Three straight DC articles and then two straight X-Men reviews? Rut City, am I right?
No, actually, there is a reason for this. Bear with me.
We just recorded a podcast all about X-Titles this past weekend, and I got to go into how I am the biggest X-fan on our show and how I have been enamored of Marvel’s mutants since the beginning of my comic reading.
That said, I have a huge blindspot on everything X that covers the last decade-plus. Ever since the end of Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men, I have read sporadically at best. Some X-Men Gold here, a Wolverine book there, whatever Jubilee is published in at the time… it’s all hit-or-miss. And while it just got set up with House of X and Powers of X, I have to be honest… I’ve never been a fan of Jonathan Hickman.
So on free comic book day, when I could get the relatively recent Battle of the Atom for $5… hey, the timing was great! After confessing my love of X-Men, why not read something I missed out on?
TITLE: X-Men: Battle of the Atom
Writer and Artist: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Esan Ribic, David Lopez, and Kris Anka.
Antagonists: Also The X-Men
2014! That’s five years ago! I would have thought this was, like, two at the most. Like I said… huge blindspot.
Battle of the Atom is just… SO MANY DIFFERENT X-MEN! The time-displaced teenage X-Men! Cyclops’ rough-and-tumble X-Men! Wolverine’s Xavier-reverent X-Men! TWO different teams of X-Men from the future! Never before has one crossover so earned the moniker X-Men. There are so many!
Battle of the Atom is the story of a team of X-Men from the future, featuring Charles Xavier’s grandson, Jean Grey in the Xorn get-up to contain her powers, Beast, Kitty Pryde, and Iceman coming back to the present day to warn the Wolverine-led X-Men that they have to send their teenage counterparts back to the past. The young Jean and Cyclops are not fond of being told what they have to do, so they run away, leaving the Jean Grey school splintered over what the right move is.
Jean and Scott eventually make their way to the elder Cyclops’ team, and his X-Men are also divided on what to do. Among that team is the teenage Warren Worthington, and he desperately wants to be sent home.
Along the way, ANOTHER team of future X-heroes is encountered—this one featuring Colossus, Jubilee, Wiccan, Ice Master, Sentinel X, and more—and they are not on the same side as the future X-Men that first appeared.
It’s the comic book equivalent of just smashing all your X-Men action figures together. There are so many teams, but within each unit is friction and conflict over who to trust and what should be done.
Oh, and stop me if you have heard this before: it’s all caused by a cataclysmic future related to the eternal war between humans and mutants that simply must be altered!
I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of the fact that, at its peak, this book has three different Hank McCoys and four Icemen running around.
It’s a shame that the X-books have such a reputation for using dire possible futures as a crutch, because this new future-that-must-be-avoided is a tremendously interesting one (Dazzler is elected President, but is then immediately assassinated by a horde of rad-ass dragons, causing many of the X-Men to turn their back on humanity once and for all). Yeah… the dragons part of that doesn’t make tons of sense. But it’s sure original! At some creative meeting, you know this was discussed:
“So we have Dazzler become President, and then an assassin shoots her down, causing the X-Men to turn bad”.
“Yeah, that’s good, that’s good. But what if, instead… and hear me out here… Cthulhu dragons!”
“What? But it’s supposed to be humans…”
And they just went with it!
The story itself is fun, but not particularly deep. In a different era, maybe it would be meatier, but as I said: the idea of awful futures is just so cliche in the X-Universe. Take Bishop’s future for instance! I have no idea what that timeline even is. Eventually things get so bad that… people get hard-ass facial tattoos? And the most evil guy is named Trevor? I don’t know. That might be weirder than Cthulhu dragons. Taken at what it is, Battle of the Atom just a lot of conflict, a ton of characters, and some intense fight scenes. It’s Sugary Candy: The Comic Book. Full of pep and energy, and it’s even quite enjoyable, but when you are done, you haven’t really gained anything by consuming it.
It’s a weird complaint. Like… it’s not deep like The Dark Phoenix Saga, but it’s a fun conceit, just bringing all these different teams and all their different conflicts together and having some smash-ups. Young Jean and Young Cyclops get some good development here, with the writers exploring their developing feelings for each other. Present-day Kitty Pryde sees how little her friends and partners trust and believe in her. Jubilee finds out that she has a chance to raise Shogo into a fine young man. So there are even some good character moments.
And, as I mentioned, I like that there are so many factions of characters running around here, but even within each faction, there are splinters and distrust. But it never gets so bad or disorganized that you need a scorecard.
On a last note, the art is mostly brilliant. Frank Cho, David Lopez, Chris Bachalo, and Stuart Immonen are all wonderful talents, and while crossovers can suffer from inconsistent art, I never minded it here because everything is good in its own way.
Talking Point: Not all comics need to be Watchmen to be good comics. This book is empty calories, but in a good way. Like I said… it’s the action figure smashin’ of X-Men books. What other big crossovers do you enjoy, even if they aren’t particularly deep.
A lot of great art, focus on some characters I enjoy, and a confusing, if still pretty basic, plotline. It’s not the best X-story out there, but it’s better than Messiah Complex or Avengers vs X-Men from the last fifteen years or so.