Breaking Down Battle of the Atom #1

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Battle of the Atom, the 2013 X-Men event crossover, will see All-New X-Men, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine & the X-Men tell a story in which the current X-Men have to deal with past versions of themselves – and, uh, also future versions of themselves.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be reading each new issue of the storyline and offering a running commentary on them. Not reviews, particularly – these are more like a series of thoughts which are brought up by each issue.

There will be spoilers below! Although, really, you’re not going to understand what I’m talking about unless you’ve read the issue first.

bota1 Breaking Down Battle of the Atom #1

Battle of the Atom #1 is by Brian Michael Bendis, Frank Cho, Marte Gracia, and Joe Caramagna.

Cover by Art Adams

Additional pages by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger

X-Men Crossovers are a staple of the franchise. Since the books split into multiple teams and characters way back when, crossovers have made for some of the more inspired and entertaining X-Men stories Marvel have put out. From Inferno to X-Cutioner’s Song and modern crossovers like Messiah Complex, events have served to define the X-Men franchise over the years. Unlike, say, the Avengers, who have mostly been defined by the creator tackling them, the X-Men are more defined by a clear history of ‘big’ storylines.

(Mainly because most X-Men stories are written by the same creator – Chris Claremont)

This has meant that every year Marvel attempt to continue their winning streak with some new ‘big’ storylines for readers. But unusually, we’re currently riding in from a recent string of smaller scale, less successful event stories – Necrosha, Second Coming and Schism all struggled to work on their own merits, and had to be supported by superior tie-in books. Battle of the Atom doesn’t have that luxury, and instead has to bring an entire storyline together – featuring some disparate groups of characters – within the central storyline.

That’s a big ask, especially when you look at just how terrible a job Infinity is doing at making sense without having 2-3 tie-in books assisting the main storyline. On the basis of the first issue, it looks like the X-Office have decided to pare things right down to the basic points. Battle of the Atom #1 doesn’t even bother with Brian Wood’s team of X-Men – this is an introduction purely to Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men teams, with Kitty Pryde and the All-New X-Men taking the main focus.

Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men show up too, although strangely there’s almost no conflict whatsoever between the two teams. They get along just fine, are friendly and playful with one another, and nobody calls anybody a jerk. It’s almost disappointing how little real conflict we’ve gotten since Schism ended and the X-Men split into different groups, especially when it means Kitty Pryde hasn’t been able to rant at anybody for months now.

When the final page brings in the Future X-Men, thus putting three generations of X-Men into play… again, there’s no conflict! It’s all very cordial indeed. Very friendly. No tension or sense that this might be epic.

Yet whilst it’s fun for long-term fans to read an X-Men event and see everybody fighting and angry, Bendis’ X-Men run has really been about returning ‘friendliness’ to the mutants. The characters have all dialled back a notch, settled back into themselves, and been allowed to show off just why they were popular to begin with. No more screaming and shouting and melodrama for the time being – Bendis has focused on the basic traits of the characters and reassumed them to fit 2013.

For new readers, this has made for an excellent inroduction to the characters and world of the X-Men, because we get to see their appeal right there on the page… rather than have to remember what the characters once were. That’s the success and failure of this opening issue – the characters are revived and upbeat… but at the same time, they’re also disengaged from a sense of danger. There’s no threat.

The last page revealing the Future X-Men doesn’t feel ominous either, although maybe that’s because it’s been talked about so endlessly in interviews and solicitations. Really, the main shock comes when you see what the Future X-Men team are WEARING, because lordy if that isn’t some of the worst costume designing since Polaris. The team are in beige, for the most part, with shawls and hoods and bland designs dominating them as a group.

They look absolutely terrible. It’s also worth noting that, in keeping with the goal of making everything simple for new readers, not one of the characters is new. These are all existing characters. There’s no Cable or Bishop or Shard appearing for the first time here. These are established characters, or the children of established characters, aged and changed very slightly.

For all that this is billed as a major event, there’s no sign that the writers want to shock or stun readers with revelations. It instead feels very low-key, simple, and one-note in the opening issue. So really, it’s an issue which completely introduces the key idea of Bendis’ X-Men – that the characters are enjoying themselves for the first time in years, despite everything else that’s happening to them. They’re individuals again rather than a minority group working together on their cause.

