Friday, August 17, 2012

X-MEN -CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #1 - December 1999

Childhood's End

Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Steve Rude (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Paul Mounts (colors), Jim Novak (letters)

Summary: As the public learns of mutants, activist William Metzger recruits young people into an anti-mutant militia. FBI agent Fred Duncan is assigned to investigate mutants, which brings him to the attention of Professor Xavier. With Duncan’s help, Xavier works undercover at a school with a suspected mutant population. At the school, new student Scott Summers is ostracized, Hank McCoy is a football hero, and Bobby Drake is overcome with mysterious chills. Meanwhile, Warren Worthington has begun his career as the vigilante Angel. When he’s attacked by a Sentinel, Magneto saves his life from the shadows.

Continuity Notes:
· This series was intended as a prequel to 1963’s X-Men #1, with Joe Casey picking and choosing which retcons he would acknowledge. The idea that Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman all went to the same high school is new to this series, and contradicts numerous stories.
· The timeline of Angel’s vigilante career is also a continuity problem. He’s inspired by newspaper reports of other heroes like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, yet the newspaper with Captain America on the cover doesn’t fit, since Cap wasn’t revived until a few months after the X-Men were formed. Also, the Sentinels weren’t created until several months after Xavier recruited the X-Men.
· Chris Claremont’s retcon that Xavier mentored Jean Grey before forming the X-Men is left intact. Xavier visits her parents this issue, asking their permission to send Jean away to his new school.

I Love the '90s: A Marilyn Manson analogue named “Charlie Monroe” appears on a MTV parody station during one of the media montage sequences.

Review: Marvel’s obsession with revamping origins and altering the past predates the days of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas; one of Bob Harras’ most infamous misfires was Spider-Man: Chapter One, a year-long retelling of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man issues by John Byrne. Previously, Marvel’s strict rules on continuity prevented such projects. As Mark Gruenwald used to say, Marvel didn’t need to reboot their characters because they got them right the first time (Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr.’s Daredevil: Man without Fear was apparently never supposed to be canon, according to people who worked for Marvel at the time). Chapter One was vilified by the fan press and online fandom, not simply because it was a bad comic, but because it was utterly pointless and clearly a violation of the old Marvel spirit preached by people like Gruenwald. So, why on earth was Marvel doing the same thing to the X-Men?

Joe Casey used to promote Children of the Atom by swearing that it was not a Chapter One project; he didn’t even want to hear those words. He seemed cagey over whether or not Children of the Atom would openly contradict any previous comics at first, but eventually had to admit that the old X-Men backup strips that told the origins of the original cast were out-of-continuity (except for Angel’s, which he apparently liked). Casey defended the decision by citing the lack of times those backups have ever been reprinted or even referenced in other comics. I understand his point, and I’m not going to defend those goofy comics, but this set a dangerous precedent. A story can’t count if it hasn’t been reprinted? Any story can be erased if enough people don’t know about it? If you’ve reached that point, you should just abandon the idea of “continuity” altogether.

Judging the book on its own merits, this is an acceptable opening issue. Steve Rude’s doing a lot to support a rather thin story, but Casey also adds enough personality to the plot to keep it from becoming a bland origin retelling. FBI agent Fred Duncan, a forgotten character from the past, mostly serves as the reader’s point-of-view character, and he’s thankfully given an opportunity to live up to some of his squandered potential. Duncan doesn’t seem to have strong views either way on the mutant issue, which is one reason why Xavier finds it necessary to form a partnership with him before it’s too late. Casey portrays Duncan as a cynic, but not a bigot, using him as a plausible spokesman for the average citizen who’s just discovered that seemingly normal teenagers might have horrific powers. Hardcore fans know that Duncan serves as the X-Men’s government contact in the early issues, but Casey adds one mystery that existing X-trivia won’t be able to solve -- why is Duncan constantly talking to an imaginary friend named “Bill”?

Unfortunately, the story isn’t immune to some of the common mistakes found in these origin retellings. Those original backup strips might seem silly by today's standards, but they don’t expect the audience to believe anything as implausible as three mutants attending the same high school. Even in the days of new mutants popping up everywhere, I don’t think anyone tried to stretch credibility this far. The early issues of X-Men established only a few dozen mutants across the entire globe -- placing three in the same high school during this era is an insane choice. It’s the kind of plot convenience you see in the lesser movie adaptations of comic book properties; doing it in an actual comic comes across as especially lazy. Casey could’ve used any number of contrivances to get Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman into the same high school (especially when you consider that the man recruiting the team is a telepath) without resorting to a massive coincidence. And, honestly, I wonder how much is to be gained by making three of the original X-Men classmates. More John Hughes jocks vs. geeks, rebels vs. preps material?

Overlooking this mistake, and my general distaste for prequels and origin updates, I am interested enough to see what happens next. At this point, Casey and Rude are smart enough to keep the momentum going, and to throw in some action scenes. The closing Angel/Sentinel battle, which has an incredible sequence with a Sentinel plowing its way through a row of parked semi-trucks, is more than enough to warrant a second issue.


wwk5d said...

The art is the most memorable thing from these series, though, due to delays at the time, Rude didn't finish the series, did he?

And yeah, Casey's justifications for his retcons seems rather silly. This series was a good warm-up for his underwhelming run on Uncanny.

kerry said...

While I've long found Casey weirdly overrated, I felt his Uncanny run heated up just as it hit the the "X-Corps" storyline--just in time for the announcement of his leaving.

I, too, ony remember the art on this, though GCDb is saying Rude only did the first three, with Paul Smith and Michael Ryan knocking out #4 and Esad Ribic finishing out the last two.

Anonymous said...

I was terribly disappointed by Casey's run on Uncanny. I was looking forward to it after his work on Cable.
I do agree that the book was improving right at the end though.

wwk5d said...

While Casey's Uncanny run did improve towards the end, with some good stories, X-Corps was not one of them.

Teebore said...

I remember really enjoying this when it first came out, though I also remember it being one of the first X-Men stories I read where I made a conscious decision to just not worry about how it fit into continuity, since it was clearly taking some big liberties with established history.

Casey defended the decision by citing the lack of times those backups have ever been reprinted or even referenced in other comics.

Using that argument, he probably shouldn't be using Fred Duncan, either. He didn't appear in those backups, but his appearances weren't all that more reprinted than the backup origin stories were when this series was published.

Not that I agree with Casey, mind you, just pointing out another way even his own argument doesn't quite hold water.

Heck, when I first read this story, I'd never read the origin backups (because they were indeed hard to find), but I was still aware of their content, thanks to references in stuff like the Marvel Handbooks and whatnot.

Matt said...

I think I got the first issue of this series and nothing more. I'm not sure if I just didn't like this issue, or if my comic shop stopped carrying it (a frequent occurrence back then, and I didn't care enough to add limited series to my pull list).

I've always had the impression that I didn't miss much, though. Aside from the Rude artwork, that is.

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