Friday, October 19, 2012

X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #2 - December 1999


All Children Wear the Sign
Credits
: Joe Casey (writer), Steve Rude (pencils), Andrew Pepoy (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), Jim Novak (letters)


Summary: Professor X futilely reaches out to Cyclops, who’s secretly living with criminal Jack Winters. Meanwhile, a group of anti-mutant teens is armed by a militia leader. After Beast stops them from harming Iceman at school, he’s targeted by the bullies with a sniper rifle. When Beast knocks one of them off the top of the stadium’s bleachers, the teen dies. Beast becomes an outcast, but still resists Professor X's help. Later, one of the bullies, Starkey, develops mutant powers. Elsewhere, Jack Winters plans the robbery of a nuclear plant.

Continuity Notes:
· The Sentinel from the previous issue is dismissed as a prototype. Fred Duncan tells Xavier that Trask denies the robot was his creation, but he knows Trask is lying. This might be an attempt to ease the series more closely into continuity, but I don’t know why the creators would’ve bothered.
· Jack Winters is the Silver Age villain Jack O’Diamonds. Jack O’Diamonds was a diamond-themed supervillain who played a role in Cyclops’ original origin story; he’s been recast as an average thief for this miniseries.

Review: Joe Casey has said before that Bill Jemas would’ve released Children of the Atom as Ultimate X-Men if the line had existed in 1999. It’s easy to see how this miniseries influenced the line; the slow-motion formation of the team, the constant attempts to show realistic reactions to mutants, and the “grounding” of some of the more fantastic and/or ridiculous characters, such as Jack O’Diamonds. At best, this is a modern reinterpretation that makes decades-old stories more palatable to a modern audience. At worst, it’s a needless apology made by creators embarrassed to be working on this material in the first place. I wouldn’t throw Joe Casey into that crowd, but many of the people brought into Marvel in the subsequent years clearly couldn’t hide their contempt.

I wasn’t as adamantly opposed to the Ultimate line as some fans were, but I quickly realized it served no real purpose, and I think it was obvious within a few years to everyone that Marvel had no idea where to go with it. It’s easy to start over. It’s even easier to “ground” all of the superhero elements, as if you were on a cable TV budget. It’s hard to keep the audience’s attention for more than a few months with this approach, though. I think time has shown the faux-Bryan Singer approach to superhero comics is just another gimmick that should be used sparingly.

And even though I cite Bryan Singer, I have to acknowledge that Casey wrote this at least a year before the first X-Men movie was released. He was clearly on to something; a segment of the audience wanted to see “fresh starts” for the books, and was more than happy to dismiss anything from the past that could be viewed as silly. The success of the first X-Men movie in 2000 unfortunately gave Marvel license to “ground” everything (overlooking one of the major reasons why Singer downplayed many of the fantastic elements of the X-Men was due to budget concerns), and since continuity was something too dorky to be concerned with, it seemed like almost everything Marvel published was a retelling or reimaging of an already published story with some absurd “relevance” tacked on to it. None of those comics had Steve Rude art, though.

Have I gone on a prolonged tangent that has little to do with Children of the Atom? Probably. But there isn’t a lot to say about this issue. The X-Men are moody teens who are too dumb to accept help when they clearly need it, Fred Duncan grows more sympathetic towards mutants, and some bigots do bigoted things. The pace is excessively slow, especially when you consider that everyone knows how the story is going to ultimately end. But, again, Steve Rude’s art makes even the most mundane scenes more tolerable.

12 comments:

Matt said...

Wait... Jack Winters and Scott Summers? Was somebody just being cute, or there a reason for this?

Teebore said...

I quickly realized it served no real purpose, and I think it was obvious within a few years to everyone that Marvel had no idea where to go with it

While I don't disagree with that general statement, especially when it comes to stuff like Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four (which pretty much went nowhere fast once their initial creative teams bailed), I'd argue that Ultimate Spider-Man told some really entertaining, albeit highly decompressed, especially at the beginning, stories, right up until the end of the first volume when it got sucked into all that "Ultimatum" hogwash.

