming as the speculator market of the early 90s was just beginning to boom, this led to many fans buying multiple copies of the issue to assemble a full set of trading cards, and/or to have one copy to read, and one to leave unread, sealed in the polybag, in mint condition.

The five cards feature Cable, Deadpool (who, keep in mind, has made only one appearance at this point), Sunspot & Gideon, Shatterstar and X-Force as a whole. The card design is similar in style to the then-current second series of Impel's Marvel Universe cards.


It also features a wraparound cover, another common gimmick of this era, though a less egregiously cash-grabby one. Of course, in true Liefeld fashion, a thin layer of dust adorns the bottom of the image, obscuring the characters' feet. And like other "hot" issues of this time, it received a second printing, which was releases sans trading cards.

SHIELD commander G.W Bridge makes his first appearance in this issue; a former partner of Cable's from his mercenary days, Bridge will be a recurring antagonist for X-Force in the early goings of the series (we'll eventually learn that "G.W." stands for "George Washington", making his name a pun beneath even Peter David).


This issue establishes that X-Force has moved into Larry Trask's old Sentinel base in the Adriondacks, from X-Men #57-59, to use as their new headquarters, a nice (and surprisingly deep) use of continuity. It will remain X-Force's base until shortly before "X-Cutioner's Song".

It also reveals that Cable does indeed possess a mutant power, as he's shown levitating tools (technically, this could be a magnetic power, but it'll eventually be confirmed to be telekinesis), something he's keeping secret from the team (sans Domino, who already knows about his power) because mysteries.


Mentioned previously, we get some more info about Cable's son, Tyler, most of which will turn out to be rendered blatantly false by future issues. Cable says Tyler was like a son to him (he actually is his son) who ended up getting captured and turned by Stryfe into becoming a member of the MLF (he is captured and turned by Stryfe, but in Cable's future and not as part of the MLF), where he ultimately died (Tyler is, unknownst to Cable, still alive).


We see Cable (and X-Force) bodyslide for the first time this issue, teleporting from one location to another. We'll eventually learn this is facilitated by Cable's futuristic space station in orbit around the planet, and will become a frequently-used mode of travel by the character for a time.


Black Tom Cassiday, last seen in Marvel Team-Up #150, pops up in this issue, taking hostage a group of businessmen (including Gideon & Roberto) at the World Trade Center, which is setting up X-Force's next story arc. Also, he's apparently become enormous in size.


In the vein the Apocalypse Files that were included in recent issues of X-Factor, this issue includes excerpts from the Cable Guide, featuring Liefeld-drawn pinups and biographical information written from Cable's perspective. Included are Deadpool (whose entry mentions Wild Pack, making it, I believe, the first mention by name of Cable's former mercenary group, and also suggests Deadpool is chiefly motivated by money), Feral, Shatterstar (which reveals that Shatterstar is essentially stranded on Earth and has Cable say that while he agreed to help Shatterstar free his homeworld in exchange for joining X-Force, he never said when he's help him) and G.W Bridge (which contains a few hints about Cable's past as well).


The issue ends with Bridge calling for Weapon X, a loaded name at this time (Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X story was running in Marvel Comics Presents when this went on sale). The new Weapon X will appear next issue.

A Work in Progress
The Sunspot/Gideon cards lists them as members of a Group called the Profit$, and suggests that Gideon wants to build his own mutant team; neither of these ideas. ever appears outside this card.

Cable nags Shatterstar about learning the proper way to tell time and call out positions during battle.


Shatterstar cuts off Reaver's hand this issue, a detail which will, surprisingly, stick for the character moving forward. It is unclear which, if any, digit on that hand is a thumb, because Liefeld.


Stryfe knows that Cable's name is Nathan, though he suggests it's just an alias (it's not).


Domino is, once again, piloting X-Force's vehicle.

Cannonball notes that they've spent six weeks training for the attack on the MLF.

Meanwhile, it's revealed that Roberto has been with Gideon, learning the ropes of business, for six months, meaning at least that amount of time has passed since Roberto left in issue #99. Given that #99 more or less led directly into #100, most of that six months time had to have passed between issue #100 and this one.

