When I first started reading Uncanny X-Force in 2011 I thought it was going to be a guilty pleasure read: Wolverine and a bunch of other touch mutants committing ultra-violence on X-Men’s enemies. (Think Chris Yost’s X-Force: Sex and Violence) What I got instead of one of the smartest and most engaging mainstream books out at the moment.
It started out with the question of whether it was worth killing a child in order to prevent the rise of Apocalypse. The Age of Apocalypse serves as a reminder of what happens if he wins. The best part of that entire storyline, which just wrapped up in issue #19 is that Rick Remender essentially shows us what the taint of that decision does to the team. Rather than at least being able to have a clean conscious about saving everyone by killing this boy, it leads to Angel (in the form of Archangel) essentially becoming Apocalypse. Remender also has us consider the question of nature vs nurture as we find out that Fantomex has cloned Apocalypse and used The World to speed his growth and training as a moral person. At that point, Remender relinquished the character to the book Wolverine and the X-Men where the most recent issue seems to imply that all this suffering was for naught as Genesis becomes Apocalypse.
In Uncanny X-Force #20, Rick Remender doesn’t take a breather. In fact, he expands the questions to those of identity and family. The X-Men books have always been about two things: prejudice and family. Most of the original team and many, if not most, of the later members were either abandoned by their biological families or orphaned. And so they came to be a family at Xavier’s. For some it was metaphorical like the father-daughter relationship Wolverine has had with plenty of girls at the school. For others it was literal such as Scott and Jean and their children from various timelines. And yet others came with their siblings and then either expanded their families or grew apart from their siblings. Through it all their internal squabbles rarely went beyond the boundaries of family.
One aspect of the new X-Men family that has been explored here and there is whether someone’s allegiance lies with their old or new family. In the past stories that I can remember, it usually involved an X-Men’s parents being villains - like Mystique and Rogue. In Uncanny X-Force #20, Remender changes things up a bit and the conflict is between the Captain Britain Corps and Psylocke. Both are ostensibly on the side of good, but her brother doesn’t see it that way. He sees her time on X-Force as needlessly violent and offers her a chance at redemption which would include wiping some of her memories, especially those with respect to Warren.
Remender’s use of Psylocke also offers a look at identity and what makes us who we are. Another part of the offer is a return to her original body. Unless you’ve been reading X-Men for a very long time, you don’t know that Psylocke wasn’t always an asian ninja. She used to be a blond anglo girl and through a series of convoluted comic book plot twists she ended up in the body she’s had for at least a couple decades in our world. (While it’s probably been more like 5-10 years in the Marvel Universe) So not only does Betsy Braddock have the opportunity to erase part of what’s in her mind, but also her physical body. One might say that changing only one or the other would be the most important part in determining whether or not she was the same person. But to change both would surely leave us with a character who is no longer Psylocke.
Identity is also central to the B plot of Wolverine’s relationship with the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler. Wolverine keeps calling Nightcrawler “Elf” and doing other things that seem to provide evidence that Wolverine is having at least some trouble keeping his mind on the fact that this is not the same Nightcrawler. This mirrors his issues with Age of Apocalypse Jean Grey who he’s implied to have slept with in what must be one of the most sci-fi Jerry Springer-like moments ever.
But Rick Remender doesn’t stop there, he also has us consider the concept of redemption. This part of the book oozes with irony. Jamie Braddock, who we last saw during the First Fallen Arc when he resurrected a dead Psylocke has been transformed from a criminally insane playboy into a member of the Great Britain Corps. This includes a change from looking like a junkie to looking like Jesus, complete with white robes. And while he waxes on and on about the forgiveness he’s been given to serve the GBC, he denies that same change at redemption to Fantomex who is on trial for killing Kid Apocalypse.
There was really only one bad aspect to this issue - it was sometimes a little hard to follow what was going on. For example, it was a little unclear where the scene with Wolverine was taking place. And a war that’s mentioned appears to either be taking place outside the courtroom and no one gives a darn - it’s apparently far more important to indict a child murderer than saving your country/planet. Or it’s on the planet but away from everything.
That bit of confusion aside, Remender is really doing something special with Uncanny X-Force. He’s combining really neat concepts with really neat battles. If there’s ever going to be as good a place to jump in, it’s with this issue, but you’re really going to be missing out on a lot if you don’t get the trades.