RSS Feed
Apr 15

Children of the Atom #2 annotations

Posted on Thursday, April 15, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

“Prison Break”
by Vita Ayala, Bernard Chang & Marcelo Maiolo

COVER / PAGE 1: The… let’s call them the Children of the Atom for now, even though they don’t actually use that name in the story. Anyhow, they’re fighting prisoners while the prison seems to be on fire.

PAGE 2 PANELS 1-3. Someone makes a phone call from prison.

She’s unnamed, and not immediately identifiable without her costume, but this is Vague from Hell’s Belles, the minor villain team that our heroes captured last issue. She’s phoning Briquette, the one member of the team who kept her mutant powers, and asking her to come and break them out. Briquette is evidently still loyal to her depowered teammates, which raises the question of why she wasn’t with them in the previous issue. Perhaps we’ll get to that.

PAGE 2 PANEL 4 TO PAGE 4. The Avengers visit the Krakoan Embassy to talk about the kids.

This meeting doesn’t go particularly well. What’s objectionable about the Avengers’ behaviour, really, is that the Avengers seem to have shown up unannounced (or at least uninvited) at the embassy and demanded to see Professor X, who is a foreign head of state and probably has better things to do than worry about a bunch of kids running around in costumes.

Some of the Krakoans’ other complaints are… less convincing. The suggestion that mutants are being treated inconsistently with non-mutant teen heroes runs up against the fact that Kamala’s Law is being enforced very vigorously indeed over in Champions and Miles Morales: Spider-Man. The bigger issue, really, is that it’s not terribly clear why either the Avengers or the X-Men sees this bunch of minor rookies as a priority (given that they don’t have the benefit of knowing that they’re the title characters). There’s something a bit unconvincing to me about the idea that either team sees this as particularly worth arguing about, beyond maybe the Avengers sending an email or something. Why are two members of the Quiet Council hanging around in the New York embassy anyway?

The Krakoans also seem to be arguing (as they so often do) that their citizens should be allowed to go to other countries and ignore local law, which is just not the way things work.

The media has apparently christened this team the “Young X-Men”; Young X-Men was the name of a shortlived title from 2008/9, though I’m not sure the title characters of that series actually used it as a team name either.

PAGE 5. Recap and credits

PAGE 6. Data page. This is Gabe’s workout plan, as posted on some social media platform. Gabe is Cherub; we get his surname for the first time here. There’s a generally pro-mutant vibe to this whole thing, but more of a “mutants are cool” sort.

PAGES 7-8. Gabe at home.

The previous issue focussed on Cyclops-Lass; this one seems to be focussing on Gabe/Cherub. That rather suggests that we’re getting a spotlight issue for each member of the team during the opening arc.

This is our first sight of Gabe’s mother (who doesn’t get a first name) and his younger sister Celeste. Gabe’s narration is pretty self-explanatory – everyone prejudges him as a black teen from single parent family, except his teammates, which is what he likes about them. The scene is at pains to tell us that Gabe is nothing like the stereotype that he thinks people associate with him, and if anything lays it on a bit thick in making him a high-achieving saint.

Lila Cheney is the stock mutant rock star who isn’t Dazzler. She was Cannonball’s girlfriend in 1980s New Mutants stories. Granted that she was older than Sam, the timeline still seems a bit odd for Gabe’s mother to have been a fan of Lila’s while she was at school.

In passing, Gabe gives us the first names for all of his teammates, which (by elimination) tells us that Daycrawler’s first name is Jay Jay.

PAGES 9-12. The Children of the Atom arrive at the Dazzler concert.

Gabe’s continuing narration basically says that he identifies with mutants – or rather, the X-Men in particular – because they chose to be heroes and transcend people’s preconceptions of them. The parallels with his own experience are self-evident. Gabe seems keen that not only should they deal with the prison break, but that they should get there before the Avengers – given Cyclops-Lass’s comment in the next scene, he’s probably just meant to be concerned about getting in and out before anyone shows up to try and arrest them.

Carmen mentions paying Gabe back after her “next donation stream” – what’s she raising money for, and what’s she spending it on? (Mostly likely she’s spending it on costumes and equipment, but if so, how’s she advertising it?)

