A few years back, around the time “Messiah CompleX” was hitting its stride, my LCS owner, Robert, asked me why I thought X-Men crossovers sold so consistently. No other line of books could get the fans so excited over a crossover, but X-fans, even lapsed X-fans, showed up in droves if the books were tying together.
I’ve given it a lot of thought since then, and I still don’t have an answer that satisfies me. But I have spent a lot of time pondering what made past X-Men crossovers work or fall apart. Like, a lot of time – I had a job for about a year where I worked twelve hour retail shifts and helped maybe five people in that time. And, of course, because ranking the things we love in the order we love them is imprinted in a geek’s DNA, I ended up making a list. When that list proved to be about the length of a doctoral dissertation, I narrowed it down to my top ten. Then, when that proved to be about a dozen posts worth of material, I shaved it down to five and broke those into individual posts. This week, just in time for “The Trial of Jean Grey”, it’s the X-Men’s most recent x-over (I’ll be using that pun a lot, so please don’t hit me).
Story crosses through: Uncanny, All-New X-Men, X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men
Synopsis: Shortly after the Original X-Men (Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Iceman, and the Angel) are pulled into the present day, a team of Future X-Men travel back to warn of dire consequences if they remain. Of course, the ragged, dystopian team from tomorrow isn’t telling the whole story…. (Editor's note: spoilers ahoy on this one due to being so recent)
Yes, it’s an incredibly recent story, but I rank it so much higher than some of the older classics because it’s a narrative freight train. “Battle of the Atom” chugs through eight issues without stopping to take a breath, bringing the reader along for the ride in a rush of stakes, revelations, betrayals, and changing allegiances. It reads like a fast paced thriller, a pulpy dime novel with an action sci-fi bend. Also – and spoiler alert activated for this next part – the Future X-Men’s heel turn is actually really well executed, mostly because it plays off the reader’s expectations. Of course the Future X-Men are grim and gritty – the X-future is supposed to be a dystopia, we’ve seen it a thousand times over the last twenty years. So, when the real X-Men of that time show up, outing the other group as the new Brotherhood, it’s a genuine surprise – and for the first time since “Days of Future Past”, there’s a chance the team is heading for a brighter tomorrow. And unlike a lot of X-overs, including ones higher on this very list, the ending is super satisfying: Kitty Pryde, sickened by how quickly her old teammates were willing to turn on the original X-Men, leaves the school to join Cyclops’ band of outlaws along with her charges.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the artist talent on display here. “Battle of the Atom” has a murderer’s row of modern talent – yeah, you’ve got Frank Cho, who can be pretty divisive, but you also get Stuart Immonen, David Lopez, and Giuseppe Camuncoli. Each one has a clean, dramatic line that compliments the other and maintains continuity between the different books. The odd man out is Chris Bachalo on Uncanny, but his style is so unique that the contrast itself helps the story because Bachalo is illustrating the conflict from a different perspective, using characters that aren’t as prominent in the other issues. Not to mention, The Future X-Men (both actual and Brotherhood) are pillars of creative design. The characters’ looks are spot-on, each one feeling like a natural progression of how each would have aged. Beast in particular has a wonderfully deformed, semi-demonic appearance that speaks to further self-experimentation sometime down the road. They look like the characters we all know, but aged. It’s a small but important detail that holds the story together.
How many times do we need to see heroes fighting other heroes? I mean, the X-Men have been a group built on conflict since about 1975, so infighting is pretty normal for them. But even with that in mind, even considering the future group turns out to be the Brotherhood, it’s still a story of X-Man versus X-Man at its heart.
It’s also worth mentioning that its frenetic pace actually works against the narrative in its long form. Marvel’s accelerated shipping schedule was a plus for this one – an issue a week for two months meant there was very little down time between issues. Taken once a month, this would have been almost unbearable to read – it’s a book that needs to keep its momentum for the story to hold up.
Final Analysis: It’s a new one (hell, it’s the newest one) but it’s a story worth picking up, especially as an entryway into the current X-Men universe.