So, much in the way that “Generation Next” took it upon itself to embrace and adopt horror movie cliches, “Life Signs” does its best top subvert and undo them. I believe this was a smart, deliberate choice, to make each pat of the trilogy that makes up the Phalanx Covenant as unique and whole as possible, while staying as true to the core concept of “othering” as possible.
This chapter also doesn’t contain the actual X-Men, and instead focuses on the combined efforts of the current three auxiliary teams: Excalibur, X-Factor, and X-Force. Specifically, we focus on two fronts: one plot-line involving Forge, and one involving the remnants of the old New Mutants team.
Actually this is very much a spiritual successor to the old New Mutants title, as Cannonball, Rahne, and Kitty unite around Douglock, an off-shoot of the Phalanx comprised of former New Mutants members Doug Ramsey and Warlock. This is the heart of the story, as each character responds to this representation in very different ways. Kitty is for the most part happy, Rahne (being the religious type) is enthralled, and Sam is angry and suspicious.
It’s hard to call this “realistic” as reactions to a resurrection are, by nature, fanciful. But they FEEL realistic, and in-keeping with each character’s previous voice and characterization.
Douglock himself is at the center of it all and even name-drops “The Phalanx Covenant,” which is the covenant of all living things: to live, spread, and reproduce.
To that end, “Life Signs” finds its theme in the philosophy of life. You see, until this point the Phalanx has been viewed as so “Other” that it hasn’t registered as a sentient life: that’s why they call it a Techno-Organic virus. But in learning to accept Douglock as a form of life they must accept all the Phalanx as life, and this thus forms the crux of the ethical dilemma of exterminating a life-form simply for doing what life-forms do.
This dovetails nicely with Forge’s plot-line, in which he uses his power to “see” how technology works to “see” the fabric of life through Douglock, and then his grief as he does what’s necessary as a government representative to stop it, echoing his own tragic experiences in Vietnam.
In the end Douglock saves the day and proves himself not only worthy of trust, but also as a whole, living being, separate from Doug and Warlock. At the end of the tale the Phalanx is defeated, but the X-Men are still absent.
So speaking of absent, right after The Phalanx Covenant, common sense takes a brief vacation.
Directly, directly after the Phalanx Covenant ends, if fact linked to it, we have the weirdest, weakest story of X-Force so far. And this book was originally written by Rob Liefield. Apparently, the Phalanx aliens have the ability to turn perfectly serviceable plot devices into a useless Mary Sue. Yup, I said it: Prosh is a goddamn Mary Sue. And yet, whose that on the cover of this collection holding Cable like he’s goddamn Superman? Prosh.
So, the story goes, that while the Phalanx invaded they altered The Professor’s matrix and gave him a new body, that of Prosh. Prosh is immediately everyone’s favorite member of the team, becoming the best at the team-building sports and helping each character out with their special skill. But — gasp! — his techno-organic nature is interfering with Cable’s techno-organic nature! Cable must send his best friend away, and does so tearfully. Prosh soars into the stars to roam as a sentient ship, the way he started before he was discovered by Apocalypse and X-Factor.
It’s that all this happens in 22 pages that make it ridiculous. There’s no emotional connection to Prosh, and trying to force one is annoying. Worse, watching all the characters act as though there is one is just bad fiction.
We jump from that into a great storyline in which X-Force gets a new headquarters based out of Murder-World, but more importantly we get development on the Thornn / Feral mystery. Thornn showed back up in Cable Classic volume 3, the sole survivor of the Morlock Massacre (we thought then). She’s here now in a two-part story to unravel the mysteries of who killed she and Feral’s family. This is a great little murder mystery, and tears come out as more and more layers of the onion are peeled. This is the opposite of the Prosh story: it feels like the culmination of everything that’s been happening since Feral joined the team back in A Force to be Reckoned With, with Cable’s choices of letting questionable people with questionable tactics coming home to roost. He’s a changed man after The X-Cutioner’s Song, but he still must deal with the consequences of his actions before the change. Which is kind of what this whole graphic novel has been about: cluing up the long-running practices of X-Force as a team and Cable as a person and showing why some of them were good ideas, and some of them were not. Which is good, and even mature and awakening. This is Fabian Nicieza’s victory lap, as he is leaving the title, and it makes for some especially engaging stories… Prosh notwithstanding.
That continues in the next chapter, which again builds upon the reasons around which another non-New Mutant, Warpath, joined X-Force. Warpath joined after all the Hellions and the population of his Original-Peoples tribe, were killed — supposedly by the White Queen. This was just fine when Marvel was choosing to portray her as a villain, but now she’s the leader of the newest team of young mutants, Generation X. So, you know, they might want to do something about that. And the way they do is truly inspired: addressing the the topic in an issue-long therapy session / hashing out between Emma and Warpath that explores the deepest issues and doubts of both.
The final chapter deals with a plot thread that has been lingering ever since Skin Deep, in which Dani Moonstar was revealed to be a mole within the MLF: namely, is Reignfire really Sunspot? And yes, yes he is. This revelation comes while the X-Force members are forced to act alone, because Cable is in a mission… in Iraq. This immediately hits a nerve for X-Fans, as it’s painfully obvious that this issue occurs simultaneously with Legion Quest. As a result the battle with Reignfire, this novel, and Nicieza’s amazing run on X-Force ends, appropriately, with the end of the world.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“I’ll keep secret what kept this from… it’s Prosh, Prosh kept it from being five stars.”