X-Force: The Shatterstar Saga review

X-Force: Shatterstar Saga (X-Force, #59-66)X-Force: Shatterstar Saga by Jeph Loeb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grouped a few different smaller storylines together for this review, as these issues actually aren’t collected at all to my knowledge, which is a real shame. At the same time, I kind of understand. This is a fairly under-appreciated run of X-Men in general and X-Force in specific, and can be some of the hardest for an outsider to break into. I am of course talking about Shatterstar, Longshot, and Mojo.

There’s a long history in the X-Men spin-off books of having “the offspring of a classic X-Man joining the young X-Men team” to show some legacy to the fight for mutant rights, and to illustrate a familiar link between the titles. This is a part of the “soap opera” nature of X-Men in specific and Marvel Comics team-books in particular: everyone is everyone else’s son, and the timeline of those lineages doesn’t always make a lick of sense. The best example of this is the Summers family tree. For a long time, it seemed like you couldn’t have an X-Book without a Summers on the team: X-Men had Cyclops, X-Factor had Havok, Excalibur had Phoenix, and X-Force has Cable. Even the Starjammers had Corsair. But this trend may have started with Summers’s, but isn’t limited to them. Bishop has family connections to both X-Factor and Generation X. Banshee’s daughter is Siren of X-Force. Husk of Generation X is Cannonball’s little sister. And of course, there’s Shatterstar: supposedly the son of Longshot and Dazzler.

I say “supposedly” because we’re never really sure. X-Force #s 59-61 promise explanations and feature the long-absent Longshot and Dazzler, but do not offer insights into Shatterstar’s lineage. Instead it offers insight into the fact that Shatterstar has been hinted to also be a mental patient on Earth for the last 20 years and has been destined to die in a future war against Mojo. This storyline resolves both those plot threads: after Shatterstar dies fighting Mojo, his soul is taken back in time and placed into the body of a comatose and unresponsive mental patient named Benjamin Russell, allowing him to finally feel “whole.” This explanation is hammy, but handled well under the pen of Jeph Loeb. He has a knack for taking those outlandish comic-book plots and twists that you feel like an idiot trying to explain in adult conversation, and somehow making them work. If Loeb has a single gift as a writer, it’s that he can effortlessly suspend a reader’s disbelief. Not always easy when X-Men books are involved. “The Mojoverse” as a whole is one of the most convoluted and ill-thought additions to the X-Men franchise, being bolted on after the Longshot miniseries they (and that character) originated in flopped and didn’t get a spin-off continuing series. I love Longshot and Shatterstar as characters, but the Mojoverse has always seemed like the baggage we had to deal with to get them whenever they pop up. It’s like “Ugh, not these guys again.” X-Men is at it’s best when it is on message, dealing with the ramifications of their political struggle for equality. Nothing is father than that than the fart joke alien TV-producer that is Mojo.

Issue #62 is a single-issue story by John Dokes, who I can find literally nothing except this on on Goodreads. Perhaps as I add in more previously uncollected X-Men work he’ll pop up again, but as of right now he seems to be an unknown. And it shows, because the characters are limited to their base archetypes and don’t develop much. Titled “Human Nature,” it is notable for picking up the Nga and Leong subplot holdover from the New Mutants series after ten full years of no mention or development. I know Marvel-time works differently than real-world time, but think of all the stories that have happened since New Mutants #46 and those poor kids must have been kidnapped for a very long time with the X-Men and X-Force doing nothing to look for them or help them be found, something Sunspot comments on remorsefully at least. So maybe no development was a bit of a sketch. There’s some development, and the tag at the end of the chapter seems to imply this will spin-off into the Beast limited series, so that’s cool.

Finally, we switch gears over to new series regular John Francis Moore for two short two-parter stories that kick off his run. Moore also took over X-Factor when Peter David abruptly left that title, so there’s something to be said for Moore’s uncanny ability to pick up a complex title mid-run and go with it.

The first story by Moore deals with the after-effects of the Onslaught storyline on the Marvel Universe: specifically, Doctor Doom’s time-machine. It has been left unattended in his castle since he was forcibly sacrificed to Onslaught by Iron Man in Marvel Universe: Onslaught. A weapon of that magnitude left unprotected is a very dangerous thing, so Cable and Nathanial Richards — the time-traveling father of Mister Fantastic — travel with X-Force to Latveria to retrieve it. Cable feels its important, as he knows the dangers of time-travel.

I really like that the Avengers and Fantastic Four plotlines didn’t get just dropped when Heroes Reborn happened: the effects were felt all over the Marvel Universe as different heroes had to pick up the slack left behind by those heroes. After all, all those heroes were gone and only Doom was gone from the villains side of things. But this begs the question: if Cable has known about Doom’s time device all this time, why hasn’t he done something about it? Of course the real-world explanation is that Doctor Doom is primarily a Fantastic Four villain, but what’s the in-story reason for him waiting.

As with any story with a time-travel machine story, complications arise when SHIELD and GW Bridge arrives, and the lot of them are transported back to World War II and have to take on the Nazis. There’s also a very cool reference to the Twilight Zone episode Where is Everybody?, the opening beats of which are played out point for point with Tabitha in the protagonist role. I’m a big fan of The Twilight Zone and that episode was actually the first, making it a callback to something I have great affinity for and I dutifully appreciated.

The final two-parter deals with the Risque / Warpath subplot that has been going on for some time now. I don’t envy Moore, taking on a subplot and having to conclude something he didn’t start. The reveal of who Risque was working for — an original villain named Sledge — almost certainly wasn’t what Loeb had in mind, but it’s still serviceable in-story. Anyway, what matters here isn’t the reveal, but the emotional drama it creates between Warpath and Risque, who go from youthful star-crossed lovers being betrayed by one another by the story’s end.

And really… that’s what makes me recommend this collection, from issues 59-66, to anyone looking to get into X-Force. It has a little bit of everything that X-Force has to offer: mysteries involving its main characters, ties to the greater X-Men Universe of stories, explorations of a family trees of the X-Characters, youthful love, and lots and lots of swords, guns, and soap-opera drama. If you can’t find something to like in these issues, than you really won’t find much to like in the rest of X-Force either.

Shame this isn’t “really” collected.

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