The final battle for the future takes shape, albeit under overly ambiguous circumstances.
Wolverine & the X-men #37Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Jason Aaron, Giuseppe Camuncoli
Publication Date: 2013-12
Fixing anything that breaks is hard enough. Fixing it without the right tools is even harder. Now imagine that in order to get those tools, it's necessary to run a marathon and fight a pack of hungry wolves. It's an extreme sort of repair that no reality show or tech support is equipped to handle, but when it's the space time continuum that needs to be fixed, obtaining those tools becomes all the more important. And if they can't be obtained, then it's necessary to improvise in ways that would impress and horrify MacGyver himself.
This is the challenge facing the past, present, and future X-men in X-men Battle of the Atom. And Wolverine and the X-men #37, the penultimate issue of this 10-part series, each era of X-men has to take part in what may be the single most important act of tech support in order to fix the timeline. However, at this point it is no longer possible to completely repair the space time continuum. Like a computer with permanently corrupt files, they can only work around it to minimize the damage.
This began as X-men Battle of the Atom's greatest strength, but recently it also became its greatest flaw. So much of the story was built around the fight to send the Original Five back to the past. It was a compelling, emotional struggle that impacted each era of X-men. Then when it seemed the Original Five had lost and were poised to go back, something unexplained and horribly contrived stopped. For reasons that are only slightly addressed in this issue, the Original Five can't go back to the past. In addition to creating all sorts of complicated consequences for the future of the X-men comics, it rendered much of that early struggle pointless. It's like a rat traversing a complex maze only to find out at the end that it doesn't like cheese.
So now the struggle in Battle of the Atom has to take on an entirely different form. It also has to find an entirely different way to have an impact doesn't feel quite as pointless. At this point in the story, the battle lines are clearly drawn. There's no more ambiguity over who are the heroes and who are the villains. The fraudulent X-men that showed up earlier in the series have been exposed and identified as the future Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. And since their plan to send the Original Five X-men back to the past failed, they're left to improvise in a way that promises to do even more damage to the timeline. They can't surgically repair time with a scalpel anymore. So now they're prepared to use a machete.
In doing so, the stage is set for one last battle. And that battle takes place in an area that has a special resonance for the history of the X-men. The future Brotherhood call it Plan B, but it might as well be Plan Z because they take a page right from the earliest X-men comics, using elements from the X-men's first ever clash with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It is by far the most fitting setting for the X-men's 50th anniversary. Even for those unfamiliar with the history of the X-men, the Brotherhood's plan highlights all the right elements that make for an epic X-men battle.
That battle comes together in this issue through a convergence that has been building for the past few issues. The real future X-men have since entered the story and are prepared to aid the wounded and obviously confused X-men of the present. Having already been burned by trusting a bunch of time travelers claiming to be the X-men, it takes a moment for the team to come together. But when they do, they unite in a way that carries them into a clash with the future Brotherhood that has the fate of the timeline at stake. They essentially become the necessary tools to fix what the Brotherhood is about to break. However, what's still lacking is a clear of just how broken the timeline is.
While this epic showdown is effectively set up, it still isn't clear what made this showdown necessary. It isn't necessarily glossed over either. There are some details offered to explain why the Original Five can't go back to their own time and what caused the future Brotherhood to become the Brotherhood in the first place. However, these details are very vague. In fact, that's even pointed out at one point. The explanation does help make it seem less contrived than it did in previous issues.
However, there is still too much ambiguity and without a clear understanding of what is driving this final conflict, it's difficult to appreciate why it matters. The setup itself is also vague. It's clear that the Brotherhood want to change the future by whatever means necessary. It's just not clear how they expect "Plan B" as they call it to accomplish it. There are some hints, but like many other parts of this story, those hints are exceedingly vague. It's like trying to bake a cake without knowing the temperature of the oven.
At the very least, Wolverine and the X-men #37 makes clear that there are other forces at work that haven't been revealed yet. It seems to begin the process of tying up loose ends, but doesn't have all the knots in place. What makes this issue feel less disappointing than previous issues is the sheer breadth of the conflict that unfolds and the classic X-men elements that are used to set it up. This is a story that has all the right ingredients to celebrate five decades of X-men and this issue added the icing. Now it's just a matter of effectively mixing everything to make the final product fittingly delicious.