By: Jason Aaron (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (penciler), Andrew Currie (finisher), Matt Milla (colorist)
The Story: With the original X-Men in the custody of a sinister ‘X-Brotherhood’, the X-Men take a moment to figure out who’s who.
The Review: With this issue, Battle of the Atom enters its penultimate chapter. Last time I wrote about a Wolverine and the X-Men tie-in to the event, Jason Aaron’s enthusiasm proved to be just what the droning storyline had needed, but this month I’m afraid that I can’t quite say the same.
It’s not that Aaron has suddenly lost his skill, but merely that there’s not enough story for him to cover. I don’t even feel that I can blame him, as he works a number of cute scenes into the narrative in order to pad the issue out so that things can be where they need to be for this week’s X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 .
Where Aaron does fall down is crowd scenes. Battle of the Atom has gotten very populous, very fast, with five distinct teams of X-Men running around. This issue clearly wants to play with that, but while there are some lovely interactions between individual characters – especially between differing versions of the same character – the Aaron’s attempts to bring out the chaos of the situation often feel forced. It’s the same quality that elevates or ruins these moments, too. Aaron’s trademark wit is cute in small doses, but with five to twenty characters all vying for your attention, they reach a critical mass and end up seeming rather trite. The strangest instances of both of these phenomena is when a quality interaction is contained within an awkward group scene, such as modern Bobby’s meeting with Ice King Bobby.
I’m also sad to say that some of Aaron’s character work isn’t as strong as I’d expect from him. Storm feels, almost uniformly, off and Xorn’s grim necessities lean closer to mustache-twirling villainy.
When Battle of the Atom’s future X-Men were announced, people were generally interested. A new Xorn, an Xavier, and even Molly Hayes. In this ninth issue Molly gets her third instance of dialogue by my count. Kitty Pryde was revealed to be Raze in disguise, but we’ve yet to see how Kitty was integral to the plan. Likewise, while Xorn has been one of the most interesting characters, we’ve yet to establish any reason for her to be Xorn. We’ve seen that the X-Brotherhood is motivated by the assassination of President Elect Allison Blaire and that supposedly one of the original X-Men “is going to be responsible for something horrible”. The strong implication is that one of them, probably the absent Scott or Warren, was involved, and yet we haven’t heard why this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, nor have they tried to explain it.
I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve given thought to what would happen if President Obama were assassinated over the past five years. It’s a dark and yet disturbingly plausible scenario that could have horrible and far-reaching consequences. Effectively we are seeing the mutant equivalent play out here. That’s fascinating stuff, but even if we get the whole truth on Wednesday, we’ll have one issue with which to toy with the concept. The simple fact is that this premise had legs, but it just doesn’t seem to want to get up.
Despite having some of the best character writers in the industry working on this series, it remains woefully underdeveloped. This issue in particular seems to be shackled by the story’s pacing. So while some of the Jean Grey Faculty get moments of strength, Aaron has relatively limited options for exploring the characters most affected by the arc, the future characters and the original five X-Men. Even sadder, when he does have the chance, he doesn’t always take it, opting for charming fluff instead.
Giuseppe Camuncoli is our penciler again this month. His work is much stronger than last issue, but the style still isn’t to my taste. Though things usually look good, there are some wonky images in this issue. Characters grow fuzzier as they move into the background, Xavier tends to look like he’s on the toilet, and the opening pages with Xorn don’t do the character any favors.
It’s not all complaining, though, certain characters look great. Wolverine and Wiccan are both standouts and Camuncoli and Currie have a remarkable talent for drawing Phoenix Quire. His costume looks great, the design of his face speaks volumes, and every scene he’s part of benefits from the care put into the character. I do wonder how he grew lips, but that’s just comics.
It’s also worth mentioning that certain panels just look great. My instinct tells me that this is Matt Milla’s doing, but Currie might have played a part in it as well. Just look at the penultimate page and I think you’ll see how nice the presentation is.
The Conclusion: As Battle of the Atom crawls towards the finish line, Jason Aaron finds himself caught between acts. The character work is solid, but not enough to justify the issue and this chapter does little to capitalize on many of the interesting wrinkles that this crossover has, so far, ignored.
There aren’t many sequences that showcase Giuseppe Camuncoli’s storytelling chops like there were last month, but he’s more consistent in his linework. He also gets some help from his colorist, who does a really fine job.
After loving Aaron’s last addition to the current arc, I was disappointed to see this issue do so little. It seems kind of like this issue exists largely because its final page was better as a cliffhanger than as an early story beat.
The issue is no worse than unspectacular, but you may walk away wondering why it was worth twenty pages.