RSS Feed
Dec 27

Extermination

Posted on Thursday, December 27, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

The thinking behind Extermination might be called haphazard.  This is the story where the time-travelling original X-Men finally get removed from the board – they’re sent back to the Silver Age and the reset button is duly pressed, save that their adult counterparts now remember everything that happened while they were in the present.  The practical significance of this is surely limited, given that their adult counterparts already know the general thrust of what they’ve been up to – it feels like more of a gesture of goodwill that, honestly, this all amounted to something.

But the obvious question is: why is this appearing as a separate miniseries written by Ed Brisson, rather than the final arc of Cullen Bunn’s X-Men Blue?  Isn’t that the natural place to do this story?

Well, there are some answers to that.  Extermination has other plot threads, even if they’re not the main event.  It brings back Ahab and picks up on Rachel’s Hound tattoos, a subplot from X-Men Gold.  More drastically, it gives Cable a drastic overhaul by having him apparently killed by his own (much) younger self, who seems set to take his place as the new Cable, something of a reset to the days when the X-Men didn’t know much about him and regarded him as suspiciously triggerhappy.  This sets up X-Force reuniting to take him down, which is the plot of their series.

So you could have justified running this story as a crossover between X-Men Blue and X-Men Gold, doubling as a launch into X-Force.  But.  Where Extermination itself is concerned, it’s a Blue story; it’s more about X-Force than it is about the Blue team more generally (let alone the Red, who show up briefly too), and the fact that it’s going to result in a status quo change for Rachel only really becomes apparent in the final issue.

More fundamentally, the heavy lifting of setting up the teenage X-Men’s return has already been done in X-Men Blue, where they’d reached the stage of being reconciled to returning home, and were simply awaiting the mechanics to get them there.  That’s what this series provides.

Again, though, there’s a problem here.  The plot goes roughly like this.  Ahab, the Hound-master cyborg from Rachel’s home timeline, shows up in the present.  He plans to kill one of the original five (any one, it doesn’t matter) before they can return home, thereby derailing X-Men history.  Precisely why that’s such a big deal isn’t altogether clear, given that his timeline wound up as an anti-mutant dystopia even with a fully-formed X-Men team around, but that’s the plot, so go with it.

Cable – who has been positioned of late as a guardian of the timeline – has been turning a blind eye to the X-Men Blue team, apparently because he thinks they’ll somehow be improved by their stay in the present.  Younger Cable sees this as a wrong turn, so he kills his own older self (it’s not clear why, or why older Cable doesn’t see this coming), and sets about abducting the younger X-Men so that he can forcibly reset their powers and send them home.  In Warren’s case this means giving him a wing transplant from the Mimic, which seems like the sort of thing that might be picked up on back in the Silver Age, but okay.  (Didn’t Guardians of the Galaxy claim that Black Vortex power-ups wear off after a while, and that’s why Gamora was back to normal?)

Meanwhile, Ahab is using a pair of telepathic twins who are under his control to psychically turn other X-Men into Hounds, because there has to be a lot of running around and fighting.  That’s the immediate threat which keeps everyone occupied; Jean goes back in time to meet the twins when they’re younger, both to learn how to suppress their memories of their stay in the present, and to avert whatever Ahab’s been doing to them.  This resets all the Hounds to normal, except for Rachel, apparently because she was originally turned into a Hound by traditional brainwashing, which can’t be reversed quite so easily.

This is a profoundly dull exercise in moving pieces from point A to point B.  It’s competently paced and structured, if you’re prepared to accept some time-travel handwaving in lieu of the plot making complete sense.  Pepe Larraz’s art lacks something in scale but at least handles a large cast well, and his design for the monochrome twins is appropriately creepy, though the colouring often feels muddy when it’s aiming for moody.  But ultimately, none of it feels like it’s about anything in particular.

