Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Scanned Thoughts: X-men Battle of the Atom #2
The end is here. Usually when someone says that, they're either suffering from irreversible brain damage or their doctor prescribed something awesome for them. But this time, it's just the end of another big Marvel event. I know that shit seems to happen more frequently than a meltdown by Amanda Bynes, but this isn't just any event. This is X-men Battle of the Atom, the event that's supposed to celebrate 50 years of X-men. It's one of those events that if it sucks, it's akin to taking a shit on Jack Kirby's grave and spitting in Stan Lee's face while pissing on Chris Claremont's foot. And with the somewhat sub-par showings in the past few issues, it's coming dangerously close to sucking. But X-men Battle of the Atom #2 is supposed to be the finale that won't just end the event, but set the tone for 2014. So what follows isn't just my review for X-men Battle of the Atom #2. It's a preview of how awesome 2014 will be or how much we can expect it to suck elephant balls.
I can’t say the setting isn’t appropriate. The past, present, and future X-men are all on the site of the X-men’s first battle against Magneto and the Brotherhood. Except this time, they’re also going up against a fully armed SHIELD fleet that Xavier and Xorna have made overly trigger-happy with their powers. So now they’re basically in an oversized target in Ted Nugant’s gun range. While it’s fitting, the attention to detail is about as focused as I am at four in the morning without my daily dose of coffee and blow. For some reason, O5 Cyclops and O5 Jean Grey found time to get into their X-men uniforms, which they threw away several issues ago. That shows me that someone didn’t give enough fucks or Marvel hoped most fans would read this book drunk. I guess they were half right.
It quickly becomes a two-front battle. On one front, the X-men have to stop the incoming missiles that are about to end them like Michael Jordon’s baseball career. On the other, they have to fight the future Brotherhood, who prove definitively that some of the X-men just lose their fucking mind in the future. Adult Kid Omega attacks Xavier and Xorna while the rest of the team tries to stop the missiles. Future Beast also gives a little speech that might resonate at a Rick Santorum fundraising event, but makes him an even bigger douche than before, which is like Chris Brown somehow finding a way to become more of an asshole. So it’s pretty satisfying at a level that may bring some fans to orgasm when he’s just fucking killed on the spot.
However, it wasn’t Cyclops who just decided he had enough of Beast’s bullshit. It was something far more fitting. It turns out that those missiles weren’t intended to explode. So in a not-too-big yet exceedingly appropriate twist, the true motives of the future Brotherhood become clear. One of the biggest problems with the previous issue was that even after several bong hits, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the fuck the future Brotherhood hoped to accomplish by taking the X-men on a trip to memory lane and inviting a trigger-happy SHIELD along for the ride. They’re from the fucking future, remember? That means they have future knowledge that the past and present X-men don’t know they should be pissed about and in this moment, they put it to good use.
It’s Sentinels. Seriously, what’s the 50th anniversary of the X-men without fucking Sentinels? They showed up in the first issue to get the shit storm going. It’s perfectly fitting that they show up here in the final showdown. But these aren’t just random Sentinels that some mutant-hating asshole forgot about and wasn’t smart enough to sell on Ebay. These are brand spanking new Sentinels from the fine folks at SHIELD. Because it’s not enough for them to spy on and harass innocent mutants without due process or any of that humane shit. They also have to stock pile a weapon that every mutant has a fuckton of reasons to despise. To be fair to Maria Hill, she didn’t seem to know about it. But it’s painfully clear that these Sentinels were meant for mutants and like rat in a cheese factory, they’re hungry to use them.
