X-Men: Battle of the Atom Part 1 – A Marvel Comics Event Review [Bane of Kings/Shadowhawk]

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Bane of Kings and Shadowhawk take a look at the first month of Marvel’s one of two ongoing events, celebrating 50 years of X-Men comics.

Battle of the Atom so far is an event with an absolutely awesome premise and some killer artwork, yet it finds itself let down by the fact that it feels like it’s being dragged out over too many books” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

“As with DC’s Trinity War, Marvel’s X-Men: Battle of the Atom is my first taste of reading a major event unfold on a week-by-week basis, and I’m definitely loving it. I’m coming in without any previous comics knowledge, and yet the story is very approachable, which is great.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Bane of Kings:

Story: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood | Art: Various | Collects (by chronological order): Battle of the Atom #1, All New X-Men #16, X-Men #5, Uncanny X-Men #12, Wolverine and the X-Men #36

So, Battle of the Atom. Unlike DC – where my event experience with the publisher has been pretty much all positive, I have had a mixed reception with Marvel’s events. Avengers vs. X-Men and Age of Ultron are the only two events from Marvel that I have completed runs of (AvX in TPB format, AoU in single issues). However, Battle of the Atom and Infinity are going some way to rectify that statement, and whilst Infinity may be currently better than Battle of the Atom, that doesn’t stop the Bendis, Wood and Aaron-written crossover being one of the best Marvel events that I’ve read, easily running circles around AvX and AoU, but I still couldn’t escape some crucial problems that I had with the ongoing narrative.

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First though, let’s deal with the concept, which is pretty awesome, as I’m a massive fan of anything to do with time-travel (there’s a reason why Doctor Who is one of my favourite programs) and when you couple it with the fact that the X-Men are my favourite group of superheroes outside of the Bat-Family, there was no way I was going to miss this event despite having a rather negative experience when it comes to Bendis-written events in the past. X-Men and Time-travel combined could be a winning combination, right?

Yes, at least – for the most part. Unless you’ve been following the Bendis X-books so far, keeping up with the series and understanding what’s going on is going to be a little tricky. Crossovers can after all, be a daunting prospect for new readers – but the main jist of Battle of the Atom is that in All New X-Men, the Original Five X-Men (Cyclops, Angel, Jean Grey, Beast and Iceman) were ripped from the past by a mutating Beast following the death of Charles Xavier at the hands of present-day Cyclops, who is now leading his own band of mutant revolutionaries (with the likes of Emma Frost, Magneto and Magik, as well as a bunch of new students). Beast’s time-snatching of the Original Five was done to try and talk some sense into the present day Cyclops – after all, who better to talk some sense into Scott Summers than Scott Summers himself? Well, so far in – that hasn’t really worked. And now, the X-Men from the future have arrived – among them containing future versions of Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Deadpool, with the intent of sending the X-Men back to their original time before they get killed.

What can possibly go wrong? As it turns out, a lot – as soon young Jean Grey and Cyclops find themselves on the run from pretty much the entirety of the mutants from the likes of the X-Men, future X-Men and even the Uncanny X-Men. The bizarre events that follow make up the first part of the two-month long crossover epic, which started with Battle of the Atom #1 and ends with a cliffhanger on Wolverine and the X-Men #36, setting the stage for next month’s events.

Despite my previous experience with Bendis’ events, I was still really looking forward to the event that was designed to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the X-men. After all, I had faith that Jason Aaron and Brian Wood, my two favourite Marvel writers – would help put out an awesome event. The first thing about this that lets Battle of the Atom down though, is that it didn’t really need to be a big, massive event that crossed over the four main X-Books (All New X-Men, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men) in order to work. Someone on twitter pointed out that this series could have been contained within one book (All New X-Men) over a four issue run, and I’m inclined to agree. For the most part, the Uncanny X-Men and X-Men sections could have been shortened down into one issue, and it felt like the cast of Brian Wood’s female X-Men was just shoe-horned into their Chapter in the X-Men book in a method that felt out of place and could have easily been avoided.