Buddy describes the “Cyclops-Lass” codename as a “respectful homage”, and apparently chose all of their codenames. Benny quite rightly thinks they’re terrible. Buddy seems somewhat oblivious to that, and generally seems to be not top-flight where self-awareness is concerned.

Jay Jay isn’t with the group for some reason. Did he not want to go? Was he grounded? Is he too young to get in? At any rate, he’s at home scanning social media for supervillains. The message he’s passing on seems to have been posted by an Emma Frost fan.

Cole appeared in the previous issue, where he seemed to have returned from injury to the school basketball team with mild superhuman powers. He gives a vaguely evasive answer here about having been signed up for an “experimental treatment program”. Cole has apparently taken to Dazzler after Gabe insisted on playing him her videos while he was in hospital. This all sounds like we’re heading towards the kids don’t really have powers, and they wind up going to Cole to find out how he got his. Normally that storyline ends in disaster, but you never know.

The Tombs is the nickname for the Manhattan Detention Complex, an actual jail in lower Manhattan.

PAGE 13. Data page – a poster for Dazzler’s concert. The sign outside the theatre says “Opening night”, but the poster says “One night only.” Maybe Dazzler added a date.

The note from Benny confirms that Gabe seems to have bought the tickets for everyone, not just Carmen. Hmm.

Webster Hall is an actual venue in New York.

The support act, Cat’s Laughing, are a folk rock band including several sci fi and fantasy writers. Chris Claremont used to reference them from time to time.

PAGES 14-20. The Children arrive at the Tombs and fight Hell’s Belles.

Gimmick‘s first line in this scene is “I’ll never get used to that teleporter”, which is an odd thing to say if she’s talking about Jay Jay’s innate powers. It sounds like further evidence that their powers are all technologically simulated – though if so, it’s pretty high-end technology.

Daycrawler announces that he’s changing his name to Nighty-Nightcrawler, suggesting that his instincts for a good codename are somehow a thousand times worse than Cyclops-Lass’s.

Cyclops-Lass, adorably, greets the sight of actual-albeit-Z-list supervillain Briquette with the exclamation “Briquette! I wrote the Mutants Unmuted article about you!” She did indeed, and she couldn’t resist mentioning it last time either. Her priorities are highly questionable, but that’s fandom for you.

Marvel Guy‘s attack is exactly the same as last issue, and the dialogue makes sure to flag that. Again, that tends to suggest he’s not a real psychic, though I suppose it’s possible that he just has an extremely specific power.

The obvious ironic parallel here is that Hell’s Belles would be welcome on Krakoa because they’re real mutants, but they don’t want to go; the Children of the Atom are not admissible on Krakoa, presumably because they’re not real mutants. Despite that, Flambé gets a speech complaining that their true selves were violated when they lost their powers, while the Children have had everything they could want handed to them. (Presumably they think these kids are genuinely associated with the X-Men somehow.)

Curiously, Cyclops-Lass seems to think that Briquette has amnesty on Krakoa but “Your fellow Belles have to answer for their attack.” She doesn’t seem to be aware that depowered mutants are welcome on Krakoa, and presumably also benefit from Krakoa’s amnesty policy. But later in the scene, Cherub does know that the depowered mutants can go to Krakoa, and asks Vague why they don’t just do that. Maybe this is a scripting glitch or maybe Cyclops-Lass doesn’t really like to think about the idea that genuine depowered mutants would be able to use the gates.

At any rate, Vague’s answer is that they don’t want to go to Krakoa when everyone else has powers, and that they were stealing money to try and get their powers back. That’s another plot reference to there being somebody out there who can give normal humans powers, which is surely no coincidence.

Having beaten the three depowered Hell’s Belles last issue, the team do rather badly against Briquette – more through inexperience than anything else, to be fair.

PAGES 21-23. The Krakoans show up to deal with Hell’s Belles.

It’s not exactly the X-Men. Storm shows up accompanied by ex-villain the Toad (who became a minor supporting character in Wolverine and the X-Men years ago), and two utterly random choices: Outlaw, a supporting character from Gail Simone’s Deadpool and Domino stories; and what looks to be Mercury from the New X-Men. If so, she’s miscoloured on page 22, but she’s metal on page 21, and she’s wearing one of Mercury’s costumes, so I’ll go with Mercury.

