by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Does anyone remember the “flash sideways” device from LOST‘s final season? The show mined a lot of fun out of the mystery of just what the heck that other world was — a parallel universe? a new timeline? purgatory? — but I never really found the guessing all that fun, as the magical/metaphysical nature of that particular mystery meant that any and all of those things could be equally right. I tend to feel that way about most mysteries that delight in building up red herrings to look as likely as the ultimate answer (perfectly demonstrated in Clue‘s multiple endings; the culprit can only be found by the movie telling us whodunnit, not through any deductive work on our own), but it’s particularly pronounced in stories with a fantasy or sci-fi element that might defy our own experience of the world. That is, if we’re operating in a world with a magical island, is it possible to rule out even the most absurd theory? These are the thoughts running through my head as I read Phoenix Resurrection 2.
I should clarify — not enjoying guessing the ending isn’t the same as not enjoying the story. I love the holy heck out of Clue, which has far too much fun to ever really dwell on the “mystery” of who killed Mr. Boddy. We didn’t need a meaty mystery with lots of clues so long as we were having a good time.
Unfortunately, this issue seems a bit too invested in its own mysteries — which tend to feel a bit repetitive — for me to ever really be lost in the fun. Yet I’m also keenly aware that the answer lies somewhere between Phoenix Force magic, X-Men Mutant Sci-Fi, some kind of bizarre afterlife-y mythology, or some other comic book-y nonsense; not exactly the kind of answers that reward careful deduction. Honestly, any and all of those answers are satisfying enough, and I’m sure I’ll accept them when they’re finally revealed. I just wish we could skip to that part already.
Nothing in this issue is bad, per se, it just feels like such a rehash of the first issue, the “previously on…” introductory copy also serves as a decent summary of the issue itself:
Change those locations, and I wouldn’t even know the difference.
It’s classic middle chapter wheel-spinning, but it feels particularly aimless when the central mystery of what’s going on with the “young woman named Jean” can’t actually be advanced. Sure, we see that the Magneto that visits Jean somehow blips out of existence and into the X-Mansion, where he’s some kind of undead monster, before blipping back, but that’s hardly enough new development to hang a mystery on, let alone a whole issue. It’s an over-investment in a mystery that can’t ultimately matter, which leaves this issue feeling oddly hollow.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
I’m not that interested in Jean Grey’s resurrection (I’m not against resurrection, but I think when a character has been dead long enough, their death creates an interesting point of difference in the franchise. How many other franchises have had a lead character dead for over a decade, especially after Bucky and Jason Todd were resurrected? It creates all sorts of interesting drama. What does it mean for Scott to to be a widower? What does it mean for Emma that her love interest will always love his dead wife? What does it mean for Young Jean to only see her future in the way that others memorialise Jean Grey? A dead Jean Grey gives the characters dynamics that are impossible for a franchise that never had a major character dead. You can’t have a scene like Bruce Wayne taking Cassandra Cain to Jason’s grave any more, and to do the same to the X-Men seems limiting to superheroes at large), but I read this issue because I keep wanting to give Matthew Rosenberg another chance, as I feel he is about to break out with a really good book.
But this book is a bit of a disaster. Drew, you are right that this issue basically repeats the previous issue. And that’s a problem. But it also repeats the previous issue’s flaws. Like how poorly it is presenting the story points. The psychic illness has been very poorly done. I first assumed that Rachel getting a nosebleed had to do with the fact that Jean’s dystopian future daughter going to the nexus of Jean’s resurrection was creating some sort of reaction. That felt like a more obvious cause of the nosebleed than her psychic powers. Which isn’t to say that it is bad that it is because of her psychic powers, but that Rosenburg did a very poor job communicating that it was actually her powers, until exposition later explains that all psychics are out. And then there is the fact that the nosebleed feels relatively minor until, again, we are told later that it took her out of commission. No panel showing us fall to the ground or anything. We are being told a lot of stuff while being shown nothing of importance.
Also, the stakes are confused. Kitty has taken the X-Men to high alert for what appeared to be very little reason. It feels odd that Kitty is gathering every X-Men team together for a roundtable on the ‘crisis’ long before there is any sign of Phoenix related happenings, and the story feels like a run of the mill X-Men story. The book feels like everyone has read the title of the comic and therefore agreed that this requires a higher level of response than usual. It makes this book feel really inorganic. An artificial machine designed to reach the necessary conclusion of a resurrected Jean Grey instead of actually telling a story.
We can talk about whether we need Jean Grey back or not, but the last thing we need is a stale, lifeless book. And regardless of what happens with Jean Grey going forward, this should be better