“Battle of the Atom” | Marvel Comics | Trade paperback: $34.99 | June 2014 | Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron and Brian Wood | Artists: Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo, David Lopez and Giuseppe Camuncoli.
“Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1: The Red Shadow” | Trade paperback: $19.99 | April 2014 | Writer: Rick Remender | Artist: John Cassaday and Steve McNiven.
The slogan of Marvel Comics used to be “The House of Ideas.” They lived up to that once, but the “Battle of the Atom” crossover and the first five issues of “Uncanny Avengers” show just how few ideas they have left.
Just take the title of “Uncanny Avengers.” I’ll be there’s some genius in a Marvel editorial meeting saying, “Oh, look. This will show readers how committed to the idea we are of having mutant and human heroes work together to solve problems as Avengers. We’ll switch the adjectives in the titles.”
That guy (or gal, let’s not be sexist, for women, too, can have terrible ideas) probably got a raise on the spot. “Uncanny,” of course, was the adjective used to describe the main X-Men title for nearly 50 years. “Mighty” was the preferred intensifier for “The Avengers,” until the early 2000s, when the age of Brian Michael Bendis arrived and Avengers were disassembled, reassembled and ultimately at civil war with one another.
But that is an old gripe. That’s OK. “Battle of the Atom” is an old story. It’s another bloated, meandering, sloppy and unsatisfying rehash of “Days of Future Past,” a brilliant story from 1980 by the dean of X-Men writers, Chris Claremont, and the one of the finest comic artists of any generation, John Byrne.
In “Days of Future Past,” an adult Kitty Pryde travels back in time to warn the X-Men that the planned assassination of a U.S. Senator will ignite a war against mutants that will lead to them all being interred in forced labor camps or outright murdered by the government. Giant Sentinel robots will kill enslave earth and kill human and mutant hero alike. It’s up to the X-Men of the present to prevent the deadly future.
The story is an agreed-upon classic and proved to be the last collaboration between Byrne and Claremont in a long and amazing run in “Uncanny X-Men.” The story, by the way, was two issues. “Battle of the Atom” is 10 issues long and spills into half a dozen other titles.
Why make two good comics when you can make 10 mediocre ones? It’s the new Marvel way.
“Battle of the Atom” takes place after the events of the 2012 “Avengers vs. X-Men” crossover, yet another Bendis rehash of a Claremont, Byrne and Dave Cockrum storyline. The original was called “Phoenix Saga” and is a masterpiece of the genre.
Bendis never met a story by someone else he didn’t think he could improve by making it longer and adding lots of exposition. If you don’t believe me, go reread any story from “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
“Avengers vs. X-Men” boils down to this: The Phoenix Force comes back to earth, turns Cyclops into Dark Phoenix and Cyclops kills Professor X.
“Battle of the Atom” takes place after that. The Beast is depressed. Instead of taking Prozac like everybody else, he uses a time machine to bring the original X-Men — Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and Angel — to the present. The idea is seeing their younger, innocent selves might shock the present-day Cyclops out of his mentor-murdering mood.
But then other teams of X-Men from the future show up with dire warnings. The original X-Men must go home, they say. Then yet another set of future X-Men show up and say the original X-Men must stay. Then the time machine breaks and the original X-Men are stuck. Or something. Cripes, I don’t know.
And I really don’t care. I’m so exhausted by all the low-rent writing, mediocre art and deja vu of seeing the same idea cloned and rehashed umpteen times, I just throw the $35 trade paperback in my pile to sell to the used book store for quick cash.
The most annoying part of “Battle of the Atom” is all the posturing. Wolverine and Storm and their X-Men don’t want to fight present-day Cyclops and his team of X-Men, who wear black and, when possible, show as much female breast as possible without making it a mature readers comic.
Storm says she won’t condone mutant-on-mutant violence. It seems to me that all the X-Men have ever done is fight other mutants. The cover of “Uncanny X-Men” No. 1 shows the original X-Men fighting Magneto, another mutant. That’s the entire point of X-Men comics. Professor X is Martin Luther King Jr. Magneto is Malcolm X.
