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Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Cover for X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM#1. (Art by Arthur Adams and Peter Steigerwald.)

If there's one thing I hate as a comics reader, it's when a multi-part crossover "event" works its way into and more often than not derails the flow of whatever series I'm reading and enjoying. BATTLE OF THE ATOM is the umpteenth such crossover to feature Marvel Comics' cash cow X-Men franchise — arguably the company's most over-extended and over-exploited group of books, with at least six or seven (or more) regularly published series featuring the characters — and it ropes both WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN and ALL-NEW X-MEN into its ten installments. Those installments weave throughout WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, ALL-NEW X-MEN, just plain old X-MEN, UNCANNY X-MEN, with initial and final chapters occurring in X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM's own 2-issue title, all amounting to ten chapters. I'm hoping to avoid picking up the other books involved in this shibboleth but who knows? It could defy all odds and actually be worth reading in its entirety but, speaking as a person who's endured a plethora of feeble crossovers during the past three decades, I've seen  far too many would-be epics collapse under their own weight and become mired in inter-titular confusion to hold out any real hope.

The fact that I'm currently reading two X-books every month without fail says a hell of a lot, because I have been completely fucking sick of the X-Men and all of the driven-into-the-ground tropes their stories have generated since UNCANNY X-MEN's golden period (roughly 1977-1982). The run of stories featuring the rebirth of Jean Grey as the Phoenix, her corruption into the world-destroying Dark Phoenix thanks to the gamesmanship of the mind-manipulating Mastermind and the Hellfire Club, the introduction of Kitty Pryde, Jean's tragic death, the "Days of Future/Past" arc, Wolverine's adventures in Japan, Rogue joining the team, and encounters with the Brood were all four-color storytelling magic, straight-up landmarks in Marvel's history, so it's little wonder why subsequent creative teams have repeatedly gone back to that fertile well. The problem is that it has been done to the point of squeezing the tit dry, with those oft-repeated plot tropes these days having taken on the role of unintentional punchlines. "Jean Grey's dead...AGAIN!!!" "Jean Grey's alive...AGAIN!!!""Mutants have come from the future to warn of how shitty things become in their dystopian timeline...AGAIN!!!" And so on, and so on, and so on. And X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM is playing with more of the same for ten installments, bolstered by solid artwork (for the first two installments, anyway), and I'm hoping it doesn't all once again promise "senses-shattering events that will change the Marvel Universe forever!!!" only to inevitably have everything return to the rote status quo maybe a year or so (sometimes longer) after the event's smoke has cleared. 

One of the things that makes the Marvel Universe unique and fun from a fan/reader perspective is that it's very much an intricately-woven, inter-connected tapestry of superheroic soap opera, a rich, character-driven saga that has built on the groundwork laid by FANTASTIC FOUR #1 just over a half-century ago. Marvel's already enough of an internal crossover, with the events in one series often having impact on another, but in tangential ways rather than in Gordian knots of continuity that are directly continued from one disparate book to another and for which the reader must shell out their hard-earned cash in order to keep up with the current crossover and what effects its sometimes-seismic ripples may have on Marvel's vast narrative ocean. A crossover press-gangs the reader into buying comics that they may not necessarily have any interest in reading, and while I totally understand that the comics biz is a money-making endeavor first and foremost, I've always felt that the crossover directive is one of the most crass forms of exploiting the rabid nature of the involved fan and fleecing that poor bastard for all he/she's worth. And I speak with some authority, what with occasionally having been one of the poor bastards in question. To counter being roped into buying every ancillary title in a crossover, I have over the years resorted to buying only the connected books that I'm already invested in and chapters crafted by creative teams that I like, while for the rest I cheat and flip through the unwanted chapters while they're fresh on the shelves of the given comic book retailer. 

And in recent years, the most egregious example of the crossover form has been the yearly Green Lantern multi-issue, multi-book cosmic epics from DC Comics, which glutted the market with ancillary titles of a wholly unnecessary nature. Seriously, there were shit-tons of the motherfuckers, nearly all of which were a load of worthless, money-grabbing crap that existed in support of bloated annual events that all yielded far less than the sum of their parts. "The Sinestro Corps War" was arguably the last good Green Lantern epic, and also arguably the last good Green Lantern story at all from superstar writer Geoff Johns, whose subsequent work on the series is a textbook example of a writer being given too much freedom because the company is too busy hearing the sound of cash registers to notice that the writer is simply churning out rote shit by the truckload. Hell, his ability to generate cash translated into him being awarded a major administrative position within the DC Comics corporate creative hierarchy (an oxymoron if ever there was one), and what did he do with it? He came up with the abysmal "Flashpoint," itself the nexus for a number of lousy ancillary spinoffs, which led to the launch of the creatively-bankrupt re-launch of the entire DC line as the disastrous New 52.

Sorry, I'm rambling.

Anyway, I now find myself two issues into Marvel's latest crossover trap  and I have to admit that thus far it ain't bad. Let's see if that standard of entertainment will hold up over the full ten-issue event's run. If anything, I expect to see a resolution to (and possible end of) ALL-NEW X-MEN and its stranding of the original team of young and inexperienced "first class" X-Men in the present day, probably culminating with the youngsters being returned to their own past after a psychic mind-wipe erases their memories of their in-some-case-dire future. The idea of the original five being drop-kicked into their future was a lot of fun while it lasted, but it's a story arc whose relatively-swift end was assured from the get-go, simply because you just can't have numerous iterations of the same characters existing in the same timeline for long without the novelty wearing off and the narrative becoming confusing. Rule # 1 of "fantastic" storytelling: (sound of chisel carving the following into stone) TIME TRAVEL STORIES ARE A BITCH AND IT BEST NOT TO DRAG THEM ON FOR TOO LONG.

And I'll be sure to get back to you with how all of this hashes out.

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