Gabe’s closing narration stresses his desire to save people as his main motivation for joining the team. He’s uncomfortable about the fact that it involves “putting on costumes and hiding behind mutant names”, which again seems to confirm that they’re faking.

Storm gives them a communicator device, since they can’t be detected with Cerebro. Naturally, Cyclops-Lass reacts as if she’s been given a holy relic. Again, though, there is a plot problem in the fact that none of the X-Men seem to be contemplating the obvious possibility that Cerebro can’t detect them because they aren’t mutants. It’s so obviously being floated as an explanation that it doesn’t really work for the X-Men not to have it in mind. In fairness, though, it’s possible here that Storm is simply playing along to see what they do.

PAGE 24. The Children try to go to Krakoa.

Essentially a repeat of the closing scene of the previous issue. Last time they were in costume, so this is not meant to be the same scene. They’re just keeping on trying.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: UNUSUAL DINNER GUEST.

Bring on the comments

  1. The Other Michael says:

    I really want to like this series, but there are just so many open questions and idiot balls being passed around to make it difficult.

    I’m okay with maintaining the sense of mystery and letting it play out over a few issues, but we’d better start getting some concrete answers soon or else it’s just going to feel artificially and purposefully vague, especially with regards to who these kids are, what they can do, and how they can do it.

    Right now, both the Avengers and the Krakoans come off as a little bit dense/oblivious, although I like that they address the utter stupidity of Kamala’s Law as something that the Avengers neither endorse nor want to enforce.

  2. David Goldfarb says:

    It would be more accurate to say that Cats Laughing (no apostrophe, btw) were a folk-rock band, since they haven’t actually been a group for a couple of decades now. (Though I just learned from Wikipedia that they had a reunion concert in 2015.)

  3. Alan L. says:

    Is this issue not almost a beat-for-beat repeat of the first issue? We get another dive into one of the main characters, with narration. They do some school/social stuff in the middle. They fight the same team again in this issue. They get another visit with X-men celebrities that invite them to Krakoa, and they refuse, again. Then they make yet another attempt to go through the gate to Krakoa by themselves. All the mysteries of the first issue are simply underlined in this issue. It’s so close to the same thing we saw initially that it doesn’t feel like any progress has been made in this narrative.

    I kind of wish Gabe had had some little revelation during the events of the issue that somehow slightly altered his own outlook on himself, or something. I feel like with Buddy’s narration in the first issue as a reader I was trying to peer through the cracks in her self-presentation, to see if things were different than how she was presenting them––and that made the issue a little interesting. Here, we get Gabe’s narration, which I take at face value, because nothing he says much clashes with what I see of the situation, and then the fight is inconclusive. Gabe doesn’t do anything especially cool or heroic, nor does he try to. When they make their second try to go to Krakoa, Gabe is following along. His story hasn’t advanced since the beginning of the issue. Again, it doesn’t feel like anything has happened this issue that didn’t happen before.

    I wish there had been a little indecision from some of them around staying at the Dazzler concert. It was mentioned several times how the different kids scraped and saved to go to this concert––and then when they get a text about supervillains, they abandon the concert immediately to go superhero. That’s fine, but I would have liked to feel some tension there. Maybe not all of them are 100% on board in the same way? Something? Even with issue-long narrations, these characters hardly feel distinct from one another.

  4. The Other Michael says:

    What’s funny is that Chris Claremont got me into liking Cats Laughing, because of the way he kept namedropping them. Somewhere around here, I still have their cassettes, as well as those for the Flash Girls (basically their follow-up)… (and the Flash Girls, in their alter egos, were supporting cast members for Claremont’s Sovereign 7 series…)

    Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks remains one of my favorite books of all time.

    But to see Cats Laughing as a thing in the MU after all these years–including that 20 year hiatus) just boggles the mind. I guess Vita Ayala grew up on the same Claremont stories the rest of us did…

  5. Chris V says:

    Oh, is that Emma Bull and Steven Brust’s band?
    Emma Bull is a great writer.
    Steven Brust is an even better writer.
    Brust and Bull’s Freedom and Necessity is a favourite of mine.

