Charles Xavier's wide-eyed dream is this tiny blip in the rearview mirror now. On the verge of extinction, with most of the remaining mutants now residing on the island Utopia for mutual protection, certain folks have opted to be more proactive, to take harder measures. But not everyone needs to know. Wolverine and Archangel's secret kill unit has already done the unthinkable by murdering a child who in the future will become Apocalypse. It doesn't even matter that several members of X-Force now can't sleep nights, wracked with misgivings. Surprisingly, Deadpool is one of those losing sleep. That probably counts as a sort of character-developing coup, Rick Remender.
Because our merry mutants and crap futures go hand in hand, Remender ushers in one more bleak in-the-days-ahead. In this alternate future, the Deathlok program has upgraded from utilizing human hosts to utilizing superhumans in its production of cyborg death machines. And, worse, there's an equation in play which seeks to transform all possible futures into a clone of this one. These enhanced Deathlok troopers deploy to the present-day 616 Earth with two objectives: "acquire the World" and "kill Phantomex." Turns out, only Phantomex can prevent this divergent timeline from happening. He's also got the "World," which actually is the shrunken, MC Esher-inspired "home laboratory o' the folks who launched Weapon X in Canada." With grotesque Deathlok-ed versions of familiar heroes hounding them, X-Force infiltrates the World, looking for answers or at least for something to stab.
Naturally, the self-aware rogue Deathlok isn't too far from the action. A cyborg zombie with a massive arsenal who doesn't second-guess himself much, he was probably welcomed by Wolverine with open arms.
For my money, this team features more stabby weapons than a clan of conjoined twin ninjas, one reason why UNCANNY X-FORCE is my favorite X-title. There's just something about this collection of pragmatic, death-dealing anti-heroes who dwell in grey areas rife with moral compromise and shattered ideals. There's an ugly, bleak element here which fascinates me. This team essentially embodies the death of Professor X's dream of harmony among humans and mutants. I've been geeking out at what Logan, Warren, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Fantomex have been up to, although a part of me still misses X-23 something fierce. Remender is brilliant at breaking down the character dynamics. He's careful to not neglect any of the team members, and I guess it's a lot easier to service the cast when it's not huge like in the other X-titles.
In this particular arc, "Deathlok Nation," the mysterious Fantomex takes center stage, with Deadpool later on getting some writer's love. In fact, Phantomex and Deadpool's teaming up is the highlight of the arc for me as they promptly engage in what amounts to verbal hair pulling. Remender utilizes their heated argument to shed light on their damaged psyches. We learn a bit of what makes them tick. Fantomex's barb at Deadpool - "You can't win my friendship with your quivering stream of desperation-banter." - seems particularly insightful. Meanwhile, Deadpool's take on Fantomex - "A mysterious, child-killing elitist who pretends to be French and stinks like old cheese" - is just laugh out loud funny. Still, I like that Remender is making an effort to have Deadpool be more of a realistic character.
UNCANNY X-FORCE: DEATHLOK NATION collects issues UNCANNY X-FORCE #5-7 and #5.1. #5.1, by the way, has X-Force tangling with Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers and also reveals the blueprint for how to fight Wolverine (but you need Lady Deathstrike's tools and skills set). As a bonus, there's also a section which shows the evolution of a comic book page from script to pencils to inks to colors, as well as Chris Arrant from X-MEN SPOTLIGHT's interview with Rick Remender.
I haven't seen too much of Esad Ribic's delicately-lined pencils, but I like what I see here. On the other hand, Rafael Albuquerque handles the art for issue #5.1, which earns a grade of "Meh." I could've been talked into rating this volume 5 out of 5 stars, but it cheeses me that it only comes with four friggin' issues. So this is me demonstrating outrage. That's right, deciders of how many issues go into a trade, don't you dare make eye contact with me!