With a comic like Children of the Atom, the only question that really needs to be answered is…well, was the wait worth it?
In a word: absolutely.
Ever since COTA was announced in January of 2020, X-fans have been eagerly anticipating this mysterious new title from writer Vita Ayala and artist Bernard Chang. After what feels like a seemingly endless series of pandemic-induced delays, COTA is finally here and with its arrival come plenty of new questions about Krakoa and what role there is for mutants beyond its borders.
I cannot think of a writer better tasked to answer those questions than Ayala, whose New Mutants run has been a masterclass in developing the young core of mutant characters who rarely get the spotlight of better-known X-Men like Wolverine or Cyclops. In this first issue, Ayala has the tough task of not only introducing several new characters and fleshing out their distinct perspectives, but also grappling with the Krakoa of it all. Every X-book has to deal with the new mutant nation and what it represents. How Ayala integrates that issue is one of the many delights of this book, which includes several nods to mutant history and—in a moment sure to break X-Twitter—a cameo from a much-missed X-Men backbencher.
Without giving much away, I’ll admit that the scope of the book is wider than I had expected, though its heart remains with Ayala’s new characters. In only a few pages, you’ll grow to love their quirky designs (reminiscent of the mishmash characters from Powers of X) and even quirkier codenames. When Ayala spoke to AIPT’s Chris Hassan for this week’s X-Men Monday, they described the names as a bit “on the nose” and that certainly comes across.
Chang’s kinetic designs manage to pastiche existing X-Men characters like Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Gambit in a way that keeps them distinct enough while nodding to the obvious in-universe inspiration. Ayala has said the “Children of the Atom kids see the X-Men and other mutants as almost celebrities,” so it makes sense that they would model themselves after their idols.
Ayala packs their issues with dialogue and, in the hands of a lesser writer, the deluge of words could overcrowd the pages or detract from the action-packed visuals. But instead of feeling bogged down, this issue moves with the frenetic energy of its young heroes.
Ayala perfectly captures the insecurity and camaraderie of teenagers adrift from parental figures and, at times, from each other. Their challenge is not just elemental—how to survive in a world engineered to otherize and denigrate you—but practical, even quotidian. How do I talk to the guy I like? How do I protect the feelings of those I love? Comics is a visual medium and Ayala wisely begins this issue with an extended action scene, but it’s these quiet, contemplative moments—seeded through dialogue and careful narration—that make their books among my favorites every month.
Now, let’s just make sure it’s not another year-long wait before issue #2!
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