Issue(s): X-Force #20, X-Force #21, X-Force #22, X-Force #23
While a Stark satellite is being deployed in space, Cable's invisible space station, Graymalkin, suddenly becomes visible. This sets off a panic in Washington. Henry Gyrich goes to Val Cooper, who tells him that "this is a little out of X-Factor's purview"...
...and tells him to go to SHIELD.
G.W. Bridge, who quit SHIELD last issue, catches wind of the incident and demands to be reinstated. Nick Fury agrees.
A complication is that according to James Rhodes, currently the president of Stark Enterprises, salvage laws say that Stark has a right to the space station.
He authorizes a SHIELD expedition, but we'll see that he also goes to the station in his armor.
Meanwhile, X-Force are setting up a communications array at their base (located at Camp Verde, Warpath's people's former reservation). Shatterstar surprises everyone by demonstrating technical ability in setting up the array. One the array is turned on, they learn about the appearance of Graymalkin too. Siryn, Warpath, and Boomer are in town shopping, but Cannonball doesn't want to wait for them, so he has the rest of the team suit up. Lila Cheney has been with X-Force since her concert at the start of X-Cutioner's Song, and she teleports the team to the space station.
The team is greeted by Cable's AI, Professor. Cannonball recognizes its voice as Ship, from his time with X-Factor.
Sunspot also thinks Professor is Ship, although Professor doesn't know what they are talking about. It's too bad that Boomer wasn't along for this mission, because Cannonball and Sunspot didn't really spend much time on Ship compared to her and the other X-Factor wards. I'm not saying Cannonball and Sunspot wouldn't recognize it (for some reason i've always thought of Ship as a "her" but i'm realizing i have no basis for that. Shades of the argument amongst the Power Pack kids about Friday.), but with Boom Boom it would have more emotional impact, i'd think.
X-Force manage to explore that station a bit before SHIELD arrive. Cannonball says that he doesn't want SHIELD to get their hands on Cable's stuff because "It's all we got left of him".
One of the SHIELD agents is Network Nina, an ESPer, but she says that something in the station prevents her telepathy from working. I guess it's worth noting that if Professor is Ship, the restriction that kept non-mutants out is no longer working (of course it wasn't working all that well by the end of its original appearances anyway).
X-Force has a pretty easy time with SHIELD...
...but then Iron Man shows up.
Or is it War Machine?
The text will go back and forth on that, even in the same issue.
Whatever we should call him, he's powerful enough and tactically smart enough to take on the team all by himself.
And, notably, without the use of lethal force.
But the initial electromagnetic pulse from the Stark satellite that caused Graymalkin to become visible, combined with the internal damage from the battles, is causing the space station to fail. It's first said that only Cable could have activated the voice-recognition commands that would allow Professor to repair itself. But then it turns out that a second person was given authorization to issue voice commands, and that person turns out to be Cannonball. This feeds into the idea that the equipment on Cable's station is their legacy, a way to stay connected with him (since he's presumed dead).
Cannonball orders Professor to dump the weapon depots at X-Force's camp. Doing so also disengages the Temporal Displacement Core, and the majority of the space station seemingly explodes, with a main piece secretly falling to Earth. Cannonball and Sunspot go down with the main piece. Lila Cheney teleport the rest of X-Force and SHIELD and War Machine to the Skrull galaxy and back to protect them from the explosion. Cheney leaves the group after they all get settled back at camp.
Let me pause here because i think these two issues were really good, but from here we go directly into some less interesting nonsense about the Externals. As i've noted on a few entries, X-Cutioner's Song got me back to reading comics regularly, but i didn't continue with all the X-books. I did stick with X-Force, however, which was kind of a controversial move among my friends. The book definitely had a bad reputation from the Rob Liefeld era. Artwise, Greg Capullo is doing his own thing now - he started off deliberately copying or maybe parodying Liefeld but at this point i think he's just doing really nice work, something that captures Liefeld's attempted dynamicism but in a way that is actually more in line with 80s era artists. And storywise, i think these issues really fulfill the concept of X-Force being outlaw heroes. This isn't a case of a misunderstanding or anything like that. X-Force and SHIELD both want Cable's satellite for legitimate but opposing reasons. Seeing a hero team put in a position where they have to fight against more established good guys is pretty rare. The Hulk has obviously had to deal with that, but for the most part it's not something that comes up except for those Misunderstanding Fights. We've even seen SHIELD work alongside the Punisher. And what i also like about this is that SHIELD aren't necessarily written as bad guys just because they're in X-Force's book. G.W. Bridge is shown to be too obsessed with a personal vendetta against Cable, but Nick Fury reigns him in even while trying to stop X-Force. And War Machine is just a badass in this story. It's a great use of him as a character that is both a government authorized hero and someone that is defending his own corporate interests, again without demonizing him. So it's a great conflict that Fabian Nicieza has set up here.