    You’d think being a fan of Bull, Brust, and Claremont I would have followed Cats Laughing at some point.
    I should rectify that.

  6. Jon R says:

    I missed the timing problem with Lila Cheney, but yeah. I can’t recall where Sam’s age is supposed to fall at the moment, but I’d guess mid-twenties. Sometimes it feels like they write the New Mutants as younger, but that’s the age that usually ‘feels’ right. I’d normally guess that Lila was five years older than him, which would put her at about thirty now. Nope.

    Even if you assume she’s ten years older than Sam, that’s pretty tight and assumes that she was probably a teenager alongside Gabe’s mother. That age difference also really changes how her relationship with Sam looks with him at the time from inappropriately iffy to “No.”

    This did randomly lead me to thinking of teenage Lila as a Disney Channel pop princess. While totally unsupported by any text I remember, it’s an amusing image.

  7. JD says:

    Active enforcement of Kamala’s Law seems to have come to an abrupt close in CHAMPIONS #5. The law itself hasn’t been repealed, but the most fascist agencies handling hunting young heroes down have been dismantled (or are at least under much tighter public scrutiny).

    Under that light, this issue just barely fits, if you squint.

  8. Rob says:

    Sam is meant to be 18 in New Mutants Graphic Novel, so that would probably put him around 28-30 now. (Kitty had just turned 14 at the time, and she’s definitely mid-twenties now).

    Although there’s an age difference, Sam is clearly an adult by the time he meets Lila. Lila could be pushing forty today, and make it juuuuust about possible that she was a teen/early 20s musician twenty years ago when Gabe’s mom was a teenager.

  9. MasterMahan says:

    I thought that was Husk with Storm’s team, given the blonde hair and apparently ability to change to human. It doesn’t match the look she had in House of X, but who knows?

    I take it Storm suspects the obvious, and next issue will have a disguised Mystique investigating the team? It would be a waste of a Council member’s time when Krakoa has about two dozen telepaths, but I guess that would be too fast for a story.

  10. Si says:

    There was a scene in I think the previous New Mutants relaunch where Sam gives his age at the bar as “21, white and free” or something equally dreadful. I think mid 20s by now would be the oldest he’d be. And I’m pretty sure he was 16 when introduced.

    I’m confused about the Outlawed story in Champions though. It ended by Cyclops and Dust turning up in one frame and saying the kids have asylum, so look out? Was there something after that which I missed? If not, that’s the ending to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    This issue is interesting in what it shows and what it suggests.

    Krakoa as represented by Mystique and Storm is quite chauvinistic. It is really a bit unsettling. It is not in me to sympathise with such high levels of nationalism and isolationism from anyone, even in fiction.

    In other scenes Storm comes across better, and with a bit more characterization than I have come to expect. I would guess that she is indeed playing along in the hope that the Children will voluntarily open up with her (which by the way they well should). It is almost disturbing to see her quite this diplomatic with the protagonists when her portrayal elsewhere, even in this issue, is usually so much nastier.

    Incidentally, Storm could be a good character to explore psychologically if someone wants to write that tale. All too often she comes across as inconsistent and somewhat self-entitled, but she could be easily made into more of a real person. The contrast between her flippancy with the Avengers whose trust and cooperation the X-Men have so often relied upon and abused and her diplomacy with this group of careless youngsters that have actually usurped their identities is shocking, hopefully on purpose.

    According to himself Gabe is quite the paragon of sincere effort and good intent. The script does not quite cross the line into pretentiousness, but it comes close. Still, this is one of the best books among the current ongoings when it comes to characterization. I would welcome more of that, here and in other books.

    For instance, this issue showed a lot of inner tension in Buddy’s self-image and goals, and I want to see that express and find resolution. There is also the rather fair observation from Briquette that teleporting just one room away is not much of a escape plan. I have to assume that there is some sort of significant expense or limitation to Daycrawler’s teleportation. The Children are clearly overconfident, but I don’t think they would be quite that careless without some reason to avoid larger jumps.

    All in all there is a lot of “young adult” vibe coming from these pages. Many of the team’s exchanges are deliberate attempts at gauging their own identities in some way or another. It is a difficult tone to achieve (Hickman rarely even attempts to), but Vita Ayala is pretty good at it. She would be an excellent choice for a core X-Men book, although I don’t expect that editorial would give her the necessary freedom.

