When Extermination was announced by Marvel Comics, it was clear that it was the end of an era. When Brian Michael Bendis began his run on X-Men in 2012, he brought the original five X-Men with him, transporting the quintet from the past to the present. Since then, the young heroes have grown, changed and developed in a lot of ways, positive and negative. But one spectre has loomed over them all this time – they shouldn’t be here.
Ed Brisson takes that simple statement and with his collaborators, artist Pepe Larraz, color artist Marte Gracia and letterer Joe Sabino, crafts an engaging and exciting story around it. Considering Brisson is one of the trio of writers announced for the upcoming Uncanny X-Men relaunch, this can be seen as clearing the board for that book. However, it’s quickly clear that this is also chapter zero for the future of the X-Men.
[***MAJOR spoilers follow!]
Something has broken the future. As a mysterious cloaked future walks through the Xavier Institute of 20 years from now, he makes the simple declaration that “this is wrong” and “I have to clean up his mess.” Meanwhile in the present, the X-Men Blue team is attacked by a long-time foe that they haven’t seen for some time – Ahab, the mutant hunter – who claims the life of one of the team members – alternate reality refugee Bloodstorm.
As they scramble, the hooded figure reappears and kidnaps the younger Iceman. Cable intervenes, but is shot down by the attacker. The X-Men investigate, horrified by what the find. Meanwhile, the hooded figure- a much younger Cable- puts Iceman in stasis. “One down, four to go…”
In superhero comics, a good story tells their story without discarding continuity but not being a slave to it. A really good story uses continuity to its advantage, and that’s exactly what Brisson does here. He not only takes recent continuity (like Rachel Grey’s hound tattoos recently reappearing, or Bloodstorm’s presence), but long time X-Men plots and characters and makes them important parts of the story. He does this seamlessly though – these things feel important, not forced or winks at the fans.
Another strong point of the script is the character work. There’s genuine concern for the young mutants that the original team saves in the opening. The Cyclops/Bloodstorm date does so much with the nascent relationship in just a couple pages that getting the rug pulled out moments later is a huge gut punch. Best of all is the adult Jean mourning her son Cable – a recall of the duo’s relationship that too many fans don’t remember.
Those things alone wouldn’t make this a great script though. Brisson gives us big stakes, and a great threat. It’s clear that things are about to go poorly for the X-Men, and it’s engaging and captivating.
Then there’s the art. I became a fan of Larraz’s work when he drew the Avengers in the massive No Surrender crossover. That was great stuff, fun, energetic, exciting…This is next level stuff.
Each character has a great presence on the page. I always compliment body language when done well in comics, because it’s under appreciated. Here, Larraz thoughtfully puts the characters on the page. They’re not just figures on a page. They’re individuals.
The best example of this is Bloodstorm. Taking cues from her vampiric nature, she prowls across the page like a predatory cat. She’s fluid and graceful, but also coiled tension. She’s clearly dangerous, but it’s an almost beautiful danger.
It’s not just the character work though. The action is great. The fight between Cyclops, Bloodstorm and Ahab is fierce, exciting and flows so well. Iceman and Cable’s fight against young Cable is much the same, but it’s framed and staged differently that it truly feels like a completely different threat. It’s smart, and so well done.
Also, it’s hard to not call out my favorite panel – the first appearance of adult Jean and Nightcrawler. The duo instantly command a regal presence. This moment establishes what every X-fan has been told in a single panel- Jean Grey is the emotional center of the X-Men, and Kurt Wagner is its heart. They moment they arrive, you know that they’re going to handle this, and that’s all just from the art.
Gracia’s colors are fantastic here. The entire issue takes place in shadows or at night, but none of it feels muddy or dark. In fact, the light often shines through illuminating important parts of the page. The palate adds so much to the foreboding mood of the story.
This is a fantastic start for the next chapter of the X-Men. It could be seen as simply a reset, but this team is determined to elevate it past that. Important things are going to happen here, and thanks to this issue, I can’t wait to see what.
Extermination #1 is available now in stores and digitally from Marvel Comics.