Friday, September 6, 2013

X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM #6 - September 2000


The Great Cathedral Space 
Credits: Joe Casey (writer), Essad Ribic (penciler), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Paul Mounts (colors), Richard Starkings (letters)

Summary:  The newly formed X-Men use Cerebro to track Professor Xavier to Metzger’s hideout.  Meanwhile, Magneto attacks a gathering of Metzger’s followers.  Holding Jean and Starkey (a.k.a. Scab) captive, Metzger sends his genetically-enhanced disciple Arthur to torment them.  Starkey uses his empathetic powers to absorb Jean’s wounds and saves her life.  He dies in the cold, shortly after the X-Men, Xavier, and Fred Duncan arrive to rescue Jean.  As Metzger tries to escape, he’s apprehended by Magneto and left to die in Earth’s atmosphere.  Later, Jean arrives at Xavier’s school for her first day.

Continuity Notes:  A news report following Magneto’s attack on Metzger’s followers says that Democratic candidate Robert Kelly is now running on a platform of identifying and registering mutants.  I believe that Kelly actually didn’t show an interest in the mutant issue until he witnessed the X-Men attack the Hellfire Club at the end of the “Dark Phoenix Saga.”  (Coincidentally, his first appearance.)  It’s also interesting to see Kelly identified as a Democrat, as he’s a Republican in the movie continuity, and was later described as an Independent during Chris Claremont’s 2000 run.

Review:  I initially dismissed this miniseries as pointless, and six issues later, I can’t say my opinion has changed much.  The art has been fantastic throughout, and Casey could occasionally find a few decent character moments, but most of this series has consisted of boring recruitment scenes and dull villains plotting vague schemes in shadowy rooms.  The initial hook of this series seemed to be Fred Duncan’s initial impression of Charles Xavier after he’s forced to face the mutant issue, but Casey apparently lost interest in Fred early on.  We never even discover who his imaginary friend was supposed to be during the early issues of the mini.  (And it’s just egregious for a miniseries to have dangling plot points.)  

The basic idea of a prequel miniseries focusing on Fred Duncan and Xavier is perfectly fine; it’s actually one I would rather read than a continuity reboot of the original X-Men’s origin stories.  I don’t see what’s been added by turning Cyclops, Beast, and Iceman into high school classmates, and making Beast responsible for an anti-mutant bigot’s death just seems unnecessary (and it’s another story point that’s simply forgotten by the final issue.)  Casey seems to think he’s making a grand statement on adolescence, but his characterizations of the X-Men just feel shallow for most of the series.  The story’s more engaging when Xavier, Magneto, and Fred Duncan get the spotlight, actually.  

As for this mini’s status as a continuity reboot, the best scenes are usually the ones that play on established continuity, making me wish Casey could’ve focused more on Angel’s career as a local crimefighter or the status of Xavier and Magneto’s relationship shortly before the X-Men’s formation.  The retconned material, such as the revamped Jack O’Diamonds, just reads like a pitch for a low-budget X-Men origin movie.  


Matt said...

I just realized it took you over a year to review this six-issue mini-series. Mimicking the series' original release schedule?

wwk5d said...

lol I was thinking the same thing first thought when seeing this review was similar to when I saw the comic in real life...instead of "This is still going on?", I though "He's still reviewing this?"

Good assessment. Pretty to look at, pointless to read.

cyke68 said...

This miniseries is the type of thing that's published all the time today, but was a real rarity at the time and played up as a big deal. And yeah, it pretty much sucked outside of some nice art.

Can't say I've been thrilled with any of Joe Casey's writing. His UNX a couple years after this was the worst run I'd encountered up to that point (although soon to be outdone by Chuck Austen). The nadir being this story where Nightcrawler randomly teleports to the doorstep of some former circus companion who is living as a hermit in the mountains. He then proceeds to have a crisis of conscience and mope for 22 pages. That's the entirety of the issue. And half the dialogue was in German. I've certainly read comics less competently executed on the merits of plot alone, but rarely anything so poorly structured and outright pointless. It got to where I felt like Casey was turning in scripts that couldn't quite be criticized for being outright bad, but came across as subversive and deliberately trying to fuck with the reader. I didn't read anything that "meta" into CotA, but it sure was a let-down after all those delays.

wwk5d said...

Casey's run up till that point was the worst on Uncanny. Mackie's X-factor was the worst on an X-title until we get Austen on Uncanny.

G. Kendall said...

"I just realized it took you over a year to review this six-issue mini-series. Mimicking the series' original release schedule?"

I didn't notice that until I put the post in the queue, but yeah, it's appropriate.

"His UNX a couple years after this was the worst run I'd encountered up to that point (although soon to be outdone by Chuck Austen)."

Yeah, I think after Casey's first few months of stories showed he really had nothing special to say, he reverted to pretentiousness pretty quickly. To me, the worst scene was Wolverine making a speech, claiming that he only wore his yellow costume for so long in order to conform to what other people wanted him to be. How could anyone buy that as Wolverine?
I still remember Paul O'Brien's review of UXM #401...that's worth reading if anyone hasn't seen it:

cyke68 said...

Oh my God. Paul O'Brien's negative reviews are a work of art. I'm sure I've read that before but could not recall it... or at least, did not hold it in the same "esteem" as his reviews of Astonishing X-Men #3 ("OH FUCK OFF!"), the latter half of Mutant X, or Austen's Shakespearean send-ups (written in iambic pentameter). Someone really must compile all of these.

