Scaling Back in X-Men Red 2

by Patrick Ehlers

This article containers SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk.

Last time we wrote about X-Men Red, Spencer and Ryan saw the series as somewhat foundational — asserting the attributes that makes an X-Men comic and X-Men comic. That means both the soapy sci-fi details of the characters’ pasts and the political commentary were turned up to 10. The scale for both was just huge — I mean, Jean addresses the United Nations and was framed for murdering the UK ambassador for crying out loud. X-Men Red 2 continues to engage in the same kind of character- and political-work, while scaling back to considerably more personal levels, and the result is almost intimate. Writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar have such a strong handle on these characters’ voices, the moments don’t need to be huge to make them impactful.

And, y’know, for as much as I like the high-level intrigue of clearing Jean Grey’s name, I love grounding these characters with some political exile in Wakanda. The global political angle doesn’t disappear from this issue, but it is brought back down to more manageable level. Instead of seeing the goings-on of ambassadors and world leaders, we’re seeing pundits argue on TV, and crowds of protestors with torches that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Unite the Right-ers in Charlottesville.

The slightly staggered vertical alignment of these panels emphasizes the sense of unrest already apparent in this scene. The world is an angry, messy place, and it’s good that our heroes are able to remove themselves from it to gather themselves.

Taylor’s secret weapon in all of this is Gabby, the Honey Badger. Sure, Jean Grey is the star of the show, but she’s almost too powerful and too self-assured to really relate to. She never goes into fully into unrelatable-mode, but I’m not totally sure I understand how. Asrar does manage to capture Jean’s humanity in just about every panel, and she’s always dressed in more ordinary clothes than her team mates. (While everyone else is dressed in tactical gear, Jean sports a yellow hoody.) And her interactions with Gabby go a long way towards grounding her as well. Look, we all love Gabby: she’s fun, she’s cute, she’s inquisitive, she likes being an X-man in a way that’s super dorky and/or obsessive. So when Gabby asks if she can poke someone in a telepathic stupor and Jean sorta shrugs?

Charming as hell.

This is just what I needed to get into this series. Operatic drama is great and all, but I appreciate the reminder that we’re dealing with characters and concepts that I actually like and relate to.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “Scaling Back in X-Men Red 2

  1. I think you are overstating how the political element has been toned down. It isn’t just Talkign Heads on TV. The X-Men essentially break out a political prisoner (what ever crime she mentioned doesn’t matter, considering how they breaking proper process to treat her). We aren’t supposed to view Trinary’s release as just another day in the X_Men’s life, we are supposed to view what such an attack on India is to Jean Grey’s greater political ambitions. Which is a big reason why I love it, this sense of a reactive setting, where Jean Grey’s actions will actually influence different factions and we will see a world that will respond.
    This book feels like instead of Jean Grey being the lead character, the lead is the movement itself (which is why Gabby is so important as a human counterpoint. A faction is, by definition, not human). And I love this idea of an X-Men book about a movement. I mean, X-Men of all franchises should be about Social Justice Warriors, and that’s the thing about Social Justice Movements. THey aren’t about one man, they are about everyone, working together. THey are about a collective, coming together to do a greater thing, and the right lead is therefore the collective as a whole (hey everyone, watch Ava DuVernay’s Selma, that handles this perfectly. And great timing, with Wrinkle in TIme being released)

    Also, the clothing in this book is so frequently perfect. I love how the yellows of Jean’s tops so often feel reminiscent of the yellows of her costumes. Or how the shirt she wears in Wakanda has the dynamic lines of a superhero costume while being very much not that. Really shows a Jean with her feet in both worlds.

    Also, I’m a bit sad they seemed to change Nehzo from getting seizures to just getting pain. Though nice to see they are keeping that element (even if I had to chuckle at Jean explaining his powers to a questioning Laura. Jean died before Nehzo was created, while Laura actually shared a book with Nehzo. I think she even explained to others Nehzo’s condition). I’ll be interested to see where they go with Nehzo, because there was a lot of very interesting stuff around disability with respect to him in New X-Men that I hope they keep

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