One month short of a year after its originally planned launch, Children of the Atom #1 finally debuts this week, adding yet another title to the expansive X-Men line under Jonathan Hickman’s purview. One thing Dawn/Reign of X has done well is justify each new title’s place within the framework of the X-Men’s current status quo, making it so that nothing feels redundant and everything has a unique mission statement. (Example: X-Factor is CSI: Krakoa, while Marauders is X-Men LARPing as pirates.) While I get what Children of the Atom is going for based on this first issue, it’s a little hard to figure out what its ultimate role in the Krakoa era will be because of a major question mark on the final page.
The basic setup is this: a group of crime-fighting teens inspired by various X-Men (e.g. “Cyclops-Lass,” which is an admirably bad super-name) catches the attention of the actual X-Men and are formally invited to join them on Krakoa as is their birthright, but they have their various reasons for not jumping over to the mutant paradise (family, school, etc.). Without getting into spoilers, Children of the Atom leads you into believing it’ll be about this one thing —Young Avengers, but X-Men— and ends on a cliffhanger that suggests there’s more to it than you might have assumed.
Children of the Atom is the only X-Men title of the current era to introduce completely new characters rather than focus on established names, which means it’ll require more patience than some of its siblings. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does leave the reader at a loss for what to expect because we don’t know who these characters are, or what they stand for besides the general do-goodery of adopting pseudo-legacies for themselves. I have a theory about what’s going on with them and what this book’s purpose could end up being (just leaving that link there for no reason at all…), but I envision that the lack of a full context might cause readers to abandon ship immediately.
At the very least, Children of the Atom boasts a veritable creative team that makes a compelling case for itself. Writer Vita Ayala, recently of the New Mutants soft relaunch, has a knack for capturing the spirit of youths in their dialogue and characterization, even if there’s not quite enough room in these 30-odd pages to really flesh them out beyond archetypes. Artist Bernard Chang, to his credit, manages to fit a lot of detail and visual storytelling in his pages (there’s one in particular that contains a whopping 11 panels) that sometimes muddle the action and make spatial relationships unclear, but more often than not it succeeds.
Speaking to the issue overall, Children of the Atom #1 sets up an intriguing mystery at its core that has me interested to keep reading, but it’s TBD on whether or not it ends up becoming an essential pull for readers moving forward.