But now they don’t want to fight. Sure. Why would they? I mean it’s not like it’s a superhero comic book. It’s not like we paid a bunch of money — really, far more than necessary — to see superheroes fight villains. But in the Bendis Marvel Universe, heroes only fight other heroes. There aren’t even villains. Don’t believe me? Reread “Civil War.”
The seismic shift at the end of “Battle of the Atom” is Kitty Pryde decides to go hang out with the new kind of bad guy Cyclops and his home for girls who like to show their boobs. The original X-Men go with her, because, sure, why not.
“Uncanny X-Men” starts so well. Rick Remender writes with narration. When is the last time you saw narration in a comic that was the internal thoughts of a character? It’s wonderful. Remender takes the one kernel of a good idea that Bendis farted out from “Avengers vs. X-Men” and turns it into an interesting idea.
In “Avengers vs. X-Men,” Cyclops asks Captain America why he and the Avengers never helped mutants in their struggle against racism, or speciesism or whatever. It was a good point. So Cap puts together a team of mutant and human heroes called the Unity Avengers. It’s hokey, but I can see some human resources department coming up with a name like that for diversity training, so sure.
The team is Cap, Thor, Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, Rogue and the leader is Havok, brother to Cyclops, who is in prison at the beginning of this story. And Remender gets it all right from the start. He brings back the Red Skull, who steals the body of Professor X and surgically removes Xavier’s mutant brain — which happened to be the most powerful telepathic mind on earth.
Skull has Professor X’s brain grafted onto his own and uses his telepathic powers to inspire hate against mutants and riots. The Unity Avengers try to stop it, but get smacked around pretty good by the Red Skull and his flunkies. There’s a great battle in the middle of New York City.
I actually love this story. It makes perfect sense to use the Red Skull as a genetic supremacist who wants to wipe out the mutants. He’s a Nazi. He’s big on genocide. It’s a great idea. This an excellent use of a villain that’s nearly 75 years old.
So of course they go and ruin it.
The Red Skull uses his newfound telepathy to sway the mind of Captain America to seeing a future when Americans hunt and destroy the mutant menace. Cap sees a series of images of what this future would be like. And right in the middle of a full-page splash Remender undoes all the goodwill he built up in the previous pages.
He writes in another damn homage to the cover of “Uncanny X-Men” No. 141, the one where Wolverine and Kitty Pryde stand caught in a spotlight, presumably from a Sentinel, in front of a poster showing all the X-Men who’ve been killed or captured. It’s a classic cover. It’s been parodied and redrawn scores of times.
And here it is again. Marvel is selling me the same story with a few new tweaks. Why bother doing something new when you can just crank out another greatest hits package? Nobody sees the Rolling Stones on tour to hear their new album. They want the classics. So who can blame Marvel for trying to sell us basically the same song that Claremont and Byrne gave us 30 years ago?
I can. Because this used to be the House of Ideas, not the House of Rehash. Look, I get it. One of the Marvel Studios movies coming out this summer is “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which is another “re-imagining” of the original two-issue story.
Everything at Marvel, now a part of Disney, is about branding and pushing product. Keep “Days of Future Past” fresh in the minds of comics. And, hell, I admit that I’m old. I’ve read a lot of comics, probably too many. So this effort to sell me the same stuff again, which sadly was successful, ticks me off. I want new stories. I want innovation.
If I’m putting $4 for a single issue or $35 for a collected edition, I want something new. I want to be entertained. I don’t want reruns. And that’s what “Battle of the Atom” and “Uncanny Avengers” are. Reruns. Rehashes. Remakes.
I get that new readers might not have a clue about the original “Days of Future Past” from 1980. So here’s my suggestion. Go buy “Essential X-Men” Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. They cost $20 apiece. They’re cheaper if you buy them used through Amazon or Thriftbooks. Read those. That’s the original. And it’s much better.
I hope Marvel at least cuts Claremont and Byrne checks for constantly reusing their ideas. It’s the least they can do since they clearly can’t come up with any on their own.