There have been creators who take the reins of an X-Men title, and are either so intimidated by the franchise’s convoluted continuity or so in love with their own vision, that they ignore anything that came before and write it off as “unnecessary.” It’s frustrating, and to be honest, pretty insulting to readers who have invested their time and money in these beloved characters. Fortunately, co-writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler aren’t like that. In fact, like their brief Cable run before it, X-Men: The Exterminated #1 continues to prove that you can embrace continuity and still tell a strong story.
Now, I’m an X-Fan who got into X-Men through the ’90s animated series, and started reading the comics an issue or two before “The Age of Apocalypse” began. I gravitated toward Cyclops and Jean Grey and, a result, Cable, Nate Grey and all the other characters linked to the of-so-complicated Summers family tree. So, The Exterminated, with one story focusing on Hope Summers and Jean Grey, and another on a younger Cyclops and Corsair, was basically made for me.
In the first half of this comic, Thompson and Nadler are joined by Neil Edwards on art for what basically serves as the epilogue to Extermination, which still has one more issue to go. But don’t worry–there are no Extermination spoilers here, just a story of a grieving daughter, mother and friend. Yep, the cover and preview pages don’t reveal the friend part, but it’s definitely a surprise, so I won’t reveal it so you can experience it for yourself.
The creative team really shines when it shows how differently two of the X-Men’s most famous redheads (who, for a time, many X-Fans speculated were the same person), cope with the loss of Cable, the battle-hardened future warrior they came to cherish in different ways. As I mentioned before, my X-Men fandom goes back to the ’90s, when Marvel spent a serious chunk of time developing Nathan Summers’ Askani backstory in mini-series like The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix and Askani’Son, so it’s very nice to see developments from those stories are still canon, like the time Jean spent in the apocalyptic future raising Nate.
And though it only occupies a single page, the interaction between Hope and Bishop was very nice to see. I’m among the readers who remembers Bishop hunting baby Hope but missed the whole Demon Bear retcon or however they explained away his murderous tendencies. Again, Thompson and Nadler don’t shy away from tackling difficult continuity.
Edwards’ pencils are straightforward and grounded, just as they should be for an emotional story about a family coping with loss. I’m also a fan of the artist’s more streamlined take on Jean’s current costume, specifically the size of her shoulder pads. The way they’re drawn in this story helps them better complement the rest of her uniform. Finally, the pencils have an almost water color-like feel to them thanks to the color work of Jay David Ramos.
I had a more mixed reaction to this one-shot’s second story, written by legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont and illustrated by Ramon Rosanos. It’s a flashback to a time right after Cable was born to Cyclops and Jean Grey-clone Madelyne Pryor and, in an interesting move, baby Nathan narrates the story as if he can remember it all clearly (talk about a gifted youngster).
While Rosanos’ smooth pencils really elevate this story, and almost give it a classic Paul Smith X-Men feel, I can’t help but think about the many Claremont interviews I’ve read (or conducted) where he vents about how Jean’s resurrection in time for X-Factor #1 spoiled his dream of Scott Summers growing up and going off to live a normal, happy life in Alaska. Had Claremont had his way, Scott and Maddie would have remained married and raised Nathan far from the X-Men, who would have moved on without the X-Man once known as Cyclops.
With this background, I couldn’t help but approach this story as if it were a Claremont fantasy… almost Claremont fan fiction. The writer even gives the tale a happy ending that runs counter to what Marvel had in store for Scott and Maddie. While the story is fine, it’s Claremont’s takes on the characters. Whereas Thompson and Nadler take all continuity into account, Claremont can’t help but focus solely on his X-Men continuity. I had a similar feeling when I saw him hint at Kitty Pryde’s desire to run for president in The Merry X-Men Holiday Special. Because, you know, Kitty was president in Claremont’s lengthy X-Men: The End series.
With that said, I much prefer these shorter modern Claremont stories we’ve been getting, as they allow him to play in the X-Men sandbox but not have a direct impact on the franchise’s main continuity.
Ultimately, I’d say X-Men continuity buffs are likely to get the most joy out of X-Men: The Exterminated #1, but I’d say it’s also required reading for X-Fans who have been missing Hope, and the recently deceased Cable, of course. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see Hope and Jean bonding like they do in this one-shot. After all, they’re family–let’s hope future X-writers don’t forget it.