The Cable Guy
The self-destruct code for the MLF base is "Nathan 0-0-0", clearly an attempt to tease the Stryfe/Cable relationhip following the reveal in New Mutants #100 that both characters share the same face.

Cable's uses the oath "Stab his eyes!" for the first time, as Stryfe escapes; this will quickly become something of catchphrase for the character.

Nick Fury apparently believes that Cable is worse than Hydra or AIM, which seems like a pretty laughable attempt to build up a pet character by tearing down long-established ones.

To the EXTREME
Cable admonishes Feral's bloodlust during the battle withe MLF, saying they'll only kill in self-defense. Which, granted, is different than the usual policy of the X-Men never killing, no matter what.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
X-Force's new base is referred to as "Chalet Schwarzkopf".

This is a #1 issue polybagged with one of five trading cards sealed inside drawn by Rob Liefeld. That's pretty much the 90s in a nutshell.


Artistic Achievements
Liefeld, who will present an all-sideways issue in #4, experiements with layout a bit here, turning in a sideways double page spread of Stryfe observing the battle.


501 Genes
I called out a few particularly egregious Liefeldisms already, but they're replete throughout this issue. I mean, just pick a page at random and you'll find some bit of odd anatomy or a questionable storytelling decision.

Teebore's Take
X-Force, at least under the auspices of Rob Liefeld, will very quickly become very not good, but as first issues go, this isn't half bad, even while it's also not the groundbreaking achievement it was, perhaps, touted as at the time. It begins with a big action sequence that effectively introduces the characters and their powers (mostly - Domino continues to do little besides be vaguely motherly and pilot stuff) to any potential new readers, featuring the closest thing the main characters have to archenemies at this point, and in doing so it give this book's audience plenty of what they likely came to see: pure Liefeldian art. Then it settles in for a bit of setup: introducing the new headquarters, a new antagonist in Bridge, some potential new plotlines and mysteries. It's routine but effective first issue stuff.

Of course, X-Force's big claim to fame, the thing that supposedly sets them apart from the X-Men and required the change from being "New Mutants", is that they're the extreme team of mutants, who shoot first and ask questions later, who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty doing what needs to be done, etc. But as much as this reads like a pretty typical first issue, it also reads not all that differently from a typical X-Men issue. Yes, X-Force is shown taking the fight to the MLF in the opening pages, but nobody is killed in the ensuing fight - Reaver loses a hand, and Feral wants to kill people, but that's not all that removed from the usual "Wolverine holding his animal instincts in check" kind of material. Even Shatterstar says he's withholding from killing in deference to his new teammates' desires.

Presenting heroes who want to kill, even if they don't, ultimately, was, arguably, a departure from the usual ethics of the X-books at the time, in 1991 certainly moreso than today. But for all the sword- and gun-wielding characters in this book, for all the talk of X-Force is doing things differently and that the characters are soldiers now, in execution  it's really not that different from any other superhero book in any but the most cosmetic ways, and that's something the series will struggle with, particular in this early goings as Rob Liefeld tries to convince us how badass this all is. But the question of what makes X-Force different from any other team of mutant superheroes is also something with which the series will grapple, to both its detriment and benefit at varying times, pretty much throughout its entire existence.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the "Muir Island Saga" continues in X-Factor #69. Next week, Unstacking the Deck: Marvel Universe Series II.

Collected Editions
 

16 comments:

  1. I didn't read WEAPON X until years after this was published, so I didn't realize at the time just how badly the backgrounds in Stryfe's lair are cribbed from BWS's work.

    One thing you could say in the book's defense is that Nicieza's scripting is curt and quippy in a way that balances out the more x-treme elements. Also, the colors are fairly impressive, considering the era this was published in.

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    1. " Also, the colors are fairly impressive, considering the era this was published in."

      It's this Brad Vancata character! Everything he colors looks way better than any other mainstream stuff around this time. I'm not sure what he did to achieve this effect with the limited coloring of the era, but his work is really... lush, I guess. I first noticed him in the EXCALIBUR issue drawn by Rick Leonardi, and he's popped up on various X-books Teebore has covered since then.

