“E is for Extinction” by Chris Burnham and Ramon Villalobos is a return to the world of Grant Morrison’s “E is for Extinction” storyline from the pages of 2001’s “New X-Men.” Burnham and Villalobos’ story is an extended “What If?” scenario, starting from the idea that Charles Xavier didn’t survive his faceoff with Cassandra Nova.
“Relax and Be Replaced” is set in the “Domain Mutopia” section of Battleworld, but there’s no need to be caught up on the entire “Secret Wars” event to read the comic. Familiarity with Morrison’s original run will enhance a reader’s understanding of Burnham’s script, but it’s also not strictly necessary. Burnham does a good job with the exposition and, even if the characters are unfamiliar, the action quickly makes the gist of past events clear.
The first page and title page for “E is For Extinction” is an explosive, attention-grabbing opening, but it also leans heavily on gore for its shock value. Burnham does a great job of getting straight to the defining catalyst for Mutopia. The pacing of the opening is sharp, but the reader’s reaction to the images will depend on personal taste.
Villalobos’ line is anxious and full of tense, bulbous curves. The abundance of surface detail, character design and the constant tension all follow Frank Quitely’s work on Morrison’s run, but Villalobos’ linework is less clean, especially for faces. His outlines are thick but the lines are jittery, so the effect is heavy but also taut. There’s a lot of bulging and wrinkles and no character’s face or body looks good. Everyone’s skin, young and old, looks over-stressed like a worn-out, overstretched balloon. Clothing doesn’t drape as it should, and neither does flesh on bone. Every page looks dirty and without sunlight. If that sounds off-putting and queasy, well, it is. However, it’s also effective and it’s pretty clear that Mutopia is meant to be ugly.
The opening nightclub scene is full of sexual visuals like bare midriffs, tight pants and R-rated jokes, but it’s not sexy at all. Herring’s color work combines dirty browns and neons for maximum seediness and squalor. It’s clever how his palette reinforces everything that could be ugly about an urban environment — cramped spaces, other peoples’ bodies, fluorescent lights, sleaziness, noise and pollution — without any of the beauty and exhilaration that is often conveyed by nightclub activity. There is no excitement to the music and crowds. The re-introduction of Beak shows him in an unflatteringly decadent moment. The arrival of the Magneto’s and his “heroes” is full of ugly assumed superiority a lack of moral restraint in most of the team. Magneto has his usual harshness, but none of his occasional regal demeanor. Cyclops and the White Queen make a bad entrance, too, by being too late and self-important. While none of the characters shine, Villalobos is especially unkind to Emma. She’s become a crone without adjusting her costume for her age. Later on, Wolverine doesn’t come out much better than the two annoying guys who taunt him.
Both artwork and characterization work hard to repulse. The biggest barrier to getting into “E is for Extinction” is that no one is admirable or likable anymore. Any attachment will be based on previous experiences with these characters. The entire cast, except for Sooraya, is either morally bankrupt or laughably pathetic. Magneto and his young recruits incline towards the former, and Xavier’s old guard tends towards the latter. None of this is funny, although it tries to be.
In the absence of appealing characters, the dialogue, plot and concepts have more of a burden to carry than usual. There isn’t a boring moment, but the most well-known characters don’t have their usual edges. Emma’s lines have a lot of “darlings” scattered in them and hollow self-congratulation, but she’s nowhere near her cutting and observant best. Wolverine’s crack about his secondary mutation falls flat. Scott and Emma’s nighttime scene feels mechanical and is too much of a feelings dump to feel natural. Beast’s conversations sound like his old self, but his function in “E is for Extinction” is to be an enabler for the exposition and the science of mutation. The Phoenix egg plot development comes out of nowhere, but it’s the most promising part of the plot so far. Magneto’s grooming of Quentin and Esme is skin-crawlingly creepy, especially the part about how Esme reminds him of Magda.
“E is for X-Tinction” revisits Morrison’s world and creates a disturbing post-apocalyptic mood, but Burnham and Villalobos don’t make a strong enough case for the importance of this “What If?” trip down a gritty memory lane yet.