Children of the Atom #1 defies being discussed. It is a story focused on discovering its own premise—a mystery carefully hidden away in promoting the series and far less carefully hidden in the 34 pages building to cliffhanger revelation. That makes it difficult to review or recommend so as to protect the reading experience, but that’s still possible as I’ll endeavor to prove here. However, that doesn’t end the difficulties of discussing this debut because the lack of clear context and motivation when introducing five new characters leaves their introduction hollow. Only at the end of the issue do readers even understand what story is being told, which raises a lot of questions, but no more compelling reasons to continue reading.
This is ostensibly a teenage superhero team series featuring five new mutants in the “Reign of X” era. Each of these debuting characters wear costumes and names inspired by classic X-Men, including Cyclops-Lass with a glowing red visor and Daycrawler with very questionable three-fingered gloves and two-toed boots. They are reminiscent of the original Young Avengers in design and deployment. The key difference between Young Avengers #1 and Children of the Atom #1 is that even though the identities and origins of characters in neither are known, the motivations of the former were clear. They sought to be superheroes because it was the righteous and exciting thing to do; the motivations of these five new superheroes remain a mystery box in this issue and it makes it hard to invest in any of them individually.
There is plenty of space provided for readers to familiarize themselves with the newest New York City-based crew of teen capes, including an introductory action sequence and an extensive expository sequence covering high school love triangles and other forms of drama. Readers will have a clear sense of what these individuals can do and what challenges (both personal and interpersonal) they’ll confront in the months to come. These characters are present, but they are lacking a hook. There are no answers to the questions: Why drives these people to do what they do and, more importantly, why should I care? Inside jokes and nods to those well-familiarized in X-Men lore will only collect so much attention.
The costume designs and action sequence composed by artist Bernard Chang make the most compelling case for continued attention. With a crowded city street featuring the introduction or re-introduction of 8 named characters, Chang makes quick work of defining each person on the page and changing perspectives to track the entire sequence. It’s a stunningly effective bit of storytelling. The designs that define everyone in a superhero smackdown translate well to civilian guises with silhouettes that are easily recognized when out of costume. This is essential in making the complete group memorable, even with this issue’s extended page count. I found myself curious to see more of these characters, even if I was unsure as to who they were here.
What will bring me back for Children of the Atom #2 for certain is curiosity at how the creative team (and editorial) handle the incredibly tricky scenario they devise at the end of Children of the Atom #1. Mutants have long been an effective metaphor for oppression and hatred broadly construed, but become much messier when specifics are applied; need we recall Alex Summers’ speech about the m-word? The specific topics evoked at the very end of this issue will be a messy affair to unpack and I am fascinated to see how this series attempts to thread some needles, for better or for worse.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Published by Marvel Comics
On March 10, 2021
Written by Vita Ayala
Art by Bernard Chang
Colors by Marcelo Maiolo0comments
Letters by Travis Lanham
Cover by R.B. Silva and Jesus Aburtov