Battle of the Atom: Past, Present, and Future

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A wise man once said, “Time travel makes my head hurt.” After reading the first two chapters of Marvel Comics new X-Men crossover event, Battle of the Atom, I think it may have been one of those uncanny mutant superheroes. The X-Men of the past are living in the now with the present day X-Men and now they don’t want to become them. The X-Men of the future show up and they’re sorry they were ever either of them. Confused? Me too, but only just a little, so meet me after the jump for my review of Battle of the Atom.

The Past

A year or so ago, writer Brian Michael Bendis finally started writing an X-Men title. This was something I had long suspected he wanted to do the whole time he was writing the Avengers franchise. X-Men references, and members, and enemies, were constantly showing up during his run, making many, myself included believe that what he really wanted to be doing was writing the X-Men. He got his wish in the Marvel NOW (pardon the pun) with the new titles Uncanny X-Men and All-New X-Men.

All-New X-Men #1 came out a little more than a year ago, and featured a unique twist. For various reasons, his failing health one of them, the Beast time travels to the past and recruits the original, much younger, X-Men to follow him to the future to see what has become of themselves. The young Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl, Iceman, and the Beast are shocked by what they have found. It’s not cool. They elect to stay in our present.

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What they discover is rather shocking, to the young X-Men at least. Marvel Girl became Phoenix, and died. Angel died, and came back evil and with no memory. The Beast continued to mutate and now faces his own mortality. And Cyclops, well, he only killed Professor X and is acting like a Magneto level mutant terrorist. It’s not a happy picture, and so they elect to stay in the present, hoping they might be able to keep their future selves from becoming bigger dumbasses.

All things considered, in fifteen issues Bendis has done quite an entertaining job of blending the past X-Men with the two factions of mutant superheroes that exist in the now, both Wolverine’s All-New X-Men and Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men. In proper Back to the Future/Peggy Sue Got Married/Hot Tub Time Machine manner, he is making all the right moves for a time travel story where one meets oneself. I haven’t been a regular reader, but when I have, I’ve been digging it.

The Present

Battle of the Atom is an event done bookend style, running through the X-Men titles, with a BofA #1 at the start and a BotA #2 at the end. I was quite pleased by the art when I first opened my copy of Battle of the Atom #1, as I’m a big Frank Cho fan. And just I like Cho, Cho likes dinosaurs and monsters, so of course there were monsters inside. Just as he snuck Godzilla into Mighty Avengers #1, in this issue we get sneaky nods to kaiju King Ghidorah and Zilla, and maybe one or two other surprises. You go, Frank.

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It’s not just monsters though, this comic is about mutants, no matter who’s drawing it. In this first issue we are presented with the mixed threat of a mutant manifesting mutant named Animax and a horde of mutant killing Sentinels – a threat so dangerous it takes both the All-New X-Men and the Uncanny X-Men to stop them. For the record, the original Angel now stands with Cyclops’ team and the rest with the All-News. Keep that scorecard handy, folks.

In the course of battle, young Cyclops is struck down, down as in dead. Here’s where the fun with time travel kicks in. Older dumbass Cyclops vanishes, until his younger self is revived. It is a truly chilling moment. This all happens, by the way, after the present team have put their foot down about sending the kids back to their proper time. Cyclops’ death and revival almost cements the concern. The kids refuse to go however, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. From the future.

The Future

At the end of Battle of the Atom #1, the future X-Men show up, traveling back through time to our present. This team, seen briefly at the beginning of the issue, are after one thing – to send the kids back where they belong, or there will be grave consequences. We get a better look at these future mutants in the second chapter of this event, All-New X-Men #16.

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The words here, as with the opening chapter are by Bendis. The art in this issue is taken on by Stuart Immonen with inks by Wade von Grawbadger. Immonen’s style is different now than when I remember, and not really to my liking any more. Of course, it may be the inker. I preferred, no, loved his Legion work. I do love when artists evolve their style, but sometimes, they evolve away from what some folks like. He’s good, don’t get me wrong, but he’s no Cho, then or now.

Our new future X-Men eventually reveal themselves to their younger and even youger-er selves. We have the grandson of Charles Xavier, complete with bald head and arched eyebrows; old Kitty Pryde with an M on her jumpsuit (shades of Days of Future Past!); old Molly Hayes, late of the Runaways (hero team, not the 1970s band); old Deadpool; a monstrous, non-verbal snow Hulk that is what Iceman apparently becomes; and an even more transformed, and still alive, Beast with a cane and one Disney Beast-like horn. And then there’s that other future X-Man… but that would be telling…

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The Good

Bendis rules with characterization in these two issues, which further solidifies my belief he should’ve been writing the X-Men all these years, not the Avengers. I especially loved Wolverine’s reactions to time travel, a side effect of what he went through in Bendis’ Age of Ultron. How the past and present X-Men counterparts react similarly to the future X-Men is priceless as well.

Speaking of Age of Ultron, there is a similar blurring effect when Cyclops dies/revives as there was when Wolverine broke time at the end of the Ultron mini-series. This, of course, is another sign of Marvel’s new rules for time travel, and exactly how dangerous what is going on here actually is.

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As I said earlier, I have not been a regular reader of All-New X-Men, but after these two issues, I might be more open to it. Battle of the Atom was not high on my priority list when I started this review, but it is now. Can’t wait for the next chapter.

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