You know this thing should really be up by now, but I decided to stop in the middle of it and go see Cabin in the Woods (finally) All things being equal, I probably should have stayed here and finished this (short review: Joss Whedon has watched a lot of horror movies and is just . . .unbearably smug about it) because writing about a little-regarded and hardly remembered run of X-Force titles is much more enjoyable.
You have you priorities, I have mine.
Anyways, X-Force: Assualt on Graymalkin is an interesting little tome, as much for what happens within this run of issues and what was going on with the X-Books in general at the time. You see, a couple years before this, the X-Books had done a re-launched largely based on the fact that Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (their other shortcomings aside) had been friggin' money-spinners nonparallel and it was decided that sticking that talent on several new number ones would lead to gangbusters sales.
And it did. The gimmicks helped a little, of course, but by and large it was a serendipitous confluence of events: in the midst of writing comics for 13 year olds full of stuff that 13 year olds wanted to see about the time 13 year olds had money to burn. Shockingly, this made lots of money.
It made so much money, in fact, that Liefeld and Lee (and a few others) said "Huh. I bet there's more money we're not making. If we just ran everything, wouldn't that, y'know, come to us?" And so they tottled off to found Image and make more money.
For a while anyways.
This had the slight problem, from Marvel's perspective, that they were sort of publicly pantsed. Their newly re-launched books, which hadn't exactly been the most focused of runs at the best of times, were now dropped in mid-storyline (several storylines) Liefeld's X-Force was a particularly egregious offender of this, as Liefeld has a marked habit of dropping in stuff just because he thinks it's cool and then trying to sort out the mess later. Then again, when this is going on in your head all the time:
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/cF4ZTcuhixc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>iframe>
. . .it could be said there are larger problems than your plotting not being tight.
Anyways, in an attempt to get a bit of breathing room, Marvel decided to do the first of their big annual crossovers, with X-Cutioner's Song, a wonderful 4-month interlude basically concerned with taking one of Liefeld's "cool bits" ("Why do Stryfe and Cable look the same?") and convoluting things to the point where the question is not at all answered, except in the immediate "they fell into a hole in time" kinda way (the "non-answer answer" thing ultimately ends up making the X-Books nigh-unreadable, but that's another series) with the added bonus that you got 12 cool trading cards full of stuff from Stryfe's Livejournal..
I still have mine. I am not proud of this--It just sorta happened.
Anyways, Assault on Graymalkin (remember that book we were talking about?) takes up precisely after X-Cutioner's So--oh, wait. Not exactly. Before deal with the fallout of that, we have an issue of New Warriors that led to an eternal continuity headache, as Fabian Nicieza decides that the whole Nova Roma (in short "It's Rome, but in Brazil. I guess that means lots of aqueducts and smooth pubic areas. Fucking Chris Claremont, I swear to God") was all an illusion, which in a roundabout way ends up with Firestar getting a new costume. It's . . .a bit clumsy, all things being equal, but Firestar's new costume is pretty slick and Darick Robertson's art is top-notch.
After that, we start in with things good and proper, X-Force #19 is one of my favourite issues of anything ever, as it's generally a very deft "OK, this is what the book is about now" issue that doesn't feel so obvious and clumsy about it. In the wake of Song, X-Force is being held in the X-Manion under what amounts to house arrest, and everyone's trying to work out what to do with them.
And for the most part it works well. Oh sure, there are some ropey bits, like where Siryn decides that "hanging around with people who are dead inside, like her" means that there's an opportunity for some glorious renewal (it doesn't help she's smushing into some dead leaves at the time) I like Nicieza a lot and cut him an enormous amount of slack, but before he became known as the guy who worked in overly complex MacGuffins, he was the guy who would do purple prose that would put Marv Wolfman to shame.
But the main point of the issue is to get everyone fairly swanky new costumes and position Cannonball as the leader of X-Force (yes, there was a time when Cannonball was more than The Rookie) and explicitly answer the question "why X-Force." We also have time to blunt this a little as Warpath steals some data (on a big-ass CD-ROM--oh, the 90's) from the X-Men.
Issues #20-24 are tasked with hastily wrapping up a bunch of flotsam and jetsam from Liefeld's initial run on the book, as X-Force journey's to Cable's old space station Graymalkin (because of course he had a space station with a time machine on it.) and they get in a fight with SHIELD and War Machine. In plot B, Deadpool goes after Copycat, who was masquerading as Domino, and in Plot C, Domino fights off Weapon P.R.I,M.E. and if your response to last was "who?" the answer is "exactly."
In plot "D" X-Force kicks a whole faceful of dirt on the Externals, another of Liefeld's ideas.
Hoo-boy. The Externals are one of Liefeld's more obvious cribs, as they're pretty much "what would happen if Highlander met the X-Men" (answer: about six or seven issues of nigh-unreadable shit) X-Force shows up to tell them to back off and utterly clown them, and really, in this case, it's entirely justified.
While none of these are really earth-shattering plots, nor are they especially original, but they're enjoyable all the same for the brutal efficiency in which they clear the boards so they can do their own thing. One is kind of amused by it.
Issue #25 is the big Fatal Attractions crossover (yes, we have bounced from crossover to crossover in this volume) wherein Cable returns to the book, exposits for a few more pages so we can be sure we've got all the Liefeld out, and then Exodus shows up, blathers a lot and zaps everyone and then everyone goes back to Graymalkin, except it's now Avalon and Magneto's running the show, and is saying dodgy stuff like he's "the overlord of the fatal attraction." Magneto pulps Cable, and the whole thing ends on something of an anti-climax, but that's pretty much what happened through the entirety of "Fatal Attractions."
But Greg Capullo draws all of it rather splendidly, so there's that to recommend it.
So, uhm, if you feel that the 90's were the moment where the Beast walked the Earth unchallenged and left only ruin and blight in its wake with regards to superhero comics, then there is little to convince you otherwise. If, however, you want to see how people made lemonade out of the lemons that ensued from the beginnings of the Image Revolution, then it's worthy in a time capsule sorta sense. In any event, I'd certainly read this one more time than watch Cabin In The Woods again.