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Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost’s Run on X-Force – X-Necrosha (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

I have a bit of a soft-spot for Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost’s X-Force. It’s nowhere near as good as Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, and I’m not even sure that it’s good comics. However, it does capture the mood of the X-Men comics between House of M and Second Coming remarkably well.

Being frank, I think that the editorial direction of the X-Men line between House of M and Second Coming was a disaster. In fact, the work of Kieron Gillen on Uncanny X-Men and Jason Aaron on Wolverine & The X-Men following Schism demonstrates that the franchise spent six long years running in a gigantic circle to get back to where Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men had left it.

However, Yost and Kyle’s X-Force captures the mood of the line a lot better than Ed Brubaker or Matt Fraction’s work on Uncanny X-Men, willing to embrace the cynically and nihilitistically nineties vibe of the entire line.

Country of the dead...

Country of the dead…

Marvel looked at their X-Men comics in the wake of Morrison’s superb New X-Men run, and decided that there were too many mutants running around inside their shared universe. Morrison had changed the dynamic from an oppressed minority to a thriving subculture, and this seemed to frighten the company’s editorial. Afraid of change and what it represented, the editors decided that mutants worked better as a group on the verge of extinction than as a social metaphor concerning the integration of ethnic groups.

The company opted to return to what had worked in the nineties, rather than daring to let the X-Men evolve and keep with the time. So they wiped out all but 198 mutants. This immediately re-established the sense of mutants as an endangered species, under constant threat of extermination or eradication. It pushed the publishing line back into the nineties mindset, where it seemed that genocide was constantly hovering over the heads of our protagonists.

Hellfire and brimstone...

Hellfire and brimstone…

Yost and Kyle’s X-Force stands out as the only book in the line to accept this grim status quo. It’s a very dark an unpleasant book, but it’s the one which has the courage and conviction to play into the themes established by House of M. It seems to have been the only X-Men book that was willing to look at the logical implications of the latest status quo and follow them to the only rational conclusion. Even Clayton Crain’s incredibly dark and oppressive art fits the mood of the publishing line at the time perfectly. I think that’s why I’m very fond of this interpretation of X-Force, despite its significant flaws.

As I noted above, this doesn’t mean that their X-Force is good comics. In particular, you can often see Yost and Kyle straining between the demands of their own story and of the wider narrative that editorial is imposing. The story threads seeded throughout their run on X-Force seem to be torn between the demands of X-Necrosha and of Second Coming. Indeed, X-Force ploughs right out of X-Necrosha and into Second Coming without pausing for breath, moving from what seems to have been intended as its own climax into a story clearly intended as the culmination of a larger line-wide event.

Trying to inject new life into the franchise...

Trying to inject new life into the franchise…

The demands take their toll. Reading X-Necrosha, it’s hard not to get the sense that it might be a stronger event had Kyle and Yost been allowed to build towards this story as the climax of the book, without worrying about balancing competing story threads.  It doesn’t feel like a logical progression. Events don’t feel like they are chained from one to the next in a way that flows easily. There isn’t a feeling of finality or release to this zombie X-Men story. Its position in the run, along with the healthy foreshadowing afforded to it, suggests that this should be a “big” story. Instead, it feels rather small.

In fairness, some of the weaknesses of X-Necrosha are the flaws built into the X-Men line since Marvel made the decision to limit the number of mutants to 198 in the wake of House of M. The X-Men books have a tangled continuity at the best of times, but restricting the number of mutant characters so drastically emphasises the insular nature of the franchise. It always felt like everybody knew everybody in the X-Men line. If you have less than two-hundred mutants, you just make that even more obvious. Mutants go from being a thriving and developed subculture into a single large expanded family, with all the convoluted overlap that implies.

A web of continuity...

A web of continuity…

X-Necrosha is a zombie story. That means that the comic will inevitably evoke comparisons to Blackest Night, the much bigger line-wide event over at DC comics. This isn’t exactly fair. After all, Yost and Kyle had been building their epic for quite a while, and it’s unfair to suggest that one story “copied” the other. After all, zombies were massively popular at the time, so it makes sense that two sets of superhero comics would capitalise on the idea. (Not to mention the whole Marvel Zombies thing.)

However, it is interesting to compare the two. Blackest Night worked rather well because it had a pretty nifty emotional hook. Characters are haunted by the people they’ve failed, resurrected as zombies. Sure, some of the spin-offs were rather terrible, but the core books were relatively tight. Most of this was because Blackest Night mostly stood clear of too much continuity in-references or in-jokes. I think there were a few too many, but Johns did take the time to introduce old characters and explain their roles. (I think Pariah was the only old character who really had me google-ing.)

ex-X-Men!

ex-X-Men!

In contrast, X-Necrosha is smothered by its own continuity. All these characters are resurrected from across the franchise’s extended history, but none of them really resonate. Many are obscure, and Yost and Kyle have difficulty introducing them and explaining why they are important. These are, for example, characters who were killed off in the seventies. It’s weird that the book takes for granted that we’re emotionally invested in them, without any serious attempt to develop or introduce them.