  12. Luis Dantas says:

    As for the ages, I guess I just learned to roll with them by accepting that people in the MU go through time in a markedly different way from ours. Their aging in particular tends to be all over the place, in ways that would be remarkable in the real world but end up being unremarkable for them, what with characters often alternating between being adolescents and young adults for well over thirty years or so.

    Take for instance Wolfsbane. She was at least fifteen when introduced circa 1982. I don’t think that she is currently written as much older than 18 or 19. It just happens that she is a particularly slow-aging character in a world that is very much aging-resistant to begin with. And in the decompressed storytelling that became the norm since the 1990s, it is quite common for characters to go take the best part of a year in order to resolve plots that can’t very well take much more than a in-world week to fully develop and resolve, making the time dilation that much more pronounced.

  13. Rob says:

    You are right. Sam was 16 in the New Mutants Graphic Novel. And Rahne is 14. Either way, I think about a decade has passed in that time, and both characters act as if it has.

    Rahne was 16 in X-Factor (as was Kitty in the contemporaneous issues of Excalibur), and they were both old enough to go to the pub when they were in Excalibur together (though Claremont would later have her say she was 16 again in his issues of Wolverine, but that’s been mostly ignored). I think both characters are generally written as being about 24-25. That would put Sam at 26-27.

  14. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Si That wasn’t the end of the story. Cyclops gave the Champions a chance to rest and recuperate on the Marauder and then they went back to the States, revealed to the public what goes on in the reeducation centers and turned the public sentiment against CRADLE and Kamala’s Law.

    Which was still a very abrupt end to the story.

  15. Joseph S. says:

    I agree the plot was too close to the first issue, which was already oversized. But they are clearly aware of this, which is why the cliffhanger ends before they make another attempt on the gate. I guess? I have a feeling this will read better in trade.

  16. Scott B says:

    Jordan D. White insists that Cyclops is 27 or 28 so Marvel editorial don’t think that The New Mutants have aged that much.

  17. Si says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran:
    Ah I see now that Champions #4 was delayed, and hasn’t been put on Unlimited yet. Meanwhile Miles Morales’ comic has moved on. All very confusing.

  18. Dave says:

    Was Cyclops 17 or 18 right back at the start?
    Even if it was 17, you could only JUST justify him being 29 now.
    I don’t get why it’d be a big deal having him and the other originals be 30+. I’m going to assume it’s to keep Spidey’s relative age down.

  19. Luis Dantas says:

    I’m just guessing here, but keeping most characters around their twenties or even younger may be significant for Marvel (and DC) due to ease of reader identification.

    Back in the 1990s and early 2000s it was a big deal that Spider-Man was married. Some editors and perhaps writers claimed that it made him appear too old.

    I don’t necessarily agree, but the experience of reading stories about characters that are essentially denied any significant aging allows publishers to keep going to the same salesworthy wheels. Big publishers like having tried, reliable sources of revenue.

    From a creative standpoint it might well be better to allow them to grow and evolve – and develop recognizable political stances while we are at it – but it is just too difficult to convince industry leaders to go through such risks.

  20. SanityOrMadness says:

    Well, there’s three things about the O5’s aging:
    1) Beast had his 30th birthday back in the 90s, and while he was the oldest of the O5, there were only a couple of years in it between him and Iceman (the youngest).
    2) Time shenanigans – the whole Bendis thing should retroactively age them all by a good couple of years (there were eight-month jumps either side of Secret Wars alone, after all), plus Scott & Jean themselves spent over a decade in the future raising Cable.
    3) Physically, it hardly matters – Iceman is the only one of the O5 who has never died in the Krakoa era alone, so all their bodily aging can have been reset by that *anyway*.

  21. Scott B says:

    It killed my love for Spider-Man when I realised he’d never be allowed to age beyond his twenties, they walk back anything that has him grow as a character.

  22. Chris V says:

    Luis-The reason for wanting to keep their characters young was so that they would be relatable to a core audience of readers who were age ten to sixteen.
    To that age group, a person who was in their thirties and married seemed like they were old.
    It made sense in the 1990s.
    The core demographic of comic readers today are mid-thirties to early-fifties.
    So, that’s quite a change.

