Multi-book crossover events are kind of a pain in the ass. At their best they are a good way of tying multiple storylines together, bringing a culmination of actions that have been building for months into one nice climax. At their worst, they are a sprawling, distracting mess seemingly created as a way to get readers to pick up books they wouldn’t normally buy.
When Battle of the Atom was first announced, I was afraid that it was going end up being the latter. It seemed too soon after Avengers vs X-Men and Infinity was just starting. What good could be had from having another crossover event now? After finishing reading the first half of the arc (parts 1 through 5) I’m starting to believe that it’s actually a good way to bring the X-books together without coming off too heavy handed.
I will admit that this arc probably goes over a lot better if you are a) already reading most, if not all of the X-titles (I only had to pick up Wolverine and the X-Men in addition to my usual pulls), b) not totally disgusted by cross book events by this point, c) passingly familiar with the long, crazy X-Men history when it comes to time travel, and d) can recall (or google) a lot of the crazy stuff of the 90s.
The stars of this arc are undoubtedly Jean Grey and Scott Summers, the younger set, who have been time displaced since the start of All New X-Men. They say that the path to hell is lined with good intentions which is something that Hank McCoy could probably write a six volume set about by now. This is no exception. The original X-Men have been hanging around the Jean Grey School for several issues now, gained new powers, learned their futures, and had a falling out amongst their little group.
The surviving original X-Men, worn down by the craziness of their lives since they were teenagers have had to cope. It’s been a game changer, one that at times reads like large scale navel gazing in comic book form. The main question that keeps coming up is if your teenaged self saw you now, how would they react? Or in reverse, if you were sixteen and met your future what would you do to change it? Would it even be worth trying?
There’s a lot going on in these five issues and as a regular reader of many of the titles I was sort of sad to see some of the other storylines be paused for the sake of this one. However it was a story that needed to be told. We have known since the get go that the younger original X-Men hanging out in their future was never going to end well. It takes a brush with teen!Scott dying and adult!Scott disappearing to really get it into these kids’ heads. What they’re doing is dangerous. It’s playing with fire and it looks like someone is going to get burned sooner rather than later.
And that’s just what comes out before the X-Men from even further in the future show up.
I have always had a soft spot for weird Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come situations. I know that it’s a trope that is overused and frequently poorly done, but the fact that it’s pretty clearly laid out there from the get go that there’s more than meets the eye helps sell it. I mean, it’s a future X-Men team made up of Deadpool, Molly Hayes, and what first appears to be Xorn (remember Xorn?) amongst others. There’s literally no way that it came about in a way that wasn’t ripe with something seriously strange.
Tonally, this arc has been a little scattered. Bendis, Wood, and Aaron do a pretty good job of seeming to be keeping a singular voice without losing some of the good stuff unique to each title. Nick Lowe and Jordan D. White definitely earned their editorial paychecks with this one. There were several moments where I could see it starting to veer off the path of good reading only for it to stay surprisingly strong.
An action heavy series (even when there’s exposition and speachify, it still manages to end in a fight) it plays a bit like a higher stakes, mutant powered Bonnie and Clyde (except with less bank robbing and murder). Jean and Scott flee the scene, making a break from Wolverine and Kitty Pryde’s X-Men in an attempt to seize ahold of their own destinies. I could hardly blame them. They’ve seen their futures and they know that it doesn’t particular end up well for either of them. They simply want a chance to grow up and try again, to make things better rather than the “future” that they see as worse.
There’s a bit of humor infused amongst the action which helps break some of the tension. Both Bobby Drakes are on a steady roll and Deadpool and Molly Hayes are their typical witty selves. Even Jean gets a line about how she dies twice in the future that made me laugh out loud.
With art that manages to be beautiful and feel cohesive despite being done by five different artists, it’s a joy to read. I can’t imagine managing to stick through these crammed books if the art was bad. I particularly enjoyed the art on X-Men #5 which was done by David López and was pretty stunning with little details that enjoyed. The coloring throughout all of the books has been top notch as well.
Overall I’ve been enjoying the arc and look forward to seeing how it wraps up. With what happened at the end of Wolverine and the X-Men 36 (the end of the September half), I’m itching for the next issue of All New X-Men (issue 17 is out this Wednesday). I definitely recommend catching this arc sooner rather than later as it seems like it should have repercussions further down the line as far the X-Men are concerned.
One last warning before I go: if you’re not a fan of Scott Summers or Jean Grey, these books might be a harder sell. I’m a big fan so I didn’t mind it, but I can see how the serious amount of page time dedicated to them both, especially together, could wear on those who are tired of the characters.