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How are we supposed to read an X-Force book without Liefeldian ammo pouches and cantaloupey breasticles? – X-Force #124

November 15, 2011

Rob Liefeld takes a lot of grief, and I’ve given him more than my fair share over the years. The savagery of the loathing, both from me and from others, at times gives me pause. For all I know Liefeld is a wonderful gentleman, kind to puppies and kittens, a builder of bridges, a darner of socks, a doer of good works and a real-life champion of truth and justice. A man’s man. A beacon of light. I have no inside information of anything that would tell me otherwise.

All I have to go by, and this is true for most of us, is his body of work. For a spell it garnered him untold success, accolades and adoration, but in retrospect, and there’s no other way to say this, it’s embarrassingly awful. Not embarrassing for him, mind you. It’s not like he killed somebody, and he can always shrug his shoulders and offer the trump card rejoinder of “It sold.” He even seems to have a sense of humor and a bit of perspective about his place in the industry.

Not embarrassing for him. For us.

We don’t have the same shoulder-shrugger. We’re the ones left with crates of polybagged-with-trading-card copies of X-Force #1. That premier issue is one of the top-selling comics of all time. Let that bounce around your noggin. It’s something we should carry around with us at all times, like an AA member toting his sponsor’s phone number. LEST WE FORGET. There are enough copies of that book out there (those that haven’t been sacrificed to line the proverbial birdcage) to fill the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We gobbled them up. That’s embarrassing. Drunken hookup embarrassing.

I speak from experience. I was one of the mindless drones that bought into the glossy Wizard-fueled hype of the early 1990s, when Liefeld, Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane scaled Hubbardian heights of deification. We were told that X-Force, Spawn, X-Men, WildCATs and any number of other titles of divergent quality were MUSTHAVEMUSTBUYINTRIPLICATE (but maybe not read) pots of gold. It was the boom before the bust, and like all booms it was a house of cards, one that became painfully obvious with not a whole hell of a lot of hindsight.

Liefeld. He’s the poster child of that chunk of the boom. The WANTED poster, if you will.

Liefeld. I’ve always thought of his art this way: If you’re a man, imagine the most beautiful, elegant, intelligent, charming woman of your dreams, one that makes you want to be a better man. She doesn’t walk so much as glide, she glitters like a fine diamond, she verbally jousts with flirtatious wit, she holds her wine glass in a special way. She makes Jackie Kennedy look like a common whore. Refined. In this comparison that woman would be akin to a great artist, a recognized talent that brings tremendous skill to layout, figure and all other aspects of visual storytelling. Someone that floats your reading boat. Refined.

Liefeld? His art is a drunk skank pissing off the side of a boat. Opposite of refined. (Note: If your favorite artist is Liefeld, then disregard all that. Then induce vomiting and seek immediate medical help.)

I know this ground has been covered before, by folks with intellects and metaphors far superior to my own. But I feel like someone in a support group. My tale of woe must be heard for the healing to begin.

“Hi, my name is Jared, and I once bought Rob Liefeld X-Force comics. Willingly. On purpose. With my lawn-mowing money.”

“Hi, Jared.”

All this is a roundabout preamble to the following: It’s hard to disconnect Liefeld from X-Force, despite his art only appearing in the first nine issues of a title that lasted well-past one hundred (he tacked on a six-issue miniseries in 2004 — THANKS, WE NEEDED THAT). You open up any later issue and, if you’re a shell-shocked member of my generation, you expect to see scrunched up, constipated faces with odd cross-hatching and impossible anatomy. It’s a testament to Liefeld’s travishamockery art that its aftertaste lingers decades later (his everlasting lightning rod status is his greatest achievement). It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When I see a random latter-day issue of X-Force, I’m hesitant to go past the cover, afraid that I might have a panicked, violent reaction like that guy in the tarantula/cellphone commercial.

Which brings us to the issue that started me on this cruel reverie.

If there are antipodes in the world of comic book artists, Darwyn Cooke has to be somewhere opposite Liefeld. I can’t say I’m all the way behind his style. It’s more cartoony than what I normally go for, but it has a lot of heart. His Justice League-centric New Frontier — by miles his most prominent work — wasn’t something that held up on subsequent readings, but it was a nice whirl at first blush.

His art doesn’t suck. That’s the bottom line. It’s enough to make me burst through that cover barrier and actually read an X-Force story.

This issue (scripted by Peter Milligan) follows redheaded U-Go Girl (can you punch a name?) as she comes to grips with her past in an attempt to better focus her teleportation powers. She takes a mental trip down memory lane and an actual trip to her childhood home, where she confronts the emotional baggage that spurred on her nascent powers.

It’s the usual journey of self-discovery hokum, but it’s so, SO much better than anything of Liefeld’s. It looks and reads like it was crafted for thoughtful people, not dumb horny teenagers. It doesn’t make you feel like an idiot. Night and day.

I won’t go crazy with scans from this comic (the only issue of X-Force that Cooke ever tackled), but these two pages capture the soft touch at play:

Where are the ammo pouches? How will they reload their comically oversized guns? Now that I think of it, WHERE ARE THE COMICALLY OVERSIZED GUNS?

Milligan and Cooke’s one issue didn’t bowl me over. It’s a simple, visually appealing comic, but I’ll never give a damn about X-Force or X-Statix, or whatever the hell they’ve morphed into. However, I read an X-Force book that didn’t make me want to drive nails into my skull. I thought that a mental door had been slammed shut, deadbolted and boarded up — like a farmer trying to keep aliens out of his house — years ago. I guess not. Amazing.

I haven’t been trying to further bury Liefeld (though one day I’ll have to tell the story of why thinking of his art on Youngblood literally makes me naseous — it’s kind of funny). It’s just so much fun to bust his balls. It’s almost obligatory if you’re going to have a site about comics old and new. So that’s done. Scratch it off the list.

The lesson? Things can change and ingrained preconceptions have to be tossed aside on occasion. Even the worst stink wears off eventually. The drunk skank pissing off the side of the boat fell into the drink and was washed away. Knowledge for life.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2011 8:41 pm

    I just love it when someone goes off on a Liefeld rant, because it reminds me that missing a decade or two of comics (like almost everything from 1977-1997) isn’t always a bad thing.

    Love Cooke’s New Frontier. Not perfect, but it hit a lot of high notes along the way, and the climax was terrific.

  2. November 16, 2011 11:39 pm

    You told this very well. It was a good read.

    • November 19, 2011 8:38 pm

      I’m glad that one man’s suffering can bring light to the world. Or something.

  3. permalink
    March 27, 2012 3:19 pm

    Remender’s Uncanny X-force is a great read. Please check it out.

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