Written by Jeph Loeb, Penciled by Adam Pollina, Inked by Mark Pennington
Most people on the outside looking in at X-Force see it as proof of 90’s excess: it was Rob Liefeld’s pet project, the book that set all sorts of speculator records before being overshadowed by Jim Lee’s X-Men #1. Despite not having its own media presence, there was a line of action figures featuring endless variations of Cable, the team’s gun-toting mystery-man. While it’s true that the book as drawn and plotted by Rob Liefeld was the sort of big, bombastic action you’d expect from a book called “X-Force,” what a lot of people may not remember is that Liefeld’s tenure on the title was exceptionally brief.
X-Force had begun life as the New Mutants, the mid-80’s teen group created when Jim Shooter noticed that there were basically no more teens on the X-Men title (except Kitty), and while the team’s roster had changed in the wake of Cable taking over as leader, these were still characters that had existed in some form for several years. As I mentioned in my New Warriors review, I am a sucker for “teens growing up” stories, and X-Force is no exception. Personally, I found the leader-less “wandering around” phase far more interesting than the military strike team. So let’s get into it!
We begin our story with Siryn, undercover at the Weisman Institute for the Criminally Insane in Vermont. Siryn hacks into a doctor’s computer terminal to gain information about a ten year old that’s been institutionalized indefinitely. She ducks behind the desk even as an image of “Benjamin Russell” appears on-screen, a young man who looks exactly like current MIA teammate Shatterstar. Unfortunately, Siryn is found by the doctor, and while she tries to fight off two burly orderlies, she is pinned down and given a shot that knocks her out.
In Siberia, the Mimic attacks X-Force, who were investigating an attack on a mutant underground outpost when they found the outpost destroyed and the Mimic going crazy. The Mimic, best known for his silver-age X-Men appearances (pre-Exiles), has the ability to absorb any mutant powers in proximity, plus the permanent powers of the original five X-Men in true “Super Skrull” fashion. The team continues to fight with Mimic, giving him new powers every time one of them hits the mutant, who blames X-Force for the attack on the base. Just as Mimic is close to figuring out that they really have no reason to fight, Sunspot, who had been told to stay away from the Mimic, stupidly jumps in and attacks, despite Mimic outright stating “I think this was all a big mistake.” Mimic overloads and explodes, causing both Sunspot and the Mimic to fall out of the sky.
|Tabitha nurtures Simba back to health.|
Meanwhile, Tabitha, aka Boomer/Boom-Boom/Meltdown/whatever, is back at the X-Mansion, where a feral Sabretooth rubs up against her, kitty-cat style, after she brings him some milk. Back in her room, shirtless weirdo Wolverine warns Tabby to stay away from Creed. He also basically says that when he kills Creed, he’ll kill anybody in the way, too. After he leaves, Tabitha says out loud to no one how she’s sick of men telling her how to run her life.
In the wake of the explosion, Cable yells at Sunspot, as Caliban offers to track down the missing Mimic. Caliban follows the trail to a big hole in the ground, but there’s no sign of the Mimic. Cable doesn’t like the look of things, as he feels that someone pulled their strings to engineer the fight.
|Good thing Siryn knew Deadpool's radio frequency!|
Back at the institute, Siryn has somehow made a jury-rigged radio in her cell. She tries to message Cable, the only one who knows she’s there, but can’t get a signal. Siryn knows what she has to do, although she’s understandably reluctant. She messages a certain merc with a mouth… Deadpool! To be continued!
One letter questions Shatterstar’s promise to Cable about saving his home-world, with the editor directing the fan to the picture of Ben Russel. Another letter features a pretty scathing condemnation of Loeb and Pollina taking over writing and art duty in X-Force #44, saying he is dropping the title immediately after following the New Mutants for over a decade.
This issue finds the team in the middle of a few divergent storylines. The fight with the Mimic gets the majority of the action, and is a pretty standard superhero fight. The subplots are more interesting from a character perspective, with Siryn’s “promotion” to deputy leader leading her to immediately go on an undercover mission without the team, doing the sort of solo mission Domino would normally do. The Ben Russel story has been covered elsewhere, but needless to say, it’s enormously dumb. The disappearance of the Mimic is apparently masterminded by Onslaught, but we don’t get even the vaguest of hints about that, even though Mimic’s connection to Professor X seems like something that would be relevant (of course, I’m not sure if anyone in the X-office knew that Onslaught was Professor X at this point). Although you could easily say Loeb is already getting way too bogged down in pace, I do like the framing of Siryn's story as the intro and exit of the story, since her storyline seems much cooler than the main storyline involving a marginal 1960's X-Men character.
Adam Pollina was mostly unknown to non-perverts when he was hired as X-Force's penciler with issue 44 (he was best known for an adult parody called "Sex Trek"), and he'd stay with the book until issue 81, when he'd be replaced as regular penciler by Jim Cheung. While I've seen Pollina's work occasionally singled out for its sloppy anatomy or cartoony style, I love the energy he puts into the characters. Maybe my favorite panel is Siryn collapsing after she's been drugged, with her hair turning into black as the panel goes from left to right. I'm sure it's not a new technique, but it looks great. The biggest downside is that the characters are so different from what we think of when we think of Liefeld's crazy designs. Cable during this period had gotten a lot smaller, and Warpath had dropped his embarrassing tribal outfit and gotten a haircut, and apparently lost a bunch of bulk in the process. By the time Pollina is done re-designing the rest of the team over the course of the next 35 issues, almost no one will be recognizable from their 1991 designs.
Pollina did have a creator-owned book in the early 2000's, but for the most part he didn't do much else, as he ended up getting a (presumably more lucrative) job working as an art designer in Hollywood and working as a storyboard artist for the original God of War.
Proudstar's new outfit features yellow chaps and a big "X" belt buckle. Sunfire's costume is covered in pouches, including mid-thigh pouches. Cable wears a cool flight jacket over his pouched-up costume. Unlike Spider-Man, Deadpool is clearly wearing red boots, rather than booties.