by Drew Baumgartner and Spencer Irwin
This article containers SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
There’s no time to explain!
Evasive Characters, Traditional
Drew: There comes a point in any mystery where the effort of maintaining the secret is obviously more trouble for the characters than simply admitting the truth. Writers may delay the inevitable by interrupting much-needed explanations, or adding some urgency that makes such explanations impossible, but inevitably, just taking a moment to put everyone on the same page is better for everyone. That is, “There’s no time to explain,” almost invariably causes more confusion and delays, taking more time than actually explaining what’s going on, and any character who is truly concerned about time would recognize that. Case in point: young Cable’s cause, when he finally gets around to explaining it in Extermination 4, is so compelling that virtually everyone who hears it is immediately on board with his plan. It would have saved him a ton of time sneaking around and fighting if he had any confidence in the necessity and righteousness of his mission. Fortunately, writer Ed Brisson has written in a remarkably effective explanation for young Cable’s illogical behavior: he’s a teenager.
Maybe that’s an explanation I would have resented as a teen, but as someone who has worked extensively with teens over the years, I actually find it remarkably plausible. It’s not that he’s unintelligent or arbitrarily mysterious, he simply lacks the emotional awareness to anticipate the reactions of the rest of the X-Men. He thinks he has to sneak around and fight because he doesn’t yet have a sophisticated sense of how others will react to the truth of what he’s doing. Or, as Boom-Boom puts it:
Honestly, that explanation makes Cable’s behavior significantly more palatable than the overly evasive adults of, say, LOST, or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Of course Cable doesn’t have the most perspective on how his actions will be perceived by others — he’s a kid. He doesn’t even have an appropriate perspective on how his haircut will be perceived by others.
I recognize I’m dwelling on a simple, perhaps unremarkable detail. I mean, writers have been focusing on teens as sources of melodrama for centuries — from Romeo and Juliet to Friday Night Lights. And the impulsivity of the teen characters here isn’t limited to just Cable. Heck, the ending shock comes because Scott charged into battle rather than beating the strategic retreat everyone was already pulling for. Some teen missteps can be remedied with a little talking — others might be irreparable.
But as I mentioned, the teenage-y elements of this story are mostly incidental to the larger time-travel machinations. Cable’s plan falls out of the ripple effects the original X-Men’s presence in the present has caused — not just on present and future events, but on the past itself. They have to return to their past to allow history to play out as it always should, or they’ll create a present far worse than the one they know (it’s a little like the plot of Back to the Future Part II, only with fewer sports almanacs).
Artist Pepe Larraz steps back to just breakdowns, but penciler Ario Anindito and inker Dexter Vines turn in work that is remarkably similar to Larraz’s work on previous issues, lending lovely continuity to this miniseries. Indeed, had I not read the credits page, I wouldn’t have suspected a change on the art team at all. It helps that the most distinctive piece of the visual language of the series has been Larraz’s sense of scope and pacing. This issue is still full of those feature panels I loved so much in issue 3, and packs in plenty of striking camera angles and compositions.
That is, this is basically what I wanted out of act four of this mini — an explanation for everyone’s motives and some heart-pounding action — but I recognize that “is what I wanted” isn’t the most inspiring praise, especially for a middle chapter. Spencer, I’m curious if you have any stronger feelings about this issue than I did. Were you surprised at Cable’s motives? Were you satisfied with the explanation for why he didn’t explain his motives sooner? Did any other parts of this issue surprise you in ways you weren’t expecting?
Spencer: Honestly, I’m most surprised by how far Brisson leans into the Moby Dick inspiration when it comes to the character of Ahab — although actually calling attention to them when the character breaches Searebro (god I’m glad that name caught on) might be a step too far.
Anyway, Drew, I do indeed have some very strong feelings about this issue — and Extermination as a whole — but they might not be the kind you were expecting. Although there’s been individual elements of this series I’ve enjoyed (and I’ve especially appreciated your coverage of it, Drew), the entire concept of Extermination is flawed, and that fractured foundation has kind of soured me on the entire endeavor.
