Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Uncanny X-Force #18, The Dark Angel Saga Conclusion

This week saw the conclusion of The Dark Angel Sage in Uncanny X-Force #18, a multi-issue arc with plot lines that can be traced all the way back to #1. (It seems Remender is a big continuity geek and fan of background hints and teasers.) This comic is one of the best, and certainly the most unique, superhero books out there, and the finale of this particularly huge story was still unexpectedly fantastic.

At the beginning, Warren Worthington III has been completely overwhelmed by the Archangel persona and, as the heir of Apocalypse, is poised to use the Life Seed to destroy the world and regrow it in a new evolutionary paradise...or something like that. Wolverine is out of the fight. Deadpool is in pieces. Only Fantomex and Psylocke remain to stand against Archangel.

(Read More for Review, quotes from Rick Remender, and preview of #19.)

They fight, naturally. Fantomex tries to incite the rage of whatever is left of Warren, but succeeds only in getting one of his three brains killed (more on what that means will come in the future, apparently.) Betsy, however, accomplishes more. It seems when Jean (that's Jean Grey from the Age of Apocalypse timeline, whose presence for the last few issues has finally convinced me it's time to bring Jean back) was in Betsy's head, she did some tinkering, unlocking more of Betsy's mutant potential.

Thus we get her butterfly psionic projection back and she, for the first time, has power over Archangel. She is poised to kill him but, in what seems like a comic cliche, she can't bring herself to do it before he recovers and seemingly knocks her out of the fight.

Cue a lengthy interlude in the story, or rather the climax of several subplots, since in truth this comic is about Elizabeth Braddock and Warren Worthington III and their relationship. We see Fantomex revealing his plan for the young boy clone of Apocalypse that he has been raising as a hero named Genesis (which as I recall was supposed to be Forge's name in the far future, according to Bishop,) sending him to fight Archangel. We see AgeofA Sunfire sacrificing his life to contain the destructive energies of the Life Seed and save a world not even his own. We see half-psycho killer, half-robot Deathlok reason his way out of the Horseman War's control by deducing the logic of Love, and turning into a hippie.

But all that's just filler really. Enjoyable, well-written, beautiful filler, but not the meat of the story. Once Archangel defeats Genesis, he gets blind-sided, stabbed in the chest with the Life Seed by Betsy. As he slumps to the ground, dying, Betsy enters his mind and we get several pages of an elaborate illusion she gives Warren in his final moments; a normal, happy life, where they are married with two daughters, where they eat ice cream and paint, see their daughters get married, and reiterate their love on Warren's death bed. The now-more-powerful Betsy gives Warren what he as always wanted in the same moment that she kills his genocidal alter-ego, and we do, in fact, see Warren Worthington III, Angel, one of the original X-Men, die.

Of course, death is a tricky business in comics. A few pages later, as Jean consoles and congratulates Betsy for doing what no one else could, Warren emerges in the middle of the snowscape, seemingly restored to his old form. Betsy, overjoyed, runs to him, only to find he is not the Warren she knows. In fact, he is not Warren at all.

The Dark Angel Saga was wonderful (especially the parts in the Age of Apocalypse) and the conclusion was truly incredible. And the most impressive part of it? Their leader Wolverine, the most famous character in their entire universe, does not appear in a single. freaking. panel. I'm pretty sure that's completely unprecedented. 

If you're not an X-Force reader, go back to #1 and read the whole thing. It's very much worth it.

CBR has a great interview up with Rick Remender, writer and architect of Uncanny X-Force, and he gives some great insight into the story as well as hints of things to come. I recommend checking out the article, but for now here are some of his quotes I found most interesting:

On Fantomex:  "The character has three brains. We haven't addressed what those three brains do, but in issue #16, we did reveal that they have different opinions and they each run the show on separate occasions. Maybe all of his three brains have different objectives and, who knows, one of them he might not even be aware of. What he's done with Betsy and Kid Apocalypse and all these different pieces definitely does leave us with some questions at the end of the story that we'll dig into in the second year of the book."

On Betsy's Illusion: "I think if you don't try and tap into what these characters really want you can't write them effectively. To me, these are two characters who have very chaotic lives. They're never going to get a normal life. They're never going to move to a cabin, have a couple of kids and teach them how to paint and make pancakes on Sunday. They're never going to get that.

Of course, we all want what we can't have. So that was something that I wanted to make sure, if it hasn't been said out loud, that this is what these people want in their heart of hearts; to have some semblance of a normal life back. There, at the end, Betsy gives that to Warren before he goes."

On Betsy's Powers: "The Jean Grey of the "Age of Apocalypse" reality opened Betsy's mind up. She unlocked a lot of stuff. In this issue, you saw the giant, Phoenix-like butterfly effect Betsy generated when she was fighting Archangel. She knocked him down with that. No one had accomplished that to this point -- she hadn't been able to get into his mind before that either. He had just been this thing that was way, way beyond her. Whatever Jean Grey did when she was inside Betsy's head unlocked some potential. 

We're going to be seeing a lot of that. She is an Omega level. One thing we wanted to accomplish with this story was that Betsy comes out a full fledged Omega level mutant, on par with Xavier or Jean. In my mind, that's what was accomplished when Jean unlocked the powers in her head."

On the Future:  "So, you end up with a lot of pieces that are still on the board moving forward as well as what Dark Beast revealed is inside Pestilence. [Pregnant with the 'heir to Archangel'] Also, that is a living, breathing Sinister Iceman in the upper left corner on page 5, panel 2."

On Whether or Not Warren Is Really Dead: "Warren died. We knew we wanted this storyline to end with a character death, but let's face it, character deaths are just becoming flat. No matter how well they're written or what kind of emotional punch they have, we've just seen too many characters die. I wanted Warren to die, and Jody LeHeup, my old editor and a huge part of this year's success, also wanted Warren to die, but we didn't want it to be just another death. It was workshopped with the X-teams and everyone fell in love with this version of Warren's death. 

I really fell in love with the idea that Betsy says good bye to Warren and watches him die. She feels his mind dissipate from his body. She's then pulled away from his dead body with the Life Seed stuck in it. And at the very end, after you get over that emotional beat and you see her talking with Jean, here comes Warren stumbling out into the snow! Only, it's bittersweet as he has no memory, no trace of the man he was. He's an all-new being.

Our big question now is, what is he? What is this thing that looks like Warren and has these feathery, angelic wings? It's definitely not Warren. There isn't a trace of him or Archangel left. A Celestial Life Seed is something Celestials plant on a dead planet to give new life to the entire planet. Now, we've just shoved one into Warren Worthington and it erased whatever was there, but it built something new. He's essentially a blank slate. I think that really twists the knife in Betsy's stomach more than anything else I could cook up."

Now check out a preview of next weeks Uncanny X-Force #19. And have a fantastic weekend.

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