I'll be the first to admit that up until now, I'd never read an issue of the new "X-Force." That had partially to do with the promotion of the series, pushing a heavy violence content, and partially to do with the art really not being to my taste. But when I saw that Alina Urusov was drawing the majority of the latest issue, I had to give it a whirl.
It was a nice surprise, then, to find Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost writing an issue mostly in flashback that fleshed out their new villain Eli Bard, jumping back to the Roman Empire to see how he and long time X-Men villain Selene first met. It's a nice usage of Selene -— I think most people have forgotten her origin as an ageless being that preys on others to keep her youth -— and while Eli himself is a spineless idiot, the narration itself even admits that. The one problem with that, though, is that it's slightly hard to take Eli Bard terribly serious as a villain. Perhaps if I'd seen his earlier appearances I might find him a little more dangerous, but based on this issue alone he seems a bit feeble and whiny.
That said, I was impressed with Kyle and Yost's idea of how to use some dead characters and concepts from the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe as part of Eli's big plan to get back in with Selene; it's inventive and actually had me nodding in surprise when the big reveal happens at the end of the issue. Honestly, it's that idea alone that makes me think that there's a chance I might check out "X-Force" #12 to see what happens next.
Urusov's art in "X-Force" is as nice as I remembered it when I first saw it in "Young Avengers Presents." It's very clean and crisp, with a beautiful palette of color washes to bring the art to life without popping out of the page and burning into your retinas. Urusov clearly understands that less can be more, and she's a genuine find that deserves to be much higher profile than she already is. As a choice for the flashback story in "X-Force" she's perfect.
On the down side, though, I find myself still not a fan of Clayton Crain's art. It's very muddy and indistinct; there are pages where with any other artist I'd have assumed there was an error at the printer with too much black ink dumped onto the paper. There's a real lack of consistency here, too; Wolverine manages to look different every time he appears, which is no small feat, and I was constantly flipping back to the introduction page to try and figure out just who any of the other characters were. I understand that "X-Force" is supposed to be a bit dark in tone, but this is taking that idea to a ludicrous extreme.
In the end, I found myself with a bit of a quandary. I liked the issue, but knowing that Crain is the regular artist on the book, am I ready to come back for more? (I have to admit, had Crain drawn the entire issue the rating would have been much lower.) I'm still not sure on that front yet, but I do know one thing: if Urusov comes back to draw another issue, I'll definitely check it out.