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X-Over And Over Again - Part 3: The X-Tinction Agenda

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As Messiah CompleX rolls onward, Broken Frontier brings you the third in a continuing series of articles on the X-overs of years past.

1989 and 1990 were a nebulous time for Marvel's mutant franchise. The cast of Uncanny X-Men, the line's flagship title, was in disarray as their sojourn in Australia following the events of 1987's Fall Of The Mutants came to an end. Storm and Rogue were both believed dead, and the rest of the roster began to drift their separate ways. The founding members of the team were still appearing in X-Factor, and the New Mutants had not yet become the militaristic X-Force under the tutelage of time-lost freedom-fighter Cable. The X-verse was in a period of transition, and while it might be going to far to say that the line was floundering, there was an obvious lack of direction.

It was during this time that 1990's The X-Tinction Agenda was published. Once again running through X-Factor, New Mutants and the now-biweekly Uncanny X-Men, this particular X-over was the first where the true perils of such a storyline became evident. To put it bluntly, these were nine issues in which nothing actually happened. Perhaps this is unfair; a more accurate statement might be that nine issues of non-events were used as an excuse for the desired consequences. The X-Tinction Agenda did not come about because the creators had a burning desire to tell that particular story and knew they could only do it justice by entangling the entire current and former student body of Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters. Instead, they had the very pragmatic goal of needing to put together a cohesive team of X-Men and relocate them to the Mansion in a way that made narrative sense.

If one approaches matters from that perspective, though, the question may become...so what? Marvel is in the business of producing commercial, popular comics, and if readers take exception over the metatextual exigencies of the property's well-being occasionally trumping the flow of organic storytelling, they should go read Cerebus or Sandman (remember, it's the early Nineties), right? 

There are observers of both then and now who would make that or a similar point, and they would certainly have a case. But even if you accept that premise, there needs to be a good-faith effort on the creators' part to create a threat that somewhat justifies the crossover, and it is in that respect that The X-Tinction Agenda falls short.

The story-arc sees takes a loose band of X-Men and the New Mutants to Genosha, an island nation off the coast of Africa where mutants are used for slave labor. They are in pursuit of Cameron Hodge, a cybernetic foe of X-Factor, who has kidnapped Storm and several of the New Mutants, as well as brainwashed Havok into becoming one of the island's Magistrates. X-Factor is recruited along the way, and Wolverine shows up somewhere in there with the newly-introduced Jubilee. After some back-and-forth too dull to be recounted here, the mutants take the day once again, although not without cost. The techno-organic alien Warlock is slain by Hodge, while Wolfsbane is trapped in her canine form. On the upside, there’s the introduction of Genosha, the creation of a new X-Men squad consisting of Storm, Wolverine, Banshee, Forge, Psylocke, Jubilee and Gambit (otherwise known as the Roster That Time Forgot), and the first steps towards the five original X-Men's return to the fold some months later.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this story; it simply doesn't have the emotional or narrative impact that a big event storyline like this should. For one thing, Hodge and the Magistrates are not exactly the most intimidating foes in the X-canon. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the storyline to be confined to Uncanny X-Men, still allowing a new team to be built while not undermining the mutants' prowess by implying that they need to act en masse to defeat one media tycoon-cum-killer cyborg and some guys with guns. These are supposed to be superheroes, after all. For another thing, the obligatory Minor Character Death could not have been duller; I doubt even Warlock's creator could tell you why he was a member of the New Mutants, and he would of course go on to be resurrected scant years later. The changes to the status quo of the other characters involved, meanwhile, could have been brought about in different ways within their own titles. In other words, there was no storytelling reason to bring in all of the X-books.

But the marketing possibilities must have been just too tempting to pass up, and so The X-Tinction Agenda remains a dull void in the colorful history of the X-Men. While it has been largely overshadowed by more recent, more memorable X-overs, it should be remembered as the first of these stories to truly fall short of the attendant hype; unfortunately, it would not be the last.

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