Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
X-Men: Battle of the Atom seems poorly named. The title references the nickname “Children of the Atom” often given to mutants for an old school, sci-fi feel, so you think this battle would have something to do with being a mutant, when in actuality, it has more to do with time travel and really, just being an X-Man. They could have called it X-Men: Fight for the Future and that would have made more sense, but then everyone would have just thought about that one X-Files movie and that would have gotten us nowhere.
Still, while X-Men: Battle of the Atom is an awkward title, it seems to promise one thing, deliver another and both ideas were a little oversized to begin with, much like the story the title denotes. Brian Michael Bendis once again hits the readers with a surgical strike, but this one’s a little more invasive and disguised than the clean-up or shakedowns of events past. Comparing it to Infinity, Hickman seems to be working from very broad concepts (intergalactic battle, world building/destruction) that started his Avengers event to the very narrow (save Earth, Thanos has a son, new Inhumans popping up on Earth) and more easily understandable to the reader, almost like a reward. Did you bear with us for the Alephs and Builders and high concepts? Here are some new characters and human interest stories to make it more palatable. In the end, I think Infinity will work much better as a coherent trade and over-arcing narrative telling a big space yarn.
In X-Men: Battle of the Atom‘s case, the story started out simple (put the time-traveled X-Men back where they came from) and got more and more complicated as he wrote further, from a narrow point to broader strokes full of brand new characters who had maybe a glimpse of a reason to be there. The story reads much better as single issues, like tiny bites of candy that make you sick if you eat them all at once. In the end, it will probably make more sense… well, let’s face it: at the next big event.
Let me see if I can make sense of what went on….
WARNING: I’m giving you the short, short version of X-Men: Battle of the Atom so if you want to read it for yourself, stop here and visit your friendly neighborhood comic shop! If you’ve already read the X-Event, read on!
Like I said, it started out simple: the original five X-Men have come from the past into the present because Beast wanted to shake up Cyclops, reminding him of who he used to be by physically showing him who he used to be. Not the soundest of logic to begin with, and it’s easy to understand why a group of future “X-Men” might show up to demand Hank put his toys back where he found them. The problem is that they’re not toys, but people, and soon past-Scott and Jean are on the run to avoid being sent back. They flee to Cyclops (present) and his band of X-Men, and ask for protection. Fights ensue, and Illyana and other decide to do a little investigating, and this is where things get weird. First off, Magik plus Iceman and Beast (past versions) go to the future to find out that those guys are not the actual future X-Men, but a future incarnation of the Brotherhood. The real future X-Men come back with Magik to the present. The future Brotherhood finally get their hands on the past X-Men and find out they can’t actually be sent home anymore, time being broken and all.
The future Brotherhood then decide to get drastic and go to Cape Citadel military base, where X-Men #1 took place. A huge fight ensues and S.H.I.E.L.D. reasonably gets involved, as there are mutant terrorists on government property. The future version of Jean Grey that had been time traveled to the present (oh yeah, this is happening) uses her telekinetic and telepathic powers to launch all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s weaponry against the assembled X-Men, including S.H.I.E.L.D.-sanctioned Sentinels. An even more huge fight ensues.
Do we know why? Why are the future Brotherhood so dead set on sending the original X-Men back, besides that being the very logical thing to do? Why are they so angry and willing to fight dirty? Apparently, there was An Incident that drove them to this act, but it remains shrouded in mystery as the story unfolds. We’re given a glimpse of something that happens in the future, as Alison Blaire is convinced to run for president somewhere down the line and manages to get elected. With Avengers and X-Men assembled behind her, she is about to deliver her inaugural speech when she’s shot through the chest by monsters. Demon monsters from the looks of it as the X-Men watch chaos ensue at the Capitol at what was supposed to be their crowning moment.
That doesn’t seem like it, though. The Big It, the Incident that would cause all this nonsense to begin with. As the X-Men fight at Cape Citadel, future original Jean Grey says that she’s tired of the humans always being the ones to survive while mutants are constantly under siege. What does that have to do with giant demon monsters? Did humans send giant demon monsters to kill Allison Blaire and destroy Washington D.C.? How would sending all the original X-Men home solve the giant demon monster problem? You see, time danger stories work best when there is an easy to follow causality: if A happens, then B happens. If Marty McFly can’t bring his parents together at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, then he won’t exist. Sometimes C can happen, but that should lead to D happening, it has to be linear or it doesn’t feel like anything matters.
If the original X-Men can’t go home, what happens next? Future OG Jean wants to show how deceitful things will be in the future, so she makes S.H.I.E.L.D. launch Sentinels to show the X-Men that they’re secretly planning to take them out. This makes sense but doesn’t seem to tie into the original reason all this started: to send the original X-Men home. Do things tie back in at the end? Not exactly. Future OG Jean is obliterated from using her powers too much and is basically ash. The future Brotherhood uses her sacrifice as an escape and disappears. The future X-Men return to the future, except for Kymera, Storm’s future daughter; she stays behind to hunt down the future Brotherhood. Both Wolverine and Cyclops now know about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sentinels and know the threat of giant robots lives on. And Kitty Pryde ‘defects’ to Cyclops’ team after the whole affair and goes with the original X-Men off to his side.
Some pieces have been moved around for sure, but it seems like a whole lot of sound and fury signifying next to nothing. Sure, we have a new future Brotherhood, but we still don’t known why, outside of the standard ‘We hate humans’ theory. Anyone who died was one of the future folks, so the emotional impact will pass. Kymera is a new character, but there’s been so little said about her that I don’t think a 10-issue event story was needed to bring her to the present. And of course S.H.I.E.L.D. has a Sentinel program! Does no one remember Avengers vs. X-Men?? Cyclops is a mutant terrorist (and so is his son!), I’d be surprised if they didn’t have a contingency plan. What was X-Men: Battle of the Atom all about?
Let me put it this way: at the end of the event, Psylocke and Kitty Pryde (present versions) are fighting all this mess and Psylocke says to Kitty, “Then what’s the point? What are we even fighting for?” Kitty replies, “Same thing we’ve always fought for, Betsy. Not to die. We live to see tomorrow, we’ll think up something more eloquent.”
I hope you do.