Thursday, June 25, 2015
Scanned Thoughts: E Is For Extinction #1
In the history of the X-men comics, there was this strange yet beautifully fucked up era between the launch of the first X-men movie and the end of the first X-men cartoon. It was an era of transition. The X-men were evolving from the flamboyant, spandex-wearing super team of the 90s into a more serious set of conflicts that involved more than killing giant robots, pissing off racists, and ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine’s bones. The X-men tried to tell more high-concept stories that felt less like a Saturday morning cartoon and more like a Wachowski movie, minus the existential reality bullshit. And unlike every Wachowski movie since the Matrix, the X-men succeeded.
Grant Morrison, the writer who paved the way for bald-headed Scotsman everywhere, was the architect of this transition. He dragged the X-men into this era like a pissed off mother drags her kid to the dentist. His first major story, E Is For Extinction, was a major turning point for the X-men and how they operated. Dressing in flashy spandex just wasn’t enough anymore. They had to confront hard issues like genocide and not look like a Thanksgiving Day Parade float. Being such a huge turning point, it’s a fitting addition to Battleworld. It took certain characters in so many different directions. Some ended up dead. Some ended up in Emma Frost’s panties. Some ended up looking like an oversized cat. E Is For Extinction #1 revisits that turning point in the context of Secret Wars. Expect plenty of characters to end up dead, but also expect that the chances of ending up in Emma Frost’s panties are much lower for anyone not named Scott Summers.
It doesn’t take long for someone to end up dead in this world. In fact, the very first page establishes a pretty bloody foundation for this world. It takes a page out of one of the defining moments for this era of X-men comics that didn’t involve Jean Grey dying. It had Charles Xavier battling with Cassandra Nova for control over his mind. It was a battle that he won in the comics, for the most part. But in this world, nobody fucking won. He ended up blowing his brains out Kurt Cobain style. It’s as messy as it sounds, minus the heroin and flannel.
Flash forward from this bloody intro and we go from grunge to themes from a Ke$ha music video. Charles Xavier dies and now mutants are able to hang out in a club on a Friday night like Rob Gronkowski. I’m confused too, but this is an era of X-men that was full of confusing shit. I’m pretty sure reading it sober was detrimental in most cases.
In this case, mutants are considered sexy and cool so I guess Xavier’s death wasn’t in vain. Even a butt-ugly mutant like Beak can get a few pretty girls. Hey, it’s no crazier than the kind of women Donald Sterling hooks up with. But some people still don’t like it and I imagine these are the same people who have a hard time getting laid. The U-men are among them and they storm this club as casually as a kid storms algebra class. They claim they’re more deserving of mutant talents. They probably utilize the same criteria as Bill O’Riley in determining that, just less racist. But they really don’t come off as that menacing.
They don’t end up being that menacing either because the X-men show up to stop them. But it’s not the same X-men that led the way through the course of Grant Morrison’s epic run. It’s a team led by Magneto featuring a bunch of C-list and D-list characters like No-Girl and Dust. Others aren’t on any list and look like bad clip art. The only one who has any real relevance in that team besides Magneto is Kid Omega.
It’s a fucked up team line-up, but they’re able to handle the U-men. It’s not a very epic battle and it’s not all that detailed either. The U-men are a bunch of total pussies that really don’t put up much of a fight. Some of the X-men even try to have fun with it, but fail miserably. Maybe if Deadpool were present, they would be able to make this entertaining. I guess he’s still busy giving Ryan Reynolds pointers or something. There’s no way he wants his movie in 2016 to become another Green Lantern.
Some of the more classic X-men eventually do show up, albeit late and pathetic. But it’s only Cyclops and Emma Frost who bother to make the trip. Cyclops pretends like he’s still the guy leading an entire race against Norman Osborn’s asshole, but he just makes a fool of himself. Magneto establishes here that Cyclops and Emma Frost are basically the Vanilla Ice of mutants, a bunch of has-beens who can only ever aspire to do shitty reality TV shows. Even the rest of Magento’s team goes out of their way to berate them and not in a very good way. I’ve seen better insults in a Twitter war. But it gets the point across. The classic X-men have no place in this world.