At the same time the character-driven writing means that the storyline feels a little linear, and a little too easy. Nothing in the opening issue suggests any reason why the entire crossover couldn’t just see various X-Men sitting in their breakfast room, discussing their differences over coffee.

And that’s probably why Marvel decided, after reading the issue, to release both Battle of the Atom AND All New X-Men #16 on the same day. There’s only one scene in this opening issue, midway through the story, which has any real sense of drama to it – and then the story skips ahead in time so it doesn’t have to resolve or address that drama quite yet.

But! All-New X-Men #16 DOES address it. And picks the story up considerably, in fact. So on that note – more to come..

Comments

  1. barry buchanan says:

    [Complete Disclosure: I’m a Bendis fan.]
    Just sat down and read the entire run of All New X-Men on Tuesday then read BftA #1 and ANXM #16 Wednesday. I was very impressed with what is happening and how well executed the beginning of this crossover was set up then pulled off. Really drives home the point that teen-age Jean Grey is the central figure in Bendis’ run and her being unveiled as an “ambiguous” character. (Not a shock from our previous exposure to the character, granted, but super-sweet to see the how and the why this version is taking the path she is taking.) All great stuff!

  2. Simon Jones says:

    I’m not sure whether the comment about “less successful” crossovers was a reference to the artistic merit or financial success of the relevant crossovers, but for my money Second Coming was one of the best examples in the last couple of years.

    The stakes were high, it had a beginning, middle and a fairly satisfying end and paved the way for the next tranche of X-Titles as well as tieing up loose ends from the previous couple of years of books.

    The only X-book I have been reading for a while now is X-Factor, so I haven’t been keeping up to date. I will be interested to hear how this pans out and whether it is worth checking out.

  3. Synsidar says:

    The last page revealing the Future X-Men doesn’t feel ominous either, although maybe that’s because it’s been talked about so endlessly in interviews and solicitations.

    If anyone can make sense of people coming back from the future, I’d like to see the explanation. The only way I see for it to make sense is a shift in perspective: 2130, say, is the present, and the hero is traveling in time back to 2013 to try to prevent a disaster. He’ll have the usual problem of being unable to actually change the past, but that’s a known issue.

    The only way the future X-Men can be physically “real” is to suppose that the future has already happened, all the way to the death of the universe. Supposing that doesn’t work.

    If someone is writing a parable, then the feasibility of the time travel isn’t an issue, but Terminator-type stories aren’t parables. If someone wants to do a piece on the dangers posed by climate change and has someone come back from the year 2100 describing how rising ocean levels have destroyed seaside cities, I’d be all for it–but fights over time travel mechanics aren’t entertaining. They’re like arguments over style trends.

    SRS

  4. Michael P says:

    “Mainly because most X-Men stories are written by the same creator – Chris Claremont”

    This becomes less and less true with each passing year. In fact, the time since he walked off the book is now longer than the time he originally spent on it (22 years vs 17).

  5. Silly but True says:

    If one is interested in the scientific particulars of futres impacting pasts, I would suggest a review of current innovations relative to “quantum entanglement.”

    Apparently, scientists have — in theory — come “back from the future.”

    By that, it is meant that photons may be “entangled” later (in the future), after the state of said photons have already been measured and established; and even after said photons have already been changed or destroyed.

    Map comic-dom’s “timeline” or characters (say Wolverine, Old Man Wolverine, or “1960s Men”) to the theory’s photon, and I guess you have your beginnings of some type of rational basis.

    I’m no quantum physicist, so I make no claim to the veracity of the theory, or even my limited summary of it.

    Silly but True

  6. Johnny Memeonic says:

    This becomes less and less true with each passing year. In fact, the time since he walked off the book is now longer than the time he originally spent on it (22 years vs 17).

    Untrue. He came back and wrote one or both main titles from 2000 to 2006 and from there wrote spin-offs until X-men Forever was cancelled in 2011. He’s basically only been gone for 12 years or so cumulatively in the almost 40 years since 1975.

    And I also disagree with your first statement becuase Claremont has written so much backstory for X-men since taking it over almost immediately after the Giant-Size X-men #1 revamp. He’s essentially the creator of the franchise as we know it. It’s akin to making new Tintin comics today and saying they have no Herge influence.

  7. Torsten Adair says:

    Bendis writing a bunch of talking heads? Not surprised.