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  2. Cable claims that the belief that Tyler was his son was an error "borne of your old friend Rictor's naivete" but it was SUNFIRE, not Rictor, who claimed Cable had a dead son.

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  3. Black Tom Cassiday, last seen in Marvel Team-Up #150, pops up in this issue- - Also, he's apparently become enormous in size.

    Not all of the Ruby of Cyttorak did yet wear off. :)

    Stryfe knows that Cable's name is Nathan, though he suggests it's just an alias (it's not).

    *nonchalant whistling*

    In the vein the Apocalypse Files that were included in recent issues of X-Factor, this issue includes excerpts from the Cable Guide

    Oh, lawrds... Poc certainly got the boys infected with something alright. Also, I don't know if that name is even more horrid than Stryfe Stroke Files.

    So, is that Nicieza, somewhat a scholar in X-mythos I believe, who "Cyclopeanly" refers to Cable as "Ol' Blue Eye", and does this not instantly remind a body of that one panel in X-MEN AND ALPHA FLIGHT, the story where we first learn that Scott's gonna have a son?

    Gotta love G.W.Bridge being "so good at what he does".

    And say what you want, Liefeld features one prominent foot in that Stryfe sideways splash.

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  4. Also,

    we'll eventually learn that "G.W." stands for "George Washington", making his name a pun beneath even Peter David

    No wonder then he's so tall that a fall from that height would kill anyone before they struck the ground!

    (sorry)

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  5. I’d never read this before, which took some effort. Summer of ’92, I worked in a comics shop whose owner was also liquidating stock from video-rental stores and coin/card shops and the like that had taken up selling comics during the speculator boom and were already trying to get out, with several days spent just going through cases of recent would-be collectors’ items to slot copies into longboxes that would be wholesaled to flea-market dealers: “You get an X-Force #1! And you get an X-Force #1! Everybody gets an X-Force #1!” I probably could’ve ripped open a copy and spread out the pages as a placemat for lunch without getting into trouble and still had zero interest in reading it.

    “Once they were children,” the first page tells us, “delighting in a dream…” Cannonball and Boom-Boom, maybe; even then, Boom-Boom wasn’t part of the Xavier squad. Warpath doesn’t exactly fit that bill, either, as I doubt there was a dream to delight in among the Hellions unless it was being spoiled little superpowered brats and lording your abilities over normal kids or currying favor with Emma Frost. Cable’s either an enigma, like Feral and Shatterstar and Domino, or he’s Nathan Summers and in that case those words don’t apply to him nohow. There’s really no palpable trace of the legacy the book’s trading on, not that the readership likely cared much.

    I have to give Liefeld credit for knowing his own limitations. Exterior locations are basically snow and mountainside; interior sets mostly consist of tubes and panels and screens.

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    1. That Bizarro-Oprah giveaway sounds like the best thing ever.

      I kind of dug the inaccurate opening just because it felt like Nicieza trying to carry over a bit of the grandiose prose his predecessors used. It felt like he's trying to ease old fans into the transition a teensy bit (it didn't work but whatever).

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    2. @Mela: // That Bizarro-Oprah giveaway sounds like the best thing ever. //

      I guess it depends on how much you want copies of X-Force #1 — and Comics Interview #100… and the four different outer covers of Legends of the Dark Knight #1…

      A real Bizarro-Oprah giveaway would be hilarious, by the way. “Me am get your car! Me am get your car! Me am get everyone’s car!”

      Delete
  6. You keep saying "Reaver" when I think you mean "Reaper".

    I agree with your assessment. I re-read this some years after the fact and it's surprisingly not bad! Not necessarily good, but not bad, either.

    If G.W. Bridge is a SHIELD agent, why doesn't he wear a standard SHIELD field uniform? And for that matter, why don't his men, either? Years later, around the time of "Onslaught", Marvel put him in a proper SHIELD uniform and he looked pretty snappy.

    Also, given his penchant for redesigns, I'm surprised Liefeld kept Black Tom in his original Cockrum look.

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  7. Of course, I bought a copy of this, but didn't open it. I only read it once I bought the 2nd printing. I just sold off the batch, for less than I would have ever hoped.

