A dark time for the X-men is made darker by a lack of details.
In nearly every episode of Mythbusters, we're told that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. This might apply certain things in life like vacations, fireworks, and kittens. However, it should not be applied to aspects of life like Big Macs, makeup, and tequila. By this same logic, it shouldn't be applied to a new flagship X-Men series.
From 2005 to 2012, the entire narrative of the X-Men centered around the mutant race being sterilized and pushed to extinction. It took a major crossover event, a cosmic force, and Tony Stark shooting things with giant guns to finally resolve that situation. That alone should relegate such a narrative to stories involving alternate universes and Stephen King novels, at least for a while. However, Jeff Lemire is out to prove that this narrative can still work in the context of Extraordinary X-Men, which has been billed as the new alpha dog of the X-Men comics.
The timing couldn't be worse for such a narrative. It would be like trying to sell playoff tickets to Detroit Lions fans. In terms of progression, the X-Men have barely emerged from the post-extinction world of M-Day. Yet here they are, facing more extinction and more sterilization, courtesy of the Inhumans. On top of that, this comes at a time when conspiracy theories of secret fight clubs between Marvel and Fox are rampant.
Despite these timing and circumstances, Lemire makes the case in Extraordinary X-Men #1 that this narrative can work and this story is worth telling. However, his case is lacking in terms of evidence and witnesses. That’s not to say that every judge short of Judge Judy would hand down a guilty verdict. At worst, the case would be branded a mistrial. At best, it would be labeled a trailer for this new era of X-Men.
While there are a lot of missing details, the circumstances are made abundantly clear. The mutant race is at a new low and for once, it didn’t involve killer robots, evil clones, or the Scarlet Witch going crazy. It’s very bad. That notion is thoroughly reinforced. This isn’t just people protesting mutants as crimes against nature. One Million Moms does that every time a woman on TV wears a skirt above her knees. This is a world where governments and militaries now see mutants less as a menace and more as target practice.
This new attitude didn’t come out of a vacuum either, nor did it emerge from scare tactics funded by the Koch brothers. The Terrigen Mists that give Inhumans their powers are having a negative effect on mutants. On top of that, these mists are spreading a plague called M-pox. And even Charles Xavier would admit that peaceful protests only go so far when plagues are involved. All the understanding means little when someone is vomiting up their lungs.
It forces the X-Men to set aside their usual struggle for peace and understanding in lieu of survival. This process involves rescuing mutants being attacked by government-sponsored lynch mobs and taking them to a place called X-Haven, a mysterious domain where the X-Men have constructed a new institute that is somehow safe from the Terrigen Mists.
But where did X-Haven come from? Where did this plague come from? And why is everyone blaming Cyclops for the crisis? These are all very important, very relevant questions. However, the lack of answers and even the lack of hints to those answers make the story difficult to follow. Extraordinary X-Men #1 exploits the eight-month gap after Secret Wars in ways big banks exploit tax loopholes.
So much transpires off-panel that it’s hard to appreciate what’s happening on-panel. It requires readers to make assumptions and as a century of tabloid press has proven, readers are terrible at making assumptions.
As readers, we’re left to assume that Cyclops went full-on Dr. Doom in unleashing the Terrigen Mist. We’re left to assume that Teen Jean Grey decided to completely abandon the X-Men and her friends in favor of attending college lectures. We’re left to assume that Colossus prefers plowing fields and drinking vodka to helping the X-Men. There’s no context or circumstance. Absent that, it creates a narrative that feels like just another mutant extinction plot that isn’t really different from the one that just ended three years ago.
While the abundance of plot holes and assumptions severely weaken the narrative of Extraordinary X-Men #1, it’s also a saving grace of sorts, in that it conveys those holes as potential. For the events that don’t occur off-panel, there’s enough intrigue to make the story interesting. Despite its shortcomings, the story does effectively set up the new sets of challenges that the X-Men face. While it’s more teaser than tale, it at least captures the right themes.
In addition, the characterization is believable and concise. Storm, Iceman and Nightcrawler really shine in their roles. Lemire gives them a distinct voice that helps convey the dire circumstances in which the X-Men must operate. Even Teen Jean, despite her dismissive reaction, eventually finds a familiar voice. Being a teenager might be a valid excuse, but like ignorance of the law on traffic tickets, it’s an excuse that only goes so far.
Overall, Extraordinary X-Men #1 serves as a foundation of sorts for the X-Men moving forward. However, it’s a foundation with a lot of cracks. Even by making the most generous assumptions, this narrative fails to prove that’s it’s somehow more compelling than M-Day. In some respects, it feels like a regression for the X-Men, Cyclops, and mutants as a whole.
Even so, this story still has the potential to rectify itself. It’s too early to render a final ruling on this new era in X-Men. It has strong elements and a strong supporting cast. It might not win over fans that are sick of mutant extinction stories. But as the success of the Simpsons has proven, it is possible to make overdone themes work.