But now on to some subplots, including the one that leads to the next main story.
Vanessa - the shapeshifter that had been posing as Domino - is with her friend Tina. Vanessa is emotionally distraught, and she copes by taking on the identity of Tina, and they both go out on the town together.
But Deadpool is looking for Vanessa.
He shows up to attack Vanessa, but while they're fighting someone named Sluggo shows up and kills Tina.
And the real Domino goes looking for Cable. She starts by going to Grizzly, and then the two of them go to Hammer.
With Hammer, they go to Department X in Canada to hack into their computers. But they run into a new Weapon PRIME.
The fact that Yeti is brown seems to be a coloring error; he'll be white again next issue. The MCP tag the tiger-striped guy as "Tigerstryke" separate from the "Tygerstryke" that has appeared in earlier issues, but i'm assuming that's a mistake. The guy that looks like Crule in a gimp outfit is "Killjoy", but he'll later be renamed "Killspree", probably to avoid confusion with a character that will appear in the Deadpool series. And the two electric ladies are Double Trouble; they also change color. In fact, they all do.
Note that Tiger/Tygerstryke's suit is said to be electro-magnetic armor, and it now matches the Guardian/Vindicator color scheme.
Domino and her allies flee the scene. The wind up approaching Vanessa just as Deadpool and Sluggo are capturing her, and Vanessa tells Domino that she can take her to X-Force.
Note the reference to what Vanessa and Tina "had together".
Finally, the External plot. The External called Nicodemus has been sick, and he seems to self-combust. Gideon is there to see it. This seems to be the trigger for another External, Saul, who partners with Gideon and attacks the members of X-Force that didn't go on the space mission.
The rest of X-Force are contacted by them after they all get back to camp. The captives have been placed into some porntastic poses.
To respond to the Externals' threat, X-Force break Crule out of the hospital and squeeze him for information. He's actually happy to help X-Force take down the rest of the Externals.
Cannonball also goes to Professor X for intel on the Externals. Xavier says that he knows "very little" and what he has heard, he's previously dismissed as "tall tales". Cannonball had previously promised Gideon that he'd stay out of his affairs, and Cannonball wonders if he should now break that promise to rescue his friends. Professor X reminds Cannonball that he's chosen a morally ambiguous path, and that the choice is his.
Gideon and Saul wait for X-Force to come to the rescue of their friends, their ponytails in perfect alignment.
The actual fight with the Externals is very short. Cannonball decides not to attend; he sends along a note with Sunspot saying that he didn't break his promise because he personally didn't go. X-Force surprises the Externals by hitting hard and fast, they way Cable taught them, and the opposite of the subtle sneaking that Gideon was expecting.
Saul says that if they don't get to study Cannonball - capturing him was the point of their Gambit - they may all die. To which X-Force respond that they'll die quicker if they come after X-Force again.
