Born out of the New Mutants, X-Force was a new idea for the mutant teams, one that has generated some of the greatest stories of that world, and the most controversial. The series went through multiple ups and downs, as well as numerous creative changes, but have since become one of the X-Books’ most enduring titles.
Created by illustrator Rob Liefield during his time on New Mutants, he and writer Fabian Nicienza converted the New Mutants team into X-Force with Issue #100, the final issue of that book under the New Mutants title. Now relaunched as X-Force, the first issue still the second highest selling comic book of all time.
With Liefield’s art and Nicienza’s scripts, the book became incredibly popular, topping the sales charts across the industry. The book did so well that a toy-line, as well as numerous other merchandize, was released, as well as other merchandising avenues which was not a common occurrence for comic books at that time. This lead to a great deal of frustration for Liefield, who after issue #12 removed himself as plotter, angered by the fact that since he didn’t own the characters he had created he received little to no royalties from said merchandise. In fact, Liefield would eventually leave Marvel (along with six other artists) in 1992.
Following Liefield’s exit, Greg Capullo was hired as illustrator. X-Force soon became involved in its first crossover with X-Cutioner’s Song, Nicienza helping plot the storyline with X-Men writer Scott Lobdell. Afterwards, X-Force was joined and subsequently lead by Cable, who had become increasingly popular in recent years. The book took a different turn after a while, becoming a sort of soap opera, romantic issues taking centre stage while also taking a more violent tone than the rest of the X-Books. More former New Mutants would join the team, and the book continued to do well with fans until going on hiatus for the Age of Apocalypse event in 1995. Sales fell significantly after that, leading to writer Jeph Loeb and artist Adam Pollina being brought in as the new creative team. The move was successful, Loeb creating more character driven stories and less fight scenes. The team even moved back into the X-Mansion, bringing them closer to their older counterparts for the first time in a decade.
In 1997, John Francis Moore became the lead writer, and took the team in another new direction. Separating them from Cable and the X-Men, he moved the team to San Francisco, envisioning them as carefree travellers exploring the world. This change of direction drastically hurt the sales of the book, leading to Warren Ellis being brought aboard as part of the Revolution revamp of the X-Books. Ellis introduced his trademark dark comedy to the book, changing the tone and undoing some of the damage, but sales remained about the same nonetheless.
The book was reimagined in 2001 by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred, who replaced the entire team with a new group of mutants. With the old team assumed dead, these new mutants would use the X-Force name to become celebrities. The idea didn’t resonate with fans, and the book was replaced with X-Statix in 2002. Liefield and Nicienza would return in 2004 with a new mini-series, but the sales were not enough to bring back the book full time, and was critically panned. X-Force disappeared for a while after that, until once again the team was reimagined in 2007.
With the X-Men’s status quo changed irrevocably by M-Day, Cyclops was taking a more hard line approach to the X-Men’s missions. Secretly, he forms a black ops team, naming them X-Force and giving them a mandate to eliminate threats to mutantkind, permanently. Lead by Wolverine and comprised of X-23, Warpath, and Wolfsbane, the team would become Cyclops’s secret weapon. Written by Craig Kyle and drawn by Christopher Yost, the book took an extremely dark turn, becoming the most violent and controversial of the X-Books. Eventually, the team’s existence was made known to the rest of the X-Men, prompting Beast to leave the X-Men in disgust, and also laying significant groundwork for the Schism storyline.
By 2010, the book’s popularity had risen significantly before being relaunched as Uncanny X-Force. Written by Rick Remender and drawn by Jerome Opena, the book added Psylocke, Fantomex and Deadpool to the team. The book took an even darker tone that before, characters dying nearly every issue, most of which were from the Age of Apocalypse timeline. Remender’s run is widely considered to be the best in X-Force history, ending at 34 issues, and finishing the decades long storyline between Apocalypse and Archangel, both dying by the end of the series.
After Remender wrapped up his run, X-Force was split into two new series: Uncanny X-Force and Cable and X-Force. Written by Sam Humphries and Dennis Hopeless respectively, the new Uncanny book would feature Psylocke leading Storm, Puck and Cluster, while Cable and X-Force would follow an outlaw team lead by Cable, and featuring Domino, Colossus, Forge, Doctor Nemesis and Boom-Boom. The latter team would undertake missions to stop massive tragedies before they happened, while the former would continue X-Force’s original concept and eventually be joined by Bishop. Both books would do well sales-wise, leading to the first X-Force only crossover, Vendetta, where the two teams would come into conflict over the fate of Hope Summers, leading to the death of Bishop.
After this, only one X-Force team would remain in a new book entitled X-Force, continuing Cable’s missions and adding Marrow to the team. This book would also controversially put Hope Summers into a coma, her only means of communication mimicking another mutant’s (Meme) computer based powers. The series did decent sales at first, but as they began to drop, and with Secret Wars looming, the book was cancelled.
Since then, there has been no indication that X-Force will return any time soon, though since a feature film is currently in development, that will likely change. No matter the form or the purpose however, X-Force has been a constant presence in the X-Books, and will likely continue to be for many years to come.