'X-Men: Red' puts Jean Grey at the center of an exciting new Marvel vision

‘X-Men: Red’ puts Jean Grey at the center of an exciting new Marvel vision

By Don Alsafi. When Marvel first announced their current “Marvel Legacy” initiative, they described it as a return to their roots, with a new focus on bringing several of their icon characters, some of whom had been off the table for the last several years, back into the fold.

But credit where credit’s due: By and large, none of the replacement characters – including Jane Foster (Thor), Amadeus Cho (Hulk), Laura Kinney (Wolverine) and Sam Wilson (Captain America) – were straight white males, and thus a significant portion of their readership could finally see themselves reflected in their A-list comic book heroes for the first time.

While all that’s commendable – and make no mistake, it very much is, and long overdue – Marvel did so by removing those original icons from their landscape. Lowering sales eventually made this mistake evident; Marvel have since been actively returning several of these classic characters to prominence in recent months (while claiming that the newer versions won’t be summarily shuffled off the field). The most high-profile of these was the return of the original Wolverine in the Marvel Legacy one-shot, as well as the upcoming return of Bruce Banner next month.

Jean Grey, on the other hand, is a character that fans maybe weren’t expecting to see return in the same way. After all, while she was a founding member of the X-Men (back in 1963), she’s never headlined a decades-spanning comic book the same way the Hulk or Wolverine had. Yet this past month saw the weekly five-issue miniseries Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, bringing back the character for the first time since 2005.

And what’s Jean Grey to do when she’s back in the world after so long away? Lead herself a brand-new team of X-Men, of course. Spoilers ahead!

X-Men: Red #1X-Men: Red #1

Written by Tom Taylor.

Art by Mahmud Asrar.

Colors by Ive Svorcina.

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.

Back among the living. With a character whose most famous story involved the concept of the phoenix, it was always going to be a matter of time till she rose from the ashes again. What’s most surprising, in fact, is just how long it took!

The X-Men first became a real sales juggernaut during the Chris Claremont/John Byrne collaboration of the late ’70s, which culminated in the pair’s last major storyline together in 1980’s “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, the climax of which saw Jean sacrifice herself for the greater good. Marvel brought the character back from the dead six years later, and she remained an iconic part of the X-Men for the next two decades. (Note that one generation of fans grew up seeing her on the 1990s animated series, while yet another came to know her through Famke Janssen’s portrayal in the X-Men films.)

But at the end of Grant Morrison’s three-year New X-Men run in the early 2000s, Jean died once again. Let’s be honest: When that happened, nobody was really too shocked, and nobody really expected it to stick. Death has always been a bit of a revolving door in comics — and once again, Phoenix. It was just a matter of time, we figured, till she’d be alive and kicking once more.

Given that her first “death” had lasted from 1980 to 1986, fans maybe didn’t expect her second absence to span some fourteen years!

Interior page from ‘X-Men: Red’ #1. Art by Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina, Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

A languid start, but a solid finish. And yet for being one of the more high-profile launches Marvel has had in the past year, X-Men: Red #1 gets off to an oddly slow start. The comic features 30 pages of story instead of the typical 20, which is often a good idea when trying to pack in everything needed for a coherent debut issue. But the first 7 pages show Jean and her team rescuing a young mutant girl from a mob of murderous bigots (including, in an awful twist, her mother), while the next 8 pages show them rescuing a mutant baby. Either scene works fine on its own, but having two such similar scenarios back to back is a somewhat bizarre narrative choice. Halfway through the comic, the reader could be forgiven for wondering: Is this all there is?

Fortunately, the latter half proves far stronger then the first. Having been away from the world for so long, Jean is distressed to find just how divided humanity has become during her absence – and she resolves to do something about it. To that end, she gathers to her a couple of X-Men (like Nightcrawler and Laura Kinney), makes political allies with a couple bonafide kings (Black Panther and Namor)… and then goes before Congress to argue that mutants should collectively be recognized as belonging to their own nation, with their own rights and protections accorded to them. Wow!

Comics fans are used to first issues ending in a major plot twist, often with the return of a long-unseen villain. (And this comic has that too.) It’s far rarer to see a new comic deliver a change or revelation that’s not based not on plot, but on ideology.

Interior page from 'X-Men: Red' #1. Art by Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina, Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘X-Men: Red’ #1. Art by Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina, Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Introspection in pictures and words. Writer Tom Taylor has been quietly gaining fans over the last several years, writing Injustice for DC and All-New Wolverine (the Laura Kinney one) for Marvel. Mahmud Asrar has similarly seen his star ascending, starting with the Jay Faerber series Dynamo 5 for Image and most recently illustrating All-New, All-Different Avengers and Totally Awesome Hulk.

Aside from the issues with the odd initial pacing, Taylor seems invested on wanting to get into this telepath’s head, figuring out what’s important to her – and, as she endeavors to re-acclimate to the world, how she wants to put that into action. Asrar’s sense of sequential storytelling is superb, his staging is impeccable, and his heroes convey both power and vulnerability. (Although fan reaction is divided on Jean’s new costume, with its self-consciously ’90s-inspired plate armor and bulky shoulder pads.)

Interior page from 'X-Men: Red' #1. Art by Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina, Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘X-Men: Red’ #1. Art by Mahmud Asrar, Ive Svorcina, Cory Petit/Marvel Comics

Think global, act global. Today’s world is vastly different than that which Jean left, so it makes sense that her approach would be an international one. Though we don’t get to meet much of her team in this first issue, the other members include Nightcrawler (German), Namor (Atlantean), Gentle (Wakandan) and new character Trinary (India). Funny enough, this also extends to the creative team – as Tom Taylor is Australian, and Mahmud Asrar is a Pakistani/Austrian artist who hails from Turkey.

Of course, given the overabundance of way-too-many comic titles being put out, it’s questionable as to whether or not readers need another X-book in the first place. (At the very least, it could have used a better title, as X-Men: Red now joins X-Men: Gold and X-Men: Blue in Marvel’s apparent crayon-box naming scheme.)

But, readers’ budgetary concerns aside, new titles always find a warmer reception when they stake a bold claim to their own unique identity, with a clear and stated purpose – and Jean Grey’s is nothing less than changing the world. You can’t really argue with that.

7.5 out of 10