Back from the Atom: The X-Men Post Battle of the Atom

x-men1Three months ago, I wrote about the now-finished X-Men event, Battle of the Atom, and the state of the franchise going into it. Now that the ten issue series has wrapped, I thought I’d revisit the comics.

Unlike most event comics, which trade in boredom, the first nine issues of Battle of the Atom actually worked as a story. Brian Michael Bendis (the main writer of the event), Jason Aaron, and Brian Wood combined to make a comic story that might have been totally nonsense, but which compelled at every turn. With multiple future teams of X-Men, multiple present teams of X-Men, and even some outside cameos, Battle of the Atom wasn’t short on weird and exciting things happening.

Then it kind of fell apart at the end. From this point on, I’m going to talk about things in a modicrum of detail, so the spoiler tag is active.

The big changes that occur, post-Battle, are about as shrug-worthy as possible. Kitty Pryde and the rest of the time-displaced defecting over to Cyclop’s side is about as inane as the whole Schism conflict has been. It’s not about ideology, or about why they’re separate, anymore; it’s about soap opera plot twists and surprise defections. It’s also about ensuring book equality: this move gives Bendis both of Cyclops’ teams, in balance with Jason Aaron’s Wolverine side having Wolverine and the X-Men and the soon-to-launch Amazing X-Men (and also Brian Wood’s X-Men).

We also have some new cast members: the time-displaced daughter of Storm and someone now resides at the Mansion, hunting the time-displaced future Brotherhood of Mutants, whose cast is unsure at the moment. These are exciting changes—I love new characters—but they aren’t ground-breaking by any means.

What is important, though, is the SHIELD attack on the X-Men during the climactic battle. This was probably the worst part of the series. The final issue de-evolved into a gigantic mutant fight—because that’s what we demanded—but didn’t give much time to this huge, earth-shattering event. The X-Men—even Wolverine’s nice, friendly ones—were attacked by the government. This seems kind of important, and was glossed over.

x-men2Post Battle, books have been slightly rejiggered, but most of it comes from the cancellation of X-Factor. Monet will show up in Wood’s X-Men, which is a choice I think could pay off, and I’m willing to bet Strong Guy, Supreme Hell Lord, will show up in Aaron’s Amazing X-Men, which goes to hell and marks the return of Nightcrawler. And I’d bet on Storm’s daughter in X-Men, because she fits the book’s MO (an all-female cast, focus on Jubilee).

Frankly, though, Battle of the Atom was an enjoyable ride that looks way worse in the rear view. The best events are ones that stand alone, but also offer major changes to the status quo. Battle doesn’t quite do either. The cancellation of X-Factor (and it’s return) will probably end up mattering more than Battle. This event didn’t change the status quo in any evident ways, and as a standalone story it became one about dudes punching people, and in less spectacular fashion than last summer’s event, Avengers vs. X-Men.

In a lot of ways, the X-Men, as a franchise, is in a tough spot. The series hasn’t rebooted since its first conception. So superhero punching stories are the easiest, most effective ones, a lot of the time, by the simple virtue that most of the cast is now in their thirties and probably shouldn’t be experiencing major plot developments. And a lot of the fanbase like those characters, and want nothing more than to see them fight evil and engage in soap-operatic shenanigans until the end of time.

Myself, I’m most excited about Wolverine and the X-Men and X-Men going forward, because these books feel dangerous. Things could change in them. Bendis’ books, on Cyclops’ side, feel paradoxically more old-fashioned. This is weird, because Cyclops’ team is a band of outlaws on the run, but that’s always been the X-Men. That’s their entire history. And their casts, of unformed children and perhaps the most predictable of the X-Men’s stable, don’t excite like X-Men’s strange cocktail of unexplored characters (Rachel Grey, Jubilee, now Monet) and Wolverine’s collection of young mutants and Wolverine, who’s exciting again in a role outside of his depth.

I’m not all in on the X-Men. In fact, I might even be less optimistic. But I’m confident that the series can still provide competent books that provide us adventures with our old friends, and that’s what the X-Men do best, now. Amazing X-Men is the prime example of this strategy: it’s probably not going to be thrilling, but it’s another adventure with Nightcrawler, so it’s hard to complain too much. That’s where the X-Men are, and what they’ve finally embraced: being warm comfort food. Not exciting, but comforting.

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