A few days ago, I imagined what I’d ask Brian Michael Bendis if I could get one question in for an interview.
“What is it about you that Marvel would put their X-Men franchise in your hands?”
Bendis is talented, obviously, and he’s shaping up to be the Chris Claremont of this generation. But that question wasn’t meant to get more information about what we already know — it’s what quality Bendis sees in himself.
What makes him the best man for this job, specifically? More than just work ethic or the ability to meet deadlines — what’s required of the man who would lead the X-Men back to its glory days as Marvel’s most dynamic and storied team?
In the way that Scott Snyder and Batman are tied together, Bendis is now the legal guardian of the X-Men, and after reading All-New X-Men #23, I feel one step closer to understanding why he’s the right wordsmith for the job.
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s missiles rain down on the X-Men below in Battle of the Atom #2, the conclusion to this year’s crossover, pitting various X-Men teams from different times in a battle against each other.
The issue promises there will be blood as the X-Men are attacked high and low, and readers will get some answers to the questions that have been raised.
When one of the missiles lands near some of the X-Men and fails to detonate, the assumed armament turns out to be a capsule that releases a new series of Sentinel. The battle escalates with casualties on both sides, and a final battle between young Jean and her older self culminates in an explosion that ultimately ends the fighting.
The Battle of the Atom series has been plagued with pacing issues, and the big finish(es) is worth the wait now that the dust has finally settled. Though it isn’t as ground-breaking as one would expect, it does have enough meat on it to make it a memorable read with some deep developments.
Chief among the plot points is the battle between future-Jean, Wolverine, and Cyclops. Hindsight is 20/20, and according to future-Jean, the two most responsible for the ill-fated future are the two leaders who separated the X-Men. Yes, it’s official — Battle of the Atom returns readers to where it all started in the Schism mini-series when Cyclops and Wolverine had their most recent major falling out. Their disagreement now comes to a head with future-Jean disowning Marvel’s version of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, and the pointed finger turns the Cyclops is right debate on its head.
That heated debate which has split readership along party lines has seen some of its arguments play out in the X-Titles. Writer Jason Aaron brings up the debate here and then changes the focus back to the original starting point — when Wolverine and Cyclops parted ways and forced the rest of the X-Men to choose sides. Forget whether Cyclops was right — readers now know that the schism was responsible for the new future, and it’s all Cyclops and Wolverine’s faults.
Battle of the Atom #2 ends with four separate epilogues written for each of the X-Titles. With the Brotherhood lost in the current timeline, some of the future X-Men decide to stay while others return to the future to bury their dead. Some X-Men find solace in knowing there’s hope in the future, while others decide they must do all they can to make sure it never happens.
The fourth epilogue, which is the issue’s biggest development moving forward, brings Kitty Pryde back to the forefront. Still feeling betrayed and having no reason to believe she will ever be secure with her present team, Pryde decides she’d be better off switching sides. To make things even more complicated/exciting/surprising — the original X-Men follow their teacher in joining Cyclops’ Uncanny X-Men.
It’s a momentum changer that gives Cyclops the upper hand especially in light of Wolverine’s declaration that the school matters the most. Turned down by its most prominent students, the school may lose more of its students moving forward. At the least, there’s no love gained between the two leaders of the X-Men, and the schism still stands stronger than ever.
Four sets of artists contribute to the issue, and the art is probably the best during the main storyline, at least in terms of staging and composition. Future-Beast’s death and the reveal of the Sentinels are imbued with drama by penciller Esad Ribic, who’s assisted by Giuseppe Camuncoli. Ive Svorcina, Andres Mossa, and Guru eFX’s colors give the panels showcasing the epic battle a dreamlike and lucid polish, and the Phoenix-reds do well in reminding readers of Jean Grey’s ultimate power.
Battle of the Atom #2 will likely get a trade paperback release, and judging the work as a whole — the crossover skimps on the developments and serves mainly as a vehicle for the continuation of the four major X-Titles. Readers won’t get much more information about the future, despite Jean having seen some of it in her mind. That secret gives the X-Men something to fight over, but without more foreknowledge, it’s difficult for readers to come on board.
