For me, “Battle of the Atom” was the most underwhelming “X-Men” crossover in recent memory. Even though it had some interesting ideas, there weren’t enough to sustain what was basically a fourteen-issue fight scene. There was plenty of nice art, however. So the idea that Bendis is revisiting the characters he created for that arc -- the group of evil X-Men led by Charles Xavier Jr. and Raze (son of Wolverine and Mystique) -- didn’t sound like something I’d particularly enjoy. Except that this concept being reduced down to a four-issue fight scene does make for a more focused and exciting experience. Particularly when you’ve got Stuart Immonen illustrating it.
Before we get to that, there’s the anniversary issue (#25) where the ramifications of Beast bringing the original X-Men to the future are driven home to the character in the form of a jam issue. Well-known superhero artists like Bruce Timm, Arthur Adams, and Lee Bermejo are joined by indie talents like Maris Wicks and Jason Shiga to illustrate the various futures -- good and bad -- that will never happen because of what Beast has done. The art is uniformly great, and it’s just plain cool to see someone like Shiga in a Marvel comic. Wicks takes home the prize for best sequence with her animated look at the past, present, and future of the relationship between Kitty Pryde and Colossus.
It is, however, ultimately glorified filler with an eye-rolling twist at the end. All of the futures in the issue are being relayed to Beast by a mysterious bald-headed figure. You would think that it would be some form of Charles Xavier acting as the “Ghost of Mutant Future,” but it turns out to be Utau the Watcher instead. In an astoundingly ill-thought-out pot calling the kettle black moment, Utau wraps up the issue by saying that while he can’t interfere with fixing the mess Beast has made of the timeline he’s disgusted by what the mutant has done. Considering all of the times that Utau has broken that non-interference vow, his statement comes off as nothing more than glorified trolling.
Things get better once we get to the main arc of this volume and find the time-stranded original X-Men and Scott’s “Uncanny” team under attack from Chuck Jr., Raze, and their cohorts. After an issue to get everyone acclimated to the changes from “The Trial of Jean Grey,” the attacks start coming from without and within as our X-Men come under a psychic and physical assault. It’s actually a pretty standard fight as far as superhero battles go, but Bendis does a good job of observing and playing to the conventions here. The bad guys are established as legitimate heavy-hitters early on, putting the X-Men on the ropes through some well-utilized psychic torturing. This doesn’t last, as the good guys eventually turn the tables through the use of some new powers and an unexpected (to them, anyway) return. While Bendis gets in some good one-liners, the action here mainly succeeds thanks to Immonen’s stylish work. Already gifted with an appealing style, he knows how to choreograph the action in a way to make it easy-to-follow and impressive to look at on the page. It’s something which most artists struggle with, but he makes it appear easy.
Bendis also spends some time developing Chuck Jr. and Raze between the fighting which adds some needed depth to their crusade, and makes one of them a better villain in the process. Not only do we find out that the two are half-brothers, but Chuck Jr. has some very good reasons for doing what he’s doing. At least, I believe that he believes they’re good reasons. The lengths he’s going to achieve his goals are what make him a villain more than anything else here. As for Raze, I prefer the master manipulator Mike Carey portrayed him as in “No More Humans.” He’s a gleeful scumbag here, but it feels like a failure of imagination to have the son of Wolverine and Mystique turn into an unrepentant bad guy. Carey’s take at least puts him at a higher class of such.
The additional flashbacks that show how Chuck Jr. and Raze set up their time-traveling attack are also welcome as well. If only for how they show the extent to which the young psychic is willing to go in order to achieve his goals. Specifically, I’m just glad to find out that Molly from “Runaways” didn’t grow up to be a supervillain. There’s also some more time-paradox stuff at the end which doesn’t quite make sense, but feels like another knock-on effect of Bendis whole “time is broken” plotline he’s been pushing for years now. That it’s not supposed to make sense feels like the point he’s trying to make here. Still doesn’t excuse it from feeling like a cop-out as an explanation for the whole letter from the future bit.
Vol. 5 wraps up with a one-off look at how several relationships in this series are developing. X-23 and Angel have a wild night on the town and get to know each other a little better in the morning. Emma Frost has a whack at helping Jean Grey develop her powers, which goes as well as you’d expect it to. Until it doesn’t. Also, Kitty and Starlord have some personal time despite being several light years apart from each other. If Bendis was trying to serve up some warm-and-fuzzies to his reader, then mission accomplished. Yes, the whole Angel/X-23 pairing does come off as a bit jarring since she was being set up with Cyclops not too long ago. He’s now off in space with his father, and that allows these two to make a pretty cute couple. The bonding between Emma and Jean is more unexpected, and feels like a willful exercise on Bendis’ part in subverting audience expectations. Not so much organically, but more like “You thought I was going to do THIS, but then I went and did THIS instead!” The writer does get points for having Emma broadcast memories of her psychic affair with Scott into young Jean’s head, yet that only serves to underscore my issues with their pairing. As for Kitty and Starlord, it’s fluff. However, it’s good-natured fluff which shows that the two really do work well as a couple.
In spite of some unevenness, this was a solid volume overall. It had a lot of great action and some good character moments between the cast. Taken on its own terms, “One Down” works pretty well. Then you start thinking about how the original X-Men were brought forward in time to help try and fix things and realize they haven’t really made much progress on that front at all. As that was the premise of this series, Bendis has done a remarkable job of putting it off to the side throughout the entirety of his run. Even with bright spots like this, part of me wonders if his run will wind up being less than the sum of its parts in the end. We’ll get another example of this next time in “The Ultimate Adventure” as the team heads off to the Ultimate Universe before it gets shut down for good.