Monday, September 22, 2008

Angels & Demons: Part 5 of 6 (Marvel)
Where: X-Force #5 When: September 2008
Why: Craig Kyle/Christopher Yost How: Clayton Crain

The Tape...
Strength: Warpath 5 (Superhuman)
Intelligence: Wolverine 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Warpath 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Wolverine 6 (Generator)
Agility: X-23 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Wolverine 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Elixir 4 (Arsenal)

Math: X-Force Ranking: Wolverine (#6)

The Fix...
Murphy's law says; when I actually have a bit of spare cash for a comic, chances are it's going to be in a situation where nothing available is actually something I would want. Such was the example that struck me a few times this month, but not always with negative results...

She-Hulk #30 gave us the overdue chance to salute Hercules' 2008 presence, but it proved only to be an average-grade distraction from an X-theme that had infiltrated the Infinite Wars in August. It began after we boldly declared X-Men 2: Clone Wars the greatest comic book video game adaptation of-all-time.
Our interests persisted with reviews of Onslaught: X-Men and Uncanny X-Men #295, which each took us into the mouth of the early nineties X-beast.

It was probably this recent history that convinced me metal wings were a good enough reason to ignore all human instinct to flee from danger, and actually pay money for an issue of X-Force. Who could've guessed it would pay off?

The latest functional deconstruction of the X-brand saw a brand new X-Force jump into action in the aftermath of Messiah Complex. In what could effectively be called the third incarnation of the team; Cyclops, (or, depending on your levels of distain, Kyle and Yost), draft the eviscerating team of Wolverine, Warpath, Wolfsbane, and X-23, into a lethal covert spin-off of Xavier's original dream.

As if to fulfil cynical expectations, the need for this gathering is brought about by an anti-mutant plot that ultimately cobbles together a cast of names familiar to fans of cartoons and cinema. A reconstructed Bastion throws in with anti-mutant zealots that include; Graydon Creed, Cameron Hodge, Boliver Trask, and eventually, William Stryker, all of whom are, thankfully, not as they seem.

Actually, everything about this comic is a bit of a fake-out!

Hidden behind the gaudy black, red, and yellows of the team's 'stealth' outfits is a comic that somehow transcends the tragic nostalgia it represents, exceeding the sum of it's parts to be something strangely admirable.

Like everything else about this book, 'painted artwork' as an emotionless description rings like another tacky sales pitch to an audience probably already obsessively committed, but it isn't so!

Clayton Crain's painted finish rounds out pencils that seem to harbor manga inspirations beneath the motley blotches of blacks, and colour. Characters bare an almost Madureira styling in their features, but unfortunately, the painted render, presumably digital, struggles to be nearly as animated.

If any assumed criticism remains intact it is the snapshot stiffness of the action, which, granted, might be considered a positive by fans appreciative of the moment-in-time quality of pseudo-realistic comics. I'd be interested to see what's been covered up. The underwire of any pencil work might have been nice to see more clearly, but then, that would detract from the design of the series.

Kyle & Yost deserve credit for shining up the proverabial turd.

By arranging pieces of the X-Men's past from various mediums, they somehow manage to build a machine that makes efficient use of them. This is by no means a series I would call 'new reader friendly,' and yet, most fans from the last few mainstream generations will find something familiar to behold.

The previously reversed transformation into Archangel experienced by Warren Worthington is further complicated, but relatively well explained, by the continued presence of Apocalypse's techno-organic influence.
When the Purifiers attempt to make good on their anti-mutant prophecy they managed to unlock the dormant alter-ego hidden within Angel's DNA. The discovery comes none-too-soon as Bastion, the megalomaniacal super-Sentinel, begins a seperatist revolt inspired by puppeteering the corpse of William Stryker.

Though perhaps not quite as artful as Grant Morrison's U-Men, who were also bigots grafting powers stolen from the enemy; the Purifiers use Apocalypse's technology to refashion themselves in Archangel's image, assuming the winged role they already believe they represent. This dramatic overture provides a crescendo toward an epic battle of gore, and razor-wing decapitation, the result of internal dissention feuelled by Bastion's genocidal corruption.

With Bastion's goals tying in to X-history with the Technarchy and the Phalanx, it's incidental that this series coincides with the cosmic Annihilation: Conquest, which tells of the latest Phalanx threat to the universe. While obviously unfeasible, it's almost a shame this couldn't have made some kind of connection, but bringing the Phalanx to Earth in an official capacity probably demands more.

It was the evidence of these over-arcing concepts in X-Force that both defied my expectations, and actually had me really enjoy the issue. That said, the details are laid out in a successive fashion, which offers up meaty variety, including that which is relevant to us -- a mindless fight scene!

Seemingly wingless after his mutant appendages were ripped from his body by a mind-controlled Wolfsbane; Warren Worthington undergoes a transformation that respawns the metallic wings granted to him by Apocalypse, and returns his skin to the sickly blue tint associated with the Archangel transformation.

Gripped by madness, Archangel attacks his fellows, launching an assault that rips the flesh from Wolverine's abdomen, and sprays sparks from his metalic skeleton!

Taking to the air under the power of his newly spawn wings, Archangel fires metallic shards that narrowly miss Elixir, and pin X-23 to the wall. Any other would surely perish from the wounds, but as with the subject she was cloned from [Wolverine], X-23 posseses an advanced healing ability.

Warpath ambushes the Archangel, mounting his back with a knife to the insane hero's throat, but it is a moot tactic against one naturally nimble in the air. Angel ploughs Warpath's super-strong frame through the thick wooden beams of his chalet, before swatting his floored opponent with a stiff right hand.

Still healing his gaping wound, Wolverine steps up to confront his former ally, but for naught. Wolverine is toppled once more as, in a state of panic and rage, the Angel does what comes naturally -- he flies.

Though ultimately inconsequential to the issue, fans of the comics will recognise the weight of history on these scenes with Archangel, recalling the first time he lost his wings at the hands of Cameron Hodge (circa Mutant Massacre). For that matter, those dedicated to the nineties cartoon, will also appreciate at least some of the context that frames Archangel's rebirth and freakout.

Despite hitting our top five rankings in April 2007, Angel's been a bit of a joke on the site. Let's face it -- the mutant power to fly around with giant, handsome wings, isn't exactly conducive to a solid performer on a superhero fight blog.
This issue brings back the joyous memory of just how lethal Angel could be under the right circumstances. No matter how silly, I can't help but welcome the on-off potential offered up by the redefinition of Angel's initial transformation.

That said; however awkward they may have been - I would loathe a situation that strips Angel of the healing properties established by a secondary mutation.
If there were to be any explanation for the mechanic of these abilities that tied in to this new version of the Angel mythos, I might even like it to be that the necessary transfer of his blood actually carried an unsustainable infection of the techno-organic virus responsible for the Archangel persona. Either way, I hope Kyle and Yost can tread carefully as they trek through the tapestry of history.

Surprisingly competent and packed with ideas, I look forward to seeing what the team can come up with in subsequent storylines. Archangel looks set to become a regular staple of the series, showing us just how plot-driven recruitment works.

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 5
Winner: Archangel

"Angels & Demons", the first X-Force arc, is available in collected trade format, along with the X-Classic, "Mutant Massacre." You'll find titles like these, as well as many others, in our Amazonian Gift Shoppe. By using Amazon purchase links on the site, you help sponsor entries of future past. For more X-reviews, check out the C2C and the Secret Archives!

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