The basic problem is that X-Men Blue has already done the interesting bit, which is the teen X-Men’s decision to return home.  The obvious way to play their farewell story would be for them to make the sacrifice of losing their memories of the last few years – in Bobby’s case, the particular sacrifice of returning himself to the closet for a large chunk of his life, something which was always inevitable if the time loop was ever going to be closed without making major changes to history – and generally do a story about putting duty or fate or whatever first.  That’s the emotional hook.  But it’s been done, and Extermination doesn’t come up with anything much to replace it with, leaving it to fiddle around with the outstanding plot mechanics.  Not only that, the solution of how to get home is thrust upon the X-Men without their having much to do with it.  They have very little agency in this story, considering it’s primarily about them.

There’s a shortage of personality more generally.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good moments.  The scene of the X-Men back in the Silver Age taking their places before wiping their memories, and then proceeding directly into their Silver Age Unus story as if nothing had happened – that’s played well.  But the twins seem to be nothing more than a plot device, and the character moments elsewhere feel incidental to the story.  The art plays the melodrama up respectably, though perhaps a little unrelentingly – there’s not much light and shade going on here.

Generally, this feels like a story hamstrung by its remit of getting some plot out of the way, when the bit of the story with the most dramatic potential has already been covered somewhere else.  It’s an important series in as much as it finally closes off the time travel storyline, but it’s nothing great when judged as a story.

 

Bring on the comments

  1. Jpw says:

    How long were the O5 in the present in Marvel time? Memory-wipes aside, wouldn’t they be noticeably older upon return? Or were they also de-aged? Whatever. This was a terrible idea from the start. Glad it’s finally done.

  2. SanityOrMadness says:

    @jpw

    Well over a year, ostensibly – there were a pair of eight-month jumps either side of Secret Wars, during which Teen Jean quit the team and took herself off to college for a while. Then you add in everything else, might even be two years.

  3. Jason says:

    The O5 were around for the total destruction of the multiverse and a reality reset. Following that the idea of closed time loops and respecting the time like is weak

  4. Luis Dantas says:

    The twins remind me somehow of the brothers of the Uncanny Avengers storyline, although I have read neither story.

  5. Si says:

    It would be ingenious if the new X-Force team that’s hunting Cable, has Bishop on it.

  6. wwk5d says:

    I haven’t read the final issue yet, but wouldn’t older Cable have remembered that he killed himself? Unless the younger Cable is from yet another timeline…

    @Luis you mean the Apocalypse twins? They too were a brother/sister combo…

  7. Voord 99 says:

    I haven’t read the final issue yet, but wouldn’t older Cable have remembered that he killed himself? Unless the younger Cable is from yet another timeline…

    This would be an amusing story in which to allow for that possibility.

    Forcing Bobby back into the closet really should have made this whole story a non-starter, I think.

    “We have to preserve the timeline at all costs!” is one of those SF ideas that by dint of having been repeated across multiple stories for decades, has come to seem like it’s a fact of nature. But the idea (especially where it takes the form of showing the reader/viewer that without terrible event X having happened in the past, the present would be awful) is basically saying that the world as it is is the best of all possible worlds that could ever have existed, and any horrible things that may have happened in the past were necessary to produce that best possible world, and therefore also justified.

    Which, you know, is something that you want to stay away from. A lot of the time this doesn’t matter very much, because the real-world applicability is so limited. But when it’s tied to something like homophobia and closeting, this really isn’t good.

  8. Thomas says:

    How long did it take this series to come out? Didn’t it start as weekly? I think this done in a month would change my opinion a bit. The way it is I’m trying to make sense of the unfocused mess of a weekly uncanny and it hurts the whole line right now.

    Making Old Man Logan a hound permanently would have been a nice end for him IMO.

    Quick question. The one page teasers for extinction, I don’t remember them as coherent, do they make better sense now?

  9. Baines says:

    Marvel promotes to mass media the outing of Bobby Drake.

    It is something of a shame that mass media will never notice the story of Marvel putting Bobby back into the closet “to preserve the timeline”. Who knows, it might even sell in current America. I’m sure there is still a sizable percentage of the population that would like to believe that you can mindwipe the “gay” away.

  10. Thom H. says:

    To be fair, the older Bobby is still out of the closet. So they didn’t de-gay him so much as reset him so he was in the closet exactly as long as he was before.

