The new “X-Force” series has been a real gift for X-Men obsessives like me. Kyle and Yost have near-boundless enthusiasm for the backwaters of Marvel’s mutant chronology, and specifically the more villainous elements. An issue that features both Cameron Hodge and Bastion directly rewards those who read X-Men throughout the 80s and 90s, right into this decade.
Of course, if you’re one of the many readers who isn’t well-versed in the last 25 years of X-Men history, stuff like that could get a little confusing. To combat this, Kyle and Yost have placed a heavy focus on the far more familiar X-23 at the climax of this arc. There’s a fairly strange fake-out towards the end of the issue that doesn’t quite work -- one of those “Will Spider-Man make it out alive!?” situations (well, yes, they’re not going to kill Spider-Man) -- and to make it feel even stranger, it’s resolved off-panel. It’s an odd piece of pacing that would undoubtedly work on TV, where such cliffhanger-moments are necessary to keep you hooked during the commercial break, but in a comic it just doesn’t carry the amount of tension that the narrative affords it.
Despite that, the mixture of character material and action is good, and the development of certain sub-plots gives readers confidence that Yost and Kyle have their eye on the long game.
A subplot that sees Warpath fighting a demon bear alongside Ghost Rider is slightly less well-placed. One suspects that Ghost Rider was only included on the expectation that former “Ghost Rider” artist Clayton Crain, who drew the first “X-Force” arc, would be drawing the second. Unfortunately for that logic, Mike Choi took over instead. Choi’s art is undoubtedly excellent and a good fit for “X-Force,” but it makes the extended Ghost Rider cameo feel a little pointless.
X-Force isn’t perfect, but it is unique and has a clear idea of what it wants to deliver. The completion of the title’s second arc cements a strong identity and further defines an already well-rounded cast. The X-line as a whole is offering some very high quality reading these days, and this issue is a good example of exactly how “X-Force” manages to hold its own against strong competition.