Five decades of X-men converge in a way that's thrilling, yet incomplete.
X-men Battle of the Atom #2Publisher: Marvel
Writers: Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, Brian Michael Bendis
Publication Date: 2013-10
There are many ways to celebrate a 50-year legacy. There’s no one right way to do it, but there are any number of wrong ways. It’s not like building a futon from Ikea where there is a clear understanding of what the finished product should be. To complete a 10-part story that is intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the X-men, there’s no clear instruction manual. But the previous nine issues helped set the stage for a conflict that has brought together multiple eras of X-men. However, merely resolving this conflict isn’t enough. The resolution has to have an impact worthy of an event 50 years in the making.
Because of this, the bar for X-men Battle of the Atom #2, the final issue of the Battle of the Atom event, has been set impossibly high. There so many characters involved and there are multiple story-driven and character-driven plots going on simultaneously. While this comic has a few extra pages, it’s unreasonable to expect that every loose ends will be tied up and every plot-hole will be filled. Like President Obama’s to-do list, certain things take priority over others while others have to be deferred to future stories. The challenge is striking a balance. Because if there aren't enough issues resolved, then the story of Battle of the Atom would be akin to someone ending their wedding vows in mid-sentence. It wouldn’t deliver the full impact.
X-men Battle of the Atom #2 does make a considerable effort to deliver such an impact. It is already taking place at Citadel Base, the site of the X-men’s first battle against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. And like that iconic battle from nearly 50 years ago, these X-men from multiple time periods are up against a new Brotherhood of Mutants that’s even more imposing than Magneto. This Brotherhood consists of future X-men who have not only abandoned Charles Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence. They have taken on the mantel of the enemies they fought for so many years. So the X-men aren’t just fighting a dangerous enemy. They’re fighting the worst possible outcome for their future. They are alcoholics attacking their own reflection and some X-men even seem to realize this, wondering if it’s worth the struggle if they’re just going to end up bitter and hung over.
The impact of this is best reflected in future Beast’s speech to the X-men of the past and present. Humanity will never stop hating mutants and if they keep trying to fight for peace, they’ll only become angry and resentful. And he backs his speech up with more than just words. During the battle, the future Brotherhood reveals that they chose this iconic site for reasons that have nothing to do with it being the site of the X-men’s first battle. For once, the future Brotherhood put their future knowledge to practical use by revealing to the X-men a secret about S.H.I.E.L.D. that they wouldn’t have discovered before it was too late. It’s as strategic as it is proactive because it has implications that go beyond X-men Battle of the Atom.
The revelation itself isn’t too shocking. Few readers will be floored when they find out that S.H.I.E.L.D. had a secret army of Sentinels. In fact, it probably would have been more shocking if S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have such an army. But beyond the revelation, it helps resolve a few outstanding loose ends, namely by providing an explanation as to where the Sentinels in the first issue of X-men Battle of the Atom came from. In addition, it forces the X-men to fight a two-front battle, one against the Sentinels and one against the future Brotherhood. It’s creates an overwhelming sense of chaos, forcing the X-men to multi-task in ways no Danger Room scenario could ever prepare them for. And because it’s so overwhelming, it gives an appropriate sense of scale that can’t be given by just any Sentinel attack.
However, the scale of the battle and its chaotic nature make it messy and convoluted at times. That’s to be expected because with so many characters and threats on two fronts involved, it’s not just difficult to cover every detail. It’s impossible. Even if this issue were 100 pages long, it couldn’t cover every aspect of this battle. Whether or not it’s a reasonable expectation, the battle feels underdeveloped. Fans hoping to see Rogue punch the head of a Sentinel or Storm unleash a typhoon will be disappointed, but fans hoping to see the Original Five X-men take down Xorna or Iceman delivering a Fastball Special will be pleased. So it’s bound to be disappointing to some people. There are just too many Legos and not enough room to build with this battle.
But for the battles that do get the necessary scrutiny, the emotional impact is much greater than the impact of any Sentinel army. This is best demonstrated in the battle against Xorna. She does more than offer the X-men an angry, powerful, unstable version of Jean Grey. She effectively points out to the X-men why they have failed. She belittles Cyclops, Wolverine, and her younger self for abandoning Charles Xavier’s dream. Without this dream, she has been left so empty and jaded that she prefers to not exist rather than face the future. This makes her a dangerous and difficult enemy to deal with. It also offers an ominous warning to the X-men. If they continue on this current path, then this is what they can expect to happen. And if someone as beloved and passionate as Jean Grey can become this corrupt, what hope do they have?
In the end the battle has casualties and the Sentinels are defeated. However, the resolution of X-men Battle of the Atom #2 is as underdeveloped as the battle itself in many ways. There are a number of epilogues of sorts that help resolve a few standing issues while also setting other X-men up for future events. However, some of the other plot-holes are only partially filled. The X-men still don’t know what is keeping the Original Five X-men from going back to the past. The best they can offer is that there’s some powerful force preventing them. It could be Loki playing a prank on the X-men or it could just be a random anomaly that even Reed Richards couldn’t figure out. It just isn’t clear and could easily be forgotten by future writers, as unresolved plots often are.
When all is said and done, the impact of the battle is clear even if the details aren’t fully realized. X-men Battle of the Atom #2 succeeded in ending this event in a satisfying way, but lacked refinement. It’s like a champion marathon runner only running three-quarters of the race, lacking the necessary elements to get it to the finish line in a way that is as concise as it is complete. In terms of a large-scale crossover event, it’s above average. For an event meant to celebrate 50 years of X-men, it doesn’t reach the exceedingly high bar. But at least Battle of the Atom can say it made a worthy effort.