1185. X-Force #19, February 1993, written by Fabian Nicieza, penciled by Greg Capullo
Every one of my arguments for X-Force being the most consistent X-Title of the ’90s (if not of all time) pretty much stem from this issue. It’s absolutely phenomenal, the perfect example of how you force real gritty human emotion-based drama into spandex.
X-Force started as a cash-in move by Marvel to get tons of money off of the gun-toting day-glo angst of the early ’90s. Mix mutants with Punisher ethics and big tits? Uhyesthankyou, hereareamillionvariantcovers. And thanks to Fabian Nicieza’s scripting, those horrendous Liefeld plots still managed to pop due to sharp characterization and self-aware quips. But then Liefeld left the book, and Cable soon after, and the team was thrown into a crossover that forced them to answer for their reckless decision making. I’ve already gone on at great length about how much I love this aspect of “X-Cutioner’s Song” so I won’t do it again. So like X-Factor #87 and Uncanny X-Men #297 before it, this comic steps back, sits down, and takes a breather.
And it’s the best issue of X-Force ever and, currently the sixteenth best comic I have ever read in my entire life. Yes, I have a database. Of course I have a database.
So why is this issue so great? Because Nicieza actually addresses the inherent consequences of the first year of the title and the repercussions of the team being held captive by Xavier. The confrontation that has needed to happen, X-Force vs Xavier, finally happens and it pays off big time. Xavier still believes the team to be children, incapable of handling their own destiny. He thinks they’ve been manipulated by Cable and sees the world in a strict sense of right and wrong. Cannonball explains to Xavier that they are adults and they have learned from all of their teachers and are ready and completely capable of living on their own. The issue is debated smartly by both sides and is ultimately won by Cannonball, who demonstrates that shades of grey exist and differing methods can result in the same outcome. The argument ends with Cannonball nearly slapping Professor X, and it’s depicted with appropriate gravity and expert acting (thanks to Greg Capullo). And man, Nicieza, you get Cannonball. You made Cannonball an adult in this issue, an adult that logically grew up from the childhood we all read in New Mutants. You gave him a hero moment, standing up to his father figure, that defined him for, well, it still defines him today. Cannonball stopped being a goofy Southern generic hero in this issue and became a competent leader on the level of Cyclops.
Siryn and Sunspot also have similar moments of realization in this issue that come across differently than Cannonball’s. Sunspot is absolutely shaken by his experience with Gideon and his newfound energy blast powers. He’s completely unsure of and terrified of his future. Siryn, on the other hand, admits to Professor X that she feels alive for the first time and has the utmost faith in her team. These two vignettes, along with Cannonball’s, perfectly illustrate what X-Force is all about. Growing up. So many comics are about kids and teenagers, and so many comics are about heroes who are just generically adult, but so precious few are about this period. The awkward, uncertain steps teenagers take into adulthood are such perfect material and yet so rarely done, and rarely done so well. This is X-Force as a unit deciding that they are strong enough and confident enough to stand alone and deciding to go for it.
And that’s what this series is all about. X-Force thematically is not about Cable. It is about the absence of authority and who you become in said absence. That is why the Nicieza/Capullo run of issues, and particularly this issue, works so well.
The other magnificent part of this book is Greg Capullo’s art, especially his redesigns of the entire X-Force team. They are easily my favorite superhero uniforms of all time. The new designs mix a team look with individual looks, which is what all team looks should do. Yes, the uniforms have shoulder pads and pockets galore, but overall…they look more timeless than the Liefeld designs. They mix maturity with youthful colors and flourishes, all tied together with a strong militaristic vibe. They are unique and a step past the anti-costumes of 1991. Also Nicieza takes a jab at Liefeld by having Warpath say upon receiving his new costume, “at least now I can turn my neck without smacking myself in the chin with my shoulder pads.” Nice.
On top of all this greatness, characters have hilarious lines, they interact in fascinating ways, it’s just Nicieza taking everything that once did not work about this series and making them be the series’ strong points. The issue ends with X-Force declaring their independence and teleporting away. As they are leaving, Professor X tells Cannonball that two of his teammates snuck into his study to steal information. I love this. I love that Nicieza both gives Cannonball a clear philosophical victory and has Professor X get a last dig in. Yes, Professor X could have just gotten a verbal beating, end of issue. But Nicieza acknowledges Professor X as a character that exists strongly outside of X-Force and doesn’t let him get trounced that easily. One last jab, one last “realize that this is the path you have chosen, one filled with second-guessing and moral compromises” to make his point before the issues end. It’s expert. It’s class-act. It’s near a masterpiece.
I love X-Force.
My Score: 9.8