X-Force has been the name of several different Marvel Universe Super Hero teams and comics, with few common members and very little generally to link them except for being closely tied to the X-Men, with varying degrees of cooperation between the two at different times.
The original X-Force was created when creative control of the New Mutants series was given to artist Rob Liefeld, with Fabian Nicieza scripting the dialogue. Liefeld immediately set about making the series Darker and Edgier, adding several new badass main characters and dropping others, and having team leader Cable reform the team into an "ends justify the means" militant strike force, culminating with a series relaunch under the new X-Force title. The character lineup retained Cable, Cannonball and Boom-Boom, while adding Warpath (formerly of the rival superpowered team, the Hellions), Feral, Shatterstar and Domino. Siryn was also added to the team within the first five issues.
The series was at first extremely popular, with the #1 issue becoming the second-best-selling comic of all time. Liefeld however quickly became frustrated by working with characters he didn't own, and soon left Marvel to form Image Comics in 1992. Nicieza took over creative control upon Liefeld's departure and immediately began turning the series into a more natural continuation of New Mutants, including bringing back the characters Sunspot and Rictor. Cable was temporarily written out and X-Force struck out on their own as independent young adults, setting up their new base in the ruins of the Camp Verde reservation in Arizona and at last bonding as True Companions. Cable soon returned in the Fatal Attractions (Marvel Comics) crossover, but with a new and less authoritarian leadership style, and Feral left the team for good; Dani Moonstar, the former New Mutant, was also reintroduced as a recurring character. Nicieza continued to write up through the Age of Apocalypse storyline of 1995, after which he was replaced by Jeph Loeb.
Loeb moved the team back to the Xavier Mansion and had them cooperating much more closely with the X-Men and Charles Xavier, as part of a line-wide initiative to bring all the various X-books closer together. Cannonball was shifted to the X-Men and Caliban joined X-Force; Rictor was also written out, but returned the following year. Boom-Boom also changed her codename to Meltdown.
After Loeb's abrupt departure in 1997, John Francis Moore took over writing duties and once again began drawing on the characters' long histories as New Mutants and X-Force. Under Moore's long tenure, the team disbanded in the wake of the Operation: Zero Tolerance storyline. The cast was narrowed down to five Meltdown, Warpath, Siryn, Sunspot and a returning Dani Moonstar who set off on a roadtrip across America and ultimately established their new base in San Francisco. There, the team took on new member Bedlam and reunited with former members Cannonball and Domino. During this period, sales of the book fell from being one of Marvel's best sellers to being solidly mid-tier.
In 2000, Warren Ellis was brought in as part of the X-Men's line-wide "Revolution" revamp, and reformed X-Force as a covert strike team under the leadership of his character Pete Wisdom. This ultimately failed to attract new readers and the decline in readership continued, with Ellis's new creative direction only lasting for a year and ending at issue #115.
At the same time as writer Grant Morrison began their acclaimed run on New X-Men, Marvel's new editor-in-chief Joe Quesada also recruited writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred to take over X-Force and they agreed as long as they were free to do absolutely anything they wanted. The result was effectively a completely different series in everything but name from issue #116 onwards, with an entirely new cast of characters and new premise. The new X-Force was a government-backed team of publicity-hungry superheroes with a severe case of Anyone Can Die, who had blatantly stolen the name from the original team. Milligan's X-Force was an Acclaimed Flop: although it was praised for being a subversive satire of the excesses of celebrity culture and reality TV, the audience wasn't on board and sales plummeted. The series was cancelled at issue #129 and relaunched as X-Statix.
In 2004, Marvel brought Liefeld and Nicieza back for a six-issue X-Force miniseries (October, 2004-March, 2005), returning to the original characters, which posted decent sales despite a critical drubbing and Liefeld's using some of his previously unused art for other titles in the book. A four-issue X-Force: Shatterstar prequel miniseries (April-July, 2005) immediately followed.
X-Force has been relaunched a number of times since then with different teams, most of which have little to do with the original series. These relaunches have their own pages:
- X-Force (2008) Starring the sanctioned strike team of mutantdom fighting to stop threats towards what little mutants remain. Spun off from the X-Men crossover event Messiah Complex. Written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost.
- Uncanny X-Force (2010) Starring a secret strike team as they confront the emerging threat of Apocalypse and the aftermath of what they wrought. Launched in the aftermath of the crossover event X-Men: Second Coming. Written by Rick Remender.
- Two new ongoing series were launched as part of the "Marvel NOW!" relaunch. In Cable and X-Force (2013), written by Dennis Hopeless, Cable forms a new outlaw X-Force group. The relaunched Uncanny X-Force (2013), written by Sam Humphries, follows Psylocke's X-Force team. Both titles were then replaced by X-Force (2014), written by Si Spurrier, which merges the two teams and serves as a continuation of both series.