First of all, the broad strokes of this story have been done before way back in 2013 — remember “Battle of the Atom,” that other story where time-travelers throw the X-Men into chaos because they want to send the Original Five back to their rightful time? More importantly, do any of you remember how the villains of that storyline tried to send the Original Five back to their rightful time, but discovered that they physically couldn’t be sent back? Or how about when Dennis Hopeless’s run on All-New X-Men devoted an entire ongoing plot to Young Beast trying so hard to take them home that he learned magic, but when he succeeded in taking the O.F. to their original time they found versions of themselves already there, meaning that they’d been displaced from their timeline and had no home to return to? Marvel certainly doesn’t seem to remember, as acknowledging either would derail the plot of Extermination entirely (I’m not going to blame Brisson; this event has the reek of “Editorial wants to get rid of the O.F. as fast as humanly possible” all over it).
This bothers me for a number of reasons, but the greatest is the fact that Extermination seems to actively hold the fact that the O.F. haven’t returned home against them, almost holding the characters in contempt for it (the word “refused” in the scene above hits like a bag of bricks). The writing throughout this series has implied that they just haven’t wanted to go home and are sticking around mucking with the timeline willy nilly just for their own satisfaction, when in fact not only have several of them desperately wanted to go home all along, but they’ve tried to go home multiple times and have found themselves unable to every single time. It makes Young Cable’s mission and reasoning flawed, and it reeks of character assassination for the Original Five.
Like Drew, I did find the explanation that this Cable’s just young and stupid to be a fun, effective one, but otherwise his motives didn’t surprise me. Extermination has been hinting as loudly as possible that Young Cable was just trying to send the O.F. home for quite a while now, and again, the idea that the O.F.’s absence from the past/presence in the present could have dangerous ripple effects on the timeline has been an element of their story ever since Brian Michael Bendis first brought them to the present in the first place. Jean and the other characters should not be surprised by this information; it’s honestly a little insulting that they are. Both the characters and the readers have known this for a while.
Young Cable himself so far is a fun concept with mixed execution. I like seeing his youth affect his decision-making skills, but for the most part he’s just a tiny, moody (or moodier) Cable. Admittedly I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the character, but should be have started his mission already at this age? It feels like there’s a story there we’re not seeing, and that’s not the only time this happens; there’s so much potential story in his interactions with himself from other eras, in his killing his future self, even in his interactions with the Original Five (two of them are his parents) that just goes completely untouched that I can’t help but be a little disappointed.
Then there’s the Original Five themselves. Extermination is (supposedly) their final story, but we’ve actually seen very little of them, and they’ve spent most of their screen time unconscious, captured, or hidden away. Meanwhile, the character focus they have gotten hasn’t exactly been all that enlightening.
Cyclops (Young or Old Evil) is a character I like a lot, with a unique perspective, but Brisson has reduced him to yet another angry man angsting over his dead love (and, in the process, committed the cardinal sin of killing a female character just to give a man something to do). Not only has Cyclops become a one-note character, but that one-note says nothing about him as a character, and that’s remarkably disappointing.
There are certainly action beats and character interactions I enjoyed throughout Extermination 4, but like Drew, I think my favorite part of the issue is Larraz and Anindito’s compositions; so as to not have this be a totally negative piece, let’s look at a few of them.
I love the tricks Larraz and Anindito play with perspective here. The break running down the center of these panels adds depth to the hallway (because it’s drawing attention to the vanishing point), and keeping Cannonball outside the panels altogether works to put readers in his perspective, viewing the X-Men as he does.
That action pose in the first panel is aces, but it’s the pacing in the bottom row that makes this sequence sing. Larraz and Anindito slow down time by stretching Ahab’s toss across three panels, and pull the camera in closer on Scott each time they cut to him, highlighting the growing intensity of both his emotions and his attack. It’s remarkably effective.
Finally there’s this closing sequence. It recalls the Cannonball panels I posted earlier, except this time it places the reader firmly within the scene instead of outside the borders, hopefully helping the emotions hit harder. The angle allows us to see the reactions of the X-Men while also keeping the worst of the gore off-panel, which is a smart and, again, effective move. I also appreciate the sheer detail, though — the cracks surrounding the spear as it comes out the back of that machine does wonders to sell the sheer force of Ahab’s attack. Ultimately, the visual storytelling in Extermination is always worth checking out, even when the story itself isn’t.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?