The conflict that follows is fittingly destructive, albeit under-developed. But the emotional impact on the X-men is the major focus here. At one point Psylocke points out that they seem to be going around in circles like a freshly neutered dog with brain damage. No matter what they do, they just have to keep fighting giant killer robots and I imagine that shit gets more frustrating than arguing with Michelle Bachmann on civil rights. It also makes a clear point for the future Brotherhood. No matter what the X-men do, the human authorities are always going to have a gun pointed at their head in the form of giant killer robots. This helps put the turning points in the future shown a few issues ago into a better context. This future Brotherhood just got tired of fighting for humanity when all they ever seem to do is attack them. Now they want to help their past selves get ahead of the curve. I’m not saying it’s a very good plan, but considering it wasn’t their first plan to begin with, it does make more sense.
As the battle against the Sentinels unfolds, the X-men crack under the strain of having to fight a two-front war. It’s still a bit chaotic, but that’s to be expected in an epic battle where the X-men have to fight both Sentinels and the future Brotherhood. And it’s also expected that there will be casualties in this conflict. The first two to fall are future Jubilee, who dies at the hands of a Sentinel, and future Colossus, who gets mindfucked to death by Xavier. These losses strike the X-men hard and the emotional aspects are nicely captured, even if the action itself is not really refined. Magik and Sentinel X (future Shogo) are understandably upset. But it still feels like not enough reactions were captured. Then again, Magik goes demonic at seeing her brother die (again) so I think she compensates nicely for everyone. Sure, Xorna shut her up, but again it’s the emotional impact that gives the battle its power and not just pretty pictures of X-men fighting killer robots.
But the most epic struggle by far in this conflict involves someone with red hair, green eyes, and who isn’t named Hope fucking Summers. Xorna/Jean Grey has been a huge driving force, both as a warning to O5 Jean and as a harsh reminder for Cyclops and Wolverine. And for her, revealing that SHIELD had killer robots waiting in the wings to throw at the X-men wasn’t enough. She has to be extra pissed off because in many ways, she is the one who lost the most. By staying in the future, she lost every element of that special passion that she once had. Now she’s an embittered yet overpowered old woman who would rather not exist than deal with this shit and that makes her more dangerous than a billion sentinels.
Xorna understandably focuses her wrath on Wolverine and Cyclops, the two men she blames for fucking up the X-men. And her outrage isn’t just simple psychic PMS either. She does make some valid points. These two are the reason why the X-men were divided. And she claims that their bitter conflict is what turned her into Xorna, which is like Lindsey Lohan blaming her car for getting her in trouble. But in some ways, her frustration perfectly echoes the frustration of fans who think the hate between Cyclops and Wolverine has gotten old. And for Xorna, it’s very emotional because she claims she’s so damaged that she can never love anything or anyone like she once did. It helps explain her motivations for sending the O5 back. She wanted things to go back to the way they were before she came to the future. It’s not a full explanation, but it’s an understandable explanation none-the-less. And since Jean Grey has been the driving force of so many events throughout the history of the X-men, including the recent comics, it’s a very powerful moment.
That makes it all the more fitting when O5 Jean leads the rest of the O5 X-men in a full-fledged attack against Xorna. And unlike the other battles going on that are glossed over or too easy to forget about while stoned, this battle is richly detailed in all the right ways. It nicely depicts Xorna’s anguish and O5 Jean’s determination to not become her. She makes it clear that she’s not going to stop fighting and she’s willing to kick her own ass to keep doing it. I don’t know if that counts as badass or sadomasochistic, but it’s pretty fucking awesome.
And while it ends up in a stalemate, Xorna offers O5 Jean some pretty ominous warnings that she won’t be ready or powerful enough to face what she’s going to face. I think Xorna must have forgotten that warning teenagers about the future is like warning a dog not to shit on the carpet, it’s a difficult message to communicate. At the same time, it offers an ominous warning for future stories.
A lot of what O5 Jean Grey has been dealing with since she arrived are overwhelming powers that seem to keep growing. That doesn’t even get into the danger she faces with the Phoenix. Xorna made it clear early on in the battle when she bitch slapped Adult Kid Omega by telling him that the Phoenix still craves her even as he wields it. That’s like taunting a woman’s new lover by saying she still thinks about her ex when they’re having sex. And O5 Jean will have to face this and being a teenager, she doesn’t understand how much it will fuck her up. It’s like the anti-drug programs I saw in school, but even less effective.
