Battle of the Atom #1: Chapter 1
All New X-men #16: Chapter 2
X-men #5: Chapter 3
Time travel in popular culture can be like playing a dangerous Jenga game. Pull out too many bricks from the foundation – the past – and the future might collapse.
In the latest X-men crossover comic book from Marvel, Battle of the Atom, the consequences of the X-men‘s experiments with time are close to catching up with them. Maybe Beast bringing his past self, along with younger Jean, Cyclops, Iceman, and Angel, to the present was not a great idea.
(This review includes some spoilers for Battle of the Atom parts 1, 2, and 3)
Wolverine’s team of X-men head to Phoenix, Arizona when their mutant tracking computer Cerebro detects a new mutant. Cyclops’ X-men team arrive, and trigger a fight with mutant hunting robots called Sentinels. The battle ends with a grim agreement: the young X-men have to go home, whether they like it or not.
With a crossover of this size and scope, the problem of continuity can cause problems. Continuity can frustrate and quagmire comic book reading. Readers might be left wondering who a character is – why are the other cast members reacting so savagely, or so kindly, to this individual? Battle of the Atom notes characters who are tied into past X-men stories, but does not create a storm of interest around them. Details are noted, but only noted. Readers are not expected to know about the complete Marvel superhero history. Marvel’s intent is that these notes are like an Easter Egg for the long-term fans, or those interested in details. New readers will not be overwhelmed. Accessibility is their goal.
There’s no need for an X-men Encyclopedia here. Unless you want to read one.
Three artists combine their skills to pencil and ink the first issue of this epic. There are several scenes draw over two pages that show off the artists teams abilities. These scenes have no speech bubbles, depicting the X-men‘s deploying their colourful abilities to mash deadly robots into scrap. Body Language and poses during the battles are fun to watch.
Hidden in the background are characters or images that set up the tone of each scene. In the bright and loud scene set inside the X-men’s school cafeteria, a character called Doop comically bakes cookies for the students. Early in the comic, after scenes of a violent and dark future, an image of a grim reaper etched with fine pencil and ink lines chillingly fills the background behind a set of panels. During the Arizona sequence, a new character call Animax summons dragons and other monsters to fight for her, and when sentinels arrive, her monsters share the look of fear on her face, which is a good detail to include.
The quality of the art stays strong throughout the first three issues of Battle of the Atom. For example, the images of the Blackbird jet laying abandoned on a beach in chapter 2, and a lonely and forgotten island called Utopia sitting on the horizon in chapter 3 both invoke a moody atmosphere.
Seeing classic X-men characters Iceman and Beast from the distant past and the present day caused drama and action for the past year in X-men comics. Battle of the Atom adds another layer, however, with the addition of X-men from the future. In a move similar to what Marvel superhero Thor has recently experienced, there a
re a trio of Icemen and Beasts from across time. Marvel Comics seem to be taking inspiration from Doctor Who as it showcases a character from different points in their timelines.
These cast members could be describe similarly to the Doctor’s incarnations. For example, the first Iceman is a teen who resembles a snowman. The second Iceman is in his late twenties and has ice crystals and frost spiking from his face, head, and arms. The third Iceman is roughly the size and weight of the Hulk, and has a mouth full of teeth like broken bricks.
The major dramatic conflict appears between the other X-men and the young Jean and Scott, who don’t wish to go back in time to their home. Storm clashes with Kitty Pride and Rachel Grey over how to best persuade a pair of angry teens to do as they are told by an authority figure. Molly Hayes from the Runaways also surprises as her future self has joined the future X-men.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
In their refusal to return to the past, Young Jean and Scott are criticised by Beast and Kitty Pride. They argue that Jean and Scott are putting their own desires above “Everything in existence”. Exaggerating the truth helps cover for the fact that what’s at stake here is the X-men‘s history. Scott argues back: “You’re not letting us choose our own destiny. You’re damming us to our pre-determined fates”.
The values are clear in this conversation: can you force someone into a situation they don’t want if the stakes are high enough? Rachel Grey repeats the problem in chapter 3, saying she is not willing to force the young X-men into something they don’t want. The ethics of what to do, and how to resolve the problem are still unclear since the Battle of the Atom story is ongoing. Themes that appear are: coercion of the young by the old, and free will.
A bit more on Battle of the Atom: Chapters 1, 2, and 3.
What starts as an action story with X-men fighting sentinels, which they have been doing for fifty years, seems to be building into large scale changes for a key cast of Marvel comics’ superheroes. But where is the villain of this story? Is there a character in the background working to turn the chaos brought on by the X-men’s time travel to their advantage? This is what’s clear: Jean and Scott’s rebellion creates the sense and anticipation of small rocks falling down a slope just moments before an avalanche.