These young X-men didn't expect they'd have to deal with Sugar Man, time machines, or apocalyptic futures.
We’ve all had moments in our lives when we wish we had a time machine, a fast-forward button, or a mute button. Experiences like puberty, divorce and tax audits often remind us that time is quite merciless when it comes to revealing our fate. The X-men understand this better than most. While the timeline might be more flexible in the Marvel universe, it tends to be like a double-decker highway, where nearly every exit leads to yet another apocalyptic future.
The argument could be made that the present time in Extraordinary X-men qualifies as an apocalyptic future, and it doesn’t take a strong legal team to prove it. As it stands, the X-men have been exiled from their own world, forced to relocate to the demon-infested realm of Limbo. Sadly enough, Limbo is safer for mutants than the current Marvel Universe, thanks to the influence of the Inhumans, the Terrigen Mists, and Fox’s army of lawyers.
On top of that, the mutants have been sterilized yet again. This comes shortly after the X-men fought so hard to kick-start the growth of their species, again. So not only is the present (future) time somewhat apocalyptic, it’s downright regressive.
This is the situation the X-men find themselves in as Apocalypse Wars unfolds, beginning with Extraordinary X-men #8. Jeff Lemire spent the first couple arcs assembling a team of X-men who have to navigate this semi-apocalyptic present in hopes of avoiding a fully-apocalyptic future. Fittingly enough, and not just because it coincides with a movie, Apocalypse himself becomes involved in this struggle. It’s a struggle that will involve more time travel and timeline tampering, but so long as it doesn’t involve clones or cosmic forces, there’s still a chance it can be coherent to an acceptable degree.
The story, as a whole, manages to avoid becomming overly convoluted. Jeff Lemire keeps things simple and concise in igniting the conflict that instigates Apocalypse Wars. He utilizes familiar characters who have a history with Apocalypse, namely Sugar Man. He builds on the dynamics between characters established in previous arcs, namely those among Colossus and a few young, D-list caliber X-men. All the right ingredients are there. The final product just feels undercooked.
The strength of Extraordinary X-men as a whole is built around character drama during times of crisis. From a purely logistical standpoint, the crisis for the X-men couldn’t get much worse. Any crisis where a demon-infested realm is considered a safe haven is a special category of bad. Beyond the logistics, however, the crisis helps bring out a sentiment within certain characters that probably wouldn’t arise if mutants, humans, and Inhumans were holding hands and singing U2 songs.
In this case, it’s Storm whose sentiment helps convey the emotional undertone of Apocalypse Wars. She’s the reluctant leader of the X-men now, with Charles Xavier, Wolverine, and Cyclops dead. Being a reluctant leader, she laments about the future of mutants in a world where Inhumans get to cut to the front of the line at Disney World. She’s not focused or determined like Cyclops. She’s not a wise visionary like Charles Xavier. She’s very much conflicted about how and where she’s leading the X-men. This brings out the best in Storm, but is also reflects just how bad things have become for the X-men.
Storm’s emotional undertones quickly give way to the main conflict in Extraordinary X-men #8. At first, it doesn’t seem all that apocalyptic. It involves Sugar Man, a nightmarish version of Pac Man who has never been more than a visual or physical inconvenience to the X-men. However, Hamberto Ramos manages to make this conflict feel exciting beyond the typical formula of apocalyptic trash talk mixed with flashy backdrops.
What helps gives this clash a few extra dimensions of intrigue is the cast that gets involved. Storm and the heavy hitters of the X-men eventually do show up, but it’s the team of D-list rookies that include Anole, No Girl, Ernst, and Glob Herman that get to throw the first punch. They didn't expect to have to deal with Sugar Man, time machines, or apocalyptic futures. If they’re going to be more than rookies in the X-men, then it’s something they better get used to quickly.
They don’t get much time to adapt because the time travel elements soon enter the story. This is where things start to get apocalyptic with Extraordinary X-men #8. The details are minor and a bit rushed, but the presence of these young, inexperienced X-men creates different stakes that can’t easily be matched in an Inhumans comic.
These younger X-men figuratively, and quite literally as the story unfolds, have to gain the kind of experience that equips them to take on threats like Apocalypse. They don’t get a chance to show that experience, but they at least promise to help rather than obstruct their elder X-men, which would be a novelty for X-men comics of the past few years.
It used to be a primary theme, taking younger mutants and molding them into X-men. That theme fell to the wayside once time travel and sterilization plots got involved. Having D-list X-men work their way up to the C-list gives Apocalypse Wars a welcome dynamic. They don’t get to cut off Sugar Man’s tongue, but they hint that they’re not that far off from having that honor.
The structure of the story in Extraordinary X-men #8 is functional and concise. However, it still suffers from a lack of refinement, which has plagued the series since it began. The plot feels rushed and lacking in detail. There’s no major revelation or insight that gives added weight to the story. In terms of impact, it's like trying to get excited over vanilla ice cream with no toppings. It’s palatable, but not all that exciting.
These shortcomings don’t derail Apocalypse Wars. Extraordinary X-men #8 isn’t meant to deliver the knock-out punch for this event. It’s just meant to get the story to strap on the gloves and get in a few light jabs. The fact that it can land some of those jabs in yet another story about time travel and dystopian futures is an accomplishment in and of itself.