Desperation tends to bring out the best and worst in people, regardless of whether or not they have superpowers. When the stakes are high, emotions become overwhelming and common sense becomes an afterthought. It turns every situation into a game of Russian Roulette and when two opposing sides are equally certain that the chamber is empty, there isn’t much room for understanding. Desperation is often the spark that ignites the powder keg and that keg is already ablaze in “Battle of the Atom”.
The X-men have been playing a very dangerous game with the space time continuum since allowing the Original Five X-men to stay in the present. It’s actually more dangerous than Russian Roulette because more than just a few lives are at stake. This became painfully apparent in X-men: Battle of the Atom #1 when a teenage Cyclops nearly died and his near-death would have sent shockwaves throughout the X-men’s past, present, and future. These shockwaves were so disturbing that a team of future X-men upped the stakes of this dangerous game and traveled back into the past. Now in All New X-men #16, the most of the X-men are looking to cut their losses while some are essentially doubling down. Whoever loses will most certainly lose big.
Such high stakes and high emotions are what fuels the emotions in All New X-men #16. As the second part X-men: Battle of the Atom, it acts as a direct response to the near-temporal disaster they endured in the first issue. Like Doc Brown seeking to destroy his time machine at the end of Back to the Future, the X-men now seek to prevent further damage to the timeline by sending the Original Five X-men back to the past. And when the X-men of the future arrive to offer even more incentive encouragement to send them back, the choice seems clear.
The problem what that logic is it comes from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have as much to lose as those it impacts more directly. Like a reckless gambler already in debt , Cyclops and Jean Grey aren’t willing to fold just yet. Despite how close they came to permanently scarring the space-time continuum, they oppose the overwhelmingly logical consensus that they should go back to their own time. But they do so in a way that doesn’t seem selfish or arrogant. They are actually the two characters that are the easiest to sympathize with because unlike every other character involved, they have the most to lose.
Nobody embodies this desperation better than Jean Grey. She is the one that makes the emotional plea to Beast, Cyclops, and the reader that going back would doom her to a future where she dies and Cyclops kills Charles Xavier. This is not a future they want and they’re willing to risk the integrity of the space-time continuum to change it. So while Beast and Iceman are content to listen to the future X-men, Cyclops and Jean Grey choose to run.
In addition, Jean Grey makes clear that she doesn’t trust the future X-men. She has already encountered shape-shifters and other manipulative telepaths like Lady Mastermind to know not to trust anyone who guards their thoughts too closely. She interprets this seemingly logical course of action someone trying to decide her fate for her. For that and reasons that go unstated, Jean doesn’t trust these future X-men and convinces Cyclops that he shouldn’t trust them either.
There’s a sense of youthful rebellion in Scott and Jean’s decision. Teenagers are often pathologically opposed to having others choose their fate for them. It’s like a doctor telling a patient not to pick at an infected scab. The more they make them think about it, the more they’re inclined to do it. This creates a very different kind of conflict compared to the first issue of Battle of the Atom. There are no giant robots or dangerous new mutants in this issue. The conflict is within the X-men. It’s the logic of rational adults versus the emotions of two desperate teenagers. Like a debate between a creationist and a biologist, there’s no winning the argument.
That unavoidable clash is what makes the conflict in All New X-men #16 so engaging. It’s easy to understand the argument for both sides. But unlike the divide in events like Civil War and Avengers vs. X-men, there is nothing political about this conflict. There’s nothing symbolic about it either. This is a struggle between saving the future and avoiding fate. The X-men can’t have their cake and eat it too so they’re going to fight over the final piece.
The struggle is made all the more compelling when the identity of Xorna is revealed. Like a surprise party thrown by Oprah, it conveys an emotional gravity that make this worthy of being part of the X-men’s 50th anniversary. High emotions add to both the desperation and the volatility of this issue. It’s hard not to share Jean Grey’s sentiment about deception and being at the mercy of fate. She doubts those who claim they know what’s best for her and unlike some teenage musings, it’s difficult to disagree.
Brian Michael Bendis has told stories that are bigger in scope and scale than X-men: Battle of the Atom. However, the high stakes and the growing desperation gives this story an impact that touches the entire breadth of the X-men. All New X-men #16 doesn’t have any big explosions or rampaging monsters, but it ensures that every character involved is emotionally invested in in this conflict. And when emotion and logic clash in a story, it becomes epic in its own unique way. Whether it’s the fate of the timeline or the fate of two teenagers desperate teenagers, X-men Battle of the Atom is an event that promises to bring out the best and the worst of every character involved.