  23. Luis Dantas says:

    Fair point, ChrisV. But I still expect that Marvel and DC will insist on keeping their characters “not too old” for teen expectations, if for no other reason because there are many teens in the public for other media, where the true money is these days.

    @SanityOrMadness: Jean and Scott spent ten years in an alternate future and should have aged _mentally_ accordingly, but even before Krakoa those were not the same bodies that they had in the present, right?

  24. SanityOrMadness says:


    True, but short of “aged beyond physically able to be a superhero”, I feel like physical age matters less than mental age for the purposes.

    (Plus, they both died and were resurrected pre-Krakoa too)

  25. The Other Michael says:

    I like Luis’ train of thought.
    In comic book universes like DC and Marvel, unless an actual “Real time” rule is imposed, aging is just… inconsistent all around. Some people age faster or slower than others, some experience more in a given timeframe than others.

    Why? Take your pick of wacky comic book answers. There’s enough weird shit floating around to explain just about anything, from “every reality reboot affects people differently” to “free-floating temporal particles” to “stray magic”.

    This is why I don’t hate DC’s “Linearverse” idea as a concept. This is why I like how Ridley’s Other History of the DC Universe actually places its characters in a real time scenario applied to their introductions, so they managed to experience the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc and yet don’t age realistically as a consequence.

    It all makes sense… kinda. If you don’t think too hard.

  26. Thom H. says:

    DC/Marvel/readers could easily get around the inconsistent aging by agreeing that younger characters age more quickly than older characters.

    It makes sense for young characters (e.g., Franklin Richards, Kitty Pryde, the New Mutants) to look older more quickly than their adult counterparts. While older characters are aging, they’re not necessarily going to be getting taller, more developed, or even more grey over the same period of time that young characters are changing from toddler to pre-teen or teen to drinking age.

    Once a young characters hits an age with some storytelling potential, they can hang out there for a while, a la current Franklin Richards. And once they hit a milestone (e.g., Kitty turning 21, Beast turning 30), their age can drift more slowly in line with their new peers.

    So Kitty was easily the youngest member of the X-Men when she was introduced. But she aged relatively quickly compared to Storm, Wolverine, etc. She’s still younger than them, but not as much younger than them as she was. She can be taken seriously as an adult in her 20s without having to age up the other characters much at all.

    Not sure how that relates to the Cannonball/Lila situation that started this conversation, but I think it makes sense as a general rule that comic companies would be wise to follow. It’s better than trying to explain every child character’s normal aging — or every long-lasting adult character’s lack of aging — with reboots or cosmic forces or whatever, at least IMO.

  27. Si says:

    Honestly, when I was 16-25, if I’d gotten super powers I’d absolutely have been out on the streets fighting evil and protecting the innocent and all that. Now I’m middle-aged I know I’d use them mostly to amuse my children.

    That’s the real reason super heroes don’t age beyond a certain point. It’s a young person’s power fantasy even if the reader isn’t so young any more.

  28. Dave says:

    Somehow, the Marvel movies being based around 40-something Iron Man hasn’t limited their appeal to the young audience.

    I take the point about characters going through so many resurrection and extra time periods that they aren’t their real age anyway, but they still have (never to be revealed) dates of birth, which could still be relevant in stories (like, when can Kitty run for political office?). In one way Krakoa makes it more of an issue – maybe Cerebro can give a good reading of actual time experienced based on how much memory is in a backup.

  29. Si says:

    Eh, Hollywood has its own age rules. Male actors play young parts until they’re veterans. I don’t know how old the character was supposed to be, but Downey had the right combination of name recognition and affordability for a movie that was a conservative gamble, and that’s probably as far as the producers thought about it.

  30. Dave says:

    The significant thing was that the AUDIENCE didn’t care that he wasn’t in his 20s or a teen. Same with Ant-Man, the GotG, Hawkeye (who even has a family), movie Batman…
    The one thing comic publishers can point to here is that movies don’t spend very much time on the characters’ personal lives. But even then, I don’t see what difference it makes to anybody that the Scott/Jean/Logan triangle could have all 3 not in their 20s, for example.

Leave a Reply