"If I can't relate to you anymore/Then who am I related to?"
These lyrics are from 'Coney Island,' a song on Taylor Swift's newest album. She might not have been thinking about the group of five kids that make up the new X-Men team Children of the Atom, but the sentiment of those lines applies to the plight that their debut issue sets up, not to mention how it ultimately culminates in the issue's surprise reveal. Everyone wants to belong. Not just somewhere, but with others that are like them. In the current X-Men era, Krakoa is such a space for mutants and in the ever-growing expansion of the X-line, this new title exists to examine those who have not yet made it their home.
Written by Vita Ayala
Art by Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo
Lettered by Travis Lanham
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Long-delayed but finally here, Children of the Atom #1 opens with a skirmish at a New York City intersection where the Hell's Belles are committing a robbery. The titular superteam arrives on the scene to stop them and the kids seem overly eager in quite a few respects. There's a sense of bluster and performance to their quipping - they seem to be doing it to put on a brave face while placing themselves in the face of danger. The initial scene suggests a dynamic of young versus old that is akin to when the Young Avengers first appeared, but writer Vita Ayala's script ends up building to a different conclusion that we won't spoil here (but we will here) yet will note has a more inherent potential for dramatic intrigue.
The team is made up of Cyclops-Lass (Buddy), Cherub (Gabe), Daycrawler (Jay), Gimmick (Carmen), and Marvel Guy (Benny). Like some of those names suggest, they've been heavily influenced by the X-Men of earlier generations. Bernard Chang and Marcelo Maiolo's costume designs illustrate this inspiration without just settling for copycat couture of their counterparts. Buddy's Cyclops-esque visor, in particular, is a good fit for the de-facto leader of the group and the art team depicts it simply as a thin red line streaking across the width of the page when readers get a first look.
However, that's an exception as for the most part, Chang's artwork tends to be more exaggerated than this minimalist moment. Even on pages with a high number of panels, his framing swoops and swings about the scene to show as much of it as he can. This level of energy ensures the issue is moving from the outset and the nature of the story allows Maiolo's colors to be less moody and grounded than the shades of the two's collaboration on Teen Titans in recent years.
Though one element that does carry across is the pronounced lips – think the 'Bugs Bunny' No meme – that adorn many of the characters' faces. As much as all artists have their tics, this is one that can't be unseen once first noticed and the exaggeration of the facial feature rarely connects with the intended emotion of a panel or its dialogue. The way the characters share the same expression defines the Children of the Atom as a group but doesn’t quite do enough to set its members apart as individuals.
This issue isn't limited to the art, however. Cyclops-Lass narrates from the outset, so Buddy's personality comes through strongest simply due to having more time to speak and share their thoughts. With the issue filtered through this POV, Buddy's dynamic with Carmen get the most development by virtue of the two being best friends and spending more time together when not in costume. But the other three teammates get the short shrift. Buddy’s thoughts about Gabe are briefly detailed at one point, but Benny and Jay get less time. Jay, the youngest of the group who doesn't attend high school with the others, falls by the wayside in particular.
What Ayala does best is set these characters for a larger spectrum of possibilities. The opening scene shows how the Children of the Atom handle themselves, while another demonstrates their co-existence with mutants who already live on Krakoa, while one more features the X-Men alone and wondering why the kids haven't made the trip yet.
By laying this out so early on, it allows Ayala to work towards untangling the complications inherent from existing somewhere between those two worlds. The book also functions as a strong counterpart to Marvel's ongoing New Mutants series (which Ayala also writes). If that is a series about those getting lost in it all, Children of the Atom is about longing to fit in someplace without knowing where exactly where that someplace might be; a factor which is enhanced by how New York is so commonly one of those places that people long to be in our ordinary world.
Latching on to these questions of identity works for a story that is both about teens and the X-Men and again the final scene complicates events even further. As so much of the story going forward will hinge on the last page reveal, let's return to the Taylor Swift song to conclude with another analogous vibe, this time thanks to its chorus:
"Over and over/Lost again with no surprises/Disappointments, close your eyes/And it gets colder and colder/When the sun goes down."
Children of the Atom #1 adds to the nearly 60-year history of X-Men stories. Check out Newsarama's list of the best X-Men stories of all time.