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.
‘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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?