• Reviews 

    “X-Force: Old Ghosts” and the Use of Comedy

    By | September 7th, 2019
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    The work never stops for X-Force, someone always needs to be killed. That doesn’t mean they can’t have a laugh along the way. ‘Old Ghost’ consistently employs comedy and tries to heal a bit after ‘Angels & Demons.’

    Written by Craig Kyle and Christ Yost
    Illustrated by Mike Choi
    Colored by Sonia Oback
    Lettered by Cory Petit

    Collects X-Force (2008) #1-6.
    Collects X-Force (2008) #7-11. X-Force is still reeling from the aftermath of their first mission, but there’s no rest for the wicked. Mutantkind’s enemies have multiplied, but Cyclops has a new target for his black-ops team…and even X-Force doesn’t believe who they’re going after next.

    “Old Ghosts” collects issues #7-11 of the Kyle-Yost written “X-Force,” now with the art team of Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. Over these issues the creative team set the tone for the series going forward and expand the book out to include ‘B’ and ‘C’ plots. What stands out in this collection of issues is the teams use of comedy to underscore the darkness, or the humanity of its hunters and killers, as well as undercut some 90s sensibilities. With a collection behind them and something to stand on, th team also attempts to deal with the aftermath of all that bloodshed to varying degrees of success. While its struggle against Bastion’s conglomeration of mutant hate groups is largely prelude to “Second Coming,” Kyle and Yost do their best to allow character to come through in these interconnecting plots.

    The most noticeable difference between collections is the change in art team from Clayton Crain to Mike Choi and Sonia Oback. Their art collectively looks nothing like Crain’s, who does come in for a few pages in #11. IT is a harsh transition, one I didn’t immediately care for but it grows on you as it becomes evident what their style allows the book to do. For all the bloodletting and darkness at the center of the series, Kyle and Yost do a good job of peppering in come comedy that can both highlight the darkness and lighten the mood.

    Consider the opening pages at the Aerie as Elixir realizes how deep he is with Laura casually over pancakes. Laura matter of factly states Cyclops best option is to kill him an keep X-Force a secret. Choi draws the moment as a three panel sequence, allowing for a beat of silence in between Elixir’s transformation from sad puppy dog to WaitWhat?!, all delightfully framed by the ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch,

    There is a second, more workplace style of comedic sequence soon after that is built on the events of the last arc. The squad needs to see if everyone, mainly Rahne and Angel, can play nice with one another. Choi frames the sequence in a series of extreme close ups as the original X-Man and New Mutant transform into their deadlier selves. The writers sprinkle in some deadpan commentary from Logan as it all goes sideways. “Here we go” he says. It reads as tired and with full acceptance of what is to come, right before Rahne starts mauling him. Only with a character like Logan could a moment like that play for laughs, he’s seen it all and survived. It’s just another Tuesday for him.

    Fixing Rahne will have to wait as Cyclops needs Angle on the ground with the team hunting Telford “Vanisher” Porter and the sample of Legacy Virus he stole in Japan. Unsurprisingly, things go sideways as well when the bloodlust of Warren’s Archangel personal becomes too much. These pages are built around his internal monologue and the growing desire to stop pretending and be his true self. In this moment of excess, the creative team use visual comedy to undermine the hypermasculine ideology Archangel exposes. While he rampages about trying to prove himself to a absentee surrogate father, he is undone by it. As Domino sticks a very large handgun down his throat. The panel is a visual gag that threatens to bring the subtextual associations between sex and violence up into text as the symbolism is humorously lays bare the corrosive behavior in homoerotic fashion.

    These moments underscore the humanity or stupidity of characters, in other moments the creative team use humor to expose the hypocrisy of some characters and the depth X-Force is willing to do to complete their mission. Eventually the team, now with Domino, flush Vanisher out of hiding long enough for omega level mutant Elixir to lay a single finger on him. Elixir gives him the equivalent of the Hyakuretsu Ken, in the form of an X-themed brain tumor. Vanisher’s subsequent trip to the doctors is straightforward comedy as people crowd around to marvel at his tumor. These actions and his when the team come under fire later on reveal a hypocritical attitude toward non-violence by Elixir. In the moment Choi draws his body language a sullen, but is soon joking with Logan and taking the complement for the ‘X’ motif. Meanwhile when the team is in a fire fight, he refuses to act because the deranged clones have a humanity to them. There is a hint that the tumor may not be fatal, but it just makes him a party to the torture and coercion of Vanisher onto X-Force in return medical treatment.

    Continued below

    Not every moment of comedy exists to remind the reader of the disreputable nature of X-Force. The creative team use it to create a sweet moment and invert gender roles after Elixir runs off to save Laura. Much like the 2012 reboot of “Bloodshot” used body horror-humor to update and undermine the hardbodied masculinity built into the character, the creative team go a similar rout with the indestructible Laura Kinney. Her indestructibility is contrasted with her burnt visage from a dunk in a vat of molten metal. That indefatigable nature also has her figured as the one doing the saving, physically carrying Elixir back to the group. Oh Elixir, your weak and emotional on a team of mutandoms best killers.

