MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1The X-Men vs Agents of Atlas

(2009 - two issues, published by Marvel Comics)

Writers: Jeff Parker. Art: Carlo Pagulayan, Chris Samnee, with Gabriel Hardman, Carlos Rodriguez. Inks: various.

Mini-series are kind of odd beasties these days. It used to be they were places to showcase an already established character, but who didn't have his own comic -- possibly testing the waters for an on going series. They were used to tell epic-style stories and/or might (like a regular series) tell a bunch of stories, but connected by some sub-plot that would climax in the final issue. And most often they were meant to act as both a treat for longtime fans of the character...as well as a nice, self-contained intro to him (or her) for those unfamiliar with 'em.

But times change, comics have become increasingly incestuous and interconnected, and often modern mini-series are just a chance to put more comics out in a month featuring the same characters.

Which brings us to this mini-series (or, at two issues, sometimes labelled a micro-series). It features the X-Men -- in one form and another starring in a bunch of monthly comics already -- and Agents of Atlas, a newer team that had a monthly comic not too long ago. It even seems as though the teams have met before in their own comics.

And the result is an often strikingly illustrated, deliberately frothy little romp -- that barely feels like an inkling, let alone a story.

As I said, sometimes such projects can be viewed as a chance to introduce newer readers to the characters via this self-contained story. But this doesn't do a great job at that. Oh, sure, you can generally get the gist of what's going on, but there are still a lot of oblique bits that might leave you scratching your head -- whether it be about continuity, or even characterization. At one point, Namor, the Sub-Mariner -- who apparently hangs out with the X-Men these days -- attempts to play peacemaker, and another character quips "That...IS...Namor, right?" A joke on the fact the hot headed Namor is usually the last one to play peacemaker...but in the context of this particular story, you might not understand the reference (or assume the character just didn't recognize him). The X-Men has become such a large group, unless you had a pre-existing affection for them, I'm not sure any of them have enough face/character time to really make you interested in them. Likewise, the Agents of Atlas, though a visually quirky bunch -- evoking the old Doom Patrol -- don't necessarily give you much sense of their personalities. I mean, they're a perfectly agreeable bunch...just nothing that fires a desire to follow them in their own series. And though we are told they are heroes who masquerade as leaders of an evil organization...it still doesn't explain who and what the underground temple of warrior monks is they hang out with!

The plot is bare bones, with the Agents of Atlas needing to steal the X-Men's Cerebra device to help locate a kidnapped team member (and its hard to decide if the fact that we begin after the kidnapping is just Parker's clever way of beginning the story in the middle...or whether the kidnapping took place in another comic to tease readers into this mini-series). This leads to a big fight between the two teams...the Atlas guys escape -- only to have the X-Men follow and anotheer big fight ensues, until cooler heads prevail. And, um, that's about it -- two issues of fighting over, essentially, a childish misunderstanding. The end was approaching so fast, I fully expected the kidnap plot to be left unresolved but, to their credit, there is a final epilogue where the Atlas' agents do rescue their missing team member (after a blatantly kinky/S&M scene where the scantily clad lovely gets branded!)...though even then it turns out this is all part of foreshadowing Marvel's latest multi-title crossover epic Assault on New Olympus (collect 'em all, kids!).

Parker sets out to write a (relatively) light action piece, though does try to smart it up with some weird scenes-within-scenes as we suddenly cut to the original X-Men (in their old yellow and black suits) fighting the Atlas gang, where it takes a bit to figure out how it all relates (and even then seemed a bit muddled). A sequence that may've been intended as an homage to Parker's earlier, the retro series, X-Men: First Class.

The art -- principally by Carlo Pagulayan -- is quite striking and detailed, though maybe like the script, doesn't give enough close ups to the characters. Chris Samnee provides Jack Kirby-esque art for the semi-flashback sequences, and a couple of other artists contribute a few pages toward the end.

So, overall, the art is good, and Parker keeps it brisk with some cute dialogue...but the whole thing is as substantial as vapour, and as disposable as a used tissue.

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