You see the newly resurrected Jean Grey on Travis Charest’s cover of X-Men Red #1 and this is a no-brainer, right? “Red” because Jean’s a redhead. If you thought that, well, you definitely need to give Marvel a little more credit. On page one of this debut issue, you realize this series is titled X-Men Red because the Marvel Universe–particularly its mutant side–is in a full state of emergency.
Fitting, isn’t it? We’re living in a time where the president of the United States is openly at war with the FBI, white supremacists aren’t afraid to practice hate in public and ballistic missile alerts shatter the calm of paradise. Terror and paranoia have been normalized and Jean Grey isn’t coming to save us.
More so than any other recent X-Men launch, X-Men Red, written by Tom Taylor with art by Mahmud A. Asrar, feels very grounded in the real world, which is ironic considering the team lives in an underwater base and is led by a character famous for alternating between life and death. But there’s just a certain maturity present in this comic that can’t be found in the more fantastical X-Men Blue and nostalgia-driven X-Men Gold. This looks to be an X-Men book very much focused on the “hate and fear” aspects of the franchise.And Jean’s approach to the modern world, which is so much worse than she remembers it being, is quite rational. She’s not wasting time playing baseball with the rest of the X-Men or battling the latest incarnation of the Brotherhood–Jean’s borrowing thoughts from the greatest minds on the planet and speaking at the United Nations.
It’s this concept of tackling seemingly never-ending problems without fear that makes me think Mark Waid’s current Champions run. Jean, like that series’ young legacy heroes, wants to heal the world… if it doesn’t kill her first… again.
Something I couldn’t help but think about while reading this comic was how Jean, like her late husband Cyclops, wants to make the world a better place for mutants. What was interesting to see is how different Jean’s approach is to the types of tactics Scott Summers employed in the latter years of his life. (It’s a shame he’s not around to serve as a foil for Jean… wink wink, Marvel).
Still, it is nice to see Jean so confident without Scott, Wolverine, Professor X and, of course, the Phoenix. This is 100 percent adult Jean Grey and I look forward to seeing her become the strong X-woman we all know she can be. Although, she does come across as a little too perfect so soon after being resurrected. I would very much like to see Taylor follow up on some of what Phoenix Resurrection writer Matthew Rosenberg established in the final pages of his miniseries. Jean rejected the Phoenix so she could experience the ups and downs of being a flawed human. Props for keeping busy, Jean, but your husband just died in your arms. It’s OK to be a little down.
So far, though, Taylor does a nice job giving Jean, Nightcrawler, Namor and the rest of the cast the voices we all know and love. This first issue definitely follows the decompressed storytelling method to a degree, as there are members of the team we don’t meet right away. With that said, this is still a dense comic, packed with big ideas and nice character moments. The members of this X-Men team will clearly be wearing their hearts on their sleeves.And speaking of sleeves, Asrar’s colorful art definitely starts this series on a strong note. While I may not be a fan of Jean’s ’90s-throwback costume (I never understood that original blue and gold getup), Asrar makes it a lot more digestible during action scenes. In addition, the artist’s expressive pencils are perfect for rendering Jean, whose warmth shines through in these pages (no Phoenix flames necessary).
If there’s a downside here, it’s that X-Men Red will feature some of the franchise’s more obscure mutants. I’ll admit, I’ve never read an issue of Taylor’s All-New Wolverine, so I’m not totally familiar with Honey Badger or Laura’s recent adventures. I do have access to the internet, of course, so I wasn’t completely lost. But casual X-fans looking for big-name heroes may need to look elsewhere or, at the very least, be patient.
Finally, for all the new on display in this comic, I was a bit disappointed to see X-Men Red #1 follow a similar formula to that used in Astonishing X-Men #1–the end-of-issue major villain reveal. You know something like this is coming, and in Red’s case, you may feel like you’ve seen this twist before.
Overall, though, X-Men Red does an excellent job of establishing its purpose right off the bat–something not every X-book has historically managed to do. If Marvel can keep this series from crossing over with other series, or getting derailed by major events, the publisher may just have a chance of telling some significant modern X-Men stories and, perhaps, encourage some real-world healing in the process.