By:  Jason Aaron; Brian Wood; and Brian Michael Bendis (writers), Esad Ribic; Giuseppe Camuncoli; Kristopher Anka; Chris Bachalo (pencils), Andrew Currie; Tom Palmer; Mark Irwin; Victor Olazaba; and Wade von Grawbadger (finishes), Ive Svorcina; Andres Mossa; Guru eFX; and Matt Milla (colors)

The Story: Fifty years ago, Professor Xavier assembled a team of young mutants, the original X-Men, to protect the world from evil mutants. Today, Xavier has assembled a team of young mutants to eliminate the original X-Men and protect evil mutants from the world. Happy anniversary, guys; hope you survive the experience.

The Review: At long last “Battle for the Atom” has come to a close. Can you believe that this event only started two months ago? At times it seems like it’s always been here.

When I opened this issue, I was surprised to see Jason Aaron’s name on the credits page. Brian Michael Bendis does manage to get the last word, but it’s Aaron who handles most of the heavy lifting. Bendis hasn’t shown his best self on this event, but Aaron was behind the rather abysmal last installment in Wolverine and the X-Men #37. Many of the flaws present in that chapter reappear here, but stronger plotting and more valuable subject matter allow this issue to escape the sins of its predecessor.

Though justifying the sheer amount of time and energy this story has subverted would require a pretty astonishing ending, taken on its own merits, X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2 is a strong issue that closes the book on one tale while writing the first lines of several others.

Though it’s far from perfect, Aaron’s writing shows a clear understanding of battlefield pacing, as he ebbs and surges the tides of battle. Things are pretty crazy with so many mutants running around and, at times, it can strain belief that things seem to slow down so that two combatants can have their moment, but Aaron supplies a true comic book experience.

This is one of those issues that, emotionally manipulative as it may be, you can really cry or cheer for. One impressive page of the original X-Men, in particular, seems designed to bring a smile to your face. Aaron’s writing is aspirational, pitting the heroes of today against the jaded future of their legacy. It dares our X-Men to prove their opponents’ cynicism wrong. He even takes aim at some of his own writing, pointing out the dramatics that make the X-Men such lovably frustrating characters sometimes.

Some moments don’t come across as well as they clearly wanted to but it’s a highly successful melee, especially in the last eight pages.

Fun as this issue can be, it still has problems when it comes to small talk. Though Aaron has a couple of clever asides, mass reactions and quips often feel stilted and inappropriate. The X-Brotherhood’s plan still doesn’t make too much sense and things are left kind of unclear, but trust me that we’ll be taking a separate moment to discuss the fallout.

Artistically, this issue is appropriately staffed for such a hectic and populous issue. Esad Ribic and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils are far from consistent in their quality, but they possess a rare grace. Panel arrangements are lively and varied, encouraging a reader keep flipping pages and the individual panels are suitably dramatic, perhaps even excessively so on occasion.

Some of Camuncoli’s harsher lines reappear in the final pages, but the entire main story looks great, a vast improvement from chapter 9. I expect that this is in no small part thanks to the colorists, who, by assignment or intention, provide a truly gorgeous gradient from washed-out horror to vibrant victory. I’m still not enough of an expert to discern which hands were behind the early pages, and one full-page spread in particular, but the gentle colors and dramatic imagery are truly something to behold. Marvel, more please.

If I had to criticize, which is kind of my job here, I’d point out just how much of the action of obscured by explosions and energy bursts. Admittedly this team draws a pretty explosion, but how much nicer would it have been if we’d had more of their beautifully rendered characters in front of their gorgeous explosions, rather than the other way around.

While this dramatic conclusion takes up the standard twenty pages, the issue also features eleven pages of epilogues; four of them, no less! While the main story is a satisfying, if somewhat hollow, conclusion to “Battle of the Atom”, these epilogues are clearly what will matter when we look back on the event.

The first is handled by Aaron with Camuncoli and his team on art. Aaron’s strengths and weaknesses are both on display in this short scene. For such a brief glimpse, there’s quite a lot of melodrama, the likes of which even the scale of the preceding story can’t eclipse. There’s also more instances of Wolverine’s team making unnecessary comments about Scott’s and Scott’s team overreacting, which has become Aaron’s favorite way of starting examination of the two major viewpoints in X-Men of late. However, for any breaks in naturalism, Wolverine provides a rather beautiful argument for why Wolverine and the X-Men is an important title in the lineup and reminds me why it was the book that truly brought me back to Marvel.

Camuncoli still can’t seem to get Magneto’s helmet right, but his work is once again improved from the last time we saw it solo. It also finally becomes clear why he was tapped to handle WatXM, as he does make for a fine follow-up to Nick Bradshaw, possessing a similar but different take on Bradshaw’s sketchy lines and simple faces.

Brian Wood handles the next one, providing less in the way of a teaser for future stories in X-Men than a beautiful tableau that examines the underpinnings of the series. The quick hints of things to come fall flat for me, but the last page is heartwarming in the extreme and does so without resorting to cheep tricks.

I’ve long been a fan of Kris Anka and he doesn’t disappoint. Can anyone draw that Storm costume even half as well?

The style is a little more generic than what I’ve often seen from Anka, but it retains his individual flair and supports the story wonderfully. Admittedly, Shadow Panther’s shadow panther is looking a little rotund, but some great reaction shots from the students and one particular look of heartbreak make me more than happy to overlook minor blemishes.

After whining about it for two reviews, Jason Aaron’s talent for comedy and character work return in his second epilogue. This one is clearly laying ground for Amazing X-Men and, while it doesn’t get one excited for the series it’s supporting the way that some of the other epilogues do, it may just be the most well-balanced of them. It serves as an admirable send off for a number of characters and takes a keen and incisive look at what the X-Men need, now more than ever. And yes, it make me glad to say that Aaron seems to believe that the answer is blue and fuzzy.

The lead character of the short suits Chris Bachalo’s style perfectly and the unique visuals and brevity of the scene allow him to give us some of the best work I’ve seen from him in years.

Brian Michael Bendis returns to his crossover to round it out. Unsurprisingly for the auteur scribe, this last moment feels like a natural evolution of certain elements of the arc but wildly out-of-place in the here and now of the issue. If Aaron’s best moments championed the optimism and joy of the X-Men, Bendis is backing the soapy drama of it all.

There isn’t always room for Bendis to reach full steam, but it is clear that he understands the relationships between the characters he’s playing with, even if it doesn’t always make it into the dialogue.

Stuart Immonen returns to his standard duties of making Bendis’ scripts look beautiful and gives everyone reading a number of good reasons to check out Bendis’ twin titles. Dramatic lighting, great use of angles, and even a fantastic outfit for Storm ensure that Immonen remains a force to be reckoned with, even among the sea of talented artists that worked on this issue. Best of all, the event closes with a beautiful triptych of sorts that captures the power and controversy of the modern X-Men in a single moment.

The Conclusion: In its final pages, “Battle of the Atom” seems to admit that it exists to serve future stories as much as, if not more than, its own. Aaron and Bendis kick the can down the road in regard to a number of major issues and deliver little more than a patch on the issue of the original X-Men. That said, they craft a generally satisfying conclusion and make a series of cleverly disguised pitches for their books.

Despite the numerous cooks, the art is almost universally gorgeous and the story, while not perfect, is well paced and probably better than it deserves to be after the long dreary road that led us here.

In terms of its story, “Battle of the Atom” doesn’t end as well as it began, but it does end and it looks fantastic doing it.

Grade: B-