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On the artistic side of things, I felt that the artwork was pretty solid and consistent throughout. We open with art from Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger in Battle of the Atom #1 – delivering some awesome pages that really enhance the book’s visuals. Art Adams and Peter Stiegerwald also have a strong cover to go along with the event-opener as well, and for me it’s probably my favourite cover of the first half of the Battle of the Atom event. On All New X-Men #16, it’s Stuart Immonen and Wade Van Grawbadger again, who deliver some equally strong moments that help keep up the consistent tone that this event displays. You really see some great attention on the multiple-generations spanning cast, and not a single character looks out of place or odd in a room full of people which is further proof to Grawbadger and Immonen’s incredible artistic skills that they can pull this off so well.

The first issue to not involve Immonen and Grawbadger is David Lopez on X-Men #5, and he offers an approach that seems much more at home with character interaction than fast paced action scenes, something that Wood also seems to have a good grasp on as well as Lopez. There isn’t really a massive difference between the two styles of artwork and I’m sure it won’t throw readers off who are waiting for trades.  When the Uncanny X-Men enter the crossover in #12 of their ongoing series, it’s Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend’s return to the spotlight. Bachalo’s art provides the biggest difference yet, but still manages to make it look visually awesome and keeps it similar in tone to the previous issues so when reading all of the issues together, the art doesn’t look so different each issue.

The last person to take up artistic duties is the ever awesome Giuseppe Camuncoli (with Andrew Currie) who delivers some fantastic visuals that really ends the first part of Battle of the Atom on a high note, The cover that’s provided by Arthur Adams and Peter Stiegerwald is also another highlight, matching the levels of awesomeness of Battle of the Atom #1.

When looking at the story for Battle of the Atom, it’s important to note that there are of course different writers on this book. The bulk of the script is done by Brian Michael Bendis, but Brian Wood and Jason Aaron deliver some strong issues as well. For me I think Wolverine and the X-Men #36 is one of the best of the Battle of the Atom issues, and I’d love to see Jason Aaron do All New X-Men for a while even if he is doing a cracking job in Wolverine and the X-Men at the moment. However, Aaron has an upcoming Amazing X-Men series – which I am really looking forward to, so I guess I’ll have to give that a look into.

On a whole then, The first month of Battle of the Atom started off strongly, went downhill somewhere in the middle as two recent issues quickly became thriller, but things are starting to look up for this event as we prepare to enter the second month. It’s only real problem is the fact that this storyline really didn’t need to be an event in order to work, but you have to remember that we still have another month left for the series to convince us that this event is a solid one. I look forward to seeing where Battle of the Atom goes.

Rating: 4/5

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When I reviewed DC’s Trinity War event, I made the mistake of reviewing each of the six issues separately. I didn’t mind doing that, but it created too much work, and that wasn’t fun at all! So with this review, I’m going to take a much different approach and just review the five issues involved together.

Like I said in my pull-quote, this is the first Marvel event that I’m reading in real-time, as the issues are released, and not when they are already available as collections. So far, I have to say that I’m having fun. Its great to see all these different X-Men from different times interacting with each other. While I think the entire premise is just a little bit silly and it involves a lot of cliches, such as the future X-Men being tight-lipped and mysterious and the current-era X-Men being skeptical and the past X-Men being impetuous. I mean, it all feeds into the attitudes of the characters and all, and does make narrative sense, but I wish that it had been slightly different.

All the same, I’d say the first month of the event has been fairly good. Brian Michael Bendis started things off great with X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1, in which he began the conflict that he has been setting up throughout all his X-Men books for so many months now. It was really interesting to see how the X-Men from the past interact with the X-Men of the present, and how the actions of the former and can have an effect on the latter. It really is extremely dangerous for these groups to interact with each other, especially when there are so many tensions in the present as there are, what with the X-Men being divided into two camps: one with Cyclops and Emma Frost, the other with Wolverine and Kitty Pryde. The relationship dynamics between all the X-Men are what define this issue, aside from all the action.

