Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Mane Event - X-Men: Battle of the Atom


I wanted to like Battle of the Atom, I really did. In fact for the first four issues, I loved it, thought it was a stellar, exciting crossover that didn't feel like a crossover as much as it did a brilliant miniseries that'd impact all the orbiting X-Books for the better. And they were already pretty great!

So what happened?

I don't know. It just kinda peters out after the fifth chapter (Wolverine and the X-Men #36) introduces the 'big twist', which is that the entire thing is really more of an incidental struggle between a future faction of the Brotherhood – here led by a kind-of-boring evil Xavier Jr. and the initially-interesting but eventually really boring Xorn II (the future incarnation of the Jean Grey brought back from the past), and the X-Men of the future. It should feel huge and explosive and really tense, but then there are so many twists without impact, so many 'surprise' characters, that it feels bloated.

The biggest problem with Battle of the Atom is a thematic one – it's about time travel, through-and-through. X-Men stories aren't about time travel, though. They're about prejudice, hate and fear, finding strength in bonds of fraternity and overcoming your struggles to forge a better future. Atom chooses a recurring element (which my inner cynic says was motivated by the upcoming Days of Future Past movie) of the grand X-Saga and makes it consume the entire thing, and the end result is really rather negligible. Atom's lasting legacy is some new stray bad guys including Evil Xavier and the amusingly-designed future Beast (forever named 'Goatman Beast' from now on) and the awful Raze, son of Wolverine and Mystique. Besides that, the only major shake-up is the insane moving of the Original X-Men to the side of Cyclops, mutant terrorist. That could easily have happened sans crossover.

Atom has its highlights, of course. Some of the action is ballsy stuff, and some of the future characters are fascinating, like Wiccan, Sorcerer Supreme and Quentin Quire, jerkass host of the Phoenix – so of course, none of them get any exposure, as the middle issues and even the finale devolve into lots and lots of padding. Even the final fight feels stuffed to bursting with nothing in particular, which is baffling.

Battle of the Atom isn't confusing or overwrought. It's clearly got a well-defined beginning, middle and end, with satisfying story beats dispersed throughout. But taken as a whole, it's dull, it's flabby, and it's not very fun to read past the first handful of issues. Maybe in six months, when the impact and fallout become clear, it'll feel more important – but right now, in the immediate aftermath, it feels like a missed opportunity.

At least Sentinel-X was cool.

Jack Meldrum wonders if anyone ever got their jetpacks in the future. Probably not.

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