- X-Force (2018) The surviving members of the original X-Force team reunite to hunt down Kid Cable. Written by Ed Brisson.
- X-Force (2019) Part of the "Dawn of X" relaunch, starring the mutant nation of Krakoa's mutant CIA team. Written by Benjamin Percy.
An X-Force team led by Deadpool makes its big screen debut in Deadpool 2.
The first series provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: The infamous fate of the "Externals" story arc once Liefeld left. It was technically resolved... by killing off pretty much everyone involved within the space of a single issue.
- The Reignfire story was cut off abruptly after Age of Apocalypse, quickly explained as having been resolved off-panel. Again, it was revisited later in the series, but in a clearly different way to what was originally intended.
- After leaving Camp Verde, the team gets a brand-new awesome base under New York when they take over the vacant Murderworld, formerly the lair of supervillain Arcade. There's a great deal of talk about how the base's location will give them easy access to the city, enable them to possibly attend university or get day jobs, and let them develop personal lives outside of being superheroes. Four issues later the base is unceremoniously blown up and the team is relocated to Xavier Mansion, as isolated from the outside world as ever.
- This applies to the entire line of X-books more so than this particular series, but the character of Adam X The X-Treme was introduced with much fanfare in the second annual and was heavily hinted to be the third Summers brother... then was mostly forgotten about after Fabian Nicieza left.
- Stryfe's Strike File mentions the 616 version of Holocaust as a potential threat, but this version is never seen again.
- Jeph Loeb's intention to reveal Shatterstar and Rictor as being in a romantic relationship ended up being dropped after he left, and the characters were both written out not long after.
- Benjamin Russell is genetically identical to Shatterstar. Maybe Shatterstar is really Benjamin Russell. X-Factor #259 ignores this altogether in favor of the earlier origin.
- A number of character-centric subplots were abandoned when John Francis Moore was replaced by Warren Ellis, and were never properly followed up on by Marvel. These included Siryn being possessed by an evil artifact similar to the villain Malice, the team being stalked by two agents of the Triune Understanding (of whom Meltdown's father was a new convert), Sunspot joining the Hellfire Club as the new Black Rook, Julia Sandoval being reincarnated in a new body, and foreshadowing that Domino would soon die in a devastating future conflict.
- All There in the Manual: Huge chunks of Cable's backstory and origin were only revealed in his ongoing book, once it was launched.
- Animal-Themed Superbeing: Feral as the Darker and Edgier Wolfsbane, although she is a Cat Girl rather than a werewolf.
- Attractive Zombie: Dead Girl, the Revenant Zombie superhero, initially looks a little mummified, but quickly becomes Progressively Prettier to the point that she becomes a sex symbol in-universe, and has a sexual relationship with living teammate Anarchist.
- Badass Normal: Cable, who despite being a mutant, can't really use his powers on any significant scale without risking death. In lieu of reading people's thoughts and throwing them through the air with his mind, he relies on his...
- BFG: Cable had a lot of these, and wasn't shy about using them.
- Blessed with Suck: Cable, potentially the single most powerful telepath and telekinetic in the Marvel Universe, has to use all but a tiny smidge of those powers to keep the techno-virus infesting half his body from devouring the other half.
- Body Horror: Cable is mostly human on his right side, mostly techno-organic on the left. And if it weren't for his powers, he'd be consumed by the TO virus and die.
- The Marvel NOW Cable X-Force series starts off with people being poisoned with a mutagen which transforms them into horrifying mounds of flesh. One of Dr. Nemesis' attempted cures only makes it worse.
- Briefer Than They Think: Rob Liefeld was only on the book as co-writer for the first year and only on art for the first 9 of those issues. Once he left the book quickly moved away from the three G's (guns, grimaces and grittiness) to more character-based stories culminating in John Francis Moore's Lighter and Softer run.
- The Bus Came Back: Cable, Sunspot, Rictor, Cannonball and Domino are all written out of the series for extended periods before returning as main characters. Rictor and Shatterstar also return for a one-off appearance in an annual two years after they were Put on a Bus together.
- As far as "X-Force" is a continuation of "New Mutants", Sunspot, Rictor and Dani Moonstar joining the team could also be regarded as this. The same goes for the guest reappearances by Wolfsbane, Magma, Karma, Douglock, Rusty and Skids.
- Cain and Abel: Cable and his evil clone Stryfe.
- Code Name: Played straight, to the point where Cable and Domino's real names weren't revealed for years. Justified in Cable's case, since revealing his name would spoil a pretty juicy plot twist.
- Commuting on a Bus: Sunspot and Rictor, former New Mutants, during Rob Liefeld's run. Sunspot appeared occasionally in association with Gideon, the External; Rictor resurfaced as a member of Weapon Prime. Very shortly after Liefeld left the series, both characters joined X-Force.