But Xorna takes her warning much further than anything those anti-drug programs ever did. When it becomes painfully clear that she and O5 Jean can’t beat one another without it becoming self-defeating, she makes her final stand. She didn’t want to even exist in the first place so she skips a couple of steps and decides to overload her power in classic Jean Grey fashion. In doing so she doesn’t just blow herself the fuck up. She effectively destroys the remaining Sentinels as well, ending the battle yet still making her point. So I guess in some respects, Xorna and the Brotherhood didn’t lose completely. Xorna got what she wanted. She no longer exists, albeit not in the way she hoped. And the Brotherhood made their point. The rest of the X-men just didn’t buy it. They probably should’ve tried a more convincing sales pitch, but again, it wasn’t their first plan. So I think they can’t be blamed for getting overly creative/destructive. I just hope this doesn’t give struggling pot dealers any ideas.
This climactic explosion leaves a hell of a mess and not surprisingly, the X-men escape with the help of Magik. SHIELD shows up as well to assess the damage, but they might as well be walking around with shit stains in their underwear. The damage has already been done for them. The Brotherhood just revealed that they were packing an anti-mutant arsenal that they didn’t tell anyone about. It would be like a gay Jewish transvestite hooker turning up dead in Pat Robertson’s bedroom with semen stains on his face. There’s just no effective way to explain it away.
As for the X-men, they return to the Jean Grey Institute where they keep tabs on SHIELD. They also make it clear that some of the future Brotherhood escaped since they’re probably not stupid enough to stick around during a big fucking explosion in the middle of a SHIELD and Sentinel attack. Yet there are still plenty of problems to deal with. The O5 are still stuck in the present and some of the X-men still have a raging boner to see Cyclops and his revolutionary team thrown in jail. It’s downright stupid considering that Xorna just pointed out to them that this schism bullshit is what led to the future being so fucked up. But that’s a conflict that can’t and shouldn’t be solved in an issue like this. They just found out that SHIELD is now packing Sentinels and that takes priority over arguing who got to bone Jean Grey.
At the very least, they do address their inability to send the O5 back. It’s not a completely clear explanation because they don’t know yet. But O5 Beast hints that there’s a force keeping them from going back. So some of my concerns about them just becoming glorified clones are somewhat eased. What they do still may affect the future, but it still isn’t clear enough for fans like me who don’t read comics sober.
What follows after this are a series of epilogues. There are still a number of loose ends to resolve, but there are also some new twists that promise to shake up future stories. One involves Kymera, the daughter of Storm and an unknown father who might be her ex-husband, staying in the past to hunt down the future Brotherhood. Because if the O5 X-men can do it and get away with not fucking up the timeline too much, so can she. At this point the thought of more time travel stories makes me want to dry heave, but I can’t deny there’s some logic to this choice. The future Brotherhood probably aren’t going to go back to a future they feel is already fucked and someone needs to stay behind to ensure they don’t fuck it up the way they want. It might as well be someone who will make things even more awkward for Storm and her ex.
But beyond just setting up future stories, there’s also room for some more emotional moments, such as a goodbye between Jubilee and future Shogo. Since Jubilee’s future self died, it’s a nice moment that has nothing to do with fucking up the timeline for once. Shogo even reveals that Jubilee eventually comes to embrace her new vampire powers, which she hasn’t really done much since she rejoined the X-men recently. He also reveals that she was a damn good mother to him and considering how many shitty parents there are in the Marvel universe, that’s more refreshing than a cold beer at a football game on Sunday.
