Graphic Novel Review: X-Men: Battle of the Atom

14:20 03 January 2014

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

Archant

X-Men from the past, present and future clash in this time-travel epic

In the wake of the death of X-Men founder Charles Xavier at the hands of a Phoenix-possessed Scott (Cyclops) Summers, the mutant heroes have struggled to find their way and remain fractured into opposing factions torn over the best way to secure the future survival of their species.

In a bid to provide much-needed inspiration for his troubled teammates, Henry McCoy, aka the furry Beast, made the reckless decision to pluck the original X-Men – teenage versions of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman and the Beast himself – from their earlier point in history and bring them into the present.

But the arrival of these young heroes in our time has dramatic consequences, including awakening latent telepathic powers in the mind of Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, and causing them to question the decisions they are destined to make in their future lives. To make matters worse, when a young Scott is mortally wounded in a battle with the robotic Sentinels, his elder self disappears from existence and reality itself begins to shatter from the effects of the ensuing paradox - only the mutant healer Triage is able to avert Armageddon by bringing Summers’ teenage counterpart back from the brink…

But despite the obvious damage their presence is causing to established history, the original X-Men have refused to return home, a decision which appears to be taken out of their hands by the arrival of another team of mutants from the future who warn of the death and devastation which will unfold unless the younger heroes are restored to their proper place in time and space.

Led by the apparent grandson of Charles Xavier, these X-Men include an aged Katherine Pryde and an adult version of the time-twisted Jean Grey who never returned to her own era, as well as several characters whose origins initially remain unclear.

True to form, the assorted X-Men are unable to agree on the best course of action for their teen charges, and once again come to blows over the options. It’s a slugfest which spans the decades, as different generations of mutants draw lines in the sand over their approach to the dilemma…

The aftermath of the Battle of the Atom will have consequences for six mutant teams from three separate points in time, and sets up a new status quo for those heroes left alive in the present day. It also forewarns future developments hinted at by X-Men yet-to-come, and asks questions about whether there is a secret destiny behind the original team’s presence in our era.

This volume collects issues from the ongoing series All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men and the adjective-less X-Men, and the different characters’ stories will continue in these books depending on where their allegiances end up after this crossover.

As a celebration of the X-Men’s 50th anniversary, Battle of the Atom succeeds in paying tribute to the mutant heroes across the ages, while also propelling them into a new and dangerous direction for the future.

Writers Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood and Jason Aaron have taken what could have been a very complicated premise and presented it in a remarkably accessible fashion, with a well-plotted narrative and an obvious game plan behind these developments. Newcomers to the X-Men might need a scorecard to keep up with what’s happening at times, but there’s sufficient background information revealed throughout the course of the story to fill in the gaps and also highlight any elements which might have been forgotten by regular readers.

With multiple versions of the same characters fighting for panel space, this could have been an unmitigated disaster, and it is unequivocally down to the strengths of the whole creative team, writers and artists alike, that it ends up such an enjoyable and readable story which truly deserves the status of epic.

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