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Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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COUNTER X: X-FORCE Smart, fast, hard.

Writers: Warren Ellis and Ian Eddington
Penciller: Whilce Portacio
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Ongoing Series (four issue arc 'Games Without Frontiers', 102-105)
Published by Marvel Comics 2000
US $2.25/issue

Reviewed by A.B. Schwartz

Way back when, X-Force was created out of the ashes of the New Mutants. The object of the team was to act as a "para-military strike force" that would follow Charles Xavier's dream, but in a more active fashion.

At least, that's the theory. Over the years since X-Force's debut, the title has meandered in different directions. Warren has managed, in his own special way, to return X-Force to the groups' roots, while still adding a bit of…

Pop.

The Counter-X titles, under Warren's supervision, have each gained their own identity and purpose. X-force's purpose and identity have been changed from "Cable's students" to "Warren's acolytes", if you will. The new purpose of X-Force is to work as an underground squad of mutants, investigating the things that lie beneath the mainstream Marvel Universe; A group of rebellious mutants who are actively trying to change the world for the better.

Sound familiar? There are a number of similarities between X-Force and Authority, but utilizing the elements laid out in Authority, while working in the Marvel Universe - specifically the micro-managed X-books - allows for an entertaining read.

Not having read Excalibur, I wasn't very familiar with the character of Pete Wisdom, but he was a refreshing change from past "leaders" of X-Force. His very presence and attitude in the first issue gave the reader an idea of where the comic was going, comparing to where it's been. Ellis uses Pete to introduce new concepts - new to X-titles, anyways - and move the book in a new direction.

Pete Wisdom is the catalyst for change in X-Force. He is now the leader of X-Force, and the first issue sees the team helping out some Russians in need. Prevalent throughout the four issues is Wisdom's comments about how the world has a "dark side", where "nutter scientists" can start their own war in San Francisco, by accelerating the mutant gene in humans.

Whereas the Authority takes on the global, wide-screen, and larger-than-life scenarios, X-Force attempts to take on the dirtier side of life; the side of life usually reserved for the phrase "Black Ops".

The trimmed down team, comprising of Wisdom, Tabitha(Boomer), Jesse, Sam(Cannonball) and James Proudstar, sport new uniforms and some new powers. One of the abilities I've always admired about Warren is his ability to take crappy old plotlines, and make them relevant. Not relevant in a "Oh my god, it's him, but we thought he was dead" way, but in a "your powers are a little different because of this" way. It seems that most writers either ignore continuity, or rely on it too much.

Warren is one of the few who manages to find a middle ground.

The first four issues is a story of X-Force trying to clean up a mutant/human war started in a major US city. Someone or something has found a way to tap into the mutant gene for certain individuals, while turning them in to bestial killing machines.

Ah, bloodshed in an x-book; Some things are worth waiting for. If you ever liked Authority, then you should probably pick up this book, just for the phrase "Death from Above"; Some of the wide-screen action that Warren made famous in Authority is present here. Whilce Portacio's art is much darker, both in color and in styl,e than Hitch and Neary's work, but adds to the atmosphere of the book.

This isn't your mother's X-force.

Warren takes X-Force to a whole new level while, ironically, returning X-force to it's original "strike-force" roots. The story and art are both quite strong, and reads well. The characters have more dimension - having less of them around helps - and the seedier story elements lend well to the overall plot.

X-Force is a well-constructed, readable story of a group of heroes "[fighting] for the very survival of their species in a world that despises and fears them." As Warren would say:

Highly Recommended


A.B. Schwartz is a Staff Writer at PopImage.


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