As for the rest of the future X-men, they decide they’ve fucked up the timeline enough and decide to go back to the future. There are still some emotional moments, such as Magik mourning the loss of her future brother. Considering how her brother in the present wants to kill her and is boning Domino, I think it’s nice that she gets to show a little emotion. There are even a few hints offered by future Iceman, who goes by a much cooler name, Ice Master now, about Nightcrawler’s upcoming return in Amazing X-men. He even tells him to grow a beard because the ladies will love it. This may be the one message the O5 X-men remember most. And while they leave with some questions still unanswered, their departure feels appropriate even if it isn’t as refreshing as a cold beer.
The final epilogue, however, isn’t so heart-warming. X-men Battle of the Atom promised significant changes to the X-men. It was already revealed that the O5 X-men weren’t going to be sticking around the Jean Grey Institute. Now Kitty Pryde reveals that she’s not sticking around either. She doesn’t just say she’s leaving. She also takes the time to break up with Iceman. It’s a special kind of pissed off and while some of her reasons make sense, it still feels somewhat abrupt.
Earlier in the story, Kitty Pryde was okay with sending the O5 back. Then she changed her mind like Mitt Romney and was all for letting the O5 choose to stay. But now she’s pissed that the rest of the X-men didn’t listen to her. They decided to listen to the phony future X-men that ended up trying to kill them. Also, she was supposed to be responsible for the O5 X-men. And neither she nor the rest of the X-men did what they could to help them when they needed it. For her, that shit is a deal-breaker. And while I understand her decision, I still think it’s somewhat abrupt. Naturally, the O5 decide to leave as well and their decision is the exact opposite of abrupt. Everyone at the Jean Grey Institute seems to want to send them back to the past and decide their fate for them. And if they’re not going to get their help, they might as well do the most responsible recourse for teenagers and tell them to fuck off.
And they don’t have to go too far for a new gig either. Earlier in the story, one team of X-men did actually listen to the O5 when they wanted to fight to stay in the present. And that was Cyclops and his revolutionary team, as in the same team that Wolverine and the entire Jean Grey Institute wants to shut down and throw in jail. So this isn’t just a casual “fuck off” for Kitty Pryde and the O5 X-men. It’s full blown parade of middle fingers combined with a score by Hans Zimmer telling them the Jean Grey Institute to go fuck themselves in the biggest possible way. I won’t even argue how fitting this ending is. I’ll just say it’s an awesome moment and one that begins a new chapter for Kitty Pryde and the time displaced O5 X-men.
So after 50 years of X-men, this is the story that’s supposed to commemorate it. I was hoping to be astonished. I wasn’t. At the same time, I wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t read this issue and think I needed to give myself a lobotomy with a rusty fish hook like I did with Avengers vs. X-men. This issue didn’t resolve every little detail. However, it did have a huge, kick-ass battle that brought the past, present, and future together in an epic way that is undeniably awesome. And while the story may be over, the conflict it started hasn’t ended. Parts of the future Brotherhood are still out there. And now the X-men know that SHIELD are assholes who don’t seem to understand that having mutant hunting Sentinels at their disposal is not a good way to foster peace between humans and mutants. So some plot holes were filled while others were only partially filled. I guess in that sense half a blow job is better than none at all.
I’m genuinely uncertain of how to assess this issue and Battle of the Atom as a whole. It didn’t suck. That much I can say in the most sober way possible. Now that it’s over, certain elements that didn’t make a lick of sense in earlier issues make more sense now. It’s not as concise or cohesive as it could be, but it actually does make sense on most levels, which is more than I could say for a lot of other shitty stories. But more than anything else, this issue and Battle of the Atom hit all the right emotional notes. Some of those emotions, like Wolverine and Cyclops’s bitching, are old yet still relevant. Others, like O5 Jean and Kitty Pryde, are still very powerful. Taking all this into consideration, I give X-men Battle of the Atom #2 a 7 out of 10. And I give X-men Battle of the Atom as a whole an 8 out of 10. It had the potential to be so much better, but it just lacked the details that would tie it together. Yet it’s still a story that resonates with the entire history of X-men and for that, I deem it awesome in the name of Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, Len Wein, and Jack Kirby, may he rest in peace. Nuff said!