Young Jean Grey and Young Scott Summers take sanctuary with Cyclops and his team, but when "Future Jean Grey" shows up and tries to beat up her younger self, it's no surprise that it's Emma Frost that wants to go ten rounds. Everything is not nearly as confusing as it sounds, but it's at least as much fun in Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo's "Uncanny X-Men" #12 -- part four of "Battle Of The Atom."
"Uncanny X-Men" #12 is a book hugely aware of itself. It throws down a gauntlet to a battle most would like to see (Emma Frost vs. Jean Grey) and then makes it clear how much readers want to see it. Bendis also uses the newer X-Men as a lens through which to view the complicated loves and lives of the more seasoned X-Men. It's a brilliant and (in most cases) funny device through which to access the more serious and layered history of these characters.
As with most Bendis books, he does sometimes sacrifice well-established character voice to go for the joke. Reader mileage may vary as to how much that takes one out of a given story. For me, a story like this needs as much levity as it can muster; especially considering the story involves past, present and future versions of characters crashing into one another, a whole lot of debate on the "end of the world" ramifications and enough meta that it has characters commenting on the situation within the actual story. In short, I found the jokes a welcome and enjoyable aspect, even if they didn't always fit perfectly for a character.
Bachalo's art is slightly restrained here from his usual looser kinetic approach, perhaps just because there are so many characters to get on the page that he didn't have time for the usual creative shenanigans. As expected however, his cartooning is sublime and his layouts are stunning, even in an issue that is almost nothing but talking heads and posturing. He does particularly fantastic work with a quiet scene -- where he places each character and their body language says so much.
Unfortunately, Bachalo's work on some of the older characters -- most notably "Future Kitty Pryde" -- is a bit problematic. Under Bachalo's pen, future Kitty -- who looks decidedly older in other installments of this storyline -- looks just like regular Kitty with a haircut. Her complexion is as smooth as 15-year-old Jean Grey's and it exposes a small weakness in Bachalo's skills. However, it's a small nit to pick on an otherwise gorgeous book as Bachalo, and his army of inkers (Tim Townsend, Mark Irwin, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, and Al Vey) as well as colorist Marte Gracia deliver very consistent and beautiful work overall. They make even the most staid of scripts a delight to read once illustrated.
There's no doubt that there's a self-congratulatory meta-ness to this book, but it's all too fun to care whether it's annoying or not. Seeing past, present and future versions of characters I love stacked on top of one another, agreeing and disagreeing -- not to mention fighting it out -- is just too damn fun to complain. So far, "Battle of the Atom" is not going to win any prizes for being "the most important comic series" or "the unforgettable comic series," but it may win prizes for the crossover that makes readers shake their head and smile the most -- and that's something.