Since i'm feeling positive about the first two issues in this story, i want to say that the Externals plot, which resolved very quickly after a lot of space in issues #22-23 being devoted to subplots (the Domino and Copycat scenes), is Fabian Nicieza's way of wrapping up all the Externals stuff so that he can tie up unwanted plot threads started by Rob Liefeld without having to devote too much time to them. But Gideon and company will continue to appear in this series, so that's not quite the case. Still, even though i have to hold my nose regarding anything Externals related, issues #22-23 have a fair amount to recommend. The way that X-Force deal with the Externals is pretty good (but not all that surprising, really), and the Domino plots are fun even if Weapon PRIME continue to feel like the throwaway Liefeld characters that they are.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 759,125. Single issue closest to filing date = 550,900.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Nick Fury is identified as the Director of SHIELD, so this takes place after the end of his series. G.W. Bridge is reinstated as a member of SHIELD after quitting last issue. James Rhodes is the head of Stark Enterprises, placing this before the return of Tony Stark in Iron Man #290. This takes place before Cable and Kane return to the present in Cable #1-3 (the ongoing series). Next issue belongs not too long after this one, with X-Force having just returned to their camp after the Externals mission and with Domino and company still with Copycat. And in that issue it's said that Professor X's television appearance in Uncanny X-Men #299 (the footnote incorrectly says #298) was "a few weeks ago". X-Force #24 seems to begin soon after this.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (7): showAlexander Goodwin Pierce, Boom Boom, Cannonball, Copycat, Crule, Deadpool, Domino, Double Trouble, Feral, G.W. Bridge, Gideon, Grizzly (Six Pack), Hammer (Six Pack), Henry Peter Gyrich, Killspree, Lila Cheney, Network Nina, Nick Fury, Nicodemus (External), Professor (Prosh), Professor X, Rictor, Saul, Shatterstar, Siryn, Sluggo, Sunspot, Tina Valentino, Tygerstryke, Valerie Cooper, War Machine, Warpath, Yeti (Dept K)
This looks surprisingly mediocre. Much better than the previous 2 years of garbage. I probably hated the idea of Ship becoming Graymalkin at the time, but it's actually a pretty good one. The Copycat/Externals stuff is nonsense, however. I know I got these, but they didn't stick with me.
Posted by: Wanyas the Self-Proclaimed | September 26, 2016 4:42 PM
"It's too bad that Boomer wasn't along for this mission, because Cannonball and Sunspot didn't really spend much time on Ship compared to her and the other X-Factor wards."
Rictor was there, though.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | September 27, 2016 12:35 AM
""Killjoy", but he'll later be renamed "Killspree", probably to avoid confusion with a character that will appear in the Deadpool series."
The rename probably has more to do with the Killjoy character that was in a villain in Cyberforce. The character design for Killspree here certainly looks very much in line with the characters Silvestri created for that series, as well.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | September 27, 2016 1:18 AM
I really like what Nicieza & Capullo are doing with the series at this point. It's not high art, but it's definitely entertaining and steps above what Liefeld started with the characters.
Did the Killyjoy/Killspree name switch have anything to do with the toys? Because, in perhaps the most ridiculous case of "even X had an action figure!", Killjoy got a figure, and I wonder if toy execs had some kind of a problem with Killjoy (in a way they didn't with "Killspree"), similar to how Holocaust became Nemesis when his figure was released later.
Posted by: Austin Gorton | September 27, 2016 2:52 PM
Erik Robbins is right. I remember reading this at the time and wondering why they didn't make use of Rictor to identify ship. It just seemed odd - like when it was Tabitha who the did goodbye for Warlock. Could the writers not remember which characters had been around before?
I also remember that final shot of the captured three members and thinking, damn, they are really trying to amp up Siryn's sex appeal. How convenient that her hair fall in that exact spot.
Posted by: Erik Beck | September 27, 2016 3:21 PM
I remember liking these issues when they came out. They weren't amazing or anything, but they were still a huge improvement over the first year when Liefeld was plotting & penciling the series.
As fnord observed, I appreciated that Fabian Nicieza wrote Iron Man / War Machine / Jim Rhodes as competent and holding his own in a battle with X-Force. Always annoys me when writers bring in guest stars and humiliate them in order to make their regular characters look good.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 27, 2016 8:12 PM
I clearly recall being surprised by issue #23. By this point Gideon and the Externals had been lurking about in the background for two years, doing their whole sinister, shadowy, enigmatic master plan shtick, with no actual payoff. I don't know what plans Liefeld had for them other than thinking that an immortal mutant conspiracy was a cool idea. But like the Upstarts, it seems like no one knew what to do with the Externals (or even cared) once the Rob & Co headed off to start Image.
