X-Men: Battle of the Atom 2

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Today, Patrick and Ethan are discussing X-Men: Battle of the Atom 2, originally released October 30th, 2013. This issue is part of the Battle of the Atom event. Click here for our complete coverage of Battle of the Atom.

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‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, “I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’

‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’

-Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King

Patrick: There’s a timbre to endings — a quiet cadence that mixes melancholy with hope. It’s an absurdly powerful tool in the writer’s box of tricks, and when it works, its hits the reader’s heart like a sock full of pennies. It’s the payout on the contract struck between the author and the audience, and it’s important for those moments to land. Battle of the Atom 2 executes so many muted goodbyes that it necessitates four epilogues, and aching sincerity occupying about half the issue. None of these moments reach the poetic heights of our buddy Tolkien up there, but the issue does manage its own form of bitter-sweet closure. It’s just the kind of closure that promises that we’re going to keep right on trucking on to the next adventure… and inevitably, to the next reality-warping event.

At Cape Citadel Military Base, the Mutants are in the midst of their free-for-all when the SH.I.E.L.D. helicarrier unleashes its entire payload. What is that payload you ask? Well, it’s your basic shit… and also some enormous Sentinels, brazenly branded with the letters S, H, I, E, L and D. Fresh off his epic featuring the God Killer, artist Esad Ribic consistently draws them as towering monoliths, so large and imposing that their finer details are obscured by their sheer menace (oh and an explosion or two).

SHIELD sentinels

Turns out Future Jean and Kid X used their combined telekinesis to launch the attack in an effort to prove the point that humans will always try to kill mutants. No one’s falling for it, but the ensuing battle now has the added wrinkle of “there are also giant robots trying to kill everyone.” Everyone pitches in, and the Sentinels end up claiming the lives of several of our elderly cast members: Beast, Colossus, and most heartbreakingly, Jubilee. And that’s when Jean “Xorn” Grey gets mad. She places the blame for all of this on Cyclops and Wolverine — if only they’d learned to play nice together, there would be no divided mutant goals. They attempt to reason with her beat her up, but are easily dispatched. Then, at long last, it’s the Original X-Men to the rescue.

The Original X-Men vs. Xorn

We’ll get back to that image in a second, but just to wrap up: the Original X-Men back Xorn into a corner, causing her to self-destruct. Blingo-blango, event over.

This issue — and this entire event — borrows much of its emotional power from characters we already know. Even those that appear to be new aren’t really developed on their own, but as old favorites filtered through the “what if”-fueled imaginations of Brian Bendis, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood (all of whom receive a writing credit here). I’ve made the comparison to “playing with all of the toys” before, but this is the first time I’ve noticed the material itself treating the characters as toys. It’s almost an incoherent pile of action figures until the battle simplifies down to Original X-Men vs. Xorn. And just as Ribic delivered on the monolithic monsters in the form of the sentinels, so too does he deliver on the gods in the form of the Jean, Hank, Scott, Bobby and Warren. Look at them, doing that sort of classic superhero pose, where it looks like they must be jumping from somewhere (but where?). In that moment, they are our perfect little comic book heroes.

And then there’s fall-out. Fall-outs, I should say. The aforementioned epilogues seem like they might be more properly labeled as prologues to other series — we get the distinct artistic teams from all four series for each epilogue. The rapid-fire switches in visual styles it kinda off-putting, and I wish they would have let a single authorial voice come through, instead of trying to serve so many different masters. Even those moments that I found effective — like Shogo and Jubilee finding peace in each other’s presence — were swallowed up by whatever was happening on the adjacent pages.

