This comic might be worth buying just for the Clayton Crain art. You could make a case for that. His style in “X-Force” #15 has moved away from the soft, airbrushy look of his “Ghost Rider” digitally-painted artwork and more toward a Ken Steacy gloss over a Simon Bisley framework. Crain’s characters all look like they’re in constant pain, and even his version of Hope — the young mutant “messiah” who Cable’s been protecting though the magic of time travel — doesn’t look as sweetly innocent as she’s depicted elsewhere. Crain’s Hope is angular, defiant in appearance, even if she is acquiescent in deed, and maybe even verging on ugly.
But Crain’s art is never dull, and I appreciate the visceral look of this issue. I especially like how Crain illustrates some panels with slabs of color, creating an out-of-focus indefinite quality on some occasions, only to bring a meticulous level of detail to the appropriate moments. It’s a way of pacing the story other than using panel size and shape, and I think the technique works well here. I found myself paying a lot of attention to his visual storytelling, probably because in this fifth chapter of the “Messiah War” mini-crossover, there’s not a whole lot going on with the script.
Here’s the big problem: this is Part Five of this crossover, and it’s been well over a year since “Messiah CompleX” kicked off this whole “messiah baby” storyline, and we’re still rehashing the same bits over and over. Bishop tries to kill Hope, Cable tries to stop him, other mutants get involved as needed. It’s the same damned story again and again, and that’s all we get here. Cyclops has sent X-Force into the future to get mixed up in the shenanigans, and Cable’s evil clone Stryfe is a big player on the scene, but it’s all just one “Hope must die! No, Hope must live!” sequence on repeat.
You want characterization? You’re probably looking in the wrong place, since this is “X-Force” and it’s the midst of a “War, Messiah,” but writers Kyle and Yost don’t do much to even hint at giving the members of X-Force any personality. The only possible exception might be Angel, who Hulks out into Archangel, Horseman of Death, mode but then has a more ponderous moment when he faces the fallen Apocalypse. That’s a mere subplot to the “Messiah War” at large, though the end of this issue indicates that the subplot will become much more important as this story develops.
All in all, we get yet another baby step in the overall (frankly uninteresting) saga of the maybe, possibly, sort-of mutant messiah Hope, and lots and lots of characters created by Rob Liefeld yelling at each other and blasting away. Even Clayton Crain’s crazed artwork can’t quite save this from mediocrity.