Extraordinary X-Men #1 was definitely meant to be the flagship mutant book in All-New, All-Different Marvel with the creative team of current indie darling and All-New Hawkeye writer Jeff Lemire paired with superstar penciler Humberto Ramos (Amazing Spider-Man), who returns to the X-Men after a six year absence and is the one bright spot of this book with his quirky, angular art style. Lemire indulges in a premise so grimdark that it makes Age of Apocalypse look like Giant-Size Little Marvel AvX.
Eight months after the events of Secret Wars, the mutant race has started to dwindle as the Terrigen Mists that give Inhumans their abilities have both killed and sterilized mutants. It’s basically House of M without the epic build-up from Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, the cool alternate universe stories, and the lack of any hope (Literal and metaphorical.) because the mutants can’t have children, and there’s no chance for a mutant messiah 2.0 like Hope Summers. This status quo of Extraordinary X-Men completely obliterates the mutants as LGBTQ people metaphor that Bendis created with Iceman coming out near the end of his run (Not having kids and dying diseases is a scary, possibly unintentional analogue for the HIV virus.) and could possibly work on a sheer entertainment level because the sheer level of danger and external conflict, but Lemire drops this ball as well with his poor characterization of the various X-Men.
Jeff Lemire writes the X-Men in what could be described as a reductive manner in Extraordinary X-Men #1. Even if he gets a wonderful box of toys to play with, including Storm as team leader, adult Iceman, Colossus and Magik, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler, he reduces them to one, maybe two character traits and riffs off that for several pages. For example, Nightcrawler shows up in a three page scene to get beat up by some (probably) Inhuman chumps, who resemble devils in an attempt to create visual continuity. Ramos does a nice job showing his agile movements, and colorist Edgar Delgado adds a strong touch of dark blue that stands out against the blase background, but his dialogue is reduced to literal Bible verses. Nightcrawler’s faith has always been an important part of his character and has made for some excellent stories (E.g. X2 and the “Nightcrawler” episode of X-Men: The Animated Series.), but he also has a swashbuckling spirit, a hopeful heart, and some hang-ups about his appearance. None of these other characteristics make it into his fight/interactions with these flat Inhuman villains.
A corner is almost turned with Colossus, who has become a hermit farmer in his native Russia with Ramos showing off his skill as a humorist in a silent scene of Colossus “roaring” to scare off a bear, who has invaded his farm land. But then Magik (who should be called the Magik Schoolbus because most of her scenes involve transporting various characters from location to location.) basically forces him to join the X-Men again with physical force as she swings her Soulsword at him. Also, groan-worthy vodka jokes are made.
The physical violence as a method to recruit team members returns when (adult, supposedly more mature) Iceman throws up ice walls to get Jean Grey to rejoin the team even though she just wants to live a normal life as a college student at Empire State University. (Maybe she has a class with Squirrel Girl.) Lemire casts Jean Grey as some kind of Chosen One figure in Extraordinary X-Men #1, and Storm even controversially calls her “the heart of the X-Men”. Again, this is another regression as in Bendis’ run, she was allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and even find love, but that’s all been pulled away. And Storm’s one character trait is being the leader, which means disher of exposition in this case and is too bad because Ramos really pulls off the mohawk hairdo.
Extraordinary X-Men #1 will probably be seen as energetically drawn and colored sacrilege by both long time X-Men fans and ones, who jumped on with Bendis’ work. And for new fans, it’s darkness for darkness’ sake as the X-Men’s outsider metaphor is drowned out by the Inhumans and turned into yet another post-apocalyptic story. Lemire also makes a few stumbles in his plotting, like having characters tell about an upcoming mystery involving Cyclops and a cure for mutant disease instead of seeding compelling visual clues or starting to build arcs for characters. And his final page cliffhanger, which was probably meant to be the triumphant return of a “dead” X-Men, falls flat because it already happened in a Secret Wars tie-in. This is one is probably on editorial though. Even though Humberto Ramos’ manga influenced, yet wide-screen art adds some pep to the X-Men’s powers and fight scenes to go along with Edgar Delgado’s bold color palette, Extraordinary X-Men #1 is a misstep for the franchise in plotting, themes, and characterization.