Wednesday, June 10, 2015

X-Men: Children of the Atom by Joe Casey

For this month of June, I decided to read two different titles that mainly focused on the Original Core Five X-Men from Stan Lee's era in the sixties. The first one is Jeff Parker's X-Men: First Class series and the other one is Children of the Atom by Joe Casey. The former is a PG-13 series with splendid elements of comedy, action-adventure and heartfelt drama in its issues while the latter is a rather gritty prelude origin story. Unmistakably set to reminiscently match the tone and visual manner of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, this one fairly showcases as to how exactly Charles Xavier recruited Scott Summers, Warren Warrington III, Henry McCoy, Robert Drake and Jean Grey to become a part of his elite mutant force known as the X-Men. Think of it as the issue zero before Stan Lee's first issue because that is how it certainly catered itself. That being said, there's a dissonance between this story and the Stan Lee series it supposedly preceded, particularly because of how strangely dark it is for something that was not originally intended to be heavy in the first place.

Now, when I say that this comic book story has the same visual styling as that of Miller's TDKR, I totally mean it. Steve Rude's panels and the overall layout of the scenes have the same quality of the aforementioned eighties Batman classic, only that Rude's illustrations are more refined in texture and color. I think the obvious parallel to that of TDKR is intentional to really get readers in the mood for something inexplicably and bizarrely depressing and grim which just doesn't resonate right with the X-Men title, particularly if it concerns the Original Core Five. With six issues, Children of the Atom wastes no time introducing readers to a world predominantly led by ignorance and hatred against mutant kind, much like what the Claremont era has poignantly and compellingly expounded on during his seventies-eighties run. However, I can't help but feel that Joe Casey's work is slightly pandering to shock value. It even featured a not-so-subtle Adolf Hitler-placeholder of a villain who is rallying the troops to hunt down the "muties" because they are an "impure race" that must be "purged".

Recognizable canon elements are still present such as Magneto as the avid crusader for mutant superiority as he unapologetically kills in the name of what he perceives to be the only way for his kind, and Bolivar Trask's Sentinels project, among other things. To really drive in the tension-laden era of this series, we get government spooks and conspiracy, outright racial segregation and some little bits of child abuse and military abductions. It's...just darn "gritty" in such a self-aware manner that never forgets to remind its readers that what he or she is reading is "mature content". I GET IT. Perhaps if I read this sooner before getting into most of Claremont stuff, I may have enjoyed this more. Perhaps I didn't choose to read this alongside the invigorating X-Men: First Class series by Jeff Parker, I would have appreciated its quality more. But I didn't. At this point, it just felt contrived and worn-out to me. It didn't offer anything different or meaningful in the varied content that the X-Men universe is already saturated in. Of course, there are moments that stood out particularly the characterization for Scott Summers who was a maltreated orphan being used by his selfish foster parent to commit petty crimes. Charles Xavier in this story is also morally ambiguous and quite cranky, making him more flawed than saintly as the recent film adaptations had portrayed him as. 

Other than those things, Children of the Atom just wasn't as impressive as I hoped it would be. It's an average, coolly drawn comic book, but ultimately sort of forgettable.

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