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Best Shots review: Children of the Atom #2 struggles to push past the main story beats of the first issue

Children of the Atom #2
(Image credit: Bernard Chang/Marcelo Maiolo/Travis Lanham (Marvel Comics))

Vita Ayala, Bernard Chang, and Marcelo Maiolo cast a spotlight on Gabe Brathwaite (aka Cherub) in Children of the Atom #2, an issue that continues to explore what it means to not fit into society – mutant or human. While the human element here is very strong, Children of the Atom #2 fails to evolve the core plot past the elements introduced in the last issue.

Children of the Atom #2 credits

Written by Vita Ayala
Art by Bernard Chang, Marcelo Maiolo, and Tom Muller
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Ayala uses Children of the Atom #2 to delve a little deeper into Gabe's mind. The use of social media snippets continues to be a fun little change of pace, aided in their authenticity by Tom Muller's slick design work. Here, Gabe's fitness post perfectly sets the tone of his external voice, a sharp contrast to his solemn inner monologue. There's a fast-paced rhythm to Ayala's dialogue that gives the issue momentum and pace. These characters read believably as teens, and that's a harder thing to capture than it might seem. Artwork-wise, Bernard Chang heavily favors the close-up, placing expression at the forefront of his pages. Chang gives extra weight to every grimace, sneer, shrug with his studied portraits of human expression.

(Image credit: R.B. Silva/Erick Arciniega (Marvel Comics))

Plot-wise, Ayala covers a lot of the same ground as the last issue. A tense stand-off between the X-Men and the Avengers kicks off the issue, providing the requisite 'adults agonize over another group of reckless kids' moment. After the team's battle with Hell's Belles and subsequent failure to enter Krakoa on account of the nature of their powers, the Children of the Atom try to relax at a Dazzler gig. The questions around Cole's sudden return to health continue, with an ominous hint at an unorthodox cure. The solidly staged action in the issue's second half serves as a balance to the weighty character work of the first. Chang's panel composition here reflects the chaos of battle, uniform panels fragmenting into diagonal shards as the fight heats up.

These guys are X-Men fans, made starkly clear by Chang's costume designs. A multi-colored mishmash of homages, their look on the battlefield is a reminder of their youthful inexperience and well-meaning passion. It's the kind of slavish devotion that generates pop music fan cams and celebrity role-playing Twitter accounts, a key reminder that Chang and Ayala get it when it comes to tackling teenage characters.  

After Storm makes another plea for the teens to quit vigilante work in New York and join the other mutants, they find themselves yet again standing at the gates to Krakoa. Here, Children of the Atom #2 feels a little stalled. In a bid to continue the ambiguity around the nature of their powers, Ayala struggles to push past the main story beats of the first issue, leaving the reader with a Groundhog Day feel.  

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Children of the Atom #2

(Image credit: Bernard Chang/Marcelo Maiolo/Travis Lanham (Marvel Comics))

Children of the Atom #2 preview

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Children of the Atom #2

(Image credit: Bernard Chang/Marcelo Maiolo/Travis Lanham (Marvel Comics))
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Children of the Atom #2

(Image credit: Bernard Chang/Marcelo Maiolo/Travis Lanham (Marvel Comics))

Marcelo Maiolo's colors are a textured affair, with an air-brushed feel that accentuates the features of Chang's figures. Maiolo's palette is uninhibited, unafraid of bold tones and clashing primary colors. He fills blank backgrounds with a dark-to-light gradient. Maiolo's unrestrained approach combined with Chang's purposefully cobbled together costume designs gives the more action-packed pages a slightly dated feel, but your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, it is Ayala's character work with Gabe that makes Children of the Atom #2 worth a read. Their personal insight combined with Gabe's personal development makes for an absorbing and effective character study. Outside of Gabe himself, Ayala spins the wheels to protect the ambiguity around the Children and their status as active mutants. Frustratingly, the issue suffers from the lack of overall story progression. The foundations are well and truly laid, let's hope the next issue starts to build upon them.

If you're as big a mutant fan as these Children of the Atom, you'll want to check out our constantly updated list of new X-Men comics, graphic novels, and collections coming in 2021 and beyond.

Oscar Maltby has been writing about comics since 2015. He has also written comic book scripts for the British small press and short fiction for Ahoy Comics. He resides on the South Coast of England but lives in the longbox.