There’s a central conflict to the start of BOOM! Studios‘ latest high-concept series Extermination involving the ‘no killing’ rule of superheroes. In it, boy scout Nox–and you know he’s a boy scout ‘cuz he don’t like curse words, even censored ones–refuses to kill any of the invading aliens that he and arch-nemesis Red Reaper have to fight off, even though they’ve killed countless people (including a little girl) and seemingly destroyed all civilization. The villain goads him repeatedly in the present, and mocks him in the past, keeping up the psychological pressure. It’s too bad, though, that Nox wields guns and wears a costume that resembles Authority anti-hero Midnighter’s. Makes the final page seem more “Well, duh,” than whatever reaction the creative team was going for.
It certainly doesn’t help that, even during the flashbacks showing us how Nox was a “good guy” (comic’s words, not mine), he behaves as thuggishly as the worst depictions of Batman, kicking a detained suspect in the face for no reason. Artist Jeffrey Edwards lavishly sprays blood across the page, the only time he invests any energy into them. The whole conceit of the post-apocalypse narrative is to test and strain our assumptions about morality, but when your example for moral paragon is someone who already comes across as a scumbag beforehand, that conflict doesn’t really exist now, does it?
Perhaps this is the real point that series writer Simon Spurrier and Edwards are trying to get across: vigilante-as-amoral-sociopath, finally allowed to cut loose since the rules are gone. They fawn over Red Reaper, whose costume is less generic and voice is prone to vaguely British dialect that I reckon is supposed to be charming in spite of a wince-inducing lecture about how lame Nox’s name for an alien ability, “dreamforming,” is. His slight texture vs. Nox’s one-dimensionality suggests that the creative team are on his side, and have missed the point of the moral test Nolan’s Batman films, or even the (anti-)heroics of Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves’ Demon Knights, all of which mixed proper characterization and daring into their carnage. The closing scene involves the two bickering over whether to kill an alien, which quickly devolves into the “I’m screaming at you,” “NO, I’M SCREAMING AT YOU!” scene of your average war film. “Good guy” Nox seems to forget the child that is attacked by this alien, not even trying to do anything heroic (think the chest-thumping of Marvel’s Fear Itself or Ultimatum). It culminates with Nox pulling out his gun and yelling “RRRREEEAAAPER!”, extending the “R” and “A” in that way no one does. The layout of that panel slightly resembles one from Winter Soldier #6, with the histrionics turned up and the political meaning turned off. If it’s a parody of superheroism that Spurrier and Edwards were going for, then they did the job of making the whole thing seem ridiculous.
Unfortunately, parody, like other forms of comedy–if that is what Extermination is supposed to be–only works if there’s something being said about the subject. Neither Nox or Reaper are developed as people, they’re merely wooden planks with the words “Hero” and “Villain” scrawled on them, so they don’t represent any sort of idealogy within or without the text. Consider how the equally dystopian Prophet, under Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and various fill-in artists, comments on religious and political themes, suggesting our own unyielding beliefs are a destructive force. What, exactly, are Spurrier and Edwards getting at? That superheroes are bastards? If that’s the case, one can just look at Watchmen or Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil with David Mazzuchelli and get that same message across while also finding ideas about culture, war, and humanity’s place in the universe. Extermination has nothing beyond its one-sentence pitch.