I was trying really hard not to go there, and even ...softened... my initial choice of words for Casey's UNX because it was nudging over the line between criticizing the work and criticizing the creator. But you hit the nail on the head with one word and that's "pretentiousness." I'm sorry, but it just seems to permeate everything he touches. At it's worst, you have Automatic Kafka which was outrageously self-indulgent in the most uninteresting possible ways. On the other end, you have stuff like Cable and his Superman, which has this air of thinking it's better than it really is. I can't even really articulate this with hard and fast examples. O'Brien even points out in the review you linked to that Mr. Majestic eventually "became hopelessly pretentious and went off the rails."

I try to give every creator the benefit of the doubt, but with Casey it's like... how does this singularly annoying quirk keep coming out? It can't exactly be chalked up to a larger-than-life, divisive persona like Grant Morrison, which allows you to handwave all the eccentricities away as either charming or annoying, depending on which side you stand. His CotA is a lesser offender, mostly marred simply by shaky narrative choices. (And DANGLERS?! Somebody was asleep at the wheel.)

Jason said...

I like "Children of the Atom." The scheduling problems didn't bother me -- I read it as a TPB years after the fact. To me, it's simply a cool "Issue 0" of the X-Men. It's far better than the original backups from the Silver Age, as it ties the characters together and has them all dealing with anti-mutant prejudice, which is far more appropriate a theme for an origin story than just random throwaway villains like Jack of Diamonds and Conquistador, etc. Much better artwork too.

The tape-recorder thing is weird, but it's such a minor point that it never bothered me terribly much.

These "Gathering a mutant team" type stories have become a staple ever since Giant Sized #1 (another terrible comic in terms of plot), and I think "Children of the Atom" is one of the few that holds together as an integrated storyline, in terms of cast, setting, and theme.. (Which ... you asked what the point is of having Scott, Bobby and Hank at the same school, well ... that is part of the point. It avoids the globe-trotting, episodic aspect that other stories like this feature, allowing for more unity of setting.)

It would never work as, say, an X-Men film, because it's not complete in and of itself. There are a couple threads are not paid off in a way one would hope -- but it's a prequel. I see that as appropriate.

The series nonetheless manages to be coherent and unified, in and of itself: Every character introduced at the start plays a role in the ending, and everything that is set up eventually pays off.

I'm surprised no one else seems to like it. There must be some who do out there, somewhere ... right?

cyke68 said...

I can see this mini reading a lot better in trade. It definitely owes a lot of its poor reputation to the delays, which wore thin very fast. Late-shipping books weren't unheard of in 1999, but degree of tardiness was really something else at the time. Today, it's par for the course (although has gotten a lot better since the Civil War debacle). You had to basically be Alan Moore to get away with those kind of delays back then and Joe Casey... is a far cry from Alan Moore.

I don't object to the premise of the series either and can remember eagerly anticipating it. Not because of the big deal it was hyped as, but simply due to the fact that these origins were in need of a facelift. The silver age back-ups are pretty much god-awful. They're glorified filler that became canon, saddling the original five (well, four out of the five) with a lot of baggage. There are elements that worked, but for the most part, they suffer as most after-the-fact prequels do from trying to bolt a compelling story before the compelling story we originally started with. It's contrived by design, and inevitably ends up feeling very disconnected from the source material. The attempt to cherry pick the workable pieces of the individual vignettes and arrange a cohesive plot around them was laudable. Just didn't come off too well in execution.

Teebore said...

The basic idea of a prequel miniseries focusing on Fred Duncan and Xavier is perfectly fine; it’s actually one I would rather read than a continuity reboot of the original X-Men’s origin stories.

That's it in a nutshell. I would love to see a series that focuses on the early days of the X-Men and their relationship with Duncan (and maybe even a pre-X-Cutioner Carl Denti), but this isn't it.

The continuity tweaks and initial tweaks don't bother me too much these days (and some of these retcons are indeed better than the goofy Silver Age origin backups), but the lack of focus and dangling plot threads (like you said, in a miniseries of all places...) will drag the whole thing down.

Which is shame, because I really enjoy Casey's two Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes miniseries, with stories that fit in and around the Silver Age issues (the first sixteen or so, then later circa the time Vision first showed up), so it's clear this is the kind of project he could have done better. In fact, unfortunately, sometimes this series just feels like a warmup for both of those better Avengers series.

Harry Sewalski said...

@cyke68:The silver age back-ups are pretty much god-awful. They're glorified filler that became canon, saddling the original five (well, four out of the five) with a lot of baggage.

Yep, you summed those backups up gloriously. Admittedly, I've only read summaries of them, not the actual issues, but it's almost embarrassing to recall villains like the Conquistador.

@Teebore: Wait, Casey wrong Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Daaaaaaaaamn. Admittedly, I've only read the first mini, but that was a great piece of work. It reminded me almost of Untold Tales of Spider-Man in that most of the stories were about what happened "in-between" the original issues. It's a pity he couldn't capture the same magic with CotA, it could have been great.

ray swift said...

It's seems to me you started reading this series with some prejudice. Myself, altough I admit it had it's slips, altogether I think it was very entertaining. Rude's art is remarkably vivid and fun. The pace and the move between scenes was just right. Some of the continuity decisions I didn't like. For example, I don't think we needed the whole "Jean is kidnapped" and Magneto is the one killing every single bad guy storylines, but it bring the story to a nice climax.
Back to the pace issue, I wouldn't mind any extra action scene. I don't feel the story is a waste or too slow if it's only a teenage drama, and for teenagers, I think the young X-men reaction to Xavier was very realistic.
I put this mini-series as one of my better X-men experiences in a long time. Maybe it's a sign we are finally leaving the 90's.

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