Ethan, why don’t you start there — which was your favorite of the epilogues? My least favorite was Wolverine’s speech about how he believes himself to be a professor because of all the professing he’s been doing. That one was the most like Wolverine and the X-Men, so maybe the fact that it didn’t speak to me that much is a result of the fact that I hadn’t been reading that series. (But also, the pithy bickering between he and Cyclops reinforced Old Jean’s point. When can I expect a “Xorn was Right” t-shirt?) Oh, and how about those little defectors, huh? That was a surprise and it felt totally earned and honest to boot.
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Ethan: Oh, Epilogue 2 — the chat between Jubilee and Shogo — without a doubt. Ever since Jubilee adopted baby Shogo, she’s been one of my favorite characters, and ever since the revelation that Sentinel X was not-so-baby Shogo, I’ve been thrilled. The Sparkle Motion version of Jubilee back in the 90s always struck me as a joke (like Dazzler), so I love that she’s been rebooted as a more mature, fleshed-out person. The vampire thing was a bit of a weird twist (yeah — she lost her sparkle-powers and got vampirism for those of you not following at home), but Brian Wood uses it to create a moment of intimacy and nostalgia all in one here, a moment of dislocation for Shogo — back to his youth — and a moment of awe and joy for Jubilee as she marvels at the sight of the young man her son has become.

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It’s a complex little interaction, as Shogo’s still processing the shock of losing his mother and Jubilee is being pulled between the bizarre sensation of seeing her future self die, her desire to spend every moment with her adult son, and her desire to not crowd him in a delicate time. As much as I love the comic book medium, it’s often more about the fun adrenaline-fueled superpowered beatdowns; I thought this exchange was a moving reminder of the mature, engaging, heart-grabbing thing that comics can be when the creators feel like making it so. In summary, FEELS.

I’m interested by your reaction to Wolverine’s statement, Patrick — I actually appreciated his sentiment. He’s always been at odds with Cyclops, thanks to their shared infatuation with Jean, but I thought that their exchange at the end of this issue did a nice job of cementing his moral high ground and putting Scott in his place. Which is crazy, because “moral high ground” is pretty much never what you think of when you think of Wolverine — fabricated mutant weapon (Weapon X), friend-killer (Archangel), child-killer (Apocalypse), son-killer (Daken). Yeah. But the facts of more recent history remain: Scott murdered Charles Xavier, Scott ran off to do his own thing because he was impatient with Xavier’s methods, and Wolverine — the LAST person you would expect or want to take care of a campus full of impressionable youths — stepped up to respect and continue the legacy of its late founder. Wolverine doesn’t DO teaching by nature. He isn’t patient, he isn’t altruistic, he doesn’t see himself as a civil servant. Yet, like he says, day after day he does the job because it’s a job that needs doing. Running a school infested with pesky students and mischievous Bamfs is in no way a “good fit” for him, but he does it anyway. That subordination of self is something to admire, especially so in one more viciously ruled by his animal passions than his more cool-headed peers. I saw this exchange as the most brutal shredding Scott’s taken to date, more so than any physical damage he’s taken in the past. Not only did you kill Professor X, you’re not man enough to carry on his legacy without resorting to essential anarchy. What a fuck-up you are, Mr. Summers.

So yes, the defection of Kitty and the Blast-From-The-Past X-Men was a bit jarring. I can see where they’d have trouble trusting the Present X-Men after the latter showed that they’re willing to resort to force to send the kids back to their own time. At the same time, I don’t blame today’s X-Men — screwing with time is doing some pretty weird and awful things to the Marvel universe right now; a pack of superpowered teens can suck it up and be herded back in time as much as necessary as far as I’m concerned. And I’m speaking as someone who had a curfew all the way through high school — I understand chafing under authority, but breaking the space-time continuum is a bit harsher consequence than missing a late-night party or two.

And why on EARTH would you buy into Old Evil Scott’s tripe? You’ve got an entire original X-Team PLUS the invincible person who can neutralize all electronics — start your own goddamn team or something, don’t just assume that the other party has all the good ideas just because yours made some calls you don’t agree with. In any case, I’m sure you’re right about the epilogues being springboards for future titles, Patrick, because I think there’s a lot of un-mined gold in the mix-up we’ve seen in the Battle of the Atom. I wouldn’t mind following the future X-Men a bit further to see Shogo and his teammates in action, and I’m eager to see how pig-headed Young Scott and stubborn-mule Old Scott deal with living under the same roof — serves them right. All I can say is — they were made for each other. It’s going to be a trip.