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  8. "This issue establishes that X-Force has moved into Larry Trask's old Sentinel base in the Adriondacks, from X-Men #57-59, to use as their new headquarters, a nice (and surprisingly deep) use of continuity"

    For all the shredding the current creators do to some of CC's characters and concepts, there are quite a few throwbacks to older continuity as well. In this title alone we get Black Tom, Juggernaut, and the line-up of the new Brotherhood.

    "something he's keeping secret from the team (sans Domino, who already knows about his power)"

    Ah, but this isn't Domino, is it? ;)

    "Cable says Tyler was like a son to him (he actually is his son)"

    Hmmm. I though he was revealed to be Cable's step-son. Did they retcon him into being his bio son eventually? Also, he ends up looking nothing like he is depicted here.

    "The Sunspot/Gideon cards lists them as members of a Group called the Profit$"

    OMG, why did we never get a group called the Profit$? That has to be the concept with the most ignored potential.

    "most of that six months time had to have passed between issue #100 and this one."

    Which makes you wonder how much time the X-men spent in space...

    "Cable admonishes Feral's bloodlust during the battle withe MLF, saying they'll only kill in self-defense"

    Well, unless you're shooting a hulking Morlcok in the face. EXTREME!

    "X-Force's big claim to fame, the thing that supposedly sets them apart from the X-Men and required the change from being "New Mutants", is that they're the extreme team of mutants, who shoot first and ask questions later, who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty doing what needs to be done, etc. But as much as this reads like a pretty typical first issue, it also reads not all that differently from a typical X-Men issue."

    X-force is also supposed to be the team that goes after it's enemies first, and is supposed to be proactive. But honestly, I think this is the only time time during Liefeld's tenure that they actually do anything proactive. Everything after this is reactive.

    I wonder how much Stryfe must be paying human goons to work for the Mutant Liberation Front?

    One thing this issue is also famous for, Teebore, is how the first page and the splash following rip off...er, pay homage to an issue of the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans:

    http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/ntt39.jpg

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    1. Well, unless you're shooting a hulking Morlcok in the face.

      Yeah but everyone knows shooting Morlocks is okay... oh, wait, it bloody well most certainly isn't! Hilarious really, all that ado with Mr. Sinister and his Marauders back in the day to save Nathan, and here's he aloof shooting Morlocks.

      Lol @ Teen Titans. Robin manages to look dynamic, while Cable... what the hell is that bendy knees ass first attack them Liefeldians oft do?

      Feral's buttocks tail on page four... it's even on Liefeld standard one of those things so offensive you just can't ignore always pointing out.

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    2. "Which makes you wonder how much time the X-men spent in space..."

      Well, this issue doesn't necessarily have to take place directly alongside "The Muir Island Saga", does it? There seems to be a gap between the end of "Muir Island" and X-MEN #1, so perhaps that accounts for the six months mentioned here.

      Plus (unless I'm misremembering), the X-Men and X-Force don't interact at all until "X-Cutioner's Song", still over a year away. Until things sync up there, I think it's fair to assume these stories could be taking place in any undetermined order relative to each other.

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    3. They sync up a bit faster, since Siryn joins this title in #3.

      Also, chill, I was making joke, based on previous discussions with some of the wonky time. Obviously it takes some time for the X-men to get back on track, especially with regards to rebuilding the mansion and what not.

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  9. I think it was pretty obvious what "GW Bridge" was short for, even here.

    Ww is right, the series opens with X-Force being proactive, and you think, "All right, this IS different." Then before long it's just typical X-business, reacting to stuff and/or just hanging out at headquarters having interpersonal dramas while waiting to be attacked by the Blob or whoever. :)

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  10. One of the other odd things about the X-Force hype is that a significant selling point of the team is that they were "outlaws" wanted by the authorities. Of course if you are medium-time reader of X-Men, you instantly see a problem with this (remember when in the 80s when this was called "the status quo".? Aw, good times.) Even the "bowdlerized" X-Men caroon figured that out, having them established as outlaws in the first episode (and ironically acting more like X-Force than the "kewl X-TREME" Liefeld book. Even without all the violent postering.)

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