Best Shots Reviews: X-FORCE #1, MARVEL ACTION: AVENGERS #1, HEADLOCKED: TALES FROM THE ROAD

X-Force #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

X-Force #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Dylan Burnett, Juanan Ramírez, Jesus Aburtov and Brian Reber
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Cable is dead. Long live Cable.

That’s the kind of thing you have to deal with when it comes to time travel in comics. With the events of Extermination over and the original, young X-Men back safely in their own time, you would think that the time travel shenanigans would be over for a while, but then again, you have to remember that pretty much every Cable story is about time travel shenanigans. So when a young Cable murdered the regular continuity Old Man Cable, someone has to be out looking for justice and those someones turn out to be his old teammates X-Force. To bring the old Cable’s murderer to justice, they have to track down the new one, which doesn’t seem to be that difficult in Ed Brisson and Dylan Burnett’s X-Force #1, a debut that goes back to the beginning by reuniting Cannonball, Boom Boom, Warpath, Domino and Shatterstar on their quest for vengeance against the murder of their mentor and friend. So in other words, it’s pretty much business as usual in this corner of the Marvel Universe, where no mentor lives forever — or stays dead forever, either.

X-Force has always been on the fringe of the mainstream X-Men stories, going to the dark and odd corners of the Marvel Universe that the X-Men can’t. Whether it’s Rob Liefeld’s gleefully chaotic X-Force, Pete Milligan and Mike Allred’s subversively short-lived X-Force, or Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña’s grim and gritty X-Force, this title has been at its most memorable when it defies expectations. So Ed Brisson’s first issue disappointingly falls into place fairly quickly as this team defines itself as the X-team who will do what other’s can’t. Picking up after the cleaning-the-decks of Extermination, Brisson just can’t establish any new or surprising status quo for this team. By the fifth page, Domino delivers a line that’s practically a cliched mission statement for this book. “But most mutants are good people. Like the X-Men. They’re trying to make society a better place. They’ve dedicated themselves to saving lives. We, however, are not most mutants. We’re the mutants you’re terrified of.” That statement is more about the past than the future, defining this team by what it’s members have done rather than what they’re capable of accomplishing in the future.

Artist Dylan Burnett is who makes this a book worth paying attention to. The immediacy of his lines creates an exciting energy in the artwork. This doesn’t look like any other X-book. It’s a grungier visual that speaks more to the tone of the book than some of the on-the-nose writing does. Burnett’s artwork and Jesus Aburtov’s coloring shows that X-Force can become something more special like those previous incarnations of the title. Under Liefeld, Milligan, Allred, Remender, and Opeña, X-Force redefined the aesthetics of Marvel's mutants. They were seismic shifts in what an X-Men comic could be. Brisson and Burnett’s story doesn’t do a whole lot of setup or character work; it acts as if it’s a given that you’ve read what’s come before it to understand what’s happening now and what will happen in the future. For as much as the artwork feels like something new, it serves a rather old-fashioned story about mutants living in a world that fears and hates them.

Brisson and artist Juanan Ramírez round out the issue with a backup story about the late-to-the-party Boom Boom. Ramírez’s slick, Stuart Immonen-inspired artwork has some of the same edge as Burnett’s, but with a smoother overall effect. In an issue where the characters feel more like stereotypes of themselves, this story provides a few surprises as its less concerned in being a revenge story and provides a nice character moment that tells us more about Boom Boom in eight pages than it does about any of the other members of this team in three times the number of pages.

X-Force #1 isn’t a bad comic, but it feels like it’s all been done before. Instead of spinning out of recent X-related events into new and exciting directions, some set by Brisson himself, this comic feels rooted in the past and unable to escape the pull of humdrum struggle of mutant versus mankind and mutant versus mutant. Ed Brisson’s story mines the past of these characters, their struggles, and relationships in an entrenched manner. We’ve seen these characters do these actions repeatedly over the years and decades. But it’s Dylan Burnett’s art that we should be paying attention to, as we wait to see what new visual paths he can forge to give this latest incarnation of X-Force its own unique identity.

Credit: IDW Publishing

Marvel Action: Avengers #1 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Marvel Action: Avengers #1 is a solid debut issue that capitalizes on IDW’s strengths with licensed properties. Written by Matthew K. Manning with art and colors by Jon Sommariva and Protobunker, Marvel Action: Avengers #1 follows an Avengers team comprised of some of Marvel’s most high-profile cinematic universe stars in a brand-new adventure that makes it easy for new readers to jump on-board. When an A.I.M. scheme to capture Tony Stark’s Iron Man technology seems to go awry, it’s up to the Avengers to rescue Tony before his proudest achievement turns into the world’s worst nightmare. Manning’s script provides a great deal of helpful exposition but never drags, and Protobunker’s bright colors pop off the page. If you’ve loved the MCU but been hesitant to try to dive into decades of comics continuity, Marvel Action: Avengers #1 is an excellent way to get started.

Credit: Headlocked Comics

Headlocked: Tales From the Road Presents The Beacon (Published by Headlocked Comics; Review by C.K. Stewart; ‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): If you’re a fan of the BOOM! Studios WWE comics, you should absolutely pick up this mini-comic from WWE comics alum Michael Kingston. Co-written with WWE Superstar Mustafa Ali (Adeel Alam), The Beacon is a short that explores a turning point in the career of a young indie wrestler (and clear Ali stand-in) grappling with the bigoted expectations often made of marginalized performers. Kingston and Alam pack a lot into a few pages, and artist Nadia Ramlan does a stellar job -- Ramlan is a notable fanartist in the wrestling community, and while her sequentials are excellent, it’s her expressive character designs and her color work that truly shine. Ramlan has an amazing eye for framing panels and using shadow and spot lighting to great effect, and as a longtime fan it’s awesome to see her get to shine on this. The Beacon is available as a digital comic through the Headlocked Comics website, and at 99 cents there’s really no reason not to pick it up.

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