X-Men: The Exterminated
This one-shot compiles two very different stories which share the same rough heart. In the first, Nathan's daughter and mother visit the varying stations of grief only to (seemingly) come full circle. In the second, a version of Nathan (from an alternate reality) narrates a scene from a time shortly after his own dramatic nativity.
Because ‘Exterminated’ is a complex piece of work, I’m going to review these two stories separately before examining the ways that they connect. In many of life’s circumstances, it’s better to begin with Hope. This standalone is no different. Some comics openly reference poetry (Tom King’s latest Batman arc does so masterfully) but many comics instead choose to utilise the tropes and tricks of their sister genre in more subtle ways. Such is the case of ‘A Hope Summers & Jean Grey Story’.
It begins with Hope leading a team of the younger X-Men in a Danger Room exercise. During the drill, Hope quotes her father, stating that, in battle, neither past nor future matter. There is only the ‘now’ and whatever mental or material resources that you have to hand.
The battle is a success and Jean points out that Hope was ‘exactly like’ her father. Hope reveals that she can no longer recall his face, and that she was tasked with cleaning out her father’s safe-houses — a job which will, she hopes, enable her to recall it. Reluctantly, she allows her grandmother to accompany her. On the way, they encounter Deadpool. Hope fights with him, and he points out that she is enacting the ‘rage’ stage of grief. Before they part, he whispers into her ear that he knows what she is looking for — and that it will not work.
Thirteen safe-houses later, Hope and Jean return, at last, to the one in which Hope was born. It is here that the young woman discovers the object that she has secretly been searching for over the course of their journey — a time machine. Jean attempts to reason with her (going back to save him could change the world for the worse) but Hope copies her powers and attempts to fight the older woman off.
Jean might technically be her grandmother, but in terms of age she’s closer to being a mother-figure for Hope. She’s been an X-Man for decades at this point. She’s seen grief before. She’s died and returned from the dead. She’s been a wife, been a mother. Her son is dead and she knows exactly what her granddaughter needs.
So she gives it to her.
She uses her tk to shield herself from Hope’s fists until the young woman can spend enough of her rage to see that she’s not a child any more. She isn’t the imperiled infant who was born in this place. She’s grown. And she is the legacy of Cable.
And so she remembers the face of her father.
The whole time I was reading this story my mind echoed with lines from T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets, especially this excerpt from ‘East Corker’: ‘in my end is my beginning’. The past can be reclaimed, revisited but never re-experienced. Hope’s journey was never a circle: it was a spiral, leading her to this point. A physical return is not the same as a regression. Sometimes, you have to return to the place where you were born in order to understand what it is that you have become.
The art in this chapter was wonderful. Neal Edwards rendered each figure with delicate care — highlighting the similarities between mother and granddaughter but not giving in to the temptation that so many current comics artists succumb to (I’m looking at you, Mr & Mrs X) by forcing every woman to wear the same adolescent face. Jean is beautiful, and she looks at least forty. Hope appears to be approximately half her age. It is incredibly effective and lends weight to the mother-daughter angle.
Now, on to Claremont’s contribution.
Set in an alternate reality where Cyclops raised Cable with Madelyne Pryor, this story placed a strong focus on the pressures of parenthood and the inevitably of failure (along with the attached guilt for those failures) that comes with those pressures. In this story, Scott and Corsair are bonding in the Alaskan woods where they hiked together before the family was kidnapped by the Shi’ar. Scott and Maddy are experiencing marital difficulties after her ‘mistake’ and Corsair takes his son up into the woods to talk about what it means to be a husband and father. There is some mild peril involving a fallen tree and a crumbling cliff, and some ingenuity on the part of Scott to use his eye beams as a means of breaking a fall, but the story primarily served as a meditation on the role of family.
Honestly, I found the story to be a little disappointing. I am an enormous fan of Mr Claremont. His eye for character is close to unequalled and that eye was very much in evidence, here. The dialogue between the characters was absolutely spot on on terms of voice, but because this was a story which was set in an alternate reality, narrated by a version of Nathan who never was (in the world we know) it didn’t really say anything new about the character, and that felt lacking in a story which was ostensibly a goodbye to Cable.
The art was less well-rendered, too — although I loved the artist’s update of Maddy’s late-70’s bobbed hairdo.
In short, I think that the first half of this story was complex and profound while the second was well-written, interesting, but ultimately unimportant — except, perhaps, for highlighting the tragedy of what never was. And, perhaps, that tragedy is enough to bring the level of the story up. In any case, both stories painted a portrait of a man by showing us the people who surrounded them. Cable never appeares as a grown man, even in flashbacks, but he was finely drawn in his absence. There was a gaping hole in the center of this narrative, and that hole served as the story’s living heart.
This one-shot explors two heart-wrenching stories which explore the loss of a familiar hero. Cable never appeared as a grown man, even in flashbacks, but he was finely drawn in his absence. There was a gaping hole in the center of this narrative, and that hole served as the story's living heart.
X-Men: The Exterminated, A Liturgy of Grief and Love
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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