- Continuity Drift: In issue #25, Cable explains his motives for going to the past, to train Sam and the team to proactively fight against Stryfe and Apocalypse. But Cable ends up leaving the team to face Apocalypse on his own, while the team focuses on other threats until disbanding.
- Covert Group: During Warren Ellis's run the team was portrayed as a covert group under the leadership of Pete Wisdom, a character originally created by Ellis.
- Darker and Edgier: This was the defining characteristic of the comic in the beginning, as compared to its predecessor "New Mutants".
- This was also the intent of Warren Ellis's run.
- Doppelganger Link: Reignfire is a clone of Sunspot and has a one-way telepathic connection with him. He used it to take control of Sunspot and make him attack his friends.
- During the War: Virtually all of Cable's backstory relates to his battling the forces of Apocalypse a thousand years in the future.
- Dysfunction Junction: It's soon acknowledged in-series that Cable deliberately sought out to recruit young people who were damaged and angry. Over time and with each other's help, the team members each become much more well-adjusted probably the biggest transformation is Warpath, after he gets closure for the Camp Verde massacre.
- Fantastic Medicinal Bodily Product: In one issue of the Milligan and Allred run, the team was deployed to Central America to kidnap a boy whose mutant powers made him a living pharmacy. Mr. Sensitive revolted against the team's financial backers after learning that they intended to harvest the kid's organs and bodily fluids to make new drugs.
- Guns Akimbo: Domino was particularly fond of this.
- Gun Fu: Domino, though her "luck" power also had a lot to do with it.
- Gun Kata: This completes Domino's trifecta of gun-related tropes, though again, her powers really helped her out.
- Homoerotic Subtext: Deliberately dropped into the series between Shatterstar and Rictor by writer Jeph Loeb.
- It's Personal: Cable's hatred for Stryfe stems only partly from the fact that Stryfe has killed everyone Cable loved; most of it is from Stryfe's raping and impregnating his wife with a son that Cable had mixed feelings towards at best.
- Just Friends: Cable and Domino have a long history, during which they've been everything from genuinely just friends to teammates to Friends with Benefits to fully lovers; currently, they seem to be in a "just friends" phase.
- Warpath falls in love with Siryn, who only regards him as a close friend. Eventually he gets over her and starts dating Risque, which ends badly for all concerned.
- Knight Templar: Cable was very much "ends justify the means" in the beginning; later writers softened him considerably, though it's still not a very good idea to make him mad.
- Late Spin-Off Transplant: Rictor joins X-Force over a year after the series began.
- Masked Villains, Unmasked Heroes: Cable is unmasked, while his enemy Stryfe is masked. As it turns out, Stryfe is actually a clone of Cable and is wearing a mask to hide his identity.
- Odd Friendship: Rictor develops one with Shatterstar after joining the team. Ultimately they become romantically involved, but only off-panel it wouldn't be confirmed in canon until more than a decade later in X-Factor (2020).
- Plot Archaeology: John Francis Moore's run resolves a lot of the dangling plot threads from Fabian Nicieza's run. Among these were a proper follow-up to the Reignfire story, a reason for why Dani Moonstar had joined the MLF, and revealing who was responsible for massacring Warpath's tribe at Camp Verde.
- Put on a Bus: Rictor and Shatterstar left the team together to go bring down Rictor's family's illegal arms-dealing racket. Around the same time, Caliban was retaken by the forces of Apocalypse.
- Road Trip Plot: After the "Operation: Zero Tolerance" storyline, the remaining members of the team decide to strike out on their own leading to a year long road trip storyline that takes them from New York to their new home in San Francisco.
- Red Herring: At the start of X-Force, false hints were dropped that Cable and his arch-enemy Stryfe might be the same person (they use a bunch of the same catchphrases, and Stryfe removes his helmet for the first time showing readers that he has the same face as Cable), playing X-Force and the MLF against each other for some reason.
- Retcon: Cable wasn't Scott and Madelyne's son until Chris Claremont and Jim Lee came up with the idea while writing X-Factor #65-68. Executive meddling prevented Nicieza and Lobdell from revealing Stryfe was Nathan Summers and Cable a clone, as Bob Harras wanted Cable to be Nathan, since "having him be the fake would devalue him".
- Take a Third Option: The team's stance towards humanity, given in issue #19, is referred to as a third option between the "open hand" of Xavier and the "closed fist" of Magneto. Their aim is to protect and defend the freedom of mutants above all else including the freedom for each mutant to decide for themselves which option to take.
- Token Evil Teammate: Feral. Nobody was very surprised to see her make a FaceHeel Turn in the middle of a battle.
- True Companions: Developed into this during Fabian Nicieza's run as writer. In particular Warpath references this as the reason why he stays with the team, even though being a superhero doesn't make him happy or fulfilled.
- Why Won't You Die?: It took Cable several tries to put Stryfe down for the count.