Children of the Atom
Credits: Steve Seagle (writer), Chris Bachalo (penciler), Tim Townsend w/Jordi Ensign, Aaron Sowd, Jon Sibal, & Peter Palmiotti (inkers), Shannon Blanchard & Mike Rockwitz (colors), Comicraft (letters)
Summary: Professor Xavier recruits a new X-Men team (Grey King, Crux, Landslide, Chaos, Rapture, and Mercury) from across the globe. The new team attacks a cruise ship where Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and Colossus are vacationing. They kidnap Shadowcat and take her to Florida, where Xavier says he needs her help. Shadowcat shuts down a computer virus that was allegedly connected to Xavier by Bastion. Xavier then orders the new X-Men to place her in storage. Meanwhile, the real X-Men travel to Washington, DC to meet with Peter Corbeau. Corbeau is missing from his Pentagon office, allegedly kidnapped by the X-Men. The team meets with Val Cooper, who explains that Corbeau was working on the Benassi Rocket, which is rumored to have a mutant connection. She arranges for a jet to fly them to Cape Citadel, where the rocket is being launched. Elsewhere, the government fakes the assassination of a scientist on the rocket project in order to divert attention away from the rocket’s true purpose (to launch a device that can “track and terminate mutants globally”). Later, Nightcrawler and Colossus arrive at the X-Men’s mansion and meet Cecilia Reyes. Reyes informs them that the rest of the team is headed for Cape Citadel, so Nightcrawler repairs the spare Blackbird jet and departs with Colossus. They arrive in the skies above Cape Citadel as the X-Men are attacked by Xavier’s new team. The team regroups inside the Blackbird, but it’s quickly shot down by the new X-Men’s Aurora aircraft.
Continuity Notes: Apparently, a decent amount of time has passed between the previous issue and this one. Cecilia Reyes has left the team off-panel, and set up her own medical practice in Salem Center. She’s checking on the mansion as a favor to Storm while the team is away on a mission. Colossus comments that Storm’s plants resemble a jungle, which is apparently a clue that the X-Men have been gone for a while.
Reyes comments that Beast has left, but there’s no explanation why. Maggott is also gone without explanation (Beast suggested that he consider joining Generation X in last month’s X-Men, but there’s no follow-up here).
The new team of X-Men are intentionally derivative of other mutants, which is a hint towards their origin.
Gimmicks: This is a forty-eight page issue with a “foil-etched” cover, which brings the cover price up to $3.99. It’s interesting that Marvel tried to phase out the gimmick covers in the mid-90s, but they still popped up occasionally.
I Love the ‘90s: Nightcrawler is impersonating “Leo” onboard the cruise ship “Titania”.
Review: This is the first wave in a series of 35th anniversary issues, which is amusing because I don’t recall the X-Men’s 40th anniversary receiving a lot of attention (Wasn’t it during the Quesada/Jemas “We’re cooler than everybody and only hip young people read our comics” phase?). The story is set on the anniversary of the day Magneto attacked Cape Citadel (and announced the existence of mutants to the public, according to this issue), which is the only real connection to the first issue of the series. I suppose reuniting three former cast members with the team is intended as another nod to the past, as is the “familiar” nature of the new X-Men. As I’ve mentioned before, the editorial influence on the titles is painfully evident in this storyline, as three of the team members are missing with little or no explanation. The real reason they’re gone is so that Shadowcat, Colossus, and Nightcrawler can take their place, but there’s practically no effort put into providing a legitimate explanation for their absence. Cecilia Reyes’ off-hand dismissal that she was an X-Man “for all of five minutes” is particularly annoying, since it undermines the work that was spent on selling her as a real member of the team. Ever since the “Zero Tolerance” crossover, we were supposed to be buying into this character’s journey as a new X-Man. Now, the editors have changed their minds, so Cecilia has decided to leave the team in-between issues. On what planet is this considered competent storytelling?
The X-Men have also ended up in Washington, DC through the sheer willpower of editorial desire. Oddly enough, the script actually draws attention to the X-Men’s lack of transportation, as Wolverine explains to Val Cooper that “we’re a little short on long-range transportation these days…most everything’s running, but not our wings.” Then how exactly did they get to Washington in the first place? I assumed that reintroducing the Blackbird a few issues earlier was done to cover travel if a story required it, but that plane is instead being used to bring Colossus and Nightcrawler to Cape Citadel. In the end, we end up with explanations for how the X-Men get from Washington to Florida, how Colossus and Nightcrawler get from New York to Florida, but no explanation for how the X-Men got from New York to Washington in the first place. This has always annoyed me, especially since it could’ve been covered by a simple line of dialogue (I’m sure Beast could’ve arranged transport with the Avengers, or one of Wolverine’s numerous “old friends” might’ve helped).