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For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

10 comments on “X-Men: Battle of the Atom 2

  1. When they announced that All-New X-Men was continuing after the event, I was too distracted it’s spoileriness to even remember what was announced about Uncanny X-Men, but with those two teams now ostensibly on the same team, I’m curious how they’re going to divy up those series going forward.

  2. You know, for whatever faults the adjective-less X-Men series has, I absolutely love the Jubilee-and-Shogo relationship it’s built, and I am thrilled that it’s become such an important part of X-Men lore so quickly.

    I don’t know if everything fell into place perfectly with Battle of the Atom, but man this series was a lot of fun, and bringing together all these various factions and eras of X-Men was a really fun way to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

    Also, I absolutely loved that crack about Rachel Grey being the “Ethics of Time Travel” teacher.

  3. I think that your toys analogy was spot on Patrick. This story started off interesting enough but soon turned into dumping a bunch of new toys out on the floor in front of the reader as way to distract them from the story steadily breaking down. The focus of the book was hijacked by all these future versions of characters which when it got resloved, didn’t matter at all. The goofy future selves of these x-men were built to be discarded, not just in terms of design but also because there was nothing to them.

    Granted when you poop that many characters out on a narrative that fast there is no time to develop them. Though that is where as a writer you don’t use more then you can write well. Problem is that takes care for the craft and self awareness .. oh well. The story could have easily been told with a pair or pairs of folks coming back. Let us not only see how the past characters are affected but also how these folks going back are as well. Do they ever question their actions or who they are now in the face of seeing who they once where?

    No one who came back was at all effected by their experience. It was a lot of “yah I was like this when I was younger har har” throw away lines.

    I am glad that there were aspects that emotionally resonated with you Ethan and maybe I was too dumb or the emotional beats were too subtle for me because by the end here I was left so flat I just didn’t care what happened to anyone. The given situation it felt so stupid and hack that any outcome that might have occurred was equally valid and equally uninteresting to me.

    Having read Bendis for a while I am getting tired of the crutches he uses to prop up his bad writing. Shield has mutant killing sentinels on the ready, a story we have seen a million times over but used to no real effect other then a cheap last minute grab or some tension. Also it is just stupid as hell.

    Why would shield have mutant hunting Sentinels when they could just have general use sentinels that can be sent to take down any given group of folk be they mutant, mutate, mad scientist etc etc. Seems better then sending out people to get chewed up by people with more power then a tank.

    Why after years now of petty infighting that leads to massive shows of force and destruction are the older guard still shocked when folks put things in place to deal with them?

    The biggest offender though in the lazy, witless, and maladroit, bag of tricks that Bendis and solidified in the wrap of this series is:

    The original team can’t go back anyway because as we see in the final issue “…. well … .um …. cuz…. yah.. that is it.. they can’t go back… so.. yah there you go”….. “um yah there is totally a reason for this … that … I will… tell you …. wait look at the all the epilogues… don’t mind me slipping out the back” – Bendis

    • I mean, I guess there’s an airtight meta-reason the original x-men can’t return to their original time: the book is about them. I remember reading an interview with Tom Brevort where he said that they’ve been wanting to do a book where the Original X-Men come to the present for a while now, and All-New X-Men was them finally making good on that. For better or worse, that is a very “let’s pull out those toys again” desire, and even in its set-up, didn’t make much more sense that “eh, Beast just does it.” They can’t go back because we’re not done playing with them yet.

      That doesn’t make for the most satisfying in-narrative reason for keeping them around, but I think Bendis (and editorial, for that matter) has always been interested in what it means to have these characters that were originally written in 1963 around in modern comics. Like, it’s not just a younger version of Cyclops, it’s a Cyclops from an era where his radicalization means something different. It’s a neat way to look at how the allegories have changed – this whole “mutant as terrorist” thing is pretty new. How does that rub up against the idea of mutants as proponents of civil rights? In what ways are the Cyclopses fighting the same fight? In what way is it different?