Not every story was a winner, obviously, but most managed to hit a consistently high level of quality. For a while there, Ultimate Spider-Man was pretty much the best place to go for solid, enjoyable Spider-Man stories. Maybe that's not a great purpose, but I didn't mind that while I was reading them.

At best, this is a modern reinterpretation that makes decades-old stories more palatable to a modern audience

I'm willing to give Casey the benefit of the doubt and consider this that. It certainly worked on me, when I first read this. I was younger, and somewhat embarrassed by some of the goofy comics stuff (like the over-the-top-ness of some Silver Age material) that I now love, and I really enjoyed Casey taking those goofy old stories and making them more realistic, for lack of a better word.

Nowadays, I could care less about that stuff, but the Steve Rude art is indeed pretty great.

The X-Men are moody teens who are too dumb to accept help when they clearly need it

Which, now that I think about it, is pretty typical for teenagers, mutant or otherwise.

@Matt: Wait... Jack Winters and Scott Summers? Was somebody just being cute, or there a reason for this?

I'm pretty sure Roy Thomas established that Jack O'Diaminds real name was Winters back in the original original story, so if so, he's the one being cute (which he probably was).

But I could be wrong, and maybe I'm just conflating those stories with this one in my head.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I till think about the first half of Ultimate X-Men (up through Bendis) was well above average X-Men material. Not great, but certainly good.

And I have to say, I've been trumpeting this for a while on other sites, but I think Joe Casey would be perfect for All-New X-Men. I think he gets how to write a more grounded version of the original team in their teens, certainly more than Bendis ever could. Plus, I'd like to see him get a second chance at the X-books.

But hey, that's just me lol

wwk5d said...

Casey already had his chance on writing an X-men title. And while it wasn't horrible, I think most of us would say "No thanks" to him being offered an X-men title again.

I actually liked Ultimate X-men once Miller left, actually. Bendis' first acr on the title was a pointless version of Ultimate Team-up which wasn't about the X-men, but his second arc was pretty good. And Brian Vaughn did some really great work on the title. His run on Ultimate X-men was good, solid stuff, and stands as a good X-men run period, not just a good Ultimate X-men run.

Dan Lichtenberg said...

@wwk5d
Casey already had his chance on writing an X-men title. And while it wasn't horrible, I think most of us would say "No thanks" to him being offered an X-men title again


I loved Casey's run. Did it contain the best X-Men stories? Not even close, but it had a level of hipness (a word I hope to never use again) that even Morrison couldn't hit. It was grounded without being depressing and gritty (unlike much of the Ultimate line) and it was cool without being weird (unlike Morrison). To me, Casey's run will always make me wonder what could have been.

And Brian Vaughn did some really great work on the title. His run on Ultimate X-men was good, solid stuff, and stands as a good X-men run period, not just a good Ultimate X-men run.

Completely agree. Much more fun and less soul sucking than Millar, and there was obviously some long term planning at work. Just about everything he started paid off in some way by the end of his run, and his ending was so good and wide open that he practically handed the book off on a silver platter when he left. Then came Kirkman who just didn't get it and the whole thing went to hell (before Ultimatum came along for the coup de grace). It was a very satisfying run and I remember looking forward to the book a little more each month. Two issues in to Kirkman's run, I knew it wasn't going to work anymore and I was pretty bummed out. I dropped the title after that stupid Cable and Bishop story.

Teebore said...

@wwk5d: I think most of us would say "No thanks" to him being offered an X-men title again.

I'll second Dan and say I wouldn't object to it either. I wasn't the biggest fan of his run, but I was mostly disappointed that it wasn't better, not that it was bad. I certainly wouldn't object to seeing if he could really knock it out of the park on another go-round.

@Dan: Then came Kirkman who just didn't get it and the whole thing went to hell

Now that you mention it, I think that's the point where I stopped reading it; I'd forgotten about Vaughn's run, which was pretty good.

Anonymous said...

You know, considering he's tied into nearly everything else in Cyclops' backstory, I'm surprised no one ever decided to retcon Mr. Sinister into being connected to Jack O'Diamonds.

Peter said...

Especially with Sinister sporting a diamond on his forehead and all :)

It was actually the "grounding" of everything that turned me off Marvel. When I was younger, it's the over-the-top nature of comics that appealed to me, and as Marvel and DC started to downplay this to seem "adult" or "mature", they just became boring/uninspired.

