This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on February 22, 2016.
For more than a year whispers have swirled around Marvel’s X-Men line of comic books. While their far more profitable movie rights are still owned by Fox (see: Deadpool), comics rumor mongers have said this franchise was doomed in funny books. Is there any truth to this though? Are the X-Men bound to follow the other ill-fated, Fox licensed franchise of The Fantastic Four? There’s no way to know much of anything outside of the boardrooms at Marvel, but we can take a look at the line itself to see how it’s faring. So this week Chase Magnett is examining all five of the ongoing series in the X-franchise to see how healthy it is.
Now for today’s review…
Extraordinary X-Men #7
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Victor Ibanez
Colors by Jay David Ramos
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Sometimes the ending of a story drops a bomb so big that it becomes the focal point of the entire piece. I’m not talking about a well crafted twist or surprise that changes how you view everything preceding it. I’m talking about finding a steaming pile from the rear of a Mastiff on your rug that makes you forget about what kind of day you had at work. Whatever came before doesn’t really seem that important because your attention and memory are dominated by this turd. That’s the ending of Extraordinary X-Men #7 all over.
Nightcrawler has spent the last six issues of Extraordinary X-Men in a state of shellshock, unable to articulate what has removed his sense of humor and every other memorable aspect of the character’s personality. He has been reduced to a depressing one-note depiction of a favorite X-Men and in #7 Jean Grey and Storm delve into his head to find out why.
What they discover is that Nightcrawler stumbled across a ditch filled with mutant corpses as part of a genetic hate movement in Germany. The splash page in which they make this discovery is obviously based upon imagery from the Holocaust. That’s a thing that happens.
This takes the already irksome shorthand of comparing the plight of the X-Men to the Civil Rights Movements and makes it even worse by evoking the most infamous act of genocide in modern history. This is all for the two-fold benefit of making it clear the X-Men are persecuted and giving Nightcrawler a reason to be sad. It is a comparison so brash, that it almost ceases to be appalling by way of sheer ballsiness.
Comparing things to Hitler is already openly mocked as an uncreative way to make a point, but comparing a superhero story stuffed with ghost batlles and lacking in pathos or thematic depth to the Holocaust is an idea so obviously terrible it shouldn’t need pointing out. Yet this still managed to be the big dramatic moment in Marvel’s premiere X-Men title. Even removing the obvious influence of Holocaust imagery, placing a stack of bloated corpses at the end of this particular issue results in tonal whiplash so harsh that it breaks any spell the book may have cast. After the silliness and melodramatics that precede it, the moment fails to be anything other than shocking, but only in the “are you really serious here” sort of way.
Forgetting about the rest of the issue to focus on this stupefying decision isn’t much of a loss when all things are considered. There’s a confrontation between the X-Men and Sunfire as well as some ghosts, which sounds like the sort of weirdness the X-Men might excel within. Instead, it manages to be sunk down in the same game of hide-and-go-fuck-yourself about what exactly happened in the past 8 months as the rest of the series. The complete lack of context for character’s reactions to one another destroys any sense of drama transforming what could be an enjoyable soap opera into rambling melodrama. The addition of vague warnings about future events just makes the entire debacle an even more confusing mess that somehow manages to contradict itself in being both plotless and plot-driven.
There’s also the psychic sequence building to the reveal of Nightcrawler’s trauma, which at least makes a visual effort to be intriguing. Ibanez moves Jean Grey and Storm through a variety of landscapes including Nightcrawler’s hometown, a pirate ship, and Cyclops’ face. For some reason the pirate ship is upside down. It doesn’t make any sort of dramatic sense and its presentation on the page makes this change in direction mildly annoying rather than exciting. A scene on Cyclops visor makes for a compelling visual, but seems to be included only for this reason. His prominent existence in his classic costume occupies Nightcrawler’s mind for no apparent reason, whereas his newest uniform might make some sort of sense as he instigated what is to come.
Looking beyond the final scene of Extraordinary X-Men #7 when considering quality is fruitless though because that scene distills everything you need to know. It’s a slapdash construction of something that ought to be dramatic, but is actually baffling. Not only does it rely on reader’s already having formed a connection to the material, but that these same readers be okay not knowing what came before or concern with its quality. This is a comic built with no ability to evoke a reaction beyond the jaw dropping display of its own blunt manipulations.