There’s a conversation between Jean Grey and Beast in the third issue of X-Force which looks at the nature of death, which is something Jean is fairly familiar with. Beast is asking about their decision to resurrect Xavier, which is a resurrection which carries with it a lot of impact. Any mutant can be brought back to life because of Xavier – if the mutants are therefore able to resurrect him, it means that they are all essentially immortal.

Unless, I guess, they all die simultaneously.

But if Xavier and Jean can be saved from individual death, that means mutantkind has no more reason to fear death whatsoever. That’s a question of incredible importance for X-Force in particular, which trades in death, murder, and violence. After the last two issues, there have been losses on both sides of the fight. The difference is that the deaths on the mutant side can all be reversed, which means the villains have shown their hand, lost key fighters, and lost the overall battle in one go. The traditional approach of “attack the mutants” favoured by characters like the Reavers or Purifiers is now obsolete, and the old forms of warfare are lost to the X-Men’s enemies. Xavier got shot in the head but here he walks straight back out into the public eye with a cheery wave and a smile. Death isn’t a weapon like it used to be.

That’s something for the various villains to worry over in their own time, but it’s also got to be a problem for X-Force itself. The first two issues of the run were used to show how the traditional X-Force approach no longer applies, so the question is – what would happen next? There’s probably a very good reason why Domino, who is rescued from her torture chamber by Wolverine and Quentin this issue, doesn’t get given a new body at the end of the issue. Death may no longer be a concern, but there are still scars the characters can carry, and perhaps that’s where X-Force can continue to build its own dark and bloody path. Domino’s scarred body is a reminder that there are costs to pursuing their lives, and that there are people out there who wish harm on mutants, and it provides Percy and Cassara with at least one way of keeping that threat in the mind of the readers.

Let’s go back to Jean and Beast’s conversation, which takes place just before Jean successfully brings Xavier back to life. The scene seems to also hint at what X-Force may become moving forward. Beast asks if the fear of death is something which is important for mutants – if you know you can be brought back to life at any time, wouldn’t that change your approach towards life? Even the concept of “risk” changes if you can at any point swap to a new body, with only the memories you want in it. If people can’t die they will lose that fear, and they’ll also lose that sense of self-protection, which is something that’s been on Beast’s mind since his conversation with Wolverine in issue #1.

In return, Jean says that she has no fear of death and never has. Being scared of death makes people withhold themselves, be less risky, and take fewer chances with life. The idea is that they’re less themselves because they’re constantly thinking about the future and what dangers might come. With those dangers removed, mutants can be their best selves – but she agrees they’ll also be less self-conscious and protective. In Jean’s Phoenix-enhanced life, she sees a very long game which considers death to be a short-term concern. Her suggestion seems to be that mutants need to think about that longer-term more, because this is the first chance they’ve actually had where they can think about it. Death followed them so closely before that they don’t know how to live without it. But Jean sees not just the short and medium-term, but the longer-term, when all the humans have died and the mutants take over not just Krakoa, but the whole of the world.

That could well be how the series moves past the concept of death as a way of raising tension and threat, and can keep those sales up. Mutants are now functionally immortal, so the short term threats no longer matter. But if their enemies can somehow affect that long-term future that Jean is thinking of, they’ll then have something to work with. The greatest strength of mutantkind could be their greatest weakness.

It’s something to think about, anyway, especially given the scene where Xavier and Magneto essentially arrange their covert-ops group. Xavier died and came back, and to the greater public there has been no change in circumstances. Nothing went wrong for the X-Men, and things continue as they always have. But the Xavier we see at the end of the issue is one who bends: his decision to create X-Force can be seen as one of the first instances of the character buckling or changing his plans under pressure. Just the existence of X-Force suggests a change in perspective. If Xavier’s long-term plan can be subtly changed over time, then perhaps the X-Men do have something to fear after all.

 

X-Force #3: The Skeleton Key
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colourist: Guru e-FX

Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Designer: Tom Muller

 

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