    And the story was played so that reset was part of the tragedy. So clearly, Marvel as a company isn’t reneging on its commitment to queer representation. They still have one more gay character than they did before the O5 story started.

  11. Richard Larson says:

    This was really unsatisfying.

    For one, while maybe the O5 wasn’t very well thought out in the beginning, I’ve liked their stories the best of the X Line over the past few years. Teen Jean for example is more interesting than adult Jean.

    For two, resetting Rachel to a hound means she’s exactly where she was 30 years ago. And replacing the Cable I’ve been reading about for all this time with this kidnapping/torturing/murdering one doesn’t seem like a story I’m interested in following.

    For three, it’s hard to imagine this works. With all the telepaths and Phoenixes and rebirths nobody noticed these psychic blocks. Or that they were older and had new scars and such.

    And finally, time is seriously broken in the MU. The whole point of alternate timelines in the first place was that you couldn’t just use time travel to go back and fix things when they went wrong. If you can, why not just go back and convince Beast not to bring them forward in the first place. Surely, that would be easier for Teen Cable then everything he just did? Or change any of 100 other things that go wrong just after they happen and before the timeline has moved on?

  12. Chris V says:

    Right. All those stories where Bobby Drake was closeted are still in continuity. Bobby never “came out of the closet” until he time traveled to the present day.
    So, it’s not as if Marvel has changed anything.
    Current-day Bobby is still openly gay.

    The idea isn’t that the time-line needs to be preserved because the present-day is the “best of all possible worlds”.
    It was that “time had become broken”, and it was going to lead to the possible end of all reality.
    Which was, I thought, what Secret Wars was supposed to take care of, but then that sort of got hand-waved away after Secret Wars.
    Then, the ominous extinction of all realities wasn’t really touched on anymore with the time-traveling X-Men, and it was just vague comments about the “time-line needing to be preserved”.

    Plus, the Ahab aspect of the story was supposed to show how the “present could be worse”.
    The idea there was that if Ahab killed one of the original X-Men, and they couldn’t go back to their own time, then the “Days of Future Past” reality would occur all the sooner.
    So, “mutants are feared and hated, and the world is horribly messed up, but could potentially be fixed, maybe” is a more positive future than “mutants are hunted to extinction by a genocidal government” future.

  13. Nu-D says:

    @Chris V.

    You’re right that the reason to O5 have to return to 1963 is because “time has been broken,” whatever that means.

    But the reason their minds must be wiped first is to preserve the current timeline. Implicit in that story, is the assumption that the current timeline is the best, and deserves to be maintained.

    @Voord,

    I agree with your diagnosis of this, and many, SiFi time-travel stories. I agree being wedded to the main continuity as a default is too constraining.

    Writers seem to assume that these changes to the timeline have to be as drastic as the Age of Apocalypse. Why not let them go back, and have the contemporary characters just keep on keeping on? First, it’s not like they’d notice that their memories changed. Second, writers can use the uncertainty in small and more subtle ways later to treat their own streamlined or improved stories as the “real” continuity. But we don’t have to assum a wholesale revision of history; just some minor differences.

    Lastly, I would point out that DC tries this approach every three or four years with their next “Crisis” story. It’s not like it’s never done. Only that Marvel seems particularly loathe to allow old stories to be retconned wholesale into an alternate past.

  14. Chris V says:

    Well, I’m not sure that the “present time-;line deserves to be maintained” is explicit.
    I think it’s more the constraints of a comic book universe with continuity.
    We already read all those Silver Age X-Men stories. They exist as canon.
    So, therefore, in a sense, the Stan Lee run has to be maintained.

    There were a lot of confusing issues which arose due to a relaunch like DC’s New 52, in that DC never explained exactly what the new continuity consisted.
    If Marvel decided to send the original X-Men back and allow them to subtly change the Earth-616 past, it could get confusing.
    Yes, current writers often ignore continuity, and this could be an explanation.
    “Oh, well, the original X-Men changed the past, so that’s why this element of continuity is different now.”
    There are always going to be fans who are upset though. “They completely ignored this element of continuity. Is it because of the original X-Men changing the past, or is it just ignorant writers and editors?”.
    It would, obviously, be a slog to have writers create flashback scenes for every little discrepancy they put in a story.
    “See? This is why this happened differently now, because the original X-Men changed the past in this way.”
    Except, that’s what a lot of anal continuity-obsessed comic book fans would want to see.

