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.
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..