This is a problem with a lot of the comics from this era of the X-Men, the assumption that something is good just because it is old. The comics rely heavily on throwbacks to older eras. Bastion, the nineties villain behind Operation: Zero Tolerance, emerges as the villain behind Second Coming. However, there’s no reason to care too much because he’s never introduced or developed as a character. X-Force itself is something of a nineties throwback, but at least Yost and Kyle took the time to invest their lead characters with motivations and personalities.

Chances are Slim...

Chances are Slim…

Then again, it all feels rather shallow and rather rushed. There’s no real sense of the emotional toll that seeing loved ones raised from the dead is having on the X-Men. Ironic for a comic book franchise built on angst, nobody seems too freaked out by the fact that their old friends are being raised from the dead and ordered to brutally murder them. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!” one victim protests. Warpath shrugs it off. “I know, kid. It’s not your fault.” That’s about the depth of it. We do get some moments between Warpath and Thunderbird, but not enough to anchor the story.

None of this seems to have the necessary impact. X-Necrosha sees the mutant Selene visiting the remains of Genosha, the island destroyed at the start of Morrison’s New X-Men run. When she’s there, she resurrects an entire country of mutants. You would imagine that this was a big deal. Nobody seems too bothered. Given the state of mutantkind, sitting on the verge of extinction, you’d imagine that somebody would be interested in finding a way to defeat Selene while keeping those mutants alive. Nobody seems too concerned.

A god is she...

A god is she…

This should be big, bold and epic stuff. Instead, it feels rather hollow. There’s no sense that this is pay-off for the stuff seeded so carefully throughout Yost and Kyle’s X-Force, and nobody but Warpath really gets any major character beats. It feels like an unstructured storytelling mess, and it’s a shame given how most of Kyle and Yost’s X-Force does feels like it’s a story building to something. The fact that it can’t decide whether that something is X-Necrosha or Second Coming seems to let it down.

Of course, X-Necrosha was something of a second-tier X-Men crossover, spanning several of the franchise’s lower-profile books. Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men didn’t tie into it, but Zeb Wells’ New Mutants and Mike Carey’s X-Men: Legacy did. While neither book manages to do anything especially clever or inventive with the basic premise, I do like that storylines are kept relatively neat and independent. They just read quite smoothly as these books’ own stories, set against the backdrop of the events in X-Force.

Reanimated...

Reanimated…

While neither book is especially essential or impressive, both have some interesting moments. New Mutants, for example, finds something quite clever and useful to do with the deceased mutant Cypher. Cypher is hardly the coolest mutant ever. His abilities amount to a capacity to understand all languages. It doesn’t sound especially impressive. “Well, why wouldn’t you join a paramilitary mutant strike force… what with powers like those,” one of his fellow resurrectees jokes. “I know… hard to believe he was killed in action,” another quips.

However, Wells zeroes in on a rather clever application of Cypher’s gift, one that finds a way to reinvent him somewhat. “Everything is language,” he explains. “I am language. I am everything.” It’s a rather ingenious twist, and one that makes the character infinitely more versatile than he originally seemed to be. After all, the ability to read body language comes in handy during a fight, and the gift to interpret subtext is a handy skill indeed.

Dead again...

Dead again…

In fact, that last gimmick allows Web to have some fun with Charles Xavier. Xavier is a difficult character to write, but he can be incredibly useful in the right hands. After all, he’s an effective vessel through which the writer can reflect on how far the X-Men have come. There’s something heartbreaking about how Xavier must feel in the wake of House of M and even Utopia, watching his dream slip away. Wells is able to touch on that here, translating “let me have a look at you… these are your uniforms?” into “you are soldiers now. I have turned children into soldiers.”

In the crossover issues of Legacy, writer Mike Carey seems to play into the same continuity fetishism that we’ve come to expect from this era of the X-Men books. Magneto talks to Rogue about “pleasant memories of [their] time together in the savage land.” Indeed, the Master of Magnetism even builds a crude approximation of Asteroid M during his confrontation with the revived Proteus. (Another continuity throwback.) “You say you control — the world? Then let’s — conclude our business — somewhere else.”

Blind to the comic's problems...

Blind to the comic’s problems…

I’m not sure if Carey is simply playing into the line’s fixation on continuity, or even subtly mocking it. At the very least, it seems like the characters are wryly aware of the way that they are never safe from past continuity returning to bite them in the backside. At the end of the story, Psylocke asks, “But — where is Proteus now? And how do we know he won’t come back?” Magneto rather shrewdly responds, “We don’t. We know that he will.” Nothing is ever buried. The past is never really the past. It’s liable to become part of the present at any moment.

X-Necrosha is a disappointment, especially given how fond I was of Yost and Kyle’s X-Force run. It just feels a little stale, as if it’s not being everything that it could be. It’s a story about the past coming back to haunt the X-Men. In a way, given the state of the line at the time of the publication, it seems like a rather cynical in-joke.

You might interested in our other reviews of Yost and Kyle’s X-Force:

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One Response

  1. I didn’t mind X-Necrosha too much, though I agree that it does fall flat in comparison to Second Coming. One moment I really liked was Vanisher coming back for Warpath with the explanation of, “Of all the team, you’re the only one who ever treated me decently.” That was a nice little bit amongst all the chaos.

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