In hindsight, #23 appears to be a deck-clearing exercise by Nicieza (albeit not as extreme as the one Loeb would do a couple of years in the future) to finally address the Externals and then move on to other stuff he was more interested in writing about.
The issue is an interesting exercise in upending expectations. The Externals had already been built up to seem like these awesomely powerful adversaries. Even in this issue you have Saul boasting "In *my* day anyone who learned of our existence would have died -- or taken their own life -- rather than confronting us." And then just a few pages later X-Force just rolls in and hands the Externals their heads in no time flat, totally taking the wind out of their sails. It was a good way for Nicieza to deal with the Externals. By making them out to be paper tigers, he severely diminishes their mystique. I expect after that most readers no longer cared about them. I certainly didn't, and I enjoyed the speedy resolution.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 27, 2016 8:19 PM
Given how overexposed...er, I meant "popular" Deadpool is, I'm kinda surprised we haven't heard from Copycat in a while (Dusting off long-forgotten character for nostalgia pandering is also a popular trend nowadays.)
I have to hand it to Sam. His exploitation of the semantical technicalities was rather clever (and a good example of Sam being the effective leader we all knew he could be. Funny how much he did be basically doing nothing at all!)
Was Rhodes "War Machine" already? I thought that name didn't come about until about '95 or so.
Does that Nico-whatever idiot hacking and coughi g indicate that this is the first appearance of a Legacy Virus infection?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 27, 2016 10:05 PM
I think that the problem with Deadpool is that sometimes people tend to forget why he became popular and just go with what's been established instead of reminding people of how he worked up to this point. The good thing about Vanessa/Copycat is that at least she is important at this point and will be with "The Circle Chase" coming up. (plus you do sort of have her...or a character named after her...in the "Deadpool" movie...but then again you can say the same thing about Francis/Ajax)
Posted by: Ataru320 | September 28, 2016 8:23 AM
Checking around, I found out that, yeah "Vanessa" was in the movie (although I don't know if she has made any recent comic apperances.)
Also checking around, although Copycat is chalk white here, her "default" skin is apparently blue in other places. Given her power, I'm surprised no one insinuated that she was yet another child of Mystique.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 28, 2016 10:21 AM
Like Erik said, Rictor was on Ship just as much as Boom Boom and he's with them! Guessing the writer forgot that...?
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | September 28, 2016 3:06 PM
@Jon Dubya- no, Rhodey was named War Machine in 1993, about the time these issues came out.
Posted by: Michael | September 28, 2016 8:12 PM
War Machine's on-model when he shows up at the end of X-Force 20, but at the start of next issue, the missile launcher on his right shoulder has suddenly become a laser cannon, and the minigun on his left shoulder has morphed into a double-barreled submachine gun.
Posted by: Mortificator | October 3, 2017 11:21 PM
Did anybody else notice that the bar Vanessa and Tina visit is the bar from the show Cheers, complete with several of the cast members?
Posted by: Ghost | June 27, 2018 9:28 PM
I missed it, but thank god Liefeld had left by this point. Norm wouldn't be able to support his bulk with such tiny feet. And all those pouches wouldn't suit Cliff at all.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 28, 2018 2:42 AM
In defense of pouches, in recent years both Captain America and Batman have had multiple pouches on their belts (yellow pouches, no less) and they look just fine. There was even an amusing scene in the short-lived Herc series where Hercules complains about the pouches on his new uniform, but later finds useful supplies in them when he's in a bind.
Posted by: Andrew | June 28, 2018 7:15 AM
Well I'm no Batman expert, but he was always a bit pouchy, wasn't he? He had the utility belt with the Batarangs and the Batgas and whatever other Bat-gadget he might need at any opportunity.
While Liefeld characters I think are more made fun of because we never (or rarely?) saw them use whatever was in all these dozens of tiny pouches everywhere. They were too busy using guns almost as big as they were, which definitely wouldn't have fit into the pouches.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 28, 2018 9:42 AM
Haha, that's funny, Jonathan.
And yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head about why people make fun of the Liefield patches. It's a combination of there being SO, SO many of them (similar to certain characters' teeth) and them having no apparent use.
Posted by: Ghost | June 28, 2018 10:24 PM
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