As hard as it is to believe for comic book fans, it's been 25 years since controversial writer / artist Rob Liefeld launched X-Force! The first issue captured the mood of the moment, and became the second-best-selling comic of all time. Now, with an X-Force movie in the works, it's time to look at what made X-Force such a success...
THE X-FORCE CONCEPT
The history of X-Force really begins with a very different book. Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod co-created a next generation of X-Men, and brought back the concept of Xavier's School. Trained by Charles Xavier himself, the New Mutants were a fascinating group with a strongly international flavor. Main characters included the Vietnamese Karma, the Cheyenne Mirage, and the Scottish Wolfsbane. The comic was wilder than your typical X-Men book (at the time), with alternate dimensions, Amazonian tribes, and Hellish realities.
By 1989, Claremont and McLeod had both moved on, and sales were slumping. New Mutants was slowly handed over to Rob Liefeld (he originally took on co-plotting responsibilities as well as the artwork, but clashed with the book's actual writer, Louise Simonson). Liefeld immediately took the team in a whole new direction; he gave them a militaristic mentor, Cable, and had them become much more proactive than the X-Men. A range of new, hard-edged characters were added - from the bestial Feral to the deadly swordsman Shatterstar - and the team wound up in ideological conflict with the rest of the X-Men.
It all led to X-Force #1, released in 1991, and the second-best-selling comic of all time.
The concept of X-Force captured the mood of the times. These weren't your traditional superheroes; they were antiheroes, and their violence led the older superheroes to watch them with concern. Cable in particular was essentially leading the former New Mutants as a military strike-team to take on threats to the mutant race.
REINVENTING X-FORCE FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
In comics, any popular idea will always be revisited. Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost launched a new series of X-Force in 2008, and this time designed the team as a black-ops strike force formed by Cyclops. At a time when the mutant race was in serious danger, Cyclops formed this covert team to conduct first strikes against potential threats. Knowing that this would be controversial, he kept it secret.
This iteration of X-Force was tremendously popular, not least because the art was gorgeous. Kyle and Yost crafted a clever plot where X-Force's very existence kept upping the ante. It all came to a head in their excellent "Necrosha" event, in which they faced an army of resurrected X-Men allies and enemies, all thrall to the mutant sorceress named Selene.
When Kyle and Yost moved on, Rick Remender relaunched their vision in his popular Uncanny X-Force. Thematically, his book follows on perfectly from Kyle and Yost's, with X-Force unwittingly causing events to escalate. Their greatest threat was one of their own, Archangel, who became heir to Apocalypse in the superb "Dark Angel Saga".
The X-Force brand continued for the last few years, but has currently been retired. The truth is, Marvel's current Uncanny X-Men series features a team who have basically taken on X-Force's mission, so at the moment the concept is superfluous.
THE POTENTIAL X-FORCE MOVIE
Although Fox had toyed with the idea of an X-Force movie since 2013, it was only the success of Deadpool that really made this inevitable. Simon Kinberg has confirmed that he envisions an X-Force film as R-rated, while Bryan Singer told Fandango that he'd like X-23 to be in the movie - given the character will be introduced in Wolverine: Weapon X, that's looking likely.
We're not going to see Rob Liefeld's team, though. Many of those characters will appear in a separate New Mutants film, so - assuming Fox want to stay true to the comics - we have to get a different line-up.
Thankfully, the X-Men movies already feature a number of prominent X-Force members. X-Men: Apocalypse featured Olivia Munn as Psylocke and Ben Hardy as Angel. Ryan Reynolds has returned in the hugely successful Deadpool, and the sequel will introduce Cable. Wolverine: Weapon X will introduce us to X-23. All these characters have played important roles in X-Force's history, but it remains to be seen how the film could bring them all together - Angel appeared to die in the 1980s, while Deadpool lives in the 2000s. Cable's time-travel may be a useful workaround.
The reality is, X-Force is going to be a brutal film, and will earn it's R-rating. Other than a couple of key members, though, it won't have any real similarities to that iconic first issue released 25 years ago. X-Force may have been Rob Liefeld's brainchild, but the concept has grown far beyond him, and become something that deserves to enter Fox's X-Men universe.