When Covid-19 turned the entire world upside down back in March of 2020, the comic industry was not immune to that global disturbance. Books were delayed, interrupting ongoing narratives while other titles were quietly cancelled or retooled in the wake of these challenges. Children of the Atom by Vita Ayala and artists Bernard Chang, Marcelo Maiolo, Paco Medina and David Curiel feels like the X-book that was most visibly affected by these changes, making the final product that eventually hit shelves in March of 2021 likely a different comic than initially intended. It’s hard to read this collection of issues (which appears to be the entirety of this short-lived book’s run) without wondering what could have been and what was ultimately left on the cutting room floor. Generally, these publishing mishaps result in a subpar book, but even though it was short lived, Ayala ends up leaving a strong set of characters behind and some larger storylines that future writers may pick up and run with.
When it was first announced, I assumed the book would play the role of Young Avengers/Teen Titans in the new Krakoan age, with a young team of mutant sidekicks learning the ropes from their more experienced elders. What we get in these six issues is an interesting exploration of fan culture and how it fits into mutant’s current cultural climate. Our protagonists (Cherub, Cyclops-Lass, Daycrawler, Gimmick, and Marvel Guy), while presenting as mutants borrowing their costumes and power sets from existing X-Men, are not detected by Cerebro. The X-Men, looking to bring all mutants to Krakoa to experience their people’s culture are faced with a group that appears unwilling to leave their existing society.
Each issue of the series focused on a specific member of this new team and was clearly laying the groundwork for future explorations into their core conflicts. With the time and attention put into establishing this cast of heroes, it would be unfortunate if they simply faded into obscurity as the X-line enters its next phase after the Inferno crossover.
Even with a change in artists between issues #2 and #3, the drawing remains consistent and satisfying. Each issue strikes a balance between effective character moments and colorful splashes of comic action. If this crop of artists doesn’t animate these characters in the future, hopefully they have a home in the X-stable, as their animated line work and blocking brings generous vitality to Ayala’s script.
Without getting into major spoilers (the book does take an interesting narrative turn in revealing this team’s background), there are questions that Vita clearly wishes to discuss when making this team fans and followers of the X-Men. The X-books during the Krakoan era seem very concerned with examining cultural appropriation within the confines of mutant/human society, with Franklin Richards being “outed” as a non-mutant and uninvited from Krakoan society, as well as the negative light the Scarlet Witch plays within Krakoan culture. It makes sense that there would be individuals who may wish to amalgamate into mutant culture and emulate elements of mutant identity they find attractive. There may be additional stories to tell engaging with those questions and how it parallels some of the cultural debates we have contemplated with in recent years.
However, Children of the Atom does not provide a clear, compelling thesis on this question. One can’t blame the creative forces behind this title; they clearly were setting these characters up for future adventures but were hastily concluded in issue #6. Yet, it feels like a missed opportunity that will hopefully be remedied with future books and storylines in the years to come.
Even though its publication was hindered by larger global forces, leaving it without a satisfying conclusion, Children of the Atom by Vita Ayala Vol. 1 is still a book worth picking up. Vita’s writing is engaging and focused on making this fresh set of characters feel real and purposeful in an already crowded field of teen superhero books, complemented by capable comic artists that help breathe physical presence into the cast. We can only hope the work put into establishing these characters and their purpose won’t be dropped by future writers in the X-stable.
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