TITLE: X-Men: Battle of the Atom
AUTHORS: Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, Jason Aaron
PENCILLERS: Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, Chris Bachalo, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Kristopher Anka
COLLECTS: X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1-2, All-New X-Men #16-17, X-Men #5-6, Uncanny X-Men #12-13, Wolverine and the X-Men #36-37
RELEASE DATE: January 7, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
***WARNING: SPOILERS LAY AHEAD! AND I’M NOT HOLDING ANYTHING BACK IN THIS ONE…***
Jeez, and I thought things were convoluted before…
Battle of the Atom is meant to be a 50th anniversary celebration for the X-Men books. While it has its bright spots, it’s largely a confusing mess, and I’d argue almost entirely inaccessible for new fans trying to hop on to the X-Men train.
So let’s break this down. Feel free to take notes…
- When we kick off Battle of the Atom, the X-Men are divided into two groups, each with their own philosophy and their own school for young mutants.
- The first school, the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, is led by Wolverine, and takes on Charles Xavier’s more nurturing, educational ideals. The tnstructors include Beast, Storm, Iceman, and Kitty Pryde.
- On the other hand, you have the New Charles Xavier School for Mutants, which houses Cyclops’ “Mutant Revolution.” Said revolution includes Magneto, Emma Frost, and Magik.
- In an attempt to prove a point to Cyclops, Beast traveled into the past and retrieved the original teenage X-Men: Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Jean Grey. This sparked immense controversy. Recently, teenage Angel defected to the Xavier school, exclaiming: “Between your nonsense and their nonsense…I like their nonsense better.”
- In the first issue of Battle of the Atom, teenage Cyclops has a near-death experience, which almost causes a catastrophic rift in the space-time continuum. This prompts Wolverine and his team to immediately prepare to send them back to their own time. But before they can, a group of older X-Men from the future burst on the scene: Beast, a version of Iceman (long story), Kitty Pryde, Deadpool, Molly Hayes, the grandson of Charles Xavier, and Xorn. This future team aims to prevent the present-day X-Men from letting the teenage X-Men remain in their time.
*whew* Everybody got all this so far? We’ve got four groups of X-Men, two from the present, one from the past, and one from the future. Stay on track, because soon we’re going to add another team from the future…
Almost everything in this book stems directly out of All New X-Men, a series which I’ve mostly enjoyed thus far. However, a lot of the elements from All-New X-Men are what make almost everyone in Battle of the Atom look dumb. In the first issue, teenage Cyclops gets zapped by a Sentinel and nearly dies, causing everybody on Team Wolverine to freak out. Of course, this had been a potential consequence the whole time, but it hadn’t stopped them from taking the teenage X-Men into the field against the likes of Sabretooth, Mystique, and the goddamn Sentinels. I’ll give you that bringing the original X-Men into the present opens the doors for some interesting stories. But letting them stay has never ceased to make the present-day X-Men look incredibly foolhardy. Personally, I’ve been able to overlook that because of some of the intrigue Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen have injected into the book. But starting this story off with the X-Men getting caught with their proverbial pants down doesn’t do them any favors.
Then the future X-Men pop up, and say they’ve come to stop the present-day X-Men from letting the teenage X-Men live in the present permanently, which of course makes the present-day X-Men look even stupider. Then, Xorn’s helmet comes off, revealing the face of Jean Grey. Not the Jean we know, but the adult version of the teenage Jean Grey who had been allowed to remain misplaced in time. (Still with me?)
The ramifications of the teenage X-Men being allowed to remain outside their native place in the timestream are mind-boggling to me. I understand I’m likely reading too far into things here, and I’m no expert in quantum physics. But how does plucking someone of significance from the past and allowing them to indefinitely remain in the present not mangle the timestream as we know it? For instance, let’s say I’m Hank McKoy and I pull Barack Obama from the year 2004, shortly after his big speech at the Democratic National Convention, into the year 2013, and I let him stay here permanently. Does that act alone not nullify the existence of the President Obama of 2013? If I remove 2004 Obama from the equation, then how does he become president in 2008? How does the fabric of time hold together if I’ve removed a major stitch like that? Now, picture the Marvel Universe if Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, or Angel suddenly upped and disappeared one day. Again, I pose the fabric of time question. It makes no sense.
