X-Men: Battle of the Atom Part 2 – A Marvel Comics Event Review [Bane of Kings/Shadowhawk]
Bane of Kings and Shadowhawk take a look at the second month of Marvel’s one of two ongoing events, celebrating 50 years of X-Men comics.
“Whilst Battle of the Atom may have started out strong, it rapidly goes downhill and ends up being a disappointing mess that could have been pulled off so much better. Best Avoided.“ ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
“After the strong start in September, the October issues for the event can only be summed up as heroes fighting each other just for the hell of it because why not, its all just cool right?” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Bane of Kings:
Story: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood | Art: Various | Collects (by chronological order): All New X-Men #17, X-Men #6, Uncanny X-Men #13, Wolverine and the X-Men #37, and Battle of the Atom #2.
The second month of Battle of the Atom has come to an end and wow, what a disappointment that was. This is an event that started off with the potential to be a lot of fun with some of the best creators in comics right now – Brian Wood and Jason Aaron working on board this event with Brian Michael Bendis, dealing with my favourite superhero team – the X-Men. And not just one X-team, but three – the Original Five from the past, the five from the present – and as revealed at the end of Month 1, the X-Men from the future. As a result, rather than being something that should have been worthy of celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the X-Men, Battle of the Atom is a cluttered mess that has me very close to dropping the two main X-Books, All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men – after seeing how they were handled here.
Sure – it’s hard to tell whether the series will drop in quality from an event and you can’t judge a series whilst it’s linked in with the event without judging the event as a whole – but if anything could ever lower my anticipation for an future issues it’s Battle of the Atom – an idea that I was originally supportive of because it sounded like a very fun potential for a brand new X-event – but I was ultimately disappointed in its execution, just like I was with past Bendis-written events in the form of Avengers vs. X-Men and this year’s Age of Ultron. In fact, the only event from Marvel that hasn’t let me down so far is Infinity (expect a review of #1-6 when the series wraps up next month) and I think I’m largely going to blame this on the fact that all events that I’ve read so far have been from Bendis.
I was actually looking forward to this one though because I remember reading somewhere that the main idea was Jason Aaron’s, and Jason Aaron has not disappointed me once so far aside from Thanos Rising. Aaron has also shown his worth by putting the best work into his issues and despite the fact that I may prefer Brian Wood as a writer more, Aaron certainly impresses with his storytelling and Wood unfortunately suffers from a weak ability to connect his series with the event which shouldn’t really have been connected with X-Men in the first place – at most, Battle of the Atom could have even been dealt with in just All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men – we didn’t need to have all of the four X-Books involved which hurts Wood’s especially because we were just four issues into X-Men when the event kicked off.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way though, let’s fully stuck into the individual issues of the second month of Battle of the Atom, and I’m going to start by covering All New X-Men #17, which picked up threads from the previous week’s Wolverine and the X-Men #36 – and was by all accounts, an absolute mess, which was a shame – because the quality had just increased in the previous chapter, and I was actually looking forward to a new issue of Battle of the Atom. However – as Bendis typically does when writing books that aren’t called Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, this issue is a let-down. It saw a bizarre alternate future where Dazzler used her mutant influences to become President of the United States of America – before being killed, which naturally causes the first group of X-Men from the future to travel back in to the present. Meanwhile, Magik – Iceman and Beast went into the future to discover the second group of X-Men – and it turns out that the first group of X-Men were in fact the future Brotherhood, with the X-Men that Magik, Iceman and Beast meeting being the ‘good guys’.
If it sounds complicated to you then that’s because it is – by this point I was starting to get burned out on the whole superhero vs. Superhero thing and by this point I was just sick to death of the endless crossovers that we were getting despite the fact that certain events proved to be enjoyable (Infinity, Trinity War and Forever Evil are three recent ones that I found to be more positive than negative.)
The artwork in All New X-Men #17 is pretty solid as well – Stuart Immonen really shines with some fantastic designs as he’s able to handle a vast majority of the characters well, with a great layout to boot. Perhaps the biggest strength of the entire Battle of the Atom event is its artwork – aside from a few weak patches it is the one thing that remains consistently strong, and this issue was no different, with Immonen proving why he’s one of my favourite Marvel artists allowing for an excellent new layer of depth to the characters with some good handling of facial expressions and emotions.