Even if you’re willing to ignore the jarring transition from the previous issues, the story’s not particularly impressive. Every page is extremely cluttered, as Bachalo opens with nine-panel grids for the first few pages, and barely decreases the number of panels per page for the rest of the issue. Every tiny panel is as crammed full of word balloons as possible, making this feel as if four issues of material have been shoved into one double-sized special. I don’t have a problem with the villains, since the derivative nature of their powers is an interesting mystery and I like their designs (Carlos Pacheco’s sketches for the characters had been appearing in the issues leading up to this one). It just doesn’t feel as if there’s enough room to showcase the various characters, which makes all of the faux-X-Men rather unimpressive. Bachalo’s art is also a problem, as the multiple inkers change the look from page to page, and the page layouts are so busy it’s often hard to tell what’s going on. Bachalo is also firmly in “draw every character like a little kid” mode, which just doesn’t work with most of this cast.
Children of the Atom, Part Two
Credits: Joe Kelly (writer), Brandon Peterson (penciler), Art Thibert w/Dan Panosian (inkers), Liquid! (color), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
Summary: Shadowcat escapes from Xavier’s new team of X-Men and lands in the sewers. There, she meets Peter Corbeau, who tells her about Xavier’s plan to disrupt the launch of the Benassi Rocket. Meanwhile, the X-Men crash land in a Florida swamp. They eventually make their way to Cape Citadel, just as the false X-Men are ambushing Shadowcat. The two teams fight on the tarmac, as Xavier enters the control booth. He stops the launch, enabling the Grey King to remove the mutant-tracking satellite from the rocket. Wolverine confronts Xavier, calling him out as a fraud. Xavier suddenly turns into an energy-form, forces the control panel to launch the rocket, and disappears. Knowing that the rocket has a nuclear core, Rogue absorbs the powers of Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Colossus, and forces the rocket to crash in the ocean. Meanwhile, the remaining X-Men force the Grey King to drop the satellite. The false X-Men disappear, and are soon reunited with Xavier’s impostor. The energy-form absorbs their bodies, and reveals himself as Cerebro in robot form.
Continuity Note: Rogue’s costume has changed in-between chapters of the story. She’s now wearing the Shi’ar space suit again, for no reason outside of Brandon Peterson getting the wrong reference. If you’ve noticed that Rogue is drawn smaller and with less detail on the cover, it’s because she wasn’t on the original solicited version of this cover (which was used to announce the new team of X-Men).
Gimmicks: This is another double-sized issue with a foil-etched cover. I have the non-enhanced version (which I think was released two weeks after the enhanced one), which costs $2.99.
Review: This is at least easier to read than the first chapter, as Kelly’s script is less verbose and the page layouts are clearer. I seem to recall Brandon Peterson being announced as Pacheco’s replacement on this book, but he pulled out to do a title with Alan Moore for one of Liefeld’s short-lived companies (I think it was supposed to be a Suprema series that never happened). His work here is barely recognizable from his earlier UXM issues, and I can’t say it’s particularly improved. His rendition of Wolverine isn’t bad, but the rest of the cast looks pretty dull (and the spaghetti hair he gives the female characters has always annoyed me).
Kelly continues to excel with the character interactions, as Wolverine is still resentful of Colossus for joining the Acolytes, Colossus is suspicious of Marrow (after encountering Gene Nation in UXM #325), Marrow taunts Colossus with knowledge of his brother, and Storm is forced to hold everything together. The general thinking at the time was that Joe Kelly resented having to work with this lineup (in Kelly’s Deadpool series, this team is referred to as “out with the new, in with the old”), which might’ve been an exaggeration from upset fans, but also seems plausible. There’s a lot of nostalgia in the story, as Nightcrawler and Colossus work in all of their catchphrases, and Wolverine and Colossus even pull a “fastball special” during the climax. It’s not hard to read this as self-aware humor, as if Kelly is just saying, “Fine. If you guys just want the ‘80s all over again, here it is.”
The rest of the story dutifully resolves the main conflict, while setting up a future Cerebro storyline (which I remember everyone just hating). The lack of a real resolution shouldn’t be a shock at this point, but knowing how poorly the mysteries of Cerebro and his false X-Men are resolved, it’s hard to cut the ending a lot of slack. The basic idea for the story is fine, and it does manage to return the three Excalibur members in a credible way, but the shoddy dismissal of the former members and the knowledge of what’s coming next make it hard to have any real enthusiasm for this storyline.