The best and worst thing about the X-Men is the decades of continuity that hangs over issues like this. One the one hand, if you’ve been following the lives of these characters over what must be thousands of issues at this point then you’ll no doubt get a lot more from X-Men: the Exterminated than someone who’s only recently dived into the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe. It’s not that this issue is impenetrable, in fact, both writing teams do a good job of making everything as accessible as possible. It’s difficult to find a good story while also trying to serve those that want meaningful depth of character and those that want to know the basics of why these characters are so sad.
X-Men: The Exterminated is two short stories in one issue. The first looks at Hope Summers and Jean Grey, the “daughter” and “mother” of Cable respectively (it would take far too long to explain why both of those titles are in quotation marks, perhaps proving how complex this particular portion of X-Men history can get) searching for all of the deceased time-traveler's safe houses and closing them all down. There’s a lot of misplaced anger, some entirely appropriate anger, and some bonding, healing and a Deadpool appearance thrown in for good measure. The second story is a flashback story to when Cable was born, showing the early days of Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor coping with raising a child in what was a less than perfect marital home (perhaps the biggest understatement in comics, right there).
The first story, written by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler is perhaps the weaker of the two tales, if only because the script doesn’t feel as genuine as it needs to be to convey the emotions the plot demands. No one really talks like that in real life, which is, admittedly, a silly thing to say in an X-Men comic, but what the characters are all feeling is real and relatable, and it would have been nice to see that realism reflected in the script. Instead, it feels like it suffers under the weight of that convoluted history, with lines like “as someone who’s recently been revived, it doesn’t make it hurt any less”.
The art, by Neil Edwards, also sometimes struggles with the emotional range needed for the script. There are times when a slight tweak in the pacing or an extra beat here and there to allow the weight of the words to really land would have given this story greater impact. For the most part, though, the story looks good and is presented well. There are bold action scenes, like the fight with Deadpool and the Danger Room exercises, that flow through well, while quieter moments with Jean and Hope are given the room to breathe.
It suits the balance of the book that the first story -- which deals very much in the emotions of the present as the characters look to the future -- is written by a team fairly new to the X-Men, and the second story -- dealing with an untold moment in Cable’s history -- is told by a true veteran to the universe. Chris Claremont, perhaps the greatest X-Men writer ever, is far from a stranger to these characters, and that experience shines through here in a tale that drops right back into the heart of his lengthy run. Having just had the baby, Scott and Madelyne return to Alaska to be with her parents, while Havok, Polaris and father Corsair lend support to Scott. The drama comes from an earthquake that traps Madelyne’s leg under a tree, but that’s not really why we’re here. Much like the previous tale, it’s the emotional melodrama that makes the story work, and there’s a fairly effective sequence between Corsair and his son (newly a father himself) that brings this tale together.
Ramon Rosanas is the artist on the second story, and he handles the demands of the script with ease. There are flashbacks within the flashback, calling for the characters to be depicted at different ages, and some familiar scenes for longtime X-Men readers that are replicated in a way that brings an effective level of nostalgia to the affair. While the script doesn’t ask for the sort of pacing the first story did, some of the emotional beats are again lost here in ways that other artists may have leaned into more, but overall, this is the better looking of the two tales.
While both stories tackle the death of Cable from two very different angles, the thematic links between the two allow X-Men: The Exterminated to become more than the sum of its parts. The first story showing a mother and a daughter finding a connection following the death of their son/father contrasts really nicely against the second tale, which shows a father and son bonding over the birth of that very same man. It’s not a perfect issue, and you definitely get more out of it the longer you’ve been a fan of the characters, but reading both stories back to back allows the issue to become stronger in ways that neither story would perhaps have managed on their own.