Saturday, January 20, 2018

“Read a Damn Book – 067: X-Force – New Beginnings”

Peter Milligan and Mike Allred – X-Force – New Beginnings (2017)

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Mike Allred. (I’ve already reviewed a Madman collection by Allred, as well as a collection of stories from The Atomics, written by Allred.) I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone, back in 2001, that this new team had taken over a superhero book called X-Force, and that they were doing weird things with it. Starting with issue #116 of the book, Allred took over the art duties on X-Force (which I’d never read,) and since I love Mike Allred’s artwork, I’ll happily read anything he’s involved in just to see how he realizes it. But, in addition to Allred’s doing the drawing, the writing duties for X-Force were simultaneously taken over by Peter Milligan, whose Vertigo comics, Shade, The Changing Man and Enigma, I’d loved. Milligan AND Allred---together in one comic series. Yep. I needed to read that, and I think I found one of two issues of the book way back then---and then I forgot about it.

Flash forward to Christmas-time, 2017, as I’m looking for something to read on my e-reader, and I come across a collected version of the first few issues of the Milligan and Allred run of X-Force. It’s been nearly two decades since I read the series, but I still remembered how much fun I thought those couple of issues I read back in 2001 or 2002 were, so I bought the digital collection.

Interestingly, the story still feels very contemporary, despite being nearly 20 years old. The premise is that X-Force is a super-group of mutants who, instead of being particularly heroic, are more obsessed with their media image. Their adventures are all filmed by a flying space potato, named Doop, and shared with various media outlets. The ratings for their exploits and popularity polls seem more important than ethics to most of the members of the group, as if their adventures are just a reality show in which people’s lives are really only important in terms of media exposure. Milligan’s cynical take on the “super team” concept is amazingly dark, despite Allred’s fantastic, clean, rather old-fashioned artwork. (To me, Allred’s work brings to mind the classic 1960’s “Silver Age” look, before comics got all dark and gritty and muscle-bound and “SAMEY.”)

This collection, X-Force - New Beginnings, reprints issues #116 through #120 of X-Force, and it runs about 120 pages. Despite being a bit short, it’s a very engaging book. Allred is on top of his game and draws some weird and quirky characters, and Milligan is absolutely vicious, as far as the plot goes. The body-count for this thin book is very high, and there is some gore. It’s important to note that this series, at least from issue #116 on, does NOT have a Comics Code Authority seal of approval, which means the violence can be extreme as the creators want it to be. It’s pretty serious, though in a slightly cartoony way thanks to Allred’s art style.

Some of the super-characters are a bit---I hate to say it---silly. One guy has extremely caustic sweat that he can shoot like acid blasts. (I think that’s what’s going on, though it’s not that well explained.) Another character is called Phat, and he can make various parts of his body expand at will. And there’s a large, pink, gay character from San Francisco, named Bloke, and a character named U-Go Girl, and the aforementioned space potato thing, called Doop, and someone named Gin Genie, and Mr. Sensitive… Yeah, the characters are a bit odd, but with the satirical tone of the book, in general, and the very dark storyline, it’s an interesting mix. Funny, dark, violent, and really well drawn---I enjoyed the book, and the next time I’m rich again, I’ll be buying the next collection.

Depending on what you’re looking for, this book might work for you, or it might not. The silly elements might turn off people looking for more straightforward superhero action (though even Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns have humorous moments in them). For those looking for kid-friendly fun, this story will undoubtedly be too violent and gory for you. It’s camp, for sure, but very dark camp. For those who are looking for biting social critique, those who appreciate dark satire, can handle both weirdness AND silliness, and who don’t mind a bit of guts in with their brightly colored spandex, then Milligan and Allred’s X-Force run should probably be pretty high up on your reading list!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)

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