    This way was easier on Marvel’s part. The time-line was kept intact. All those stories you remember reading are still canon.
    Of course, not everything is wrapped up in a neat bow, as there are inconsistencies to pick apart still.

  15. Nu-D says:

    @Chris V:

    You’re right, it’s not explicit. It’s implicit, as I said.

    You’ve listed all the reasons not to change continuity. I don’t disagree that those are reasons.

    Nonetheless, I like the idea of being a little more creative and not being so damn tied to continuity.

    It wouldn’t require a lot of flashbacks or revisions. It would merely allow them if a writer wanted to use them. A writer could go forward with the history unchanged if they chose, assuming that the new timeline progressed in that particular way just as the old one did. But if they wanted to tap back into a story with some changes, that would be an option too.

    For example, a writer who wants to tell an Iceman story need not go into whether or not he was in the closet when he dated Opal, or whether that even happened. But the writer could—if s/he chose—go back and look at that time again, and retcon in a male love interest or Bobby’s being still unsure and exploring, or whatever.

    The nice thing about old stories is you don’t need to address each one as you write new stories. You can just go ahead and ignore them.

    As for the fans, they’ll get over it. Fans come and go. The curmudgeons will fade away, and new fans will sign on if you’re telling good stories. Indeed, if they’re not too continuity heavy, fans will be able to jump on more easily.

    It’s not like nobody reads pre-Crisis DC anymore. All the non-canon Silver and Bronze Age stories are still out there. You just don’t have to know them all to follow a Superman story these days.

  16. Hugh Sheridan says:

    But Nu-D retcon stories are never going to have the currency of the original stories. New writers will always refer back to the classics, not the new “old” stuff. That’s why John Byrne’s Chapter One or Bendis Ultimate Spider-Man could never supplant Lee and Ditko’s original stories for Spidey -or likewise why the Parker First Class series’ original X-Men costumes are never seen in flashback scenes.

    Any modern rewrite of the history might be more contemporary in style and appeal but it will never stick as the accepted history because it does not have the appeal of “the real thing”. DC’s rolling retcons, (short term sales boosts aside) have been a disaster., especially for any sense of long term storytelling – if anything their example should be a cautionary one for Marvel.

  17. mark coale says:

    “It’s not like nobody reads pre-Crisis DC anymore.”

    I read more pre-Crisis DC these days than anything new from Marvel or DC. (But plenty of Indy and non cape books)

    Of course, I’m also a 48 year old white guy that generally prefers a clear baby face/heel dynamic and no hyper-violence, 🙂

  18. Voord 99 says:

    I think asking “How should sending the O5 back in time have been handled?’ misses the point. The question is whether they should have been sent back in time at all.

    Recap: at the end of Hopeless’s All New run the status quo was that the O5 *couldn’t* go back, because alternate timelines, blah blah blah.

    The decision to undo that and return to Bendis’ original “Someday they will have to travel back in time” concept (but now minus Bendis’s admittedly vague “Because otherwise time is broken” and with “Because the timeline has to be preserved” in its place) — that was a choice. And the choice was “We want to write a story in which Bobby goes back into the closet to preserve the timeline.”

    I’m not saying it was Cullen Bunn’s choice. It may well have been editorial mandate.

    Because, let’s say you want to write the O5 out of the X-books. It is not as if “Must go back to preserve the timeline” is the only way in which X-characters have ever been dropped! You could, for instance, have just assigned Cyclops to be a member of the Champions cast (where he was working very well IMO), and said that he was no longer an X-Man.

  19. Richard Larson says:

    Voord,

    I’m with you. I ended up liking th O5 characters (particularly Scott and Jean.) I think there were better stories in keeping them around than the story we got to send them back. As Paul points out in the review this seemed like a plot mechanics s story with little emotional resonance. And I would have preferred to keep around these characters that I (somewhat to my surpride) grew attached to.

