by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
“I was the Phoenix. I burned so brightly. Then I was dead. And everything was dark.”
Jean Grey, X-Men Red (2018) Annual #1
Writer Tom Taylor starts this issue with the narration above, quickly summarizing the tragic arc of Jean Grey. It was a violent life, and the bullet points of her story are mostly bummers. Over Scott Summer’s grave, Jean promises that this time is going to be different, and this annual is all about what that might look like. Taylor and artist Pascal Alixe offer an issue full of love, understanding, and difficult conversations. Jean’s still here to win, but it’s not war she’s waging. It’s peace.
The main thrust of this issue is Jean touching base with important people in the lives of the men she loved. Rachel Grey is a living connection to Scott, Laura is a living connection to Logan (her Logan). Jean meets them separately, and each of those scenes are played for tenderness — conflict free, except for Laura’s insistence that Jean not read her mind. There’s no looming threat of violence in these scenes, just a loving connection and the feeling that the characters need to find a way to make their relationships work. That same idea is tested when Jean visits Black Bolt, whose terrigen mists killed Cyclops.
Perfect set up for a rematch of Inhumans vs. X-Men, right? It would be, if only Taylor and Alixe hadn’t already given us Jean Grey’s new template for confrontation. While visiting the Institute in Central Park, Jean and Nightcrawler are assaulted by some bigot with a hotdog.
Taylor uses the language we are currently using with the re-emergence of white supremacy and white nationalism in the US. “Something hateful had been growing […] and emboldened more hatred around it.” Taylor doesn’t dwell on what that “something hateful” is but the implication with our Blue-Shirted Hotdog-Hurler is that he’s learned it from his parents.
But it’s in how Jean reacts to the BSHH that we’re supposed to see her heroism. She starts to get mad, but calms herself down before taking any action. Ultimately, she uses her powers to get BSHH to examine both the source of his beliefs and the toll his own hatred is taking on him. By the way, in illuminating that toll, Jean describes the life of an alt-right troll — the kind of dickbag who spends their time doxing feminist authors or driving Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram. This dude is the enemy: a villain. And Jean uses her power to help him.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that her confrontation with Black Bolt is more peaceful that the initial encounter would suggest. Jean is done throwing punches, instead offering an open hand.
Too many of our comic book heroes use violent methods to achieve peace, but the new Jean seems to be committed to peace all the way down.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
As much as I love X-Men Red, I think it fails as a Jean Grey book. For a series whose big selling point was that Jean returned, it is more of an idea book than a character book. You could swap out any of the characters with ease because the exact character who chooses this path is unimportant.ANy leader in the X-Men could do it. Xavier, Cyclops. Hell, want a really interesting character? Magneto.
So I was looking forward to seeing this issue try and dig into Jean and give us something that only Jean could do. I was a little disappointed. Felt like it went through the motions. Alaundry list of things Jean has to react to, but no actual meaningful confrontation. NOthing that feels defining, or have a massive impact on her going forward. It is telling that the only part that actually feeds into the overall story is Rachel getting mind controlled. Where Jean wasn’t present.
As much as I love X-Men Red, I think there is a real problem that there actually isn’t a rela justification for Jean to be returned. All that’s happening is she is being used as a lead in a (great) book that doesn’t really need her. And I think this issue kind of demonstrated the problem with that.