Monday, August 1, 2016

Present and Future Intrigue: Extraordinary X-men #12

The following is my review of Extraordinary X-men #12, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


A war in an apocalyptic future is like Deadpool being locked in a fireworks factory. Nobody is all that surprised when the destruction escalates. Any war is terrible, but there comes a point where people become numb to the devastation. By any measure, the X-men are operating on a foundation of devastation. They're fighting to save a dying race against the forces of bigotry, sterilization, and anger over movie rights. As a result, the impact of Apocalypse Wars is somewhat muted.

That's not to say the story doesn't have its moments. Jeff Lemire makes a considerable effort to craft an apocalyptic battleground that feels unique and distinct. He succeeds on some levels, having elevated the profiles of lesser-known mutants like Glob Herman, Anole, and Earnst. However, it's still another run-of-the-mill apocalyptic future. It's still another dire conflict that promises to make a dire situation even more dire. So how can a story like Apocalypse Wars have a meaningful impact in those circumstances?

Extraordinary X-men #12 attempts to create that impact. The setup is hardly ideal. Omega World is crumbling and yet another apocalyptic future threatens to consume the X-men once more. There are a lot of forces working against the X-men in this story. For once, none can be blamed on the Inhumans for. Despite these forces, Lemire manages to craft a solid, satisfying impact that successfully brings Apocalypse Wars to a close.

The key to this impact is ensuring the aftermath of Apocalypse Wars is not entirely muted. Lemire does this by striking an careful balance between resolving the ongoing conflict with Omega World while using this conflict to lay the foundation for the next story. By doing so, he makes it so Apocalypse Wars can't be completely forgettable. That's not to say it'll have the same impact as Secret Wars, the Dark Phoenix Saga, or the Chuck Austin run on Uncanny X-men, but the impact is there.

The impact manifests within the context of solid visuals, courtesy of Hamberto Ramos' artwork. The battles that unfold are colorful, flashy, and not overly dark, which is an accomplishment for any story taking place in a dystopian future. It's all too easy for things to get grim and gritty when dealing with a threat like Apocalypse. Lemire and Ramos resist this urge. They understand there's only so many times an X-men story can rip off Days of Future Past.

The content of those battles is fairly refined, taking on some personal dynamics along the way. We get a tense battle between Teen Jean and a Venom-powered Old Man Logan. We get a harsh, violent, flashy battle between Magik and an Apocalypse-powered Colossus. There are real personal stakes to go along with the usual takes that come with any apocalyptic future. It further ensures that the impact of Apocalypse Wars isn't as stale as every other dystopian future the X-men encounter.


However, the greatest strength of the impact in Extraordinary X-men #12, and Apocalypse Wars as a whole, comes from the intrigue it creates for future conflicts. The ending isn't going to shock anyone on the same level as a Game of Thrones season finale, but it will generate interest in the conflicts to come. Some of it is generic ominous foreboding, the kind the X-men can probably surmise without a telepath. Other elements, however, are less ominous and have more to do with how Storm chooses to lead her team through this conflict.

If there's one character that really shines though the dystopian drudgery in Apocalypse Wars, it's Storm. She is the leader of the X-men now that Cyclops and Charles Xavier are dead, discredited, and everything in between. She doesn't carry herself like a placeholder either. She's not just keeping the chair warm for Cyclops, Wolverine, or any other X-men character that might rank higher in the pecking order. She makes clear that she is the leader now, which means she must be the one that makes tough decisions.

She certainly makes one in Extraordinary X-men #12. That decision will, the X-men remain jinxed with inhuman levels of bad luck if that's not too loaded a term, come back to haunt her. Even so, she makes this decision without hesitation, as anyone expects of a strong leader. It's not a decision that her team wholly agrees with. In fact, Lemire makes it a point to show some dissention within the team. It's another element that is sure to add fuel to the X-men's hapless luck, which has already forced them to seek refuge in a demon-laden dimension for safety.


In terms of resolving the final issue of Apocalypse Wars, Extraordinary X-men #12 completes this story in a fairly concise, if not somewhat rushed manner. The personal angles are strong, but lack drama. There aren't a lot of passions beyond simply wanting to escape yet another dystopian future. Some moments have the potential to flesh out heavier emotions, but that potential goes unrealized. It's like Wolverine only drinking half-a-beer. It doesn't feel complete in terms of character moments.

This is striking because one of the primary strengths of Extraordinary X-men as a whole is its focus on these character moments. It's within this series that the impact of the X-men's Inhuman-fueled bad luck is explored. Moments with characters like Storm, Old Man Logan, Teen Jean, and even Glob Herman are a big part of the overarching themes in this series. They're not entirely absent from Apocalypse Wars, but they are woefully underplayed.

Even so, Extraordinary X-men #12 does feel complete in terms of tying together a cohesive narrative. That narrative is made stronger thanks to Storm's hard decisions and the inevitable consequences of those decisions. It ensures that the greater impact of Apocalypse Wars will only be clear once those consequences are explored in later issues. It's part finale and part teaser trailer. At a time when teaser trailers are 90 percent of every mass media campaign, that's entirely fitting.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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