  20. wwk5d says:

    I never cared much for the younger O5, so I’m not sorry to see them go at all.

    But why should adult Bobby have to go back into the closet? I’m not quite following that logic…

  21. Voord 99 says:

    I don’t think anyone’s saying that. Adult Bobby isn’t at issue here. The question is whether or not this was a good story to tell about teen Bobby.

  22. Voord 99 says:

    Except, I suppose, that he has suddenly acquired memories of coming out when he was much younger and being able to acknowledge who he was, and then of having that ripped away from him and being erased from his consciousness, so that he had to lead a closeted and miserable existence for years.

    Which isn’t great, either, really.

  23. Joseph S. says:

    Cable has died … how many times in recent years? He was only barely just resurrected for Uncanny Avengers. (And is time traveling constantly in his own book so 1) so much for the integrity of the time line and 2) ridiculous that he wouldn’t know he’d be killed. Cable would never be taken out that easily. This is just lazy writing)

    And Bloodstorm was fakeout killed in the opening of the recent Mojo crossover. So both deaths in the opening issue feel cheap.

    Like the last crop of x-writers, Brisson, Rosenberg, and Thompson all seem to be interested in exploring continuity and referencing older stories, especially from the 90s. I think it works for Thompson but otherwise it feels like these stories are missing an emotional core. It’s all very superficial.

  24. Anya says:

    But he already had the memories of being ‘miserable’ for years, so nothing’s different. Just like warren now has the memories of being free from getting brainwashed/possessed into to killing lots of people, but now has all that crap back.

    As for the don’t try to change the future trope, I always thought of that as not, ‘this is the best the future can be,’ but more as ‘don’t accidentally make things worse’

  25. Luis Dantas says:

    How are those crossovers selling these days?

    This one, as many others in recent decades, sounds very… workmanlike, I guess.

    There is a status quo, there is a perceived need by writers or editors to change it in a specific way, there is a limited series with a more than even chance of added peripheral crossovers to make that transition, and somehow it does not feel like there was an actual story being told there.

    It feels like a fairly bureaucratic affair of mainly distributing the exposition, serving a convoluted and arcane yet minimally engaging “plot”, and making sure to tick all the required elements while attempting to convince oneself that there was an exciting story happening in the background somehow.

    Between that and the ever increasingly availability of spoilers, I must assume that sales are not great anymore.

  26. wwk5d says:

    “Except, I suppose, that he has suddenly acquired memories of coming out when he was much younger and being able to acknowledge who he was, and then of having that ripped away from him and being erased from his consciousness, so that he had to lead a closeted and miserable existence for years.”

    But I still don’t see how much of that affects adult Bobby, since it was never really established if the adults really remembered what their younger counterparts experienced (“We kind of remember, but we don’t, except we maybe do, but not quite, etc”). So all that means is that Bobby is out now, and wasn’t out when he was younger. Which doesn’t really change much for Bobby.

  27. Voord 99 says:

    As for the don’t try to change the future trope, I always thought of that as not, ‘this is the best the future can be,’ but more as ‘don’t accidentally make things worse’

    Well, but is that an attitude that you take to the present? Do you suppose that, if there is some wrong, then trying to correct will accidentally make things worse worse in the future? Because sometimes it does, in the real world, but we don’t typically view that as a reason to have a recurrent category of stories in which over and over again any attempt to right a wrong in the real world always makes things worse?

    Even in those cases where something like that is a recurrent motif (e.g. antagonists with “complex” motivations), the morale that is drawn is generally “The ends don’t justify the means” or “You had the right aims, but it’s important to go about achieving them in the right way.” It’s not, “You must not attempt this at all in any way, because the risk of accidentally producing a terrible world is too great.”

    So there has to be something special that this is saying about the past that goes beyond, “You can accidentally make things worse when trying to make things better.”

    Now, there are sensible narrative-coherence reasons not to allow the past to be fluid in stories. But those are not moral reasons of a sort where it makes sense to have a recurrent trope in which the attempt to change things is always shown to be morally misguided, because of an inexorable logic that it will always produce disaster. In other words, you don’t need the story to be *about* this at all.

