Reinforced by Old Man Logan and Jean, the Extraordinary X-Men secure Limbo and head off to confront the forces of Sinister! Their rescue of Colossus, Magik, and Nightcrawler, takes a shocking twist as Sinister reveals the purpose of his actions – and the successful experiments he has conducted on one of the X-Men’s own…
One of the most frustrating aspects of modern-day comics is that curve-balls are rarely surprising. Marvel’s preview solicits for Extraordinary X-Men #1 pretty much established everything we needed to know about the X-Men’s new status quo, and the delays on Secret Wars – complete with the absence of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman in the post-Secret Wars universe – have robbed the event of much of its drama. Worse still, when writers like Brian Bendis have dared to do something unusual, like outing Iceman as gay, the key scenes have leaked on the Internet and become common knowledge before the issue’s even been published. It’s felt like such a shame.
That’s why Extraordinary X-Men #4 is a breath of fresh air. The issue may not be the strongest one I’ve ever read, but there’s a twist at the end – literally the last panel in the book – that I didn’t see coming. I’ll hold off a few days before I run a post discussing the implications (maybe even wait till after Christmas), but this first arc has suddenly moved from a lacklustre ‘team gathering’ story to something very, very different. Kudos to Jeff Lemire.
Sinister has always been one of my favourite villains, and it makes sense that he’d be working on experiments to get the mutant race through their current crisis. It feels like a similar role to the one he played in the ’90s, where he was working to undo the effect of the Legacy Virus, and his methods are just as distasteful. Back in the ’90s, though, the X-Men played a dangerous game; they allowed Sinister to continue to operate, with Beast even choosing to hand Threnody over to him. This time round, his methods are a little more extreme, so the situation is a bit more black-and-white than shades-of-grey. It’s actually a bit of a shame, as the moral relativism of the Legacy Virus plot underscored the nature of the threat.
As a whole, I’ve not been 100% convinced that this arc is a particularly strong one. The conflict in Limbo has felt forced (I simply can’t believe that the X-Men would send Magik into the field if just having her knocked out were enough to turn Limbo against them). The resolution in this issue is rather too convenient, with Jean in particular suddenly acting like the hyper-powerful and ultra-experienced adult she was by the time of the Gold Team, rather than the inexperienced kid who’s a touch out of her depth. I get the feeling I’m not going to like Jeff Lemire’s take on All-New Jean Grey, sadly.
In the same way, the conflict between the X-Men and the Marauders is rushed and unsatisfying. Lemire’s Marauders are basically ‘run-of-the-mill henchmen’ who are taken down with ease, rather than the ferocious powerhouses of the Mutant Massacre. I suppose you could argue that it shows the reduction in Sinister’s power-base by this point, but I’m just not convinced; to me, any confrontation with the Marauders should convey a much stronger sense of threat.
That said, the dialogue sparkles. Lemire treats us to a Storm who is confident in her leadership skills, much more experienced and capable than she seemed in Brian Wood’s X-Men. She’s stepped up, and is top-rate as a field leader. Lemire also shows a real sense of humour, with self-aware moments of dialogue such as the following:
In terms of the art, I am so glad to have Humberto Ramos over on the X-books. The opening nightmare scenes are haunting, and again the quality of the teamwork between Ramos and Victor Olazaba (inker) and Edgar Delgado (colorist) is tremendous. That said, there are moments I’m not really keen on; Old Man Logan’s, ah, intervention in Sinister’s diatribe isn’t rendered visually as effectively as it could have been, in my view.
All in all, Extraordinary X-Men #4 shows a moment when this book proves its value. It’s still not entirely satisfying, but it’s moved this arc from ‘run-of-the-mill’ to ‘intriguing’. A step in the right direction.
Oh, one random question: is Mamomax’s sole role in comics to die, and die again? I reckon this is the third time I’ve seen him die…