The next issue, X-Men #6, sees the second instalment provided by Brian Wood. Wood’s series got off to a fantastic start and whilst last month’s Battle of the Atom tie-in suffered from the fact that it didn’t really need to be a tie-in in order to work – and sidetracks the point of this series being an all-female team book if almost immediately after the first arc it finds itself tying in with Battle of the Atom. This issue saw the Future Brotherhood assault the Jean Grey School and allowed a greater focus on the female cast than before – because last month’s issue felt like they were just shoe-horned in which was a shame, but the writing style of this book was an improvement on All New X-Men #17 as I actually enjoyed it quite a lot, delivering an action packed read that manages to be entertaining and fairly strong.
David Lopez does artistic duties for this issue and handles them pretty well with some solid action sequences. However, he’s far from the only person behind the artistic team as Cam Smith and Terry Pallot did the inks, whilst Laura Martin and Matt Milla did the colours. This might have suffered from a case of having too many artists on one book in order to work but they’ve pulled off this issue pretty well. However – if I had to point out one weakness it would be the backgrounds as they don’t really work as well as they should.
Moving on to Uncanny X-Men #13, this was another issue by Brian Michael Bendis and another issue that I didn’t really enjoy. There was a lot of stuff happening here like in X-Men #6 but unlike in X-Men #6 it doesn’t all work. Whilst it does indeed gain momentum with now the various X-Teams established and the natures of the two future teams more clear – we don’t really get to see much in the way of development for the future characters and the evil X-Men aren’t fleshed out further now that by this point they’ve been ousted as the bad guys. It’s a shame because in #13 they’re starting to become more one-dimensional characters than fully developed ones which is a shame as I would have liked to have spent more time fleshing them out a bit.
Another thing that doesn’t work is the artwork – whilst I’ve enjoyed Chris Bachalo’s art in previous issues of Uncanny X-Men it doesn’t always work here as it’s not a great fit for the carnage of the unfolding battle, focused too often on characters and too little on action, which is a shame as there are some pretty awesome fight scenes going on that don’t always tick – such as the possession of Krakoa by Future Xavier, and Colossus vs. Molly Hayes. In my opinion this is one of the worst issues of the second month, even if it is mainly because of the artwork.
However, following Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men #37 really shines. S.H.I.E.L.D return to the crossover in an explosive way as Jason Aaron takes the X-characters back to the first time the Original Five fought Magneto – and really improves the quality over the previous issue with Aaron showing that he can handle this event well and he maybe should have been left to do the whole thing by himself. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s artwork is engaging and very well done – probably one of the best artists in the series so far aside from Stuart Immonen’s – with a strong job at handling the vast amount of characters very well, with the finest moment coming from a splash page that pits the X-Men against the Brotherhood very well indeed. However, if you’re expecting anything other than a giant fight, you may not enjoy this issue. It’s explosive, action packed and spectacular, but it’s the most action packed issue so far and might not be for everyone, with a fun cliffhanger that really sets the stage for the final issue, X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2.
And for once, I was actually looking forward to the next issue of Battle of the Atom. Jason Aaron had ended his last entry on a high and things could only get better from there, right? Well, as it turns out – they can’t, as X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 crashes and burns, rendering what could have otherwise been an enjoyable and redeemable conclusion really disappointing, and frankly – I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t happy with the decisions made by Kitty here as the series comes to a conclusion and I certainly wasn’t happy of how it wrapped up which was a shame as things were looking so promising. Whilst there was several deaths throughout the book they really meant nothing in terms of the overall context and everything seems to be geared towards handling the 30-odd characters in one place and as much as I wanted to get behind it, it doesn’t work, with very little being clear throughout this issue as to actually what is going on to make matters worse, we have not just one – but four epilogues to wrap things up.
Whilst they do pull off a reasonable way of explaining what the main issue itself should have done, it doesn’t really work and my biggest gripe was the final epilogue concerning Kitty – she made a decision which I wasn’t too happy with and whilst it may be an interesting shake up for the status quo of X-books I wasn’t really happy with the new direction that the character finds herself in – and to make matters worse, this seems to be the only major consequence from Battle of the Atom. Not much aside from this appears to have any game-changing decisions – and the emotional weight isn’t as important as it should have been because aside from the deaths of some characters in the future nobody gets killed off at all, from the past or present X-Men, and one final disappointment amongst many – we don’t really know anything more than where we begun, as very little changes in terms of stakes or character in this book, so I’m going to say that this whole event could have easily been avoided.