  28. Drew says:

    When I was younger and Warren had metal wings (the first time), I always wondered why no one ever brought up the idea of doing a transplant from the Mimic. You could always plot mechanic it away that “the celestial technology won’t allow it,” but at least the idea could have been raised.

    The best explanation I came up with back then is that unless Warren and Calvin are almost exactly the same height and weight, the wings wouldn’t work, or at least not as effectively. (And they aren’t, since Calvin also has the Beast’s muscles and mass.) Don’t know if they addressed that in this story…?

  29. Nu-D says:

    Look, I concede that from a real-world POV, the idea of changing the past is pretty unappealing. It’s a “bird in the hand” argument. If you take for granted that you cannot predict how changes to the past will manifest themselves in the present, then you’re unlikely to be willing to take the risk that you’re going to erase your own existence or cause some unspeakable tragedy.

    But I’d like to see fiction explore the opposite view, without inevitably concluding it was a mistake. In the Marvel Universe, changes to the past always result in complete and total revision to the present (like Age of Apocalypse), and even if it’s not unequivocally horrible, it’s always revealed to be worse than the official 616 present in some significant way. We always revert to the official continuity because the alternative is always somehow worse.

    Why can’t we have a story where the revision is overall better, even if it’s worse for a few people? Why can’t we have some changes to the past that create a few notable improvements to Marvel history, without a wholesale revision, and let them stick? That’s what I’d like to see, and I don’t think it necessarily has to cause too much of a tizzy in fandom.

  30. Voord 99 says:

    There is a significant strain of time-travel stories (Back to the Future is probably the most prominent) in which the hero(es) return to the future and discover that, yes, they have made minor positive changes of the kind that you describe. Unsurprisingly, I prefer those 🙂

    Also: once upon a time, the official Gruenwaldian rules of Marvel time travel were that this sort of thing always dealt in parallel universes. I have problems with that – mostly, because I’m not a fan of that sort of obsessive “Things have to make sense*!” approach to superheroes as a genre. But this story right here could have used that. I can imagine a rather sweet, positive ending to the story in which we see the alt-present that the O5 created out of a desire to avoid the mistakes that their 616 selves made, and it’s not perfect, but it’s significantly better.

    But all that involves conceding that the best way to write them out was to send them back in time, and, as I said above, I don’t concede that in the first place.

  31. Taibak says:

    Nu-D: Now you have me thinking of the Blackadder millennium special. That ends with him changing history to become king.

    And somehow he still puts up with Baldrick as PM.

  32. ASV says:

    The value of Gruenwald’s rule is less keeping things making sense and more keeping time travel from being used an easy out, IMO. Tons of characters in the Marvel Universe have time travel on demand these days, so why not just use it to solve every problem?

  33. Nu-D says:

    Back to the Future is a perfect example of a time-travel theory I’d like to see explored. Let’s see the heroes change the past to make the present better.

    Or better yet, let’s see the heroes fail to stop an antagonist from hanging the past, only to find the present really is better and the deleterious effects are limited and worthwhile.

  34. Karl Hiller says:

    This puts me in mind of the time travel “logic” I’ve been seeing in a recent Doctor Who binge: If it’s the past relative to the reader/viewer, then the timeline needs to be preserved at all costs (see the recent episode Rosa). If it’s the future relative to the reader, do whatever you want, despite the fact that the Doctor/time traveler has been to the even farther future and knows how things are supposed to work out.

    Speaking of timey stuff, surely Cable’s “death” at this point in time would have no effect on his popping up now and then to use his safehouses. Curious that “he won’t need this stuff in the future” is expected to apply to someone *from* the future who timeslides constantly.

    I actually wanted to keep the O5 around, split them off into other teams like the Champions. Say their home timeline diverged without them — there’s already an infinite number where they never existed anyway, and down the road someone could write a series where they (or other heroes) go back and take over their roles with full foreknowledge (Kirkman did a fun story like this a few years ago in Invincible).

Leave a Reply