This past September, news broke that Jean Grey–the original X-Woman–would return from the dead (again). Shocking, maybe, to some readers, but die-hard X-fans have been anticipating this event since visionary troublemaker Grant Morrison took her off the board at the conclusion of his New X-Men run in 2004. Well, Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1 is now on sale. I always knew this moment would come; I just had one request: Make it good.
I’m relieved to report writer Matthew Rosenberg didn’t let me down.
When Marvel announced that Rosenberg would be chronicling Jean’s return, I’ll be honest, I was skeptical because the writer was known for scripting the adventures of characters such as Rocket Raccoon, the Kingpin and the Punisher. Sure, Dark Phoenix was scarier than all of them combined, but I wasn’t exactly getting Jean vibes. Rosenberg successfully alleviated those concerns in this debut issue, as like myself, the man is a true Jean Grey fan–and it shows.
Right off the bat, we’re dropped into the New York town of Annandale-on-Hudson. This setting may not be the Savage Land or Chandilar, home to the alien Shi’ar, but this odd-sounding, real-life place was burned into my brain in my younger years. I’d see it in X-Men comic flashbacks, I’d see it in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the backs of trading cards–it was the birthplace of Jean Grey. As crazy as it sounds, seeing that one location made me breathe a sigh of relief, and I hadn’t even gotten past the first panel!
OK, so beyond the first panel–strange things are happening around town. Two kids on bikes stumble upon a young girl lying in the street. Blood on the ground seeps back into her injured head and she rises with black eyes, telling the pair that, “We were better off dead.” Oh, did I mention she’s speaking backwards? Because didn’t you always wonder what David Lynch’s X-Men would be like?
The kids are approached by a redhead with powers (hm…) who sends a pigeon flying into the air surrounded by embers. Before you know it, those kids are hovering above the ground with blacked out eyes of their own, along with some dead birds. This bizarre activity attracts the attention of local police and the X-Men’s Gold squad. What they learn is terrifying enough for team leader Kitty Pryde to call in original X-Man Beast and keep the wider X-Men team on a need-to-know-basis.
After identifying similar unusual energy phenomena in three locations around the world, small teams of X-Men set out in search of answers, only to find more oddities–like one of Magneto’s former Acolytes (who should be dead), along with a few other memorable, deceased mutant faces alive and well.
It’s the creepy mystery and strange occurrences at the center of this story that had me turning each page with increased anticipation. Setting up and resolving mysteries is no easy feat–just ask those angry Star Wars fans currently setting fire to their Last Jedi merchandise. But throughout this issue, Rosenberg manages to throw out one surprise after another and it never gets frustrating–just more addictive. Good thing we’re getting the rest of this five-issue miniseries in January.
And, of course, it’s no shock that this issue actually features Jean Grey–adult Jean Grey (not the teenager with the inconsistent bob cut). Those who watched the teaser video Marvel released know that Jean is alive and working as a waitress in a diner. How this version of Jean, who I’m assuming doesn’t remember her marvelous past, got there, we don’t know. But the issue’s final seven pages featured enough nods to Jean and the X-Men’s past to get me pumped for what comes next.
From an overall character perspective, I must say, it’s incredibly refreshing to see the X-Men Gold crew acting like themselves. Kitty is the confident leader she should be, focused on the mission at hand, not bumbling about while trying to figure out her feelings for Colossus. And hey, look, Storm actually talks! I guess what I’m trying to say is, can Matthew Rosenberg write X-Men Gold?
It’s also nice to see Rachel, Jean’s daughter from an alternate future, mention she used to have family in Annandale-on-Hudson–a reference to a latter-day Chris Claremont story in which Jean’s entire family was wiped out by Shi’ar Death Commandos.
While some readers may find the sinister undertones of this series a bit unsettling, they can grab onto the security blanket that is Leinil Francis Yu’s beautiful artwork. No stranger to the X-Men universe, Yu’s pencils perfectly see-saw between the story’s light and dark elements. One minute, we’re in small-town America, and the next we’re in the North Pole. Yu provides a polished and epic feel to Rosenberg’s global mystery and I just wish he was sticking around for all five issues (each will feature the work of a different artist, a la Astonishing X-Men).While I loved this first issue, I wouldn’t be much of a critic if I didn’t point out at least one flaw. That fault is more on Marvel’s side than Rosenberg and Yu’s, fortunately. Teen Jean is missing from this story and, if you read her ongoing series, you know that its final issue hasn’t been released yet. It certainly felt like the story Dennis Hopeless was telling was leading into this miniseries, so it’s disappointing to see its first issue released ahead of Jean Grey #11. Similarly, Rachel has a new costume, which I believe Marc Guggenheim will introduce–along with some new character traits–in an upcoming issue of X-Men Gold. But, alas, Kitty’s team is currently off in the Negative Zone. Again, minor nitpicks comic readers are no strangers to, but it would have been nice if Marvel had gotten their scheduling in order ahead of such an important release.
Fortunately, there was so much good contained in these 33 pages, it was hard to let little head-scratchers get me down. This is definitely not how I expected Jean to return, but the mystery has me hooked. And I managed to get through this entire review without revealing this issue’s last-page cliffhanger, which has me so SO eXcited for what could lie ahead.
Between this comic and last week’s breathtaking X-Men: Grand Design #1 by Ed Piskor, it’s possible Jean has decided to bring the X-Men franchise with her as she rises from the ashes toward new heights of greatness.