I’ve said a few things about Beast in the past, a character who was presented as a scientific voice of reason and a moral compass for the X-Men. Over the years his characterisation has fallen down a deep, dark hole, as writers have chosen to compromise him further and further. Far from being a light-footed, wisecracking genius, the Beast of recent years has made a series of troubling decisions in the name of “science” which have seen him suggest or participate in genocide multiple times within the last decade. It’s not exactly what Stan and Jack had in mind.

In X-Force #5, Beast has assumed the leadership of a “mutant CIA”, which is by itself a deeply sinister decision for him to make. It’s not a role which suits the character well, as he’s a scientist rather than a spy – but there he is, putting orders to his troops in the field and allowing them to indulge in violence as part of their mission: “you may of course brutalise them” he tells Domino, “but brutalise within reason.”

Who is this man!?

It’s revealed here that X-Force aren’t beholden to the Quiet Council’s decrees, and so they are in fact allowed to kill humans. And whilst Beast does try to reduce the killing a little bit, he’s only doing it for practical purposes, and not out of any concern for the human lives that are being taken. He wants someone kept alive so they can be interrogated later – a scene which happens at the end of the issue, as Beast and Jean take turns torturing the lone survivor until he gives up all the remaining information left. The interrogated party is humanised relentlessly within the script, which goes out of its way to tell us that he has a pet dog, he has allergies, friends, family, a life and a past. Beast brushes past that with a short speech that sounds very much like “you don’t have rights!” as he keeps the man chained to a chair in an “undisclosed location”.

It’s really… really disturbing.

I don’t know why this is a direction you’d particularly want to take Beast down, as Sage is already part of this team and feels like the more apt character choice for this sort of behaviour. Forge, even. Beast condoning all of this – when a massive character point for him a few years ago was his hatred for the X-Force concept, which got Nightcrawler killed during Second Coming – feels like a brutal and horrible change of character for him. Why take the main scientist of the X-Men and make him such a dark and compromised person, when only a few years ago he would cheerfully play around in his lab, drink coffee, and make fun of Cyclops every so often?

The title of this issue is “Necessary Force”, and that’s something which gets toyed around with throughout. The violence is particularly over the top this time round, with Quentin getting decapitated, Wolverine getting cut in half – and then the two halves are forced back together with a “skluntch” and Domino murdering a bunch of enemies. It’s absurdly violent, which has to be done intentionally. “Necessary force” sounds deeply ironic once you’ve finished reading these fight scenes. But is it ironic? Are we meant to see Beast and Jean as in the wrong, or in the right? It’s extremely hard to tell.

There’s a single page cutaway from the story which keeps bothering me. Gateway is brought into the story (and back to life as a result, as far as I’m aware) and acts as teleporter for Domino and Forge as they head into this latest battle. But there’s then a page where he teleports into a nearby helicopter and kills the pilot, which crashes the vehicle as a result. Was this… ever something Gateway would have done before? Again, that idea of “necessary” force gets brought back, because Gateway could easily have teleported the man far away without having to kill him. We have Jean, Beast and Gateway all acting in a far more brutal way than they’ve acted before – and for the life of me I can’t tell whether we’re meant to find it concerning or find it awesome?

It feels like Dawn of X has resulted in everybody having a longer-term plan for their respective comic series, and for X-Force we’re going to have to wait and see if this is meant to be cool or complicit.

 

X-Force #5: Necessary Force
Writer: Benjamin Percy
Artist: Joshua Cassara
Colourists: Dean White and Rachelle Rosenberg

Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Designer: Tom Muller

 

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