In conclusion then, Battle of the Atom’s second month is a cluttered mess that doesn’t really work as well as it should have done. The concept has started off promising and rapidly dwindled in quality, with the artists being the main saving grace because not even the nearly-always reliable Jason Aaron or Brian Wood can save this event from being poor. It’s better than Avengers vs. X-Men and Age of Ultron though, I’ll give them that much – but it nowhere near matches the high standards set by Infinity and as a result stands as a disappointing read that whilst be entertaining in terms of action doesn’t really deliver on its high concept.
Bane of Kings has pretty much said all that really matters here. In its first month, Battle of the Atom was a really fun event that showed a ton of promise. It had plenty of cool moments, lots of character interactions and generally it was all about building up the event to be something bigger than itself in a good way. It appeared to be an event that would actually matter and affect the status quo of things in the X-Men corner of the Marvel universe. But as it turned out in the second (and final) month of the event, it was anything but.
The X-Men of the past, present and the future, whether good guys or bad guys, all acted out of character for the most part. This has been an event that has apparently been building up for almost an entire year of Marvel NOW! and more besides with everything that’s happened in recent years in these comics, but for all of that incredible promise and potential, the writers delivered something subpar here. They lost track of what had made the first five issues of the event so great, and they went for cliches and cheesy one-liners that did little to add anything to the overall story.
My biggest issue with these five issues is that nothing really happened here, and that there were far too many X-Men teams running around . It got extremely confusing and I was struggling to understand who is in which team and who is who, because there are tons of characters here. And their parent(s). And their kids. And siblings. Its a downright mess.
For a writer like Brian Wood, who has been superb across his other titles and gave us some really great issues for his X-Men book, X-Men #6 fell completely flat for me. He is clearly hobbled by the larger story and has had to work with very frustrating material, which seeps into his writing. Clunky dialogue, clunky story. This issue is not of the same caliber as the five that have come before it and there is a marked difference in the quality. It was disappointing in the extreme. The event proved to be too large for its own good.
Starting with All-New X-Men #17, the decline continued with Brian’s issue, and then with Bendis’ Uncanny X-Men #13. Having introduced the big reveal early on in All-New X-Men #17, the rest of the issues all became about the “good” guys dealing with the fallout and trying to understand just what the hell happened. Uncanny X-Men #13 marked a big moment in that respect since I came very close to giving up on the event altogether. But, the promise of a Jason Aaron script for Wolverine and the X-Men #37 pulled me back in. Besides, I was already too far invested in the event to give up now, and I kept hoping that things would improve. Which they did, quite measurably, thankfully.
But as much as Jason’s issue got the series back on track, there were still some massive issues with the larger story, none of which even Jason could address and resolve since things had gotten hopelessly convoluted by now. By the time that Bendis’ Battle of the Atom #2 ended, I was fairly disillusioned with the whole thing. Particularly since the ending wasn’t really an ending. It amounted to this: the bad guys just up and leave. That’s not how it happens really, and there is a fair bit more that happened, but this is an apt description nonetheless. The big change in status quo that I had expected didn’t come to pass and it was as if things are going back to normal. That is just completely out of place.
This was a 50th anniversary event and yet it feels cheap and a rehash of older concepts that have already been done, and in spades. It offered nothing new to me, except to get me reading the various X-Men comics, which is some small grace I suppose, although not much. The big, grand event fizzled out to nothing. Most disappointing.
In contrast, DC’s Trinity War fared much better and even Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity has proven to be a superior title. The problem with Battle of the Atom is that the event never really realised its potential and it ended up being completely lackluster. All the high hopes I had for this event got chucked out the window. Sure, the last two issues proved to be significantly better than the previous three but the damage had already been done, and that’s the problem here.
Plus I have more reasons to hate and dislike Cyclops now. What a bloody jerk.
The art, if I went into the details, would prove to be an agonizing and painful read. Suffice to say that given all the artists involved, across five different titles, its all a melting pot of styles and influences and results, which were mixed at best. All the inconsistencies were to be expected really. All the same, there were some really nice moments in all the issues, so it wasn’t all a total loss in the end. Which is saying something.
Rating for All-New X-Men #16: 6/10
Rating for X-Men #6: 4/10
Rating for Uncanny X-Men #13: 5/10
Rating for Wolverine and the X-Men #37: 8.5/10
Rating for X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2: 8/10
More Battle of the Atom: Part 1.