X-Force's first annual features a rare thing: a story about X-Force that hasn't been penned by Kyle and Yost, as Robert Kirkman steps into the writer's shoes for Marvel's premiere secret mutant wetworks squad.
The story follows Wolverine as he embarks on one of those "pro-active" missions that X-Force is supposed to exist in order to perpetrate. The plan is to abduct a specific Hydra grunt, and it's the mystery of why that particular man is important which drives the story. Along the way (and indeed, for the bulk of it) it's a full-on action scene where Wolverine does what he does best, infiltrating a Hydra base and tearing through the fodder to get to his mark. There are some great individual moments and during the first half of the story, at least, it looks to be a keeper.
Unfortunately, things hit the skids towards the end. The mystery itself doesn't have a strong payoff, with a fairly clunky reveal and the kind of reasoning that doesn't make sense in the context of a group of heroes with mutant healers and genetic experts on tap. Generally speaking, it's necessary to suspend disbelief a little in regards to what is and isn't possible in a superhero universe, but when your mystery hinges on a dilemma having only one solution when it plainly doesn't, that's a flaw in the story that can't be overlooked if it's afforded such prominence by the plot.
The backup strip, by regular writing team of Kyle and Yost, is a much stronger affair. I'm not a huge fan of Deadpool, but this Necrosha-X tie-in makes the most of the character's lunacy without resorting to weak jokes. There's something inherently amusing about the X-Men in-jokes (such as Deadpool having trouble keeping track of Magneto's alignment) which works for me. Carlo Barberi's art has good comedic timing and manages to make some nice work out of rather packed action sequences -- a weaker artist could've ruined this story, but Barberi pulls it off with style.
However, there is one major issue with the comic that needs to be addressed. Despite its title, this isn't really an "X-Force" annual. X-Force members who aren't Wolverine utter literally no more than seven words in the first story, and barely more than that in the back-up. Overall, Cyclops has more dialogue than any X-Force member besides Wolverine, and I actually suspect that the lead story is a re-purposed Wolverine fill-in or one-shot in which the rest of X-Force have been inserted as mute background characters by the artist alone.
For any other team, a narrow focus on one or two characters would be fine -- welcome, even. But taking the two most over-exposed characters in the Marvel Universe (with a total of 6 titles to their names) and billing it as an "X-Force" annual... well, to be honest, it's not really on, and in the end it sours the reading experience just that little bit more than it should.