The second part of Brian Michael Bendis’ time-bending mutant-fest “Battle of the Atom” carries on in “All-New X-Men” #16, where artists Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger get to depict no less than four X-Men teams from three different eras. It’s Marvel’s latest mutant event that explores the impact of the original team’s traveling and settling into present day, as they have for the duration of this title, but this particular installment doesn’t do much to either advance the series or the event that it’s spawned.
That’s largely because there are so many different characters and multiple incarnations of the same ones that all of the dialogue and exchanges between them can’t help but fill up the issue all by itself. Bendis is well known for taking his time unfolding a story and for his rather verbose storytelling style, and the dynamics he’s established between characters using this technique has often served his stories well. Here, though, there’s not so much a dynamic feeling as there is of just plain long-windedness. Save for an initial opening scene featuring the mutants from Bendis’ “Uncanny X-Men” title and a brief fight sequence, the remainder of the issue is literally a dozen or so characters standing around and talking to each other.
The point regarding potential time paradoxes caused by the X-Men of the past residing in the present is made pretty clear early on, and considering how many times it’s been used in fiction in general, it doesn’t really need to be drilled into readers’ heads the way Bendis does so here. His usual loose, banter-ridden dialogue is plenty evident, to the point of unneeded redundancy. Various characters keep telling everyone else to pipe down, settle down, etc. The repeated usage of the same devices gives the entire issue an undeniable padded-out feel. Adding to this is a five-page scene that basically retells the sole action sequence earlier in the issue; the intent appears to be to bring in a little bit of momentary suspense, which would have been nice to liven up a rather bland sequence, but as presented just feels stretched and contrived.
What Bendis does well, with the help of Immonen and von Grawbadger, is manage the generations-spanning cast. There’s no confusion between different versions of the same character, and Bendis takes sufficient time to individually present the team that was introduced in “Battle of the Atom” #1. The artists make everyone clearly identifiable, and although the likenesses are a little too sketchy in some panels, all of the characters remain easy to tell apart.
This title throughout its run has benefitted from Bendis’ style of storytelling, where his decompressed progression has allowed for a lot of exploration of the young X-Men’s adapting to a strange, future world. That style works fine for an open-ended, ongoing series, but as part of a finite event with a presumed endpoint, Bendis needs to tighten things up, but it just doesn’t happen. While “Battle of the Atom” remains an enticing idea, this issue’s admittedly adequate but low-key chapter doesn’t really do as much as it should to realize it.