Though Marvel may be heavily pushing the upcoming release of Uncanny X-Men #1, X-Men Red chugs along as the lone survivor of the X-Men color teams. There’s been speculation that the series will cease after issue #11, but for now Jean Grey and her merry band of Atlantis-dwelling mutants continue their fight against intolerance and hate. At this stage in the game, however, X-Men Red is quickly running out of momentum and will need to do something drastically exciting to stave off falling into obscurity. X-Men Red #8 boasts more hysterically adorable moments from Gabby Kinney and a promising story pitting mother against daughter, but the story as a whole is just a let down with more questionable pacing and another anti-climactic showdown with the villain that postpones any real confrontation for at least another month.
X-Men Red #9 is the ninth chapter of “The Hate Machine,” yet it seems as if the story has completely stalled over the last three issues (chapters six through nine, respectively). Each issue hints at a bombastic confrontation between Cassandra Nova and Jean Grey only to end with no real battle and a promise that the X-Men are coming for Nova, in some way, shape, or form. How many times does Jean Grey need to tell Nova that she’s coming after her? How often does this X-Team need to have a group photo style closing page that shows them huddled around Jean Grey as she announces their presence to the world? These X-Men are beginning to become all talk and little action.
X-Men Red #9 feels especially disappointing because of how promising the narrative is. Jean Grey battling against her daughter, who’s being possessed by a mutant-hating psychopath. There’s so much potential in this story — the emotional trauma so much bigotry in her head has on Rachel, the heartbreak of Jean having to fight her only daughter, the rage Jean would direct at Nova for even putting the two of them in this situation — yet, the entire encounter is over in the blink of an eye with not much fanfare or lasting impression. Hell, Jean was never even actually there to confront Nova.
This is the second issue in a row where a final confrontation between Nova and Jean feels inevitable and timely, yet the ultimate battle is postponed to another issue due to some haphazard trickery from the X-Men. All excitement for this fight has dissipated because it should’ve already happened by now, and the glossed over, anti-climactic nature of Jean and Nova’s meeting in this issue only further frustrations.
Even the flow of Jean and Nova’s “battle” (if you can call it that) is interrupted by sudden cutaways to Atlantis to show an awkwardly forced romance subplot and really beat the reader over the head with thinly veiled allusions to the real world. These scenes not only disrupt any excitement or tension built by Nov and Jean, but they both feel forced and unnecessary.
The sudden romantic tension between Gentle and Trinary comes out of nowhere and is as awkward as the Kinney sisters call it out to be. This hasn’t been hinted at in previous issues nor has a subtle chemistry been seen between the two. There’s simply a sudden romantic subplot involving the two without any explanation.
Before this hellishly awkward exchange, however, is a cringe-worthy attempt at injecting contemporary politics into this narrative. Past issues have been praised for their commentary on real world issues, however this one is so blatantly obvious it is more distracting than anything else. Trinary commands the X-Men to help get rid of “demonstrably false stories” about mutants and instead spread accurate, happier information. While this has been a re-occuring theme in this series, this particular moment just felt like a poorly constructed call to action to eradicate fake news and make the internet more positive.
If there’s one shining star of this series, it’s undoubtedly Gabby “Honeybadger” Kinney. She’s an absolute scene stealer who makes even the sub-par issues of this series enjoyable. This doesn’t change in issue #9, where she continues to drop hilarious little jokes and melt hearts with her cuteness.
X-Men Red may have come out of the gates red hot (HA! Get it?), but it’s started to stumble lately, just as the opening, and possibly only, arc looks to close. X-Men Red #9 could’ve been the start of a strong finish for “The Hate Machine,” but ends up being just as forgettable and maybe even more underwhelming.