In the second chapter, All-New X-Men #16, also written by Bendis, we get a story that is heavier on the plot development, heavier on the characters rather than the action spectacles. More interesting revelations follow as we see the identities of the future X-Men unveiled, particularly a telepath. We also get to see both sides of the “conflict”, the X-Men at the Jean Gray School with Wolverine, and the X-Men at Cyclops’ base. So far, its all been glimpses of several subplots and the story is simmering quite nicely, building up to what is promising to be a great event. I read the two issues, this and the previous chapter, back-to-back, and it really adds to the excitement to be able to do that.

The third chapter, X-Men #5 by Brian Wood, takes things further, much further. One thing I should point out first is that while I enjoyed this issue, I also disliked it for the precise reason that being a part of this event completely throws off the previous issue, which established a new arc for the series. There’s no clear progression from that issue to this one, and so one of the main the disadvantages of big events like Battle of the Atom is laid bare. The sudden inclusion of Jubilee and her adopted son Shogo really throw off the pacing since they both feel as they are included for the sake of it, to differentiate this book from the others, three of which are being written by Bendis and the fifth by Jason Aaron.

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If we look past that however, the issue is still pretty damn good. It builds on all of the character dynamics and it continues to move the story along. With Scott and Jean from the past now fully on the run from the X-Men of the future and the team from the Jean Grey School, they end up allying themselves with present-time’s Scott and his X-Men team. Sure, the romantic couple from the past acts all bull-headed and stupid, but I still have fun with everything.

The fourth chapter is Uncanny X-Men #12 by Bendis. Unlike the previous three issues, this one is nowhere near as good. Part of the reason is that this is all talk , talk, talk, talk. There is very little actual plot progression or character development. In a word, this was all filler, and not a good filler either. We see some long conversations between all the characters as events all get summarized so that everyone is on the same page, the creators and the readers that is. And the issue doesn’t end all that well either, since all the positive portrayals of Emma Frost go out the window with that cliffhanger. Another case of characters acting… silly.

The final chapter is Wolverine and the X-Men #36 by Jason Aaron. And I gotta say that this was a fabulous issue, easily the best in the event so far. The overall event story moves through fast here, in a great contrast to the previous issue, which was just bogged down by all the redtape of talk, talk, talk. And we also see some great moments, thanks to the wonderful art. If I had to single out, I’d single out the psychic battle between Jean Grey of the future and Emma Frost of the present, alongwith her kids. This entire sequence plays out really well, especially as a visual, and I was thoroughly hooked on all that happening.

Of course, where the art is concerned, there are far too many artists to mention here. They all do a fairly good job, but as is the way of things, there are some wild inconsistencies with how several of the characters are drawn. The visual portrayal of Kitty Pryde, Rachel, past Jean Grey and several other characters didn’t stay consistent from issue to issue. Penciller David Lopez, who took over on X-Men from Olivier Coipel in issue #4, himself lends to the inconsistencies since his Kitty and Storm and Rachel look quite a bit different here. I kind of really miss Coipel on this series. And in the fourth chapter, penciller Chris Bachalo does a really weird thing where, when on Cyclops’ base, he draws some of the characters as if through a distortion effect. That was really weird. It stood out and it didn’t really make any seen.

But that’s all it really. In and of themselves, each issue is drawn and coloured and inked really well. The visuals adds so much to the story, which is as they should since the story is so thoroughly complex, given how many characters it involves. And largely, the artwork really does work well. I’m definitely a fan of some of these books, such as All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men, to the degree that I want to go back and catch up in full to the event at hand.

In conclusion, the first month of Battle of the Atom is off to a great start. Some really interesting characterisations, great dynamics of all sorts between the characters, and a fairly fast-paced overall narrative. Plus, there’s a lot of great humour here, especially from future Deadpool, who gets some of the best lines and even cracks a few (seemingly) fourth-wall-breaking jokes. Gotta love Deadpool. He’s an excellent character!

Rating for X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1: 8.5/10

Rating for All-New X-Men #16: 9.5/10

Rating for X-Men #5: 8.5/10

Rating for Uncanny X-Men #12: 5/10

Rating for Wolverine and the X-Men #36: 9.5/10

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Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.