Children of the Atom is a unique little series in the grand scheme of X-Men books because it doesn’t actually feature mutants as its main cast, though mutants are the vital driving force in the story. Children of the Atom #4 still delivers a story that sticks with classic X-Men themes despite lacking mutants at all — which is a really interesting thing.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Children of the Atom #4!
Like the other issues, this one is from the POV of another one of the kids. This time, it’s Ben — the interesting takeaway here is that Ben and Jay Jay are step-siblings, and they do totally act like brothers. During a fight with the U-Men (and how cool is it to see the U-Men back?) Ben says family isn’t blood, it’s the people you choose. This sentiment is quintessentially “X-Men” even if the characters here aren’t mutants.
We also finally see the kids trying on their gear for the first time, attempting to simulate the X-Men and mutants. “Are the Children of the Atom mutants?” was the big question when this book was announced, and by now we know the answer is a big “no”, so it’s interesting to see their early days of trying to sell this ruse. Carmen even expresses discontent with how Buddy wants to use Cole’s mutant DNA to get into the gates, showing some discomfort with these attempts to insert themselves into mutant life.
Speaking of Carmen, a really important moment is given to her this issue: she comes out to Ben.
Last issue, it was revealed Carmen had a crush on Buddy. But Buddy likes Gabe, who likes Carmen — it’s a classic love triangle situation, only now there’s an explicitly queer twist. The current status quo of Krakoa has kind of eliminated the soap opera element of X-Men with the new norm of open relationships (see: Emma/Scott/Jean/Logan) so it’s interesting again that the X-book without mutants actually brought it back.
What’s most important is that Carmen came out to Ben, and that she came out as a lesbian specifically. In all of X-books, there are only two canonically lesbian characters — Karma and Bling! — and a whole host of explicitly sapphic characters that could be lesbians but never have their sexualities defined on page like Destiny. To have Carmen be a lesbian and to openly say she’s a lesbian is great. She isn’t outed like Bobby Drake was, it’s on her own terms and it’s nice to see this level of comfort with her own identity. Props to Vita Ayala for this scene — and for this character as a whole.
Children of the Atom had a bit of a rocky start, but it only gets better and better with every issue. Paco Medina’s art makes every page absolutely gorgeous and Vita Ayala’s writing is strong, telling stories that need to be told. It’s a new take on classic X-Men tropes and it’s only getting better.
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