Jean Grey and the Phoenix return…ed over a decade ago.
In anticipation of the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix film as well as Jean Grey’s resurrection from the dead, Marvel is launching a slew of variant covers and reprinting old series starring the character. One such reprint collection is X-Men: Phoenix — Endsong, collecting the entire 2005 mini-series of the same name. The mini-series revolves around the threat of the Dark Phoenix and…the resurrection of Jean Grey. Again. As we all know, a great creative team can make even familiar premises into fantastic stories, but is that the case here?
I enjoyed the first half of this collection, flaws and all. Greg Pak is the writer, and he lives up to his reputation of always trying to incorporate characters’ emotions in a meaningful way. It’s not surprising, then, that the volume’s greatest strength is its character drama. Specifically, Cyclops steals the show. His honesty and struggle in coping with the memory (and return of) his dead wife is touching, as his bonds with both Jean and Emma are acknowledged without Pak “taking a side” or favoring one relationship over the other. It’s a nice handling of the reality that many people have multiple significant loves across their lifetime.
Art-wise, Greg Land is on pencils, Matt Ryan provides the inks, and Justin Ponsor serves as colorist. When the visuals work here, they really work. When at its best, this art team renders characters with a sort of beautiful realism that is very impressive. Some of the faces in particular are exquisite, especially where Wolverine and Beast are concerned. The backgrounds are also frequently gorgeous, especially when natural phenomena are being depicted.
With all that said…there’s a lot wrong here. The further I got into the series’ storyline, the more it seemed to fall apart. The air of mystery in the opening chapters is nice, but the actual resolution feels forced and illogical, even by X-Men standards. There are multiple plot events that feel highly questionable, and they happen in such quick succession that it becomes difficult to keep caring and analyzing deeply. Such events include the Phoenix Force getting trapped in a super-science box (if Beast can just contain the Phoenix that easily, then how threatening is it?), the Phoenix healing itself with Cyclops’ optic blasts (again, how threatening is the Phoenix Force if such comparatively weak energy can have a major effect on it?), and literally every plot point involving Quentin Quire. The volume’s worst narrative offense is its ending, in which the X-Men help Jean regain control over the Phoenix by sending positive vibes her way. There’s a ‘thoughts and prayers’ joke to be made there, but this story hardly feels worth the effort.
Perhaps more unnerving than the questionable plot decisions, however, are the artwork’s downsides. Land is an artist who is well-known for tracing, and, well…let’s just say that Jean, Emma, and the Phoenix look unnecessarily sexual on several occasions. Sometimes it’s a matter of facial expressions not matching dialogue or plot context, and other times…well, all the navels are distracting. Female characters whose stomachs are fully covered by their costumes frequently get drawn as if said costumes were just body paint. Between the writing making it seem like a pushover and the artwork making it seem like a pin-up I would be embarrassed to look at in public, virtually nothing about the Phoenix feels well-handled here. Facial rendering issues affect other characters as well, as Cyclops seems to be multiple different men sharing the same costume but splitting page-time.
X-Men: Phoenix — Endsong is one of those series where its best moments are far and above the numerical rating I’m giving it, but the negative aspects just make a “good” rating impossible without being dishonest. The first half or so shows a lot of potential, but the longer the story goes on the less it feels like a coherent narrative and more like a jumbled mess. Add an overabundance of uncomfortably sexy-fied cosmic forces into the mix and the overall quality just plummets. This volume contains examples of its creative team’s great talents, but the bad outweighs the good too heavily for me to recommend this volume to anyone who isn’t a diehard Jean Grey completionist.