“…Already in Progress…”
X-Force, No. 44
Jeph Loeb & Adam Pollina
Seventeen years and fifty additional cents. I bought another copy of this comic from a local fifty-cent bin. Much of it reads the same as it did back then: overly gestural art, body language more theatrical than real people ever would display. Fascinating graphic approach for a comic series that was born as a more hardline, rough edged X-Men. High school drama club, the comic book. A much greater focus was placed on facial expressions and emotive storytelling. Unfortunately, for all of his graphic ambition, Adam Pollina is undermining the script which is fairly undramatic.
This is the forty-fourth issue in the series (forty-eighth, considering the alternate reality “Gambit and the X-Ternals” diversion that this issue follows) but it is actually the first issue in a new direction of the series. A kinder, gentler X-Force if you will.
Last night, in addition to reading this old comic, I also watched the series pilot for the television sitcom “The New Girl.” This particular pilot/first episode did everything correctly. It introduced me to each character through their actions and points of view taken, it set the protagonist against a problem which seems important to her and each of the supporting characters is given a personal stake in its outcome. Everybody goes about addressing the central problem in his or her way, largely depending on how far from the primary character they orbit. The plot of the pilot resolves and the audience learns a great deal about each character due to his or her behavior during the course of events.
One thing I yell about on this site is how improperly serial comic books are written. This isn’t a matter of opinion or taste, this is about objective fact. This comic book story “…Already in Progress…” (see, referencing that alternate reality diversion) is flat out incorrectly written. As the first issue in a new direction, this should be akin to a pilot episode. For all of the flack that Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza’s original X-Force #1 received, it was a very good pilot episode. X-Force # 1 (“A Force to be Reckoned With,” 1991) was a self contained story about X-Force’s first attempt to knock out a terrorist organization with whom they would presumably struggle with throughout the course of the series. The inaugural issue/episode outlined the cast of characters’ personalities through their actions, and the series’ themes through the X-Force group’s overall tactical approach.
To bring the audience back for issue two, we learn of another antagonist, a member of the international police force, S.H.I.E.L.D. which tells the audience that the characters who we are following are on the wrong side of the law. Pursuing terrorists and pursued by authorities, we have in one issue a complete picture of what this series will be about. In the new direction paved by Jeph Loeb in issue 44, we get only part of this. We are introduced to the new look of the team and hinted at the new relationship that X-Force will have with other fictional organizations but we don’t have a serious picture of exactly what this brand new direction will be (apart from matching outfits).
Pollina gives it his all, he has the characters twist and fret and flit about but it’s much ado about nothing. He brings his B+ game to a C- plot and an D- script. What little story is present here has a particular charm to it. Children huddled around a locked door, attempting to hear what the adults are discussing. It would be much more believable if the children in question weren’t battle-hardened soldiers. It would be more believable if the killer from a futuristic world wasn’t intimidated by a guy whose big deal is that he can fly now. It would be more believable if Jeph Loeb found some time in this gripping plot to have X-Force actually beat somebody up (anybody, really).
Wait, time heals no wounds. Why is it that the “violent X-Men spinoff” is so timid about conflict? Another “major” “plot point” of this X-Force #44 is that Rictor (the grumpy one) quits in a huff. One of the best things about the very first X-Force was the sometimes brutal internal hostilities among the cast of characters. In Liefeld and Nicieza’s second issue (“The Blood Hunters,” 1991), one character tears another’s insides out. Horrible. Troubled youths on the run from the law and from each other. In this second beginning of number 44, everything is so soft and mellow that the only possible internal conflict walks out the front door. Perhaps he was as bored as you’d be, reading this nonsense.
Apropos of nothing, in X-Force #44, there is a double-page centerfold spread of Sabertooth in a speedo lounging in a forest. Adam Pollina must have had a sexy man clause in his contract. Plus one letter grade for cheesecake.