Capping Off a (Somewhat) Extraordinary Journey: 'Extraordinary X-men #20'
To go from the brink of extinction to a friendly baseball game is a journey that requires a lot more than 20 issues and a crossover event.
For certain eras, there are characters who become symbolic of the conflicts. Sometimes they are the catalyst for the conflict. Sometimes they are the reaction to it. In either case, these characters embody a certain mentality and perspective of a period in time. When the history is written about the post-Secret Wars, pre-Inhumans vs. X-men era of the X-men comics, no one character will be singled out as the sole symbol of the conflict. However, Storm and the time-displaced Jean Grey are likely to be in the top five.
When Extraordinary X-men began under Jeff Lemire, Storm went out of her way to identify Jean Grey as the heart of the X-men. That alone says a lot about the state of the X-men, singling out a time-displaced version of a character that has been dead for over a decade. Oddly enough, it's entirely warranted. Jean Grey is very much an embodiment of the X-men's highest ideals, if only because time travel allows her to skip the many eras of setbacks, retcons, and evil clones.
When the story of Extraordinary X-men begins, both Storm and Jean Grey are reluctant, if not downright hostile, to the idea that they're now the greatest hope for the X-men. Jean is a time-displaced teenager. She has enough on her plate as it stands and not just because of acne. Storm is a reluctant leader who ended up in her role because the world believed, thanks to Emma Frost, that Cyclops is the worst thing to happen to the world since poor wi-fi.
Then, as Extraordinary X-men progresses, they both settle into their roles. They confront the challenges that come with being an inspiration for every generation of X-men. Now, in wake of Inhumans vs. X-men, Storm, Jean Grey, and the rest of their teammates face a whole new challenge and a whole new era for the X-men as a whole.
Extraordinary X-men #20 acts as a bridge between these eras. The Inhumans/X-men war is over. The entire mutant race doesn't need to hide in a demon-infested realm anymore. Naturally, most in X-Haven are eager to leave for a home where killer robots are more likely than demon attacks. For Storm, however, there's a lingering sense of uncertainty that bothers her. Having lived in a demon realm, being bothered by anything is quite an accomplishment.
It's through Storm's point of view that the uncertainty unfolds. It's through a time-displaced Jean Grey that the X-men confront it. In many ways, it's fitting that these two characters are the ones tasked with tying up the loose ends of Extraordinary X-men. They are still the main catalyst for the story. They bore most of the burdens throughout the series. Lemire acknowledges the extent of those burdens. However, the story itself doesn't do much to give them greater weight.
The primary plot in Extraordinary X-men #20 deals with some unresolved aftermath from Inhumans vs. X-men. In a sense, Lemire addresses the practical issues regarding Emma Frost's hidden agenda, which most of the X-men only recently uncovered. In a world where magic and time travel are often used to cover plot holes, this is refreshing.
It also makes use of some lingering side-plots that have fallen to the wayside in Extraordinary X-men, namely those involving Cerebra and No Girl. Again, these are usually the kinds of side-plots that are first to get overlooked. Lemire's efforts to address them give the story an attention to detail that the X-men comics have lacked, due largely to the constant doom and gloom caused by other characters whose movie rights aren't owned by a rival studio.
Between Jean's efforts and Storm's inner musings, the story in Extraordinary X-men #20 helps make this transition from one era of X-men comics to another feel personal. It tries to do more than just shove the X-men into the next extinction-level plot. It tries to step back and take in the situation. In some respects, they don't step back far enough because they end up fighting killer robots. However, compared to demons, Inhumans, and sterilization, it still counts as an improvement of sorts.
It still makes for a very simple, very basic kind of story. The X-men fighting a host of killer robots, be they Sentinels or discarded Sentinel prototypes, is as classic a plot as any extinction story. This one isn't all that memorable or epic, nor does it try to be. However, it's not the kind of battle that is there just to give the X-men something to blow up. There is a purpose do it. It's a minor purpose, but a purpose none-the-less.
The battle in Extraordinary X-men #20 may be somewhat forgettable, but it doesn't change the underlying situation facing the X-men. They don't have to hide in a demon realm anymore. They're not facing imminent extinction anymore. Given how rare these moments are for the X-men these days, it's an important situation to take in. Storm offers the perspective. Jean Grey offers the catalyst. In the grand scheme of things, it uses all the right ingredients, even if there's not enough of them to make a cake.
What makes the outcome of Extraordinary X-men #20 most satisfying is that, while it attempts to tie up loose ends, it also tries to give the series closure without dropping one too many ominous hints about the next extinction plot the X-men will face. Lemire makes a genuine effort to end the series on an upbeat note. For a series that began with off-panel deaths, sterilization, mutant-hunting death squads, that's quite an undertaking.
Taken as a whole, the end of Extraordinary X-men #20 doesn't give the sense of a complete, satisfying journey. Given the exceedingly bleak circumstances of its beginning, it's hard to go from one extreme to another. To go from the brink of extinction to a friendly baseball game is a journey that requires a lot more than 20 issues and a crossover event. Even if details are lacking, the primary spirit of the X-men narrative is still there. The fact that a series like Extraordinary X-men can end in a friendly baseball game is a testament to the strength of that spirit.