Emotions run high when the future is at stake. But sometimes emotions just aren't enough.
Uncanny X-men #12Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo
Publication Date: 2013-11
People don’t make rational decisions when they’re in an emotional state of mind. The demands on the human brain are strenuous enough, but functioning logically in an emotional state of mind is just one task too many. This is why many of the decisions that have been made throughout "X-men: Battle of the Atom" have been inconsistent at best and destructive at worst. It’s hard enough trying to get a bunch of teenagers to think logically when the very concept of logic has yet to overcome the powerful forces of limited life experiences and raging hormones. It’s even harder when they’re in an overly emotional state.
But in Uncanny X-men #12, it’s not just a teenage Cyclops and Jean Grey who are struggling with emotional decision. It’s the adults who crack under the emotional strain. What had once been such a logical recourse to preserve the integrity of the space time continuum is now erupting with the kind of melodrama usually reserved for 90120 reruns. Sending the Original Five X-men back to the past still makes intuitive sense, but as young Cyclops and Jean Grey continue to make it difficult for the rest of the X-men, more conflicting emotions emerge. And like the final season of Breaking Bad, harsh emotions boil over and something has to give.
This emotional upheaval is best embodied in Rachel Grey and Kitty Pryde. They were the ones who helped the teenage Cyclops and Jean Grey escape in the previous issue. Now they’re stuck having to justify themselves and the only arguments they have are emotionally charged. So when others like Storm and Wolverine attempt to reason with them, they might as well be trying to convince them that New Coke was a good idea. It’s still a significant shift from where Kitty Pryde was just a couple issues ago when she supported sending the Original Five X-men back to the past. However, her shift highlights an important aspect of the very concept of X-men.
For much of their 50-year history, the X-men have fought to give the vulnerable and the disenfranchised the power to determine their own fate. The very fear of mutants is built around the notion of what they could do and not of what they actually do. They’re essentially guilty of a crime before they’ve even committed it and because of that, they’re treated like criminals. They might as well be living in Stalinist Russia where the mere potential of being a threat is the same as being a threat. That’s very similar to what Cyclops and Jean Grey are going through in this story and Kitty Pryde scolds the rest of the X-men, including her future self, for not seeing that.
She’s not the only one struggling with these emotions either. After getting away from the future X-men, Cyclops and Jean Grey seek help from Cyclops’s older counterpart on the ruins of Utopia. He doesn’t seem like someone who would be all that sympathetic. In earlier issues, he was among those encouraging the Original Five to go back to the past. However, he has also had his share of emotional reactions. His first encounter with a young Jean Grey triggered all sorts of conflicting emotions and those same emotions seem to overwhelm him again because he decides to help them.
Like Kitty Pryde and the future X-men, Cyclops’s team doesn’t support his overly emotional decision. Emma Frost and Magneto rightly point out that he’s making an emotional decision when the most logical recourse is to turn them over to the future X-men. While he doesn’t get a chance to express his emotions like Kitty Pryde, they are just as valid. But unlike Kitty Pryde, Cyclops works on a team with Emma Frost. And regardless of how logical or emotional an argument may be, Emma won’t ask permission to do what she thinks is right and that leads to a very tense final scene that sets the stage for a rematch that certain fans have been waiting almost 10 years to see.
The strength of Uncanny X-men #12 is built around emotions clashing with cold logic. However, this is one of the only strengths. Emotion alone can’t effectively move a story forward in the same way half a bag of potato chips doesn’t make an effective meal. There are other developments in this issue with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Magik, which will likely be addressed in other parts of the story. But in this issue they’re just pasted in between these emotional moments and disrupt the flow of the story at times. It’s actually possible to skip a number of pages and still not miss any important details. That makes this issue seem less cohesive than previous installments, but it doesn’t take away from the emotional impact.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from this issue, it’s that adults are capable of reacting in ways every bit as immature as any confused teenager. Seeing as how many of the X-men started out as confused teenagers, there’s something appropriately poetic about the circumstances in Battle of the Atom. Powerful emotions are keeping them from carrying out a perfectly logical mission to save the future. It makes for great drama while embodying some of the most classic elements of the X-men. It’s not just restricted to confused teenagers and grumpy adults either. Everybody’s emotions are running high in this event and X-men fans of all types can share in these emotions.
Uncanny X-men #12 effectively succeeds in escalating the conflict in "Battle of the Atom" while ensuring it continues to resonate. There are times when the details of the story lack cohesion or seem underdeveloped, but it sustains the emotional momentum that the first issue established. The events of this issue create a genuine sense that this event will have a far-reaching impact and for the X-men’s 50th anniversary event, it couldn’t be more appropriate.