By Steve Morris
Issue #4 of X-Force sees the X-Men invaded yet again by a black-ops team of mysterious origin, who break onto the island, kill a mutant or two, and steal some stuff. It’s the one storyline which the X-Men comics return to endlessly, because its in their nature as a superhero comics franchise: there has to be some kind of action to it. If there is going to be a long conversational scene, then a superhero comic has to counter-balance it with a fight scene or something thrilling. Action: reaction.
It’s obviously pretty boring by now to see the X-Men get attacked outright, which is such a common storyline by now. You’d also think Krakoa might have been given a few months by editorial to be a protective bubble for mutantkind, so it would have more impact by the time they actually do get invaded successfully: instead, they’ve been attacked twice within four issues of X-Force. This time, as well, it seems to literally be an invasion to grab some personal data files from the mutants, so the black-ops team can make money off it. It’s an action scene for the sake of being an action scene.
But it does balance out the rest of the issue, which is, yes, a lot of talking.The Quiet Council take up the middle portion of the issue, where we see them react to the idea of a new X-Force being put in place. Whilst they talk over the idea, the issue intercuts with scenes of the X-Force team investigating the attack and preparing for a counter-attack. That Quiet Council discussion, though…. it doesn’t particularly hold together when you look at it.
Sebastian Shaw makes the best point of any of them when he asks if any of this even matters. Mutants can’t die, and they have more money than God: what’s the point in indulging in retaliatory attacks against a group of people who don’t matter and can’t have any kind of lasting effect on mutantkind? He’s quickly shut down by Apocalypse, who says that greed will mean the attacks will increase each time if there isn’t a pushback, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly strong argument. Krakoa was a way to seal off mutants from the rest of the world until such a time that humanity died out and mutants could step back onto the planet. It’s not much of a seal if the mutants themselves keep stepping out to go shoot and stab random terrorist groups in the meantime.
What hurts the issue most is that the Quiet Council don’t have a fight. There are some slightly snippy comments back and forth between the members, but they essentially all sign off on the idea without any kind of argument. Nightcrawler just sits there for the most part, and says “we should think about having a moral code”, whilst Storm seems bored and just wants to get on with it. Jean is onboard, Xavier is onboard – if anything, it’s the traditional villains who offer the only kind of opposition to the plan. It doesn’t seem to fit any of their characters, not even in the new Krakoan order. X-Force’s existence has previously been an extremely important plot point for Nightcrawler in particular, and I think there’s always been the argument that X-Force existed because Jean was no longer there to reign Cyclops or Wolverine in.
Here, everybody is onboard with it, and nobody seems to have a problem with X-Force. It doesn’t fit, especially when the valid points raised by villains are shut down by heroes. Mystique doesn’t respect the CIA because she knows they’re “blood and blackmail”. Shaw doesn’t care about Xavier’s personal data files getting stolen. In response Xavier offers a defence of the CIA whilst Storm tells Shaw to shut up. It’s not exactly the West Wing. The council itself kicks off with Xavier telling a story of the Gods, apparently suggesting that X-Force will be the silent partner “Athena” to the X-Men’s heroic “Hercules”.
For all the self-mythologising the Quiet Council indulge in, at the end of the day X-Force is really just doing the exact same thing they’ve always done and always will. Somebody attacks the mutants, so the mutants with knives and guns sneak out at night to go attack them right back. This current run of X-Force seems to have a lot of focus on the idea of a “mutant CIA”, but here all we really get is an attack force. There’s no sign of spycraft here, really, and there’s none of that morally-grey stuff/actively evil stuff which the CIA is constantly involved in. Somebody attacked them, so they’re attacking back. It’s very much black-and-white, with one team of heroes and one generic villainous group for them to fight. There’s little nuance.
Perhaps that’s a problem within the X-Men franchise as a whole, now they’ve ended up on Krakoa together. Every mutant has fallen into step, so all they have against them are random human enemies and maybe the odd robot. The familiar antagonists are all sat on the Council together. Their rule “kill no human” is forgotten because they’ve all decided to band together on the idea of a kill-squad: even Nightcrawler, Jean, and Storm, whose whole purpose on the Council is to stand against this sort of thing. In the real world, there isn’t unanimous support for the CIA or a belief that they’re a good and necessary force. So why do all the mutants seem to agree that X-Force is not only necessary – but good?
X-Force #4: Blood Economics
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colourist: Dean White
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Designer: Tom Muller
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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