When Dennis Hopeless launched the first ever solo Jean Grey series with artist Victor Ibáñez earlier this year, he flat out told readers where the title character was headed. The time-displaced, younger version of the Jean Grey many fans grew up with was on a collision course with the entity that most defines her adult counterpart — the cosmic symbol of death and rebirth, the Phoenix.
Come Marvel Legacy time, with the release of Nightmare Fuel, we now know that the adult Jean will be resurrected once again. What that means for the teen version, who came into her own in Brain Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men, (rightfully?) wresting control of the Original Five from squirmy Cyclops, is anyone’s guess. But it’s the journey that counts, and Hopeless has laid out one hell of an engaging tale for a character not many thought they could connect with.
The first issue is a bit of a rocky start, in more ways than one, as the girl who would be destroyer faces off with the masters of disaster themselves, the Wrecking Crew. It’s a good display of what Jean can do, but not such a great window into who she is. Ibáñez and colorist Jay David Ramos haven’t quite yet settled on the tone they want to depict through their imagery.
The art machine positively hums in the next two installments, though, as Chris Sotomayor helps out on colors and Ibáñez pulls off facial expressions and body language that almost don’t even require dialogue to communicate the story. Thankfully there is plenty of the trademark Hopeless dialogue to make one smile, although it’s less pronounced than in some of his earlier works, like Spider-Woman.
The general conceit of Jean seeking out former Phoenix hosts to aid her still tracks, too, but the whole thing hits a major speed bump in issue #4, when Thor provides no concrete assistance at all and Ibáñez and Sotomayor disappear, to be replaced by Harvey Montecillo Tolibao and Dono Sánchez-Almara, respectively. Suddenly Jean isn’t so emotive, and the lesson she learns this time turns out to just be a setup for the next issue.
Psylocke’s turn at raising Ms. Grey isn’t much better, as yet another new artist, Anthony Piper, doesn’t appear able to portray what’s in the script. Multiple word bubbles that seem to be calling for sequences of panels are all crammed into one shot, an image that often barely even hints at what’s being said. And the whole “psychic weapon” thing, while potentially making for cool visuals, still seems misguided in general. It’s a strange trend that looks to have begun with Jason Aaron’s depiction of Quentin Quire, and is probably better left with just him.
The ship gets righted in the final installment of Nightmare Fuel, when Doctor Strange helps Jean get to the bottom of who’s been nagging at her cerebral coretex for these six issues, and we begin to see how the series may eventually dovetail with Phoenix Resurrection. There are some strong emotional beats as the the kid comes to grips with hard truths about her past, and her future. The pencils by (cosmic firebirds help us) ANOTHER new artist, Paul Davidson, are a step up, as we at least get some menacing facial expressions, but his apparent attempt to ape Humberto Ramos will not be appreciated by all.
Stumbles notwithstanding, Jean Grey: Nightmare Fuel is a nuanced and compelling character study that will leave readers eager to see what happens to the troubled teen next, maybe even hoping to see her prevail over the OG in their inevitable confrontation. As Marvel
Nostalgia Legacy continues to sweep over the publishing landscape, it would be a cruel fate to see this complex character wiped out to service lapsed readers, but even if that does occur, it’s better to have loved and lost than to have adult Jean return for the umpteenth time while never having known young Jean at all.