While it’s a welcome sight to see all the writers pool their talents for a cohesive story, the crossover suffers from too much push and pull with each issue’s authors putting in their own versions and spins on the story. The crossover could have benefited from more editorial oversight to smooth out the rough edges and get everyone on the same page, and besides the Sentinel reveal, the crossover needed more than just a few mysterious glimpses into the future. Likewise, the mess made with the Brotherhood running rampant in the present time creates more of a headache because it adds more layers to the X-Universe than it really needs.
That said, what will happen to the individual X-Titles remains to be seen. All-New X-Men gets a dramatic change in scenery while X-Men loses Kitty Pryde. Uncanny X-Men now adds a whole team to its stable while following Cyclops as leader and mentor to himself. The book with perhaps the most to lose is Wolverine and the X-Men as Logan seems to be the biggest victim of the crossover as he’s lost the classic X-Men and a lot of clout as headmaster.
Battle of the Atom #2 (2013)
Words: Jason Aaron
Pencils: Esad Ribic and Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks: Andrew Currie and Tom Palmer
Colors: Ive Svorcina, Andres Mossa, and Guru eFX
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Words: Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, and Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Kristopher Anka, Chris Bachalo, and Stuart Immonen
Inks: Andrew Currie, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba, and Wade von Grawbadger
Colors: Matt Milla
The future X-Men have come back through time to correct the current X-Men’s mistake of bringing the classic X-Men into the present in All-New X-Men #16, the second chapter of the Battle of the Atom crossover event.
Professor Charles Xavier’s grandson Xavier, Deadpool, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast, and a mysterious figure wearing Xorn’s mask introduce themselves as the future X-Men team of this current timeline. A healthy — and predictable — amount of doubt and suspicion add to the tension when a sudden loss of control by Wolverine sends the various teams into a ruckus.
In the aftermath, everyone left in the room realizes Jean Grey and Scott Summers have used the manufactured circumstances to escape the premises in the team’s Blackbird.
To go the opposite extreme and bring in an aged X-Men team with a membership made up of some surprise choices, Brian Michael Bendis connects the dots to create the basic and most tenable conflict: The original X-Men must go home. The X-Men of the future are well aware of the consequences, and for the sake of the world and team — hindsight is also 20/20 — the mutants of the future plead to the mutants of the past: Fix this.
While the other X-Men books under Brian Michael Bendis’ control have followed squads of X-Men building on a firm foundation, it’s the one book written by Brian Wood that details the problems of a team beginning to form.
With relationships frayed over the events that came to pass last issue, Storm designates herself as leader, much to the chagrin of Rachel Grey.
Back in issue #3, Karima Shapandar regained consciousness and stabbed herself with Psylocke’s psychic blade. Only moments before, Storm issued the order to kill Shapandar and the bacteria controlling her body, Arkea Prime. Were it not for Grey, the X-Men could have lost a friend to a split decision.
Though the day ended with a checkmark in the win column for the team, questions over whether the team could ever work together under Storm’s leadership were discussed.
X-Men #4 explores the aftermath and the relationship between Ororo and the major dissenting party, Rachel Grey. Acting a little passive-aggressive, Rachel shows she’s not okay — especially with Storm naming herself as leader of this X-Men squad — and the two have it out in the passenger space of the Blackbird.
Meanwhile, a Columbiair passenger flight experiences mechanical failure out in the middle of nowhere. Psylockey, Rogue, and Shadowcat hatch a plan to guide the plane with a risky maneuver that puts the microscope on the team’s chemistry, tactical abilities, and care for each other.
A month before the Battle of the Atom crossover event, Wood gives readers a solid base that explains why this team deserves to exist. This current iteration did not choose its own members — it just sort of happened because no one else was available when Arkea Prime decimated the school. With one victory under their belt, the team realizes there’s something there and that they’ve got something good going. The women of the X-Men who’ve been relegated to supporting cast roles have a new power structure that puts them under one banner.
What makes Wood’s X-Men series interesting is the personal touch. Things haven’t worked perfectly smooth for the team which has only been together for a few days, and disagreements that could derail any team have bubbled to the surface. Questions about Ororo’s decision making abilities only scratch at the surface — it’s really an issue of trust and distance. As Storm begins to dictate orders to the team, Rachel tells her, “Trust the team.”
