Mikhail Rasputin (brother of Colossus) is up to some dirty deeds in Mother Russia, and his schemes are leading him on a collision course not only with Krakoa but with Beast in particular!
X-Force continues to be one of the crown jewels of the current X-lineup. From issue one, Benjamin Percy has brought a sense of dirty black ops, real stakes, and an international scale that befits one of the most storied X-Men spinoff books in the mutants’ history. Issue twenty-three is no exception. Though centrally focusing on just Beast and Mikhail Rasputin with only a couple of other supporting characters, Percy very easily conveys the scale at which the mutant nation of Krakoa is playing. Just like the Cold War itself, neither side is 100% right or 100% wrong. There are no good guys or bad guys, no easy definitions of right and wrong. There’s just a game of oneupsmanship that only one nation — Russia or Krakoa — can win. But it’s all being done covertly, in the shadows, making the various chess moves the players are making that much more intriguing.
Mikhail Rasputin, long for want of an identity outside of being Colossus’ big brother, is really coming into his own as a character. He feels a nationalistic pride for Russia that distinctly mirrors Beast’s own for Krakoa, and is willing to do whatever it takes to win their nations’ high-stakes duel. He’s a canny operator, comfortable playing on a world stage but from behind the curtain. Now, Percy is presenting him as stepping out from backstage and into is own. The text page is a journalistic description of Mikhail’s speech to Russia’s ruling class, and when it ends in thunderous applause, it’s not hard to hear the applause in your head. Mikhail knows who he is and is a man on the rise.
Beast, by contrast, is playing the same shadow-game but is losing all sense of self in the process. He mutters that people “miss the old Beast,” the jester, the happy-go-lucky clown (a meta-commentary on current fan displeasure with his current state if ever there was one). He’s willing to get his hands dirty, burn bridges, and as he puts it, “be the bastard” if it favors positive momentum for Krakoa. Here, he even admits to fantasizing about taking Xavier’s place as leader should Charles fall. Reading between the lines, there’s a disturbing sense that he’d be willing to assassinate his former mentor, too, and usurp his role if he thought it was in Krakoa’s best interest. That’s how far this former Avenger has gone. There have been moments here and there where Beast’s current rogue state of mind has been called into question, but he has yet to fully reap what he has sown. The morally precarious place Krakoa now sits is that they claim to represent a better way, but are reliant on ethically repugnant people like Beast to maintain their status. That means Krakoa is more of a house of cards than the world realizes, and at some point, it could (will?) all come crashing down.
The art by Martin Coccolo is devine. Percy asks him to draw some pretty gross things early in the running, and he manages to pull it off in a way that isn’t repulsive or overly graphic, while still maintaining a body-horror element that is truly awesome. Coccolo is exactly the kind of artist a book like X-Force needs, because he has a balance between gruesome and sleek. (Although I could do without the odd dad bod he gives to Beast.) The polar bear attack at the beginning (you’ll see) is a frightening and grim affair, but the scenes with Mikhail have a stateliness to them that gives them an entirely regal air. Not bad at all.
If Krakoa is indeed a house of cards, X-Force is the book that best exemplifies its precarious state. For all the idealism the mutants project to the world, there’s a dingy underbelly hidden away from the world to see. All countries operate this way to some degree or another whether they openly admit it or not; it’s impossible not to have secrets in the dark, especially in our ever-increasing globalist society. At least Krakoa is striving to lead the way forward to a better tomorrow, but the most pressing question Benjamin Percy and company are asking in X-Force is: “Can even the best intended ever truly be good?”
X-Force #23 is another ethically murky tour-de-force, balancing statecraft with black ops dirty tricks in a deliciously intriguing way. This book remains one of the crown jewels of the current X-Men lineup!
X-Force #23: A Cold War
- Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9.5/109.5/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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