    Disappointed that not only has he broken the rules Mark Grunwald codified about Time Travel (really, this is all confusing enough without having to figure out causality, like young Cyclops seeing something from the future, and altering the timeline when he returns),

    but also the SOP of heroes fighting each other when they first meet. (Which, if you think about it, is smart. You’ve got someone new, appearing out of thin air.
    “I come from the future!”
    “Well, then, grand-niece Sally, sit right down and have some dinner!”
    Yeah, sure.

    So. No. I won’t be reading this.
    But the end is in sight:
    (From the Avengers Timeline, c.2010)
    Ultron War
    Yesterday’s X-Men
    Born To Burn
    We Are Here
    Kang’s Forces
    Scorched Earth?
    3PION
    INFINITE FUTURES!!

    But hey… it can’t be any worse than Onslaught, right?

  8. Synsidar says:

    If one is interested in the scientific particulars of futres impacting pasts, I would suggest a review of current innovations relative to “quantum entanglement.”

    Apparently, scientists have — in theory — come “back from the future.”

    I keep track of developments in theoretical physics. Quantum entanglement has nothing to do with time travel per se, if only because the physics governing how subatomic particles interact is vastly different from the physics governing macroscopic objects.

    Does it make sense to have people from the past, present, and future all arguing about how their travels through time will impact each other’s existence? No, because leaving the space-time continuum has immediate effects. The era the time travelers arrive in would have already been affected by their absence. The idea that someone can leave the time stream at 1:00:01 p.m. and come back at 1:00:02 p.m. without anything happening is a relic of the single-timeline model. That’s too antiquated a model for anything to save.

    SRS

  9. Solid assessment as usual. Like many cartoonist, my path went through obssessing over X-Men comics. While there are some silly things that happen to Superheros, their aging process is the silliest. The X-Men having this long established time travel componant to the narrative makes this even more apparent. Yet, I can’t shake the fact that I LOVE what is going on here.

    I stopped liking the X-Men (and most other X-titles) around the time the got lost in Australian Outback (Not loving Infinity as much as Atom…but seeing Gateway…and New Universe characters has been way fun). It was what came next the didn’t appeal. So I focused on other comics, Love & Rockets, ACME Novelty Library, Frank, Optic Nerve, Eightball, ect… I still loved Superheroes…but the books just lost something (OK they SUCKED) and I was maturing.

    I was studying Sequential Art at SCAD (with your pal Kelly Thompson) and being exposed to old stuff I missed and new stuff that was expanding my world (from the 19th Century through 21st…I was really exploring great works and the obscure). It was great, because occasionally a really great new Superhero like comic would come around; like Promethea or Tom Strong. I was reading important work and discovering well crafted fun comics. This was important, because I knew a Superhero book could still be made and I could still like it…you are never to old for good stuff.

    Kelly (a HUGE X-Men fan…although she was getting in when I was getting turned off) got me to read Schism and for the first time in a decade I was enjoying reading about Mutants. My only problem was Scott Summers. I never hated him before (never loved him either)…but I do now. I really don’t like reading panels with his dumb face in it (can you tell…I really am mad at him…so silly). So I read most of AvX after that and sided with Wolverine and Kitty (my favorite Superhero of ALL TIME). It was good enough to read.

    However, Bendis has made for me a GREAT X-Men story. I love the loose fun of the younger X-Men (I even love Scott…the old…younger one). Now ironically I was so over Scott after reading Uncanny X-Men Vol 3. #11. Right before they started X-Men Battle of the Atom (just when you make a sober financial decision they sucker you back in with a tie in). So I am stuck with him for a bit longer. I had also stopped reading Wolverine & The X-Men; content with All-New X-Men and hoping X-Men gets great (because I love those characters). So obviously (despite Scott and budget priorities) I am back reading X-Men. So to your point of old readers not getting the conflict they need…weeellllll…I kind of like the X-Men with less drama. Like they were just hanging out in the Outback on a vacation…and then some time traveling version just shows up and says…don’t due that…you will ruin everything.

    That took way too long to make my first point, about access to old guard. My second point is…I totally agree this last year has been ideal for new X-Men readers. And that is far more important.

    PS: I love this future Molly Hayes…watch out Kitty…I may have a new favorite…actually the old future kitty is pretty great. I have faith there is a practical reason their costumes are grimy. I like Molly’s just fine.

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