After ten issues of breakneck plotting, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost finally give X-Force a break, as they fill in the backstory for the one original threat they’ve added to the hotchpotch of influences from the franchise’s history. With Warpath having been conveniently presented with a vision of Eli Bard’s origins courtesy of the Demon Bear, here he narrates to the majority of the cast the origins of the opposition, courtesy of guest artist Alina Urusov. Although the team’s initial mission statement was a pro-active hunting of threats to mutantkind, Bard’s tale is more in keeping with what’s become actual theme of the book- the difficulty in burying the past.
What at first glance looks like a screaming unoriginal continuity fest is in fact a much more curious beast, bordering on self-parody. Both of the book’s antagonists, Bastion and Bard, have the power to resurrect any X-character they choose as a zombie-fied shell, providing a very challenging metaphor for some of the franchise’s more creatively challenged moments. There’s something distinctly cheeky in this book’s acknowledgment of its true nature. In story terms, it’s X-Force’s willingness to dive in and deal with these problems that allows the regular X-Men to adopt their more pro-active and open approach to mutant relations. In terms of the franchise, this book caters for continuity-starved fanboys, keeping the franchise’s loyal followers in check while Ellis and Fraction break new ground. However, the writers’ refusal to simply rehash old plots turns this book into more than a mere nostalgia piece. The creations salvaged from the depths by Kyle and Yost invariably have something to fresh contribute, and the book’s infamous long-term perspective is a refreshing contract to the two-year amnesia found in most comics franchises.
After nearly a year’s worth of stories, X-Force resembles the initial expectations of the title- Childhood’s End with teeth. The only concern remaining is whether the writers can sustain the juggling act they’ve set themselves. Their previous X-book enjoyed a wonderfully sustained set of plots, but were dealt with in a linear sequence. The Purifier offensive lead to the resurrection of Nimrod and the creation of Predator X. Here, there are a sea of storylines, with Bastion’s undead cohorts fighting with Eli and Selene for the book’s attention. With Cable and Stryfe just around the corner, there’s a risk that the book could end up either suffocating under the weigh of its own plotting or denying its characters the development which they’ve so far enjoyed, particularly if it achieves the length of run merited by its quality to date.