American superhero comics are inherently goofy (because even the coolest villains like Doctor Doom or Baron Zemo also look very silly when you start translating them into real life), so running with that is much better than trying to do away with it.

I hope to see Lewis Trondheim doing X-Men one day. That would rock our worlds :)

Anonymous said...

Vaughan & Immonen may be the most underrated X-Men creative team of all. The art was suited for both action and character work, the stories were fun, and the characters were endearing. To this day, Ultimate Dazzler is one of my favorite super-heroes.

Anyway, I think it's fine to update stories that weren't all that great, like the X-Men origins. Children of the Atom worked for me in that regard. I wish Rude had stuck around for all 6 issues.

- Mike Loughlin

Dan Lichtenberg said...

@Anonymous
You know, considering he's tied into nearly everything else in Cyclops' backstory, I'm surprised no one ever decided to retcon Mr. Sinister into being connected to Jack O'Diamonds.


I actually thought they were going somewhere with that in X-Men Legacy. When Cyclops and Xavier had their confrontation, Xavier specifically asked where he got his original ruby quartz glasses. Cyclops told him they came from Sinister. Jack of Diamonds was brought up in the conversation. But nothing beyond that. I know he was a complete throwaway character, but if you think about it he is pretty unique in that he hasn't been connected to Sinister or Apocalypse at some point. Hell, I'm surprised they didn't try to say he was Sinister.

@Peter
It was actually the "grounding" of everything that turned me off Marvel. When I was younger, it's the over-the-top nature of comics that appealed to me, and as Marvel and DC started to downplay this to seem "adult" or "mature", they just became boring/uninspired.


I think the "grounding" too often runs the risk of looking dated very quickly, and just making it seem like the creators were trying to be "kewl" (much like how the "extreme" stuff from the 90's is utterly ridiculous less than twenty years later). For me personally, I think the creators just try to damn hard and they forget that they're supposed to be making this stuff fun. It's escapist entertainment, we don't need real world parallels and social commentary on absolutely everything. It's hard to judge, maybe, because the Silver Age stuff, goofy as it is, has a certain charm to it that only time can probably grant it (much like how I love old movies but have practically zero interest in anything new that comes out). So in thirty years, who knows. But I seriously doubt anyone will give a crap, all while they continue to buy Marvel Masterworks of the old stuff.

Teebore said...

@Peter: American superhero comics are inherently goofy (because even the coolest villains like Doctor Doom or Baron Zemo also look very silly when you start translating them into real life), so running with that is much better than trying to do away with it.

I absolutely feel this way now, but when I was a teenager, I was all about comics needing to be as realistic as possible and being taken seriously (in part, because then I, as a reader of comics, would be taken seriously as well).

As a result, there's a ton of pretentious stuff I remember loving as a kid that's almost as embarrassing now as the regular stuff was to me back then. :)

Harry Sewalski said...

After Beast stops them from harming Iceman at school, he’s targeted by the bullies with a sniper rifle.

Where the hell did they get a sniper rifle from?! And seriously, I get that bullies can be very violent at times, but that feels waaaaay too over the top for teenagers to do.

@Teebore:While I don't disagree with that general statement, especially when it comes to stuff like Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four (which pretty much went nowhere fast once their initial creative teams bailed)

I think that Brian K. Vaughan's run on UXM was pretty decent.

For a while there, Ultimate Spider-Man was pretty much the best place to go for solid, enjoyable Spider-Man stories. Maybe that's not a great purpose, but I didn't mind that while I was reading them.

I would argue that this is still true today. USM is the only Ultimate comic I'm still picking up, but nine times out of ten it's really really good.

@Peter:
American superhero comics are inherently goofy (because even the coolest villains like Doctor Doom or Baron Zemo also look very silly when you start translating them into real life), so running with that is much better than trying to do away with it.


This brings to mind a list I found somewhere on the internet of "Worst Superheroes Ever." Somewhere on the list around the highest placing were Doorman (of the Great Lakes Avengers) and Squirrel Girl, with the description going on about how stupid they were as characters. Because, y'know, how dare anyone create characters who are fun?!

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