Later on, we discover these future X-Men aren’t what they seem. We see what’s actually a pretty cool series of flashbacks where Beast (Which Beast? Your guess is as good as mine.), Jean, and Kitty help Dazzler successfully campaign to become the first mutant president. Tragically, she’s assassinated during her victory speech. This leads Beast and many of the other X-Men to become the future version of the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants. The flashbacks end in a fairly powerful manner, with Beast realizing just how futile his life as an X-Man has been. This idea could have gone somewhere really cool, with the theme touching on how peace is always something worth fighting for, even if it’s never truly achieved…
But no, instead we get another team of X-Men from the future, this one consisting of a wizard-looking Iceman, Colossus, Jubilee…who is somehow Wolverine, an Iron Man-looking guy called Sentinel X, among others. Magik, teenage Beast, and teenage Iceman retrieve “the real X-Men of the future” in order to learn the truth about future Beast and the others, and to neutralize them I suppose. Of course, from a story standpoint all this does is further complicate things with even more future X-Men, and more time travel, which turns Battle of the Atom into even more of a befuddled, unfocused mess.
All of this culminates in a big battle sequence that stretches through the final two issues, where Team Wolverine, Team Cyclops, the good X-Men from the future, and ultimately the teenage X-Men, take on the Brotherhood. That fight doesn’t necessarily seem fair, considering the X-Men outnumber the brotherhood by about a dozen. But I guess we can give that one a pass, considering they’ve got a Jean Grey and an Xavier on their side. Plus, the whole thing is just an excuse to have a big “toybox” fight between all the characters. So…whatever.
Of course, the toybox fight places the teenage X-Men in more danger than ever, which makes the position Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey end up taking even more perplexing, and ultimately frustrating. In All-New X-Men, Kitty has become a mentor for the time-displaced teens. So understandably, she’s developed a bond with them. But that doesn’t justify her saying this to Rachel in the third issue: ”I don’t want them to go. Ever since they’ve been here…I feel like things have gotten better. I feel like we’re closer to where we’re supposed to be.”
This, simply put, is B.S. I understand Kitty and Rachel wanting to be something of an advocate for the teenage X-Men. But any sentiment in the realm of wanting them to stay is simply selfish on their part, and frankly, makes them look like immature teenage girls themselves. “Things have gotten better.” How? Since when? What has gotten better exactly? How are you closer to where you’re supposed to be? Heck, what were the teenage X-Men even trying to do in the first place? Unify the two groups? That wasn’t even close to happening. So let’s stack this story beat atop the list of annoying things in this story.
Now, amidst ALL the complaining I just did, I must admit there were some elements of this story I enjoyed. Despite how much that conversation between Kitty and Rachel annoyed me, I must admit, it looked damn good thanks to David Lopez. Lopez’s contributions to this book were the artistic highlights for yours truly, followed closely by those of Frank Cho.
The inevitable confrontation between present-day Cyclops and Xorn/Jean was compelling. It left little doubt that no matter what happens, Scott Summers’ true love will always be Jean Grey, even if she’s not necessarily the Jean he knows (“You’re not my Jean!”). I also enjoyed the confrontation between Xorn, Cyclops, and Wolverine, where Jean essentially blames their schism for the mess the future is in. Stories based around deeper character moments like those would have made for a better 50th anniversary tribute than 10 issues of messy time travel drama.
Going into Battle of the Atom, I was hoping the story would close the door all the teenage X-Men stuff, and set the stage for whatever the All-New X-Men title would subsequently become. No such luck. Instead, Kitty Pryde and the teens have jumped over to Team Cyclops, and now we’ve got even more time-displaced mutants running around. Oh, we also find out we can’t send the teenage X-Men back in time at the moment. Why? Because…well, basically just because.
I understand time travel is a big part of the X-Men mythology, given characters like Cable, Hope Summers, Rachel Grey, Bishop, etc. But this was too much. Instead of revving me up to buy more comics, Battle of the Atom ultimately left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Front page image from comicsthegathering.com. Image 1 from deadpoolbugle.com. Image 2 from insidepulse.com. Image 3 from fanboygaming.com. Image 4 from comicbookmovie.com.
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