Monday, September 9, 2013

Review # 43: "Uncanny X-Force - The Dark Angel Saga"

"The Dark Angel Saga" may very well be the best X-Men story so far this century, and rivals the drama seen in the tale its name is inspired by.

The worst has indeed happened: pushed on by a reckless Shadow King, who has history with Betsy, Warren has lost control of the Archangel persona and murdered an innocent man. What they didn't expect when they took out Apocalypse in volume one is that it would lead to the ascension of a chosen successor. Warren was that very successor.

Corrupted by a "death seed," the team can only remove it using the counter-effects of a "life seed." While it's corny, it's easy to buy into. Since they need help from someone who knows Apocalypse, X-Force turns to the advice of Hank McCoy's evil inter-dimensional counterpart, Dark Beast. He gives them unsettling information: there IS no life seed accessible on earth: they need to hop realities to the "Age of Apocalypse," still kicking after the infamous 90's crossover that asked what the world would be like if Charles Xavier hadn't lived.

This is the first of only two times during Rick Remender's run where the series shifts its focus to Wolverine. Traveling to the Age of Apocalypse is a line-up of heart-wrenching distorted-reflections for Logan. First, he comes face-to-face with Nightcrawler, the counterpart of his best friend who had recently been killed. Then he has to square off with that reality's Sabretooth - an X-Man in the AoA, but Wolverine doesn't know that. Then he meets the daughter that he never had with Mariko Yashida. Then, in the ultimate gut-punch, he meets Jean Grey, who is equally shocked by the presence of her former husband in that reality. I won't even mention who Apocalypse's successor is in that universe.

The storm of the enemy base to obtain the life seed is incredible. Bodies are dropping all over the place, the teams get in way over their heads and - in a practical miracle - X-Force manages to return to their home dimension. However, much to their horror, they are too late. Warren has ascended as the new Apocalypse and is waiting with the Four Horsemen, along with Dark Beast and a new version of Holocaust known as "Genocide," seeded by Apocalypse in the original 80's Famine. The team gets its ass kicked, including Wolverine getting half of his body blown off, and Archangel goes about destroying a town and the thousands living there, using The World from "Deathlok Nation" to speed up millions of years of evolution over the course of a day. Jerome Opena's art during this sequence - up until the end - is glorious. I especially love his drawing of Archangel. While the new Apocalypse is full of evil talk, there is ALWAYS a hint of sorrow in his eyes. Brilliant work.

Remender is equally brilliant. With Wolverine down and Psylocke trying to appeal to what remains of Archangel's humanity, Deadpool, Fantomex and Deathlok are forced to take all of the evil forces down on their own. This short-lived teaming is great, particularly one scene with a tinge of humour where they talk about how normally they would profess some level of respect for one another without actually doing it. Their plans go awry when the Age of Apocalypse leaks back into the mainstream universe. Meanwhile, being near Warren has had unintended consequences for Betsy as she herself is transformed into his new Horseman of Death.

This all builds into what is one of the single greatest issues in the history of comics. EVERYONE has a big character moment, drawing on wide range of emotions from page-to-page. I dare not spoil what happens. There is one sequence in particular (drawn by guest artist Robbi Rodriguez) that rips at your heart with its beauty and sadness. At the story's conclusion, Remender has the audacity to offer hope... and then shatteringly takes it away. It is an incredibly satisfying end to a major comic book epic.

Rating: 10/10

Up next: "Kindly old wizards!" - Deadpool, as he gets his head hacked off

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