by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: Superhero comics are full of unstoppable forces. Darkseid, Doomsday, Thanos — these are all bulldozers that the heroes claim to be powerless against. But, time and time again, they are repelled, resisted and defeated. That’s done out of narrative necessity. For starters, we want to see our scrappy heroes overcome impossible odds. But more importantly, if our heroes are slaughtered and their homes razed, how can the story continue? Writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Alberto Alburquerque plow headlong into their series conclusion by giving their own nuclear option a W.
But they do a really nice job of letting the reader believe that our heroes can make a successful last stand. The first couple pages even provide a failed first encounter before Pickles BAMFs them away. This is a common storytelling technique — reminding the readers just how big a threat it is that our heroes are facing. Hopeless does not allow for any amount of downtime in this issue, and Jean and company are only able to retreat to Scott Summers’ failed mutant school bunker for two pages before the might of the Phoenix is on them yet again. But from there, everything else is in place for Jean to overcome adversity. Hope Summers gives her a special spear to focus her psychic attacks, and Alburquerque even dares to give us hope in the weapon’s efficacy.
Like, that looks like a pretty clean shot, right? She’s armed with a weapon, supported by her friends, encouraged by her ghost mentor, and even manages to summon some kind of inner strength reserve. It’s cool, fist-pumping stuff — psy-armored up and lassoing the fucking Phoenix is probably the dopest thing I’ve ever seen this character do. Even the Ghost of Old Jean Grey teases the readers “Look how strong she is already. Way stronger than I was at her age.” Everything, from classic mythic structure to characters in this book, sets us up to believe the impossible. But then the Phoenix burns Jean Grey alive. She loses.
Alburquerque checks in on the other members of Jean’s team, all passed out and/or dying in the wake of the Phoenix’s wrath. The only being left standing is the Ghost of Old Jean Grey, and even she drops to her knees in defeat. It’s a crushing blow that defies expectations by delivering exactly what the series always said it was going to. The Phoenix came for Jean Grey. And it killed her.
(Oh, and I know this is comics and even a singed skeleton isn’t a guarantee that someone is really dead (or really dead forever). Everything is reversible, but in this moment, man, it’s an impressive melancholy that Hopeless and Alburquerque achieve in this issue.)
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?