    These are sequences and a type of content that wouldn’t play to Crain’s strength as an artist. There are other little moments throughout from Choi and Oback the way Laura and Elixir share looks before their climatic showdown in Smelting Plant. Choi’s linework gives everything a more representational, comic book realistic, style that more easily expresses the humanity of the cast. Which helps to ground the more absurd aspects of the book like fighting smiley faced robots, demon bears, running into a furry god etc.

    Interspersed throughout the main plot is a ‘B’ plot involving James Proudstar and ‘C’ plot involving Rahne that deal in the aftermath of ‘Angels and Demons.’ These two threads, while wildly disconnected from the main plot an each other, attempt to show and deal with the cost of all this wet work.

    X-Force’s first mission changed James Proudstar aka Warpath. He was aware of it on some level during the mission in the third issue, noting how he’s done things he didn’t think possible. Now he finds himself isolated by the knowledge and his actions, unable to speak with his fellow X-Men (he isn’t one of them anymore) or Hepzibah. The art team visually show this isolation on the first page juxtaposing the close ups of Hepzibah and all her color with the removed black and grey view of Proudstar in his room. Unable to find meaningful communication with his mutant family, James leaves to speak with his other family.

    This thread gestures towards mental health and the need to deal with trauma, the world just gets in the way of James much needed talk. Someone or thing has desecrated his tribal lands, Camp Verde, resulting in them being haunted by yet another Demon Bear. Choi and Oback do a good job of echoing Bill Sienkiewicz’s work without copying it. Oback’s coloring gives everything an unnatural smooth surface which helps for standard superhero physiques and apparently representing the ethereal quality of a Demon Bear in the fading sunlight. Despite his new found prowess at killing, James is unable to even scratch the Bear and must be saved by Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider.

    The inclusion of Blaze provides for a nice team up, but is awkward as it plays into mighty whitey tropes. Once they are safe Blaze begins expositing the cliffnotes version of Marvel’s Apache culture to him in a one sided conversation. Which is the most frustrating part, instead of a moment of conversation or connection for James all he receives is another mission to kill and the reward regeneration through violence. Instead of a cathartic conversation all he is offered is catharsis through violence.

    “X-Force” operates in a world of violence, which makes moments where a non-violent path is taken stands out. James is offered the chance to kill the Demon Bear with the poisoned blade that is driving it mad, but choses to remove it. Without the corrupting influence of the blade, the Demon Bear reverts back to their normal state as various animal spirits and subsequently commune with James.

    On some level he receives the communication/recognition he desires but it results in yet another bloody mission as the spirits show who it was that corrupted this place. The team up with Ghost Rider was visually interesting, but this adventure never gave James the chance to talk it out. He was a party of a series of one sided conversations (from Ghost Rider to the Spirits) that told him what to do not converse with him about how he feels. “X-Force” can be a little too plot dense at times as that progression rarely allows a character to catch their breath, hangout, or play baseball.

    Continued below

    The Rahne plot is built from a similar foundation to James’, as Rahne recovers from her abusive father and her patricide. It is a lot to deal with, and since this is a ‘C’ plot it gets even less page space (5 total over the course of the collection) than the others – though it does continue in subsequent collections. While the team is away on a mission, Rahne is left alone at Warren’s aerie of a cabin. The isolation Rahne feels comes through on the first page as she has a nightmarish vision of the previous events crying out for anyone from God to Danni Moonstar for help and forgiveness. Oback contrasts the blood red center nightmare panel with the cool blue of reality resulting in gutter space that makes a rough cross.

    As we routinely check in on her we see the cabin fall into disrepair with Rahne just sitting by the window with a copy of the Bible and a rosary. Theoretically this page is well done as Choi an Oback contrasts Rahne’s solitude with the mysterious pair of yellow eyes outside. Her pose in the window hutch isn’t even that bad, it is the costuming that throws it all off. Why is she in short shorts and a t-shirt at least one size too small that hugs every curve of her body? Because comics are still made for male gaze bullshit, so that even depressed Rhane must appear sexy for the omniscient (assumedly straight male) reader.
    Those mysterious yellow eyes belong to the Asgardian Hrimihari. A quick note on the lycanthropic designs. Hrimihari is presented as male presentation comes through only in contrast to Rahne. Rhane’s wolf form gives her shapely legs and a more ample bosom, because she always has to be sexy …. Hrimihari meanwhile gets to look like a furry Ken Doll.

    Rahne’s thread continues and takes on a slightly bigger role in the next collection, but like Proudstar’s it highlights how plot movement detracts from actually attempting to deal with the trauma that is supposed to be powering these two threads.

    ‘Old Ghosts’ has many different plates to spin and various other narrative gates put in its place. The use of comedy throughout the main plot thread is excellent and gives the series more tonal space to maneuver in. The side plots run into the constraints of page limits in ways that seem to undermine their goal of healing. “X-Force” came out in a time when the X-Men comes really were a line unto themselves, something that really hasn’t been the case for nearly a half decade. It is a different kind of reading experience, one that makes considering the series somewhat difficult as crossover hell takes hold in the lead up to “Second Coming.”


    //TAGS | 2019 Summer Comics Binge

    Michael Mazzacane

    Your Friendly Neighborhood Media & Cultural Studies-Man Twitter

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