      • I guess for me the question or what it would be like for the original X-men to be here now seeing where their cause ended up isn’t a question worth exploring. Well not with the writers at hand who can’t seem to ring anything meaningful out of it.

        Examining what folks in the 60s would make of today if they saw it with youthful eyes might be a good place to mine engaging narrative but Marvel can’t really do that.

        As is Marvel can’t pin a date on anyone but Cap anymore because time is nebulous and fluid for their characters which makes coming from a deliberately vague and ill defined past sloppy and problematic. Are the original team children of the 70s or 80s now?

        They can’t be from the 60s anymore but even if they were I am not sure that bringing the team here now invites interesting contrast.

        Then marvel was using the plight of mutants as a parallel to the civil rights movement. Now as a nation there is a strong push for gay rights. Different group (well for some) but same struggles for the basic rights that the majority already have along with some cultural parity.

        I don’t see what good story potential there is in bringing the original team into marvel now. Sadly what it really does say to me is that Marvel, for now at least, has just plain run out of ideas for some of their older characters in the X-titles. This is no surprise since they have been mining them for decades and are bled dry. There are good stories to be had that feel new and explore characters in interesting ways but they don’t have the brand power that the 90s X-men carry.

        Battle of the Atom, I was hoping was going to get me back into the main X-titles. Unfortunately it sort of just reminded me why I stay away. Great art there but the writing leaves me disappointed and frustrated. Thankfully Legacy continues to engage me and Peter David is going to be getting X-factor up and running again so I will have some engaging mutant tales to keep me enjoying the X-corner of the house of ideas that still lives up to its name.

        • You both raise some solid points, but I don’t think Scott needs to be tied to a specific time for him to struggle with how much he’s changed. That is, the year Young Scott was taken from doesn’t really matter, it’s the difference between himself and Old Scott that’s important. Whenever there are civil rights leaders, how they age with their mission is always interesting — they tend to move from fighting the old guard to becoming that old guard, and it’s tricky to navigate. I think confronting these characters with how much they’ve changed over the years is a fascinating way to explore how weird their histories have become, and — for me anyway — seems like it has some unexplored storytelling potential.

      • “Mutant as Terrorist” is reaaaally not a new idea. Magneto much? It might be ‘new’ for Cyclops but Cyclops has steadily been moving in this direction for years. The problem is that the characters have always stood in place as analogies for different forms of oppression and “-isms” but for example, this story in particularly does not play up to what the X-Men have always been about. It’s like the writers like Bendis and Aaron are going “Yeah the X Men are analogies. Don’t you remember? Original X Men are here to remind you!” But they aren’t and none of that matters. There are no satisfying in-narrative reasons for anything beyond the writers wanting to have the toys available which is typical for Bendis. Though I know Bendis didn’t write the whole story, it stinks of his interference. This is what makes this story forgettable. In a couple of years will anyone remember this event? Was there anything significant to remember? Beyond a bunch of characters acting out of character? The only character this story served was Jubilee.

        What bugs me most is that I felt I understood the schism between Cyclops and Wolverine. Cyclops was ready to do what needed to be done to ensure mutant survival, he was willing to become what Magneto once represented, a ‘means justifies the end’ sort of guy. And Wolverine despite his flaws, knows that the sacrifices would be too high because he’s been doing it all along. He’s been killing and murdering the bad guys but he was basically given a chance to do right by following Xavier. He wouldn’t be a superhero if Xavier hadn’t extended his hand to him. But now none of their motivations are clear, and what one side accuses the other of doing, the other side will do next week. And they all get passes. Because they have plot armor. Divided mutant goals? There are no divided goals, just people pissed at each other at the core. These stories are just frustrating.

    • Oh and the SHIELD Sentinels thing – yeah, that’s staid bullshit, but it is sorta interesting that Maria was like “wait, what anti-mutant measures?” There’s something going on in SHIELD that not even the director knows about.

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