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X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 – Review

by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Frank Cho & Stuart Immonen, Marte Gracia (colors),  Frank Cho & Wade von Grawbadger (inks)

The Story: Yeah, yeah, it’s the start of a big event, there’s a big Sentinel battle, the fabric of time and space are unraveling, that’s all great. But deep down, you know the real reason to buy this comic: the X-Men fight Catholic dracosaurs!

The Review: Brian Michael Bendis is often at his best when his stories compel him to keep things moving. In such instances, he often finds ways to breathe essential character into otherwise mindless fight scenes and compress his well-loved writing style into a couple of choice words.

Luckily for us, X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 is one of those stories.

Anyone worried about a slow start to this event have nothing to worry about. Though a couple of pages at the beginning serve as a cold open of sorts, after that and the recap page it only takes two more to move the original X-Men from a charming scene in the Jean Grey School to an all out battle in Phoenix, Arizona.

Something of the lighting-in-a-bottle energy that ushered in All-New X-Men is back this week. The youth and exuberance of the original X-Men is on display and finds a strong counterpoint in the skilled Professor Pryde, once the very face of youth and exuberance, herself. Whether that takes the form of their lunchroom interactions or their battle banter, the five of them just feel like a well-established team.

In fact, the issue acts as a fine sampler of what Bendis’ X-titles are capable of, complete with a helpful logo to let you know which pages belong in Uncanny X-Men. The interaction between teams seems primed to be a major focus of this event, so it’s nice to see how well Bendis illustrates the dynamics between the two mutant schools. Bendis really sells the complex feeling of falling into old patterns with friends you’ve grown apart from. It’s less the X-Men and Brotherhood and more the New Mutants and Hellions.

Bendis’ humor is present and well-timed, and his characters have the strong unique voices that we’ve come to expect from him. If there’s a real problem with the issue, it’s that the comic invests time strangely and is a little too focused on the lapsed reader for more invested fans. Giving two pages to an attempted rescue seems fine until you realize that entire battles take place in two pages. It’s fairly standard Bendis criticism to call out his decompression, but that’s really up to you. On one hand, it’s not really strange for the first issue of an event to only take the reader as far as the conceptual hook but, on the other hand, that formula is practically Bendis’ creation!

Frank Cho’s artwork is gorgeous. It’s not without flaws, but it appeals to the part of you that knows what an event comic is supposed to look like. Much the same could be said of Stuart Immonen’s work on All-New X-Men, and, in fact, Immonen handles a couple of pages on this issue, though thanks to Marte Gracia I can’t quite tell exactly where the switch occurred.

Though Iceman’s rocking some serious guy-liner and Jean Grey’s time as a model feels much more plausible than it has – perhaps more than it should – Cho’s artwork is stunning. Emotions are clear and powerful in most panels and backgrounds are used and not used expertly. Cho also proves to be a truly accomplished fantasy artist, providing a menagerie of living breathing saurians for the X-Men to test their mettle against.

If you need proof of everything that is Frank Cho, check out the splash of the “All-New” X-Men flying into battle. If your eyes go first to meet the powerful, hungry look in Professor Pryde’s, you’ll know why I speak so highly of this art team; if they don’t…well, no one will blame you.

There’s really no word but loving to describe the way that Cho render’s Kitty’s behind. She’s hardly the only one looking a little hippy-er than usual, but in that image you can truly feel the strength of Cho’s convictions as he shows you the world he dreams of, a better world where women live perpetually in the middle of a twerk.

Good God, I just used the word twerk.

While it’s fun to point out Cho’s well-publicized love of a well-shaped bunda, the other instances of cheesecake tend to be subtler and won’t do too much to interfere with your reading experience. And though he certainly includes a bit of fan-service, Cho also gives the women of the atom special attention in terms of facial expressions. It may not completely balance the scales but it does a lot to ensure that the issue, as a whole, views these women as characters rather than bodies.

It’s also worth mentioning that whoever handled the digital effects for this issue deserves a nod. One notable sequence, which could have failed miserably, comes through crystal clear and with distinct foreboding thanks to their efforts.

The Conclusion: X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1 is a fine way to start off an event. Though the issue falls victim to crossover pacing convention, Bendis provides a satisfying comic book experience throughout and the book never feels like it’s treading water.

Much like All-New X-Men #1, if you’ve heard anything about this story in advance, you could probably skip this issue and start with part two, but you’d be missing out of some lovely art and strong writing if you did.

Grade: B-

-Noah Sharma

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2 Responses

  1. Okay…I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed the pervy way Frank Cho so lovingly presented Kitty’s butt. I feel better now.

    But there’s not a hope in hell I’m about to buy yet another Benids-led crossover after the unholy hot mess that was Age of Ultron. Fool me once and fool me twice…

    • Oh no. Oh no, no. You are not alone. Luckily Cho didn’t live up to his reputation and make it a regular occurrence.

      I didn’t read Age of Ultron but I can’t say that I felt a tone of satisfaction when it was over. The issue was solid, but I understand your reluctance. Having read the second part of the story I can say that Bendis is pretty blatantly writing for the inevitable collection, so, if you’re skeptical, Marvel can’t really blame you for trade-waiting this one.

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