So just how fucked up did this world become after Charles Xavier gave himself the ultimate headache cure? Well, this world has a lot of mutants. And by a lot I mean a fuckton of mutants. It would take more than a sentence fragment by the Scarlet Witch to deal with this many mutants. And most of these mutants attend the Xavier Memorial Education Nexus aka the Atom Institute, which I’m guessing is like the mutant equivalent of the Apple Store. It’s basically a monument to the extent that mutants have overrun the world and Magneto has used it as one big middle finger to every bigoted douche-bag who said mutants were a threat.
It’s a pretty powerful moment that helps define the concept of this series. This isn’t one of those Age of Apocalypse or Days of Future Past scenarios where Charles Xavier’s death means the future is fucked. This is a world where mutants simply overran the world and Magneto made sure they did it in a way that made humanity look like amateurs. It’s a unique yet compelling path for him to take. It effectively accomplished his goals in ways that no amount of dead Sentinels could ever match. He wanted mutants to become dominant. Now they’re dominant and he didn’t have to wipe out all humans. All it took was for Charles Xavier to kill himself.
And therein lies the flaw in this otherwise powerful moment. It’s compelling, but confusing. How the fuck did Xavier’s death lead to this outcome? There aren’t even any hints. It almost comes off as huge middle finger to Charles Xavier for being played by Patrick Stewart in the movies. It’s interesting like a Christopher Nolan movie, but contrived like Joel Shumacher.
There are other facets to this mutant dominated world that add to the intrigue. At a mutant medical center, Hank McCoy is helping out a couple of prospective parents. Apparently, they want to make sure their child is a mutant. In a world where mutants are the majority, just being normal is basically a handicap so they want to make sure their kid has that advantage. It’s a total inversion of the typical mutant paradigm where parents would strangle a puppy to keep their kids from being deformed. But that’s what makes it so intriguing. It also establishes that mutant birth is very high in this world and if you’re not giving birth to mutants, you might as well be inbreeding.
There’s a lot of intrigue in this world, but we still don’t get much in the form of answers. Instead, we just get meaningless conversations amongst mutants who enjoy living in a world where they don’t have to worry about constant Sentinel attacks. That’s all well and good, but it really doesn’t move the story forward or establish anything new.
But as nice as this world is, there are some who aren’t entirely comfortable in it. Cyclops can’t even get comfortable while in a bed with Emma Frost. That’s how fucking bad it is. And she’s in her underwear for crying out loud. What the fuck is wrong with him? To be fair, some of his concerns feel genuine. He feels as though he’s betraying Charles Xavier by siding with Magneto, even though Magneto is succeeding in ways Xavier never imagined. He’s like a burned out ex-football player who was once a pro-bowler and now doesn’t know what to do with himself, even though he has a hot blond in his bed.
That’s another thing that gets glossed over though. Jean Grey isn’t in the picture here. Just as we saw in Grant Morrison’s run, Cyclops hooked up with Emma Frost when Jean Grey “died.” I use quotes for that because death and Jean Grey tend to be a fluid concept. But what really makes this feel bland is that there’s really no drama. They mention Jean, but there’s no arguments or passion. There’s just Emma changing the subject and fooling around with the TV. It’s like they try to keep it light, but fail miserably. There’s only so much light-heartedness you can manage when Emma Frost is in her underwear.
There are other efforts to add a little punch to the story. It never ends up getting very serious. We see how Magneto runs the X-men and it’s really not that different from Xavier. He talks to them about being vigilant against the idiot bigoted humans who listen to too much Fox News and talk radio. He then runs them through the Danger Room in a scenario that might as well have been copied from the last two Expendables movies. It does give a chance for some mutants to establish themselves, like the Stepford Cuckoos. But all it really does is show that this version of X-men isn’t nearly as competent or as likable. It just establishes that Magneto is a bit more of a dick when it comes to training.
