Review: Uncanny X-Force #35

Remarkable: it’s been two years since “Uncanny X-Force” originally launched in December 2010. Now December 2012 and 37 issues later (don’t forget those two Point Ones), we’re given one hell of a farewell show from Rick Remender and Phil Noto.

Written by Rick Remender
Illustrated by Phil Noto

– Rick Remender’s landmark run comes to a conclusion with one of the most shocking moments in X-Force history.
– What will become of what’s left of X-Force?

For those familiar with Rick Remender’s work, one thing is absolutely clear: the man loves music. From his humble beginnings in comics with thinks like “Black Heart Billy” or to more recent references to Mogwai not-so-subtley placed in “Captain America” #1, the influence of music on his work is more obvious than how magic works in “Phonogram.” To that end, “Uncanny X-Force” has very much been like a great rock album in its execution: it opened up with a kick-ass first track called ‘The Apocalypse Solution,’ a track full of memorable riffs that set the tone for the rest of the album, before moving into an album full of popular singles and radio sensations like ‘The Dark Angel Saga’ plus a few kinda-filler-but-still-good tracks like ‘Otherworld,’ all before coming together in a big penultimate track that preludes the end of the record in ‘Final Execution.’ All that remains is the final track, a slower jam (perhaps acoustic) that wraps the album with a moving ballad that you can sing around a campfire or put on a mix tape for that special someone. “Uncanny X-Force” #35 is exactly that — one last song on a very memorable album before the record ends.

Really, it should be no surprise that “Uncanny X-Force” has such a strong swan song. Looking back at it now it clearly stands above and beyond as one of the best books Marvel  has had in the past few years. Whether its the bevy of talented artists who’ve graced the paces, from Rafael Albuquerque to Jerome Opena to Esad Ribic (to name a few) and all held together with beautiful colors from Dean White, to the sheer scope the book has run —  big crazy stories full of Apocalypse gambits, alternate universes and dystopic futures entwined with dark yet touching stories of the best and worst sides of relationships, family and friendship — it’s really only surprising how Rick Remender managed to stay sane while putting it all together. This has been an extremely ambitious title from beginning to end, and as Remender leaves the stage to allow someone else to pick up the microphone he gives us a nice and poignant farewell speech through the eyes of the characters that made this book so great.

There are a few loose ends to the story, though, and that does set the issue back just a tiny bit. It’s probably best to note that there is no such thing as a “clean ending” in the Marvel Universe since it’s all involved in the never ending drama that is superhero comics, so the most you can ever hope for is that a creative team will be able to close off their story in the best way possible. Such is the case here; there are definitely remaining questions and things left for both Remender and incoming “UXF” writer Sam Humphries to explore at a later time and that’s absolutely fine in the long term, yet there are enough things left over that you can’t help but wish there was more to the book — or, at the very least, that Remender’s run was longer. It’s not that it’s a messy ending or anything of that sort, but rather that a few more things could’ve been fleshed out or shown for added resolution (none of which we’ll discuss here to avoid spoilers). Perhaps that’s a selfish thought in that there’s enough left over that you’d want to see Rick Remender handle and no one else, but its still a fairly prevalent one by the time the final page is reached.

And yet, this still feels like the ending that “Uncanny X-Force” deserves — and that’s the most important thing to consider. It’s not quite a happy ending, nor could there ever really have been one, but it’s certainly the next best thing, and definitely one of if not the most emotional endings Remender has ever brought to one of his Marvel titles. This is a book that has been firing on all cylinders since inception, and it doesn’t let up just because the curtain draws. “Uncanny X-Force” may be a team about assassins, yet they’re easily the most lovable group of assassins in comics, which is the books most shining trait. Here are a group of rapscallions, murderers and psychopaths of different varieties, yet despite the darkness that hovers above all of them Remender has managed to make each one decidedly human and relatable. It hasn’t been an easy task and each character has certainly gotten what has been coming to them throughout the book in one way or another, but it’s still nice to see some of them get some semblance of closure for all that has happened in the past two years.

Suffice it to say, Remender’s work on “Uncanny X-Force” is definitely some of the best the entire X-Line has seen in the last five years. Here is a book that followed a critically acclaimed run that redefined the series, only to both up the ante and simplify the concept in a very concrete way. Not only were they just a covert team of assassins, but they fought bigger threats as a tighter unit, and this is one of the few team books out there where the main characters ended up feeling like a family, albeit a dysfunctional one. What Remender managed to do throughout the book’s 37 issues is rather remarkable, and as the final page arrives “Uncanny X-Force” feels somewhat like the Marvel version of “Fear Agent,” in that it features the same clear amount of passion wrapped up in a meticulously plotted story that has a whopper of a pay-off for long-term fans of the story. Remender may be an absolute bastard to his character’s lives sometimes, but let it be said that the caveat to this is that it is abundantly clear that he cares deeply for them.

Of course, the emotional wallop the issue packs is thanks in part to Phil Noto, who helps the book sail off into the sunset like a viking funeral. Each character feels that much more real with Noto behind the pen as he manages to bring up the elements that truly capture the humanity of a character’s emotional response, even when that character happens to have a mask covering his face, and this helps Remender’s words hit their emotional mark. Additionally, Noto’s version of Betsy Braddock is easily one of the best in comics — not just this one — and this issue features plenty of her in a touching narrative that is reminiscent of the finale of “Dark Angel Saga,” which essentially opens a whole new bag of emotional worms. All of it is held together by the glue that is Frank Martin Jr’s colors, bringing great depth and scope to Noto’s already wonderful illustrations, and while Noto isn’t a shabby color artist himself, it’s clear that having Martin’s work on the issue really helps the final punch by rounding out all of the work Noto has done in a wonderful gloss.

Most of the finales to Marvel’s A-List titles in preparation for Marvel NOW! have had one recurring theme: hope. Hope for the future, hope for a brighter tomorrow where the heroes of various books could lead somewhat different lives. While the infinite soap opera nature of this particular brand of comics does inherently bar that optimism from being anything more than a passing fad, its still rather nice that we get to see whats left of the Uncanny X-Force fade to white before their lives are torn asunder elsewhere. It’s like watching a sunset before the end of the world – even if things may be horrible tomorrow, the end of today is beautiful enough that you can’t help but smile. While this issue doesn’t hit the incredible finale highs that the book has had in the past with ‘Dark Angel Saga’ or ‘Final Execution’ (because really, Remender stacked the deck against himself with how good this book has been), it’s definitely a fantastic wrap to a great run.

Final Verdict: 9.0 – Au revoir

About The AuthorMatthew MeylikhovOnce upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."

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