Brian Bendis is no stranger to crossovers, nor is he an outsider to big event books of which he has written many. He has given us Dark Reign, Secret Invasion and made the Avengers the number one franchise in the Marvel Universe where once the X-Men stood above all. When Marvel NOW! started, Bendis took over the flagship X-book, Uncanny X-Men and started up All-New X-Men, writing both on a monthly basis. He also decided to do something that had not been done in quite some time and that was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. But being cleverer than that, he took her from the past when she was still a teenager in Xavier’s school, as well as all of the other X-Men, and shunted them forward in time to the present day. Those books are now two of Marvel’s best at the moment and if you wish to go a bit more in depth about them, you can do so here.
Battle of the Atom is the first crossover to take place in the X-universe since the NOW! reboot and there were high expectations going in as Uncanny and All-New have been so consistently good. Fans were left hanging with the let-down that was Age of Ultron, so Bendis had much to prove, not to himself mind, but in the eyes of everyone else. He had written many of the last decade’s defining moments in the Marvel U, so it was with this crossover that many hoped he would return to form. Sadly, as BotA wound down it turned out to be more Age of Ultron than Secret Invasion which was a shame, though as a whole worked really well.
The series is essentially about the debate to send the All-New teenage X-Men back to their original time, or whether to allow them to decide their own fates. This of course takes place between Wolverine’s team and Scott’s team with the teens stuck in-between. During the first bookend issue as Wolverine and Kitty decide that they are going to send the young team back, the time portal activates and a new group of X-Men appear, obviously from the future. We are soon introduced to them who include Xavier’s descendent, mindless Iceman, old Deadpool, old Beast, old Molly Hayes, old Kitty and Xorn. Xorn in actuality turns out to be Jean Grey, but is it old Jean Grey resurrected or young present-day Jean grown old? As the series progresses we do eventually learn it is the latter and that she is not all that she appears to be. With the new group of X-Men now present, that makes four altogether, they also get in on the ‘do we or don’t we’ conversation. Soon battles are fought and everyone takes one side or the other. Things of course do not go smoothly and Illyana travels to the future through limbo to ascertain just what is going on and she meets yet another group of X-Men who actually turn out to be the good guys, while Xavier and Jean’s team turn out to be the new Brotherhood. This team includes Wiccan, Quentin Quire, old Colossus, old Jubilee, Sir Robert Drake, Kymera and Sentinel-X and they travel back to help out the teams take on and defeat the Brotherhood.
Like Age of Ultron, this crossover started very strongly with tight writing and exceptional art and continued so for most of the duration of the series. There were a lot of great things about this series including the future X-Men and Brotherhood. The character designs were ingenious and the identities of the teams were quite brilliant and frankly, very interesting. Having Molly Hayes and Wiccan on the teams seem like such a nice progression of their characters and really make a lot of sense when one thinks about it. Kymera looks to be a figure to watch as she has stayed behind in the present time, and could make for some fascinating stories. Seeing the interaction between the older and younger members of the various casts was at times funny and at others, quite moving. The moments between Scott and his younger self were tense but enlightening for the both of them to see what one had been and what one had become and both realizing that something, somewhere went wrong.
The best thing out of all of this was Bendis’ characterizations of each of the X-Men. He absolutely nails the personalities of every member, both young and old, especially when you comprehend just how many of them there are. The young X-Men are hopeful, eager and still show joy as they have experienced far fewer hardships then the current teams. Iceman is by far the funniest character in the book and is back to being what could be considered his true self. He has not been nearly so interesting or even cool in years. The interplay between Beasts is engaging and current Beast seems exhilarated at having his younger self around. It is refreshing to see Jean back in any form, and she seems just like the Jean Claremont wrote for so long, but more wide-eyed and a little more wise beyond her years as she and her compatriots are forced to grow up faster then they had to the first time around.
As mentioned there is a negative to this book which, just like Age of Ultron, was the ending because essentially it was a non-ending. Like Age of Ultron, Battle of the Atom had a large scale battle take place that finished with little-to-no consequences. Yes, the big reveal in AoU was the fact that time was broken which is how it actually ties into All New X-Men, but everything was reset so that nothing really happened. In BotA, nothing essentially changed either. No characters were hurt except their future versions, and in the end, the young X-Men decided to join Scott’s team as well as Kitty who would defect from Wolverine’s team. Not really the mind-shattering ending that many people were hoping for. It does change the game up for the mutants on both sides and will make for some intriguing stories in both Aaron’s and Bendis’ titles but just felt like there should have been more.
So was it a good story overall? Yes, it was. But running ten issues, like the event Bendis wrote before this one, was just a bit too long. The character moments were great as was almost all of the story, but there was a lot of stuff that could have been compressed to shorten the series by at least a couple of issues, namely all of the various battles that took place including the final, full issue fight. Battle was better than Age of Ultron in almost every other respect as well. Bendis just seems more refreshed and full of new ideas where AoU just seemed tired and a little boring. It could have been just a regular story within a single title, but instead was made into an event. It was not a great event, but a good one and one worth checking out.