So in a world where Charles Xavier is dead and the classic X-men are out of a job, what does someone like Wolverine do? Well, he does the exact same thing he did when the X-men had a job. He goes out to a bar and gets shit faced drunk. No matter what part of Battleworld he’s in, he always has a reason to get shit faced. He gets into a half-hearted argument with a couple of drunks where he accidentally chops his fingers off. But nothing really comes of it. He doesn’t even threaten to chop a limb off. He must be drinking light beer or something because he comes off as downright weak.
He only shows some balls when Cyclops shows up, sober and clean cut, saying he has a mission and it involves Jean Grey. That’s more than enough to sober him up, as though he needed to in the first place. It’s also a somewhat confusing moment because when the fuck did he learn that Magneto has Jean locked up in his school? Not long ago, he was lying in bed with Emma Frost fooling around with the TV. Did I miss something or am I just higher than usual? I’ll just say it’s a little of both.
It turns out that Magneto has had Jean Grey locked away at the school for quite some time now. He explains to Esme Cuckoo, the same Esme that tried to kill Emma Frost in the original New X-men run, that Jean Grey fell into a coma after Charles Xavier killed himself. Apparently, their minds were linked during the struggle against Cassandra Nova. Now she’s tuck in this pseudo-Phoenix Egg and he wants to wake her up. Right, because nothing bad has ever happened from someone poking the fucking Phoenix Force. Seriously, how can Magneto be competent enough to realize his dream but stupid enough to fuck with the Phoenix Force? He even wants Esme to be the host. I’m pretty sure this ranks right up there with casting Ryan Reynolds in the Green Lantern movie as a shitty idea.
There’s another major WTF moment that opens more plot holes than a drunk wizard in a Harry Potter story. Beast is just sitting at home, enjoying a quiet evening when some drunk stumbles to his front door. That’s probably not entirely shocking to anyone who lived with Wolverine for more than three weeks, but this guy claims to be a human version of him. In terms of WTF moments, this is right up there with Rick Perry giving a science lecture. It’s really hard to know what to make of this shit. There are so many holes and so many unanswered questions. I don’t like trying to fill them with my twisted imagination because that usually involves Emma Frost and Jean Grey oil wrestling.
There’s one more shocking moment that tries to make this fucked up part of Battleworld feel more fucked up. This time, the WTF isn’t quite as serious. Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Wolverine go on a mission that has nothing to do with getting Jean Grey out of Magneto’s clutches. Instead, they break into some fortress that’s being guarded by the U-men. And inside, they find Xorn.
To anyone who read Grant Morrison’s run, this is more than a little confusing because Xorn ended up being Magneto and/or a clone of Magneto. So this guy may or may not be Magneto, meaning the Magneto running everything might not be Magneto either. Confused? Frustrated? In need of another joint? Join the club. That’s the kind of world this is and I think at this point, even Grant Morrison would need a bottle of Scotch.
Reading this issue, it utilizes a lot of the same themes that Grant Morrison utilized. It feels like it actually fits within the context of what Grant Morrison established in his New X-men run. However, the final product felt like something Grant Morrison would only right if he had been partially lobotomized. The concept is solid, but details around it come off as crude and flat. There’s no serious or dramatic undertones. It’s only slightly more serious than a Deadpool comic and it skips over a lot of dramatic elements. It’s almost like the Rock trying to do stand-up comedy. It’s a spectacle worth watching, but it fails to deliver.
There’s nothing terribly shocking or ground-breaking about this issue. Nobody’s going to really gasp at anything in this book. It tries to throw in a few twists, but only succeeds in part. That’s nothing to be ashamed of here. Grant Morrison’s work is defined by having strong concepts fleshed out in provocative ways. It’s not a style that can be easily matched. In the same way nobody should be ashamed they can’t throw a football like Peyton Manning, they shouldn’t be ashamed that they can’t capture what Grant Morrison captured in New X-men. Compared to some of the other X-men tie-ins with Secret Wars, this one is behind the curve and it has an uphill battle in its quest to be awesome. I give E Is For Extinction #1 a 6 out of 10. There’s a lot going on in this issue, but only part of it is worth giving a shit about. If nothing else, it proves that even when vindicated, Magneto will find a way to be a douche-bag. Nuff said!