Storm’s leadership style has clashed with Cyclops’ way of running the X-Men team. Cyclops earned even Logan’s respect with his tactical prowess and hands-on approach. Storm usually acts as a field commander, surveying the battlefield and ordering issues from on high. Both command respect, but in very different ways. Scott Summers was the embodiment of Charles Xavier’s dream. He was one of the first X-Men, and until recently, he was predictable in a way that comforted the teammates following his lead.
The way Storm leads — she’s more like a corporate manager who would rather keep her employees at arm’s length. She’s the outsider, and her first impulse is to micromanage a team that works on instinct.
Issue #4 gets it right with great characterization and a look at how an X-Men team starts from scratch. This is the issue where the team solidifies itself, and it’s the real first official step.
Taking over for pencils to complement Wood’s scripts, David Lopez’s style fits right in where Olivier Coipel left off. The artwork isn’t as attractive as Coipel’s, but it does capture the action well, especially without much explanation of what’s going on in the narrative.
Characters follow current designs, and they’re easily distinguished. Where Lopez contrasts with Coipel are the expressions. This issue has an overabundance of smiling X-Men, and the parallel story involving Wolverine and Jubilee tracing her roots depicts Logan on what looks like one of his happiest days — he’s shown smiling in all but two panels.
Lines look clean, though there are some blotchy shadows, especially on Storm’s face and on the women’s lips. It’s possible Cam Smith and Norman Lee split duties — one inker on the Wolverine/Jubilee story, and the other on the bulk of the book — and by the looks of it, the Jubilee story has the cleaner and more defined lines.
Cris Peter’s colors are fairly decent. There’s more of a cel-shade look in this book — see Psylocke’s TK lines and Rogue’s green outfit — and panels look a little flat at times. Lighting does change, and Peters uses contrasting colors for effect.
X-Men #4 works because it covers the rounds. There’s action, a sense of newness and exploration, and psychology. This is a team looking to take a stand, and as sum of its parts, it’s pushing and pulling all at once. There are dynamics that create a palpable tension within the team, and though the narrative could have been a wee bit stronger, it’s the action that really speaks louder than the words.
Having taken over Karima Shapandar’s body, Arkea Prime uses the Omega Prime Sentinel form to take over the Jean Grey campus systems.
Escalation drives the action as the waking Arkea fights off Beast and Rogue, while the rest of the X-Men scramble to contain the threat and regain control over the X-Mansion and safely locate Jubilee and her infant.
Kitty Pryde eventually makes contact with Arkea and comes to grips with being the one thing that can put the mechanical body out of commission. The only problem — stopping Arkea means losing any hope for reviving Karima Shapandar.
It’s a quick-paced issue that races from start to finish. It’s clear that Arkea has the ability and modus operandi to become a formidable foe for the X-Men, and as they chase her down in the Blackbird, the remaining students and teammates back at the mansion discover one of her little surprises.
Olivier Coipel’s pencils are amazing, and this issue’s pages are packed with detail and movement. Coipel knows how to draw dramatic action, and the panels barely contain what’s going on. From Rogue and Arkea trading blows to Pryde’s melee skirmish, the visuals are clear and easy to interpret.
Coipel’s characters look solid, existing in dimensions rather than the flatness of the page. A team of colorists — Laura Martin, Matt Milla, and Christina Strain — worked on this issue painting it with a brilliant palette that lifts the art off the page.
The colors also influence the atmospherics, from the rooms locked down in red-alert to the moody cockpit of the Blackbird. It’s evident the artistic team spent a lot of time and energy into this issue’s artwork.
With the introduction of Arkea complete, Brian Wood’s story continues to move forward at breakneck speed. Not that there’s no time for characterization — Kitty gives Karima every chance to prove she’s somewhere in that mechanical body — and Storm leads the team with a poise that’s becoming of her. Kudos to Wood for the respect he has for the characters. They’re able, powerful, and ready to defend.
X-Men #2 shows how important this title is to Marvel’s stable of X-Books. It’s got heft and drama — even heft in its drama. In its writing and in its art — the book is sharp and streamlined for maximum entertainment.
X-Men #2 (2013)
Words: Brian Wood
Pencils: Olivier Coipel
Inks: Mark Morales, Scott Hanna, and Olivier Coipel
Colors: Laura Martin, Matt Milla, and Christina Strain
Letters: Joe Caramagna