After finishing Matthew Rosenberg’s fantastic Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey mini-series, there were so many reunions I couldn’t wait to see. I was disappointed, however, to learn that X-Men Red #1 was jumping ahead in time, completely skipping the moments directly following Jean’s return at the end of Phoenix Resurrection #5. So much wasted story potential, I thought!
Well, I thought wrong. You see, X-Men Red writer Tom Taylor was saving all those juicy moments for this series’ first annual, which is on stands today! And, if you’ve been dying to learn how Jean arrived at her current outlook on her latest chance at life, then you won’t be disappointed by X-Men Red Annual #1 by Taylor and artist Pascal Alixie.
Taylor chooses to have Jean, circa X-Men Red #1, recount the moments that followed her resurrection, which allows for a seamless transition between Rosenberg’s Jean and Taylor’s. The emboldened Jean we see every month in Red is not the same Jean who emerged from the Phoenix’s egg in New Mexico, and we understand why by the end of this annual.
Through her friends and their memories, Jean learns of all she missed, such as the many battles between heroes who should have been on the same side across the Marvel Universe. Seriously, there were so many hero vs. hero events. TWO Civil Wars? Sorry, Marvel, but Jean is totally judging you.
Fans of the Jean-Cyclops-Wolverine love triangle will be pleased to know the bulk of this issue is devoted to Jean’s interactions with those directly linked to the two men she loved (though there’s also a brief but great scene where Jean officially meets Old Man Logan–it doesn’t go the way Logan expected). The focus here is on Jean conversing with Scott and Logan’s daughters (you know the ones), as well as a confrontation of sorts with the man who was responsible for the death of Jean’s husband: Black Bolt. All three scenes are wonderfully written, and Taylor makes very creative use of Jean’s telepathy. As bigotry and Cassandra Nova’s weaponization of it is at the core of X-Men Red, we of course get to see Jean’s first run in with modern, anti-mutant hysteria in the X-Men’s new Central Park home. Not only does this scene showcase Nightcrawler’s timeless charm in the face of discrimination, but it reminds readers of how Jean differs from her late husband, who adopted a far more militant approach to dealing with threats to the mutant race toward the end of his life.
I have to tell you, though, I couldn’t not think of those #Comicsgate trolls as Jean dismantled bigot Chad Townsend’s hate speech. If you’re just as fed up with these jokers’ online antics as I am, you’ll be wishing Jean could teach them the same lesson she teaches hot dog-slinging Chad.
Ultimately, what I most enjoyed about this annual is how much time we get to spend with this all-new, all-different Jean. As X-Men Red is a team book, she has to share the stage with the likes of Nightcrawler, Namor and the scene-stealing Honey Badger. Historically, the Phoenix has allowed Jean to cut loose and test the limits of her powers. But in these pages, Taylor shows readers that the Phoenix was actually a hindrance–now, Jean can truly cut loose, unafraid of losing control to a cosmic entity with a habit for snacking on stars.
Due to film and television’s handling of Jean through the years, there are still people out there who think Jean’s boring. I’m not sure how anyone can finish this comic and not think Jean’s among the X-Men’s biggest badasses… bub.
This story’s something special for sure, and the annual’s artwork, by Alixie, only enhances the experience. The artist’s pencils exist someplace between realism and dreamlike paintings thanks to Chris Sotomayor’s lush colors. It’s certainly fitting–while one of my deceased loved ones has never been resurrected, I would assume the experience would feel a bit like a living dream. OK, I’m getting a bit trippy; my point is… the art’s great!
While Marvel annuals have traditionally not been required reading, this comic does indeed plant seeds for future X-Men Red issues, making it essential. Personally, as a Jean Grey fan who at times never thought the original version of the character would return, it’s been so rewarding to see her receiving the strong writing she deserves. If you’ve yet to dig into X-Men Red, start here and get to know the X-woman determined to save the Marvel Universe.