Spinning out of the events of Messiah Complex, X-Force follows a â€œblack opsâ€ team of X-Men, tasked with missions other mutant superheroes would find morally compromising. These missions invariably end up being incredibly violent, as X-Force is the sort of superhero team that doesnâ€™t stick to the standard â€œno killingâ€ type of heroics. The philosophy of the team (and the marketing of the title) is probably best summed up by the fact that Marvel issued variant covers for the first few issues that were simply changed to be much, much bloodier than the standard covers.
The team makeup is about what youâ€™d expect. It starts out as a one-trick pony with Wolverine, X-23, Warpath, and Wolfsbane. Every single character is the stealthy, weapon using type, which has led to the team getting the rather unfortunate nickname of â€œStabby X-Men.â€ The team fleshes out quickly enough, picking up Archangel, who at least flies around and stabs people, and Elixir, who doesnâ€™t stab people at all.
Angels and Demons collects the storyline of the same name, which spans the first six issues of the book. Itâ€™s been out in the Premiere Hardcover format for a few months now, but itâ€™s just now hitting softcover. As an introductory arc, it both succeeds and falls flat on its face. If youâ€™re a new reader, whether to the X-Men or to comics in general, youâ€™ll get everything you need to know about the team right up front. Theyâ€™re all killers to varying degrees, some of them are troubled by whatâ€™s going on, some of them arenâ€™t. Even though this series comes on the heels of a big event, you donâ€™t need to know anything about it, other than the fact that itâ€™s made Cyclops feel like he needs a new team.
The friendly readability stops there, though. Just about every other aspect of the storyline is a callback to the last 10 to 20 years of X-Men continuity. All of the villains are old ones that havenâ€™t been seen in years, outside of very infrequent appearances, yet theyâ€™re reintroduced with no information. This isnâ€™t the same situation as being able to discern the status-quo through the scant information provided. You are told nothing about the villains, except that theyâ€™re evil villains who have killed mutants at some point. At one point, thereâ€™s a two-page spread that gives the characters’ names, what organization they led, and how many mutants theyâ€™re responsible for killing. Thatâ€™s all you get, so if youâ€™re not familiar with them youâ€™re not going to be informed.
For the most part, the lack of information about whatâ€™s going on doesnâ€™t really hurt the story. While you never know all the little details about whatâ€™s going on, the broad strokes are all clear enough to bring you through the plot points. At its core, the story is the X-Men against a weird pseudo-religious cult that really, really wants to kill all mutants. The fact that the cult is led by a Bastion/Phalanx hybrid and the reanimated corpses of old villains is only incidental.
The art by Clayton Crain is done in a fairly unique style for mainstream comic book work. Normally Iâ€™m not a fan of the dark, hyper-realistic style Crain uses but it fits the tone of X-Force perfectly. The rough painted colors and the muted palette give the book a totally different feel than the normal computer-color style that your average title has. Thereâ€™s not a shiny surface to be found anywhere in this collection, which is no mean feat considering that there end up being several dozen people with gigantic metal wings.
The art is the main reason Iâ€™d recommend X-Force to anybody. The story is nothing to write home about, but the art really carries the book and makes the comic readable nearly on its merits. Buy this if youâ€™re a fan of Wolverine, big bloody fights, or gorgeous painted artwork. Otherwise, borrow someone elseâ€™s copy.
Quick note: As of this writing, the paperback version of Angels and Demons isn’t actually available to purchase at Amazon. You can either go by your local comic book store to pick it up, or grab the Hardcover version (linked above) for two dollars more.