If you’re not up to speed with what’s going on this month with the X-Men Battle of the Atom crossover, here’s a quick primer.
Way back when — it seems like so long, now — Wolverine and Cyclops fought each other over how to raise the mutants in their care. That lead to Schism, a breaking of the various X-Men teams which ended with Wolverine starting his tenure as a headmaster at the original location for Xavier’s school. Cyclops formed the Extinction Team — a team loaded with the world’s most powerful mutants who were still loyal to Cyclops. The purpose of the Extinction Team was two-fold: protect mutants and humankind and win the public relations divide.
When the Phoenix made a return to Earth, the Avengers became involved. A plan by Tony Stark didn’t go as planned, and the Phoenix split into five parts and joined with Cyclops, Magik, Colossus, Emma Frost, and Namor — the Phoenix Five. Cyclops’ Phoenix team reshaped the planet, cured diseases, and solved the hunger problem. The Avengers, unwilling to accept Cyclops’ plans for the planet, fought back and defeated the Phoenix Five one by one until Cyclops was left, and in a stunning moment, just as the Avengers went through with a plan to wish the Phoenix away, Cyclops murdered Xavier and became public enemy #1.
Fast forward — the X-Men are split up into at least three teams. Hank McCoy, suffering from a degenerative condition, decides the best course of action is to go back through time and to bring the original X-Men into the present.
But what was planned as a transformative occasion for the elder Scott Summers turns into a realization for the classic X-Men that the future holds a lot of personal heartbreak. Jean Grey, knowing she has several deaths to look forward to, escapes with young Cyclop when another X-Men team — this one from an alternate future where the classic X-Men didn’t return to their past — visits the present.
The Battle of the Atom crossover continues in Uncanny X-Men #12 with the young Jean Grey and Scott Summers seeking asylum at the Uncanny X-Men’s secret base. Cyclops decides — against his teammates’ wishes — to harbor the teens, giving Emma Frost all the reason she needs to contact the future and alternate version of Jean Grey.
Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey show they’re not happy with how things are being handled, and a heated discussion with the rest of their team shows how relationships are beginning to fray. The discussion ends abruptly when young Jean and Scott are located, setting up a battle between rivals: Frost vs. Grey.
On paper, Uncanny X-Men #12 seems like another strong chapter in the Battle of the Atom storyline, but when it comes down to the final product, there are some issues with how things are executed.
As much as the conflict is ramped up with the young Summers coming full circle and meeting with his elder self, the issue loses a good amount of momentum because of the conflicts building up in Wolverine and Storm’s collective camp. Rachel’s objections to Storm’s methods are only growing, and though the future is staring her in the face, she refuses to accept it as inevitable.
Pryde also finds herself disagreeing with the measures taken to bring the two missing X-Men back to the fold and back to the past, and her threat to do something drastic seems like it’s based on flimsy reasoning. Like Rachel, Kitty thinks the future can be changed, and they’re not about to force anyone to do anything because she believes it flies in the face of what they fight for.
It’s interesting to see that old Summers and Pryde are basically on the same page at this point, but that’s the weakness of the issue. Summers has an agenda, and though it’s not exactly clear why he wants to help the two teens, it does make sense. What doesn’t make sense is why Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t give Pryde a better argument for her decision to support the young X-Men. It was Pryde in Days of Future Past who warned the X-Men what the future held, and while it isn’t a clear-cut issue with all of the developments and conflicting desires that are playing out, Pryde’s sense of accountability comes under fire because her hard stance on the issues edges her towards an extreme end of the spectrum.
At Cyclops’ camp, everyone seems to have a differing opinion of why Summers wants to help his younger self, and while the dialogue can easily be understood at ear-level, heavy-handed and confusing narratives from Bendis’ pen contradict what’s been put on the page by said pen. Take for example Magneto, Frost, and Cyclop’s discussion after the decision. Magneto, having concluded that Summers’ decision is based on a hope for redemption, is interrupted by Frost who interprets Magneto’s reasoning as Summers acting on his sexual desires. Though it makes sense on a big picture level, and there’s reason to believe that each character has their own reason for saying the things they do, the flow of the script is broken with jarring and over-complicating lines that, instead of adding layers, muddy the back and forths. It’s also a little confusing to see the Uncanny X-Men become rattled by the prospect of seeing the two versions of Cyclops, especially with Angel standing there. Surely, on a realistic level, these characters would have discussed these things before.
For anyone who’s entering the story now, it’s a great way to get caught up. For the rest of the readers, it’s an unnecessary review of things. Uncanny X-Men #12 is the weakest part of the story so far, and though it introduces some more conflict, it feels like a bridge after a bridge. With the glass half emptied, the Battle of the Atom seems more like an Amber Alert, and with only one month’s worth of issues left to tell the story, it would be disappointing if this crossover was actually a buildup to something else rather than an event in itself.
The issue does end with an exciting matchup between Grey and Frost, but this Grey may not be Summers’ wife, and Frost is no longer Summers’ lover. It’s complicated, and so far there’s nothing else to be excited about. The future X-Men have come to warn the past that the future is in danger, and the X-Men are, once again, at odds on how to solve the situation. The story needs a clearer and sharper approach, from a scripting point.
Artistically, the visuals are great with Chris Bachalo’s pencils filling up the panels with consistently good art. Characters tell the story through expressions, and the style is very attractive if cartoonish. It could be that the opening sequence involving Maria Hill might come across as too campy, more for the art than the script, but overall, Bachalo fills the panels with detail, action, and sequenced art that has great pacing.
There are five inkers who put their talents to use on the issue, and things look sharp and defined. The gravity-pull blacks give the panels weight, and the heavy shadows add a tremendous amount of depth. Marte Gracia’s colors add a vibrant layer with pop-out reds and atmospheric backdrops for the sky. The issue begins during the day, and as time stretches to the evening, Gracia gives the air a code-red sort of sunset.
Uncanny X-Men #12 isn’t a bad issue. It’s just not as good as the others, and though it seems like the pacing is picking up, there’s still a lack of a tangible thread that holds everything together. There’s conflicts and plot points, but at this point, it’s beginning to look lackluster. We know the future is scary, and the kids don’t want to go home, but it doesn’t feel weighted. There’s a lack of real tension here, and the kinks in the story, which will probably provide the basis for future developments, just don’t seem compelling enough.
There’s still hope for this to become a great story — Bendis has proven his abilities before, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t come through. We’ll just call this issue the battle for the Battle of the Atom, and one can hope the next issue will add another measure of awesome so I can write a glowing review.
Uncanny X-Men #12 (2013)
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Words: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Chris Bachalo
Inks: Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Al Vey
Colors: Marte Gracia