Miniseries Review: ExterminationA comic review article by: Jamil Scalese
The clichés, tropes and formulaic storylines of the cape genre have entered a new era. Nowadays our favorite recycled archetypes from popular superhero stories are ultra familiar to the point of redundancy. Let's see: the dark protector, the all powerful being, the scrappy underdog, the regenerative freak, the list goes on and on. The generic superhero is a commodity now a days, and BOOM! Studios has practically sectioned off an entire wing of their line for off-brand versions of characters getting million-dollar movies.
The draw of Extermination begins and ends with its odd couple, but there is much there to draw from. At the outset, the heroic nocturnal vigilante Nox and the maniac master scientist Red Reaper demonstrate their forced kinship by relying on their respective brains and brawn to survive a disastrous alien invasion. The non-powered "Capes" are at the center and their dynamic involves Nox, the clear Batman allegory, holding steadfast to his ideals of heroism and justice, and his partner Red Reaper, a shitty person no longer wishing to participate in the over-the-top procedurals of the previous life. The broken and crumbled world around them provides new, unfathomable challenges, from survival to the nature of ethics, and it works because the creative team is ambitious and tosses us as a moody and sinisterly lighthearted plot.
Through the first part of the series, Reaper's new world view wears down on the tough moral resolve of Nox. From the first grawlix ridden filth-rant the Red Reaper shines as the jewel of the series, wielding quips, fancy words, wisdom and pure hate to great effectiveness. A wonderful mix of Lex Luthor and Green Goblin, the character is relentless throughout the entire series, and his "voice" gets better and better as the series progresses. Spurrier clearly grew to like the character, and the more ingenious, and comical, moments slant heavily toward the semi-retired villain.
Nox, the rugged nighttime detective with a tight moral code, increases in complexity with each issue, and that's a big reason why Extermination is a good series rather than a series with a good character or idea. By the middle of the story it's revealed that the psychic invaders arrived due to a cataclysmic love triangle between Nox, Absolute (the Superman stand-in) and an anti-heroine. The jealousy war between Absolute and Nox unfolds delightfully and both go at each other with maximum ferocity short of heartless murder. If you always wondered what it might be like if Clark and Bruce were a couple dicks with a mutual girlfriend and no respect for each other here's your chance to see how that'd unfold.
I HYPERLINK previously complained about the flashbacks in the first issue, but over time they become just as rich as the present tense team-up. The world before the EDDA invasion is far more vibrant and theatrical, and the fierce contrast helps distinguish between the time of heroics and the time of survival. We also get a lot of neat background characters, many of whom are slight parodies of their source material. My favorite might be the Hulk-type who transforms when he gets turned on.
The art team manages a complete turnover by the end of the series. Extermination starts with Jeffery Edwards and colorist Blond, then Edwards and penciler V Ken Marion trade off for a few issues on the present/past tense duality before Marion takes over to finish the series. Michael Garland comes in for issues #5-8 to do colors.
It'd be easy to lambast BOOM! and it's editorial team for not being able to keep one artist for eight issues, but to their credit the series maintains an impressively consistent tone. Edwards and Marion complement each other, and their styles are not particularly diverse. As a whole the color choice in Extermination gives it the distinct look normally provided by pencils. The flashback scenes speak to the typical palette of superhero comics -- bold and flashy. It's what to be expected, and works because of it. The true ingenuity comes in the post apocalyptic sections, with grays and browns dominating the scenes. Blood, pus and guts are decoration for the panels, and the creatures that haunt this worlds are eerie wonders ("Technicolor arseplugs" as Reaper puts it) that trick the reader into staring at them before human evisceration.
The continuity between all the artists is fairly good, and overall it's a give and take relationship. For example: Anatomy problems blemish Edwards' portions, but I preferred his rendition of the characters a little more. What counts most is they execute the script, and it's good times for all.
Extermination is a surprisingly complex work. A clever storyline lays pieces from the first issue to the last with savage twists and sickening turns. The primary tension originates from the relationship of the core duo, and the ideological debate that evolves at pace with the plot. For a the sake of leaving the specifics alone I'll shy from plotting out all the fun stuff, however, the rest of the review will discuss the final page of this comic.
The mega-sized conclusion showcases a final showdown between Nox, Absolute and Red Reaper with the Earth's freedom on the line. Via a series of events imbedded in small moments throughout the eight issues the eventual victor is... Red Reaper???!!
Yeah, the villain wins. He stands triumphant over the human race, wielding an item of great power and proclaiming a new era of invention and survivalism. A peculiar conclusion that sticks with me. I have detailed how the alluring and enigmatic Reaper unfolds over the series, dominating it at times in terms of personality and plot momentum. Extremely intelligent and crafty like a straight dude pretending to be gay, Reaper, like his companion Nox, learns a lot over the series. Is he a good guy at the end? Hell no. But he's not the person he once was.
Is Extermination's finish saying something, or just a jovial poke at the "good always wins" formula that never, ever gets broken? The bad guy, a stand in for the many mass murderers across comics, takes advantage of an unruly feud between two heroes, wipes out all his rivals and proclaims his dominance. It's through this ending that Extermination makes the continuing case for generic superheroes as a place to play around with some the best collective ideas in comics and flip them on their head. Gross, funny and ambitious in its character work this collection of comics is worth a read. Check it out, at the very least so I can get the Red Reaper ongoing we all know Spurrier really wanted to write.
Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.