One thing you can’t say about Extermination -- this year’s X-Men Event and the conclusion to the saga of the original, time-displaced team -- is that it’s slow. Writer Ed Brisson has ensured that every moment of the series is filled with explosions, violence and various mutants tearing strips from one another. To that end, this has felt like one of the more relevant X-Men events in recent years, not to mention the promise of drawing to a close a significant plot thread that’s been a central part of the mutant corner of the universe for the last six years.
It’s been clear from the start that the purpose of this series (if we’re being cynical) is a simple housekeeping exercise to make sure that the mutant part of the Marvel Universe is all tidy and primed for the Uncanny X-Men relaunch next month. It’s hard to take such a harsh view of the event with issues like this one, however, in which the stakes seem genuine and call into question the very ending that a cynical eye is trying to foresee. The mysterious young Cable’s motivations are finally explained, but seemingly too late for them to come to fruition as the mutant-hunting Ahab lays waste to the X-Men in the Atlantean ‘Searebro’ base, where he appears to end the life of a member of the team.
There have been a few near-death fake-outs in this series so far (par for the course of an X-Men event) and there’s one more here too (maybe two, if you refuse to believe the cliffhanger), but they're not done cheaply. If anything, the are-they-aren’t-they nature of the deaths just adds to the confusing maelstrom that surrounds the characters as they fight for their lives. Here though, in the penultimate issue, it’s clear that the stage is being set for the finale, which means all bets are off, and Brisson’s frenetic script seems to have gone up a notch as we race to the end.
Pepe Larraz hasn’t had it easy, having to draw pretty much every mutant character currently on the board -- plus a few new ones -- all while blowing up everything those characters hold dear. Extermination #4 sees him up his game, though, as the villainous Ahab’s flying ship Pequod dives into the ocean in an impressive -- and very literal -- splash page, followed soon after by a double-page spread that lays out the bleak future witnessed by the young Cable, the one which is forcing him to do everything he’s done so far. This is a busy spread, the core of the issue in more ways than one, but not only does Larraz do an excellent job of maintaining clear layouts, Ario Anindito’s pencils are crisp, while Dexter Vines’ inks and -- perhaps especially -- Erick Arciniega’s colors give this scene the impact that it deserves.
Extermination, much like most capital 'E' Events, hasn’t spared as much time for deep character work as some fans might wish, relying instead on the reader’s previous connection with the cast and an already established understanding of their relationships, but issue #4 is more guilty than previous installments of sacrificing character for action. It’s understandable, though, as there’s a lot of ground to cover before the final issue arrives, and unless you double the page count, there’s hardly room for everything. Some of the moments which should perhaps have been a little weightier don’t land as heavily as they could have done because of this, though, and regardless of how cynical you are, it’s hard to truly believe the cliffhanger is as it appears (and it appears to be very gruesomely definitive, another credit to the art team) because of the numerous fake-outs throughout the run. Not to mention the clearly defined stakes that have been laid out in this very issue which -- if the final page is as genuine as it is trying to be -- are almost guaranteed to unfold now.
Extermination has had a clear goal in mind from the start, so in that regard it’s an event that will be judged by its destination as much as its journey, making the next issue the one to watch. There’s plenty to enjoy in this penultimate issue, however, and it’s obvious that Brisson is enjoying the opportunity to drag the X-Men through hell before their upcoming relaunch in November. This latest issue is a pretty perfect example of why the series is working so far though - frantic action, high stakes and a feeling of importance to everything that’s happening, in spite of how cynical you may be.