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

Rick Remender's long and grueling epic comes to a powerful conclusion, and manages to blindside us twice.  Here there be spoylers.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Uncanny X-Force #18

Since the beginning of Uncanny X-Force, Rick Remender has been spinning a long, bleak, merciless tale of life in a covert hit squad in the Marvel Universe, replete with impossible moral dilemmas, hand-wringing guilt, murderous betrayal and genocidal catastrophe. Kicking off with an arc that saw Fantomex gunning down a child who was destined to become the next Apocalypse, the series has now culminated with Uncanny X-Force #18: The Dark Angel Saga Conclusion.  The events of this 8-part arc that has engulfed the team with the desperate attempt to handle one of their own gone mad spin directly out of that first series, as the Apocalypse heir apparent Archangel has taken complete control of founding X-Man Warren Worthington's mind and is threatening an efficient extermination of humanity.

This massive, sprawling epic felt like the absolute apex of Warren Worthington's story, and everything about it seemed to indicate that the former Avenging Angel was going to meet his end when his cold, emotionless plans were finally stopped by a hopelessly outmatched squad of gunsels and cutters.  Despite featuring prominently on the cover, Wolverine and Deadpool were slaughtered last issue and spend this entire last chapter bleeding in the snow, inert.  The job of defeating Archangel is left to the woman who loves the man he once was and the man who is trying to love the woman she wants to be.  Better known to you and I as Psylocke and Fantomex. 

Fantomex.  The weird, unexplainable Grant Morrison creation who has nothing but secrets and general weirdness about him.  His nervous system is a spaceship, he has duplicate brains… his secrets are not so much secrets because they need to be secret, but because they are incomprehensible.  As a final gambit, Fantomex, aka Jean-Phillippe, aka Uncle Charlie Cluster unveils one more brain-breaking bit of surprise to try to take down Archangel-in-Ascension.  It turns out that, in his secret, miniature, weirdo science playground known as The World, Fantomex has been artificially raising the Apocalypse child in a Smallville-styled virtual world, attempting to undo all of his evil programming.  This new kid, a teenage blue-lipped young buck named Evan Sabahnur, is brought out of his cocoon earlier than is ideal to try and Descend that Archangel Ascension, and he's dead set on being a hero.  Calling himself not Apocalypse, but Genesis.

(Not to be confused with the 90s Genesis thing called Tolliver, aka Tyler, aka adopted son of Cable turned criminal overlord brainwashed by his evil clone Stryfe to… never mind.  Forget I brought it up.)

This development is unexpected, awesome, hilarious and great.  Sure, the kid will likely end up over at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning in Wolverine and the X-Men being all goofy, but for now, just the idea of a good, wholesome Apocalypse – the complete reversal of the process Warren had gone through becoming Archangel – is clever in how obvious it should have been, and as morally gray as we've seen Fantomex to be in this series, this arc has shown concretely that he knows what it takes to actually be a hero. 

The real beauty of this issue, however, besides the wonderfully sharp and expressive artwork of Jerome Opeña, is how Remender allows us not only to finally breathe easy at the defeat of Archangel, but also to allow us a bittersweet chance to say good-bye to Warren Worthington, the man we knew before all that grimdark stuff happened in the first place.  The man Elizabeth Braddock wanted to spend the rest of her life with.  We can see that life here and it might just make you a bit sniffly. 

Remender's biggest surprise comes at the very end.  It's not quite the gut-punch it might have been if we hadn't been given the chance to say our farewells, but it's still a stunner, and it says something about the current state of comics that NOT killing somebody off is a bigger shock than seeing someone croak.  What we see of Warren at the end is confusing, not only because of what he says, but how Opeña renders his wings.  We're likely meant to think he's a clean slate now, and that Dark Angel business that started back in the 80s has finally run its course… but those wings are feathered, but the limbs and arches have a very metallic look to them.  Was that intentional or just a momentary lack of clarity?

Then there's that whole thing with Pestilence… so we've surely not seen the last of these bad guys.

The Dark Angel Saga as a whole has been impressive, at times darkly beautiful and twistedly ugly, and very much an emotional journey with a perfectly built threat and a satisfying resolution.  A satisfying resolution.  That's a rare gem in monthly comics today, so it's something to savor when we get it. 

And by the by, the stuff Remender's doing with Deathlok is weirdly endearing as well.  Check this book out when it's released in trade form.