Sometimes enough is enough isn’t it? Every few years Marvel decides to subsequently kill off Jean Grey due to something having to do with the Phoenix Force and then somehow bring her back from the dead only to repeat the process over. It has basically become a running gag by this point and people are always on the fence when Marvel decides it’s time again to revive Jean; each time we’re left wondering to ourselves, will this be the one that sticks? Or are we doomed to revel in yet another typical “people don’t stay dead because comics” comic trope in which writers won’t let us have nice things? Or rather I should say nothing is really sacred? Either way that time has come that we were forced to live through yet another Phoenix Resurrection.
Now I won’t lie, the premise seemed genuinely well thought through this time. For one it was evidently well planned ever since the the reintroduction to the mutant world in Marvel’s ResurreXion event. Beginning, of course, with the very well received Jean Grey mini series where we see a time-displaced Jean work to not only prepare herself for the eventuality of being possessed by the Phoenix Force but to also find a away to avoid it. This sort of conflict is also heavily prevalent in X-Men Blue as she struggles to forge her own identity far removed from the Jean Grey that world already knows and is terrified of. A great example of this, predating the current Marvel settings, would be 2014’s crossover The Trial of Jean Grey between the All New X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy. It seemed that between all this build up towards the eventuality of Jean Grey realizing her destiny and confronting her fear of the Phoenix that she would be an extremely major part of the resurrection. Nope, and all because Marvel won’t let us have nice things.
While towards the end of the Jean Grey mini series we are witness to the mass disappearance of former Phoenix hosts, all that really was seen in the final issue of the series was a cameo of the original Jean Grey herself — of course, this was meant to crossover with the final issue of the Phoenix Resurrection, yet to call it that is a very liberal stretch of the word. Still though, the Jean Grey series will definitely stay as a great series to me in retrospect.
So what was so bad about about the Phoenix Resurrection? For one I think it’s pretty safe to say that if only the first and last issues are quality reads, then you have a problem. The premise was decent in hindsight, all of the mutants who are stars of their own respective titles team up to help Kitty Pryde investigate into why former hosts of the Phoenix have suddenly disappeared. The answer of course lies in the Jean Grey but the rest of the mutants don’t know that. Meanwhile, the X-Men are forced to deal with the challenges that the Phoenix itself is throwing at them, including horrors such as dead enemies brought back from the grave and a quite insane Magneto. While all this fun is going on, the real present day Jean Grey is very much alive and in a brainwashed state thanks to the giant cosmic fire bird itself in which she thinks she’s living an ordinary life as a well loved waitress in a small town and married to her own perfect version of Scott Summers.
Once the team finally discovers the truth about Jean, she has begun to doubt her sanity as former mutant comrades and enemies begin to invade her fantasy, including a mechanic Wolverine who seems to be the actual original and missing for a few years now Wolverine. But that is a wide topic for another day. Also included is a weirdly normal suburban Magneto. Either way, the fragile illusion that she’s living in finally decides to break apart when Old Man Logan enters the dream. By the end she remembers who she is and the Phoenix tries one last time to overpower her by using the real and less than savory, dead, Scott Summers to sway her back into its influence. She accepts who she is and realizes her time being a part of the Phoenix is over and she simply says goodbye and everyone lives happily ever after. No but really that was the ending.
Now on the surface it may seem that the story is solid enough but as I said it’s only really in the first and final issue that any sort of enjoyment is seen. The rest of the series is too little story for the length and ends up stretching out a lot of its events needlessly. Not only that but it is incredibly bland to read. The various artists managed to portray some beauty in the comic but ultimately it was largely forgettable due to its boring dialogue and overused themes such as the reanimation of the dead; honestly the Mojoworld cross over between X-Men Blue and X-Men Gold did a far better job of bringing back classic stories of the X-Men and everyone should read it, for the nostalgia. Honestly the only two moments that really stuck out in my mind from this series were Cable’s failed attempt to access Cerebro and Jean Grey’s totally bad ass new costume. Other than that this simply was a typical resurrection done over again and Marvel really needs to end the joke.
However, all hope is not lost. For out of the ashes of this mediocre book we got another color title for the X-Men universe. X-Men Red, as opposed to the resurrection managed to out do the short series in entertainment value, story line, and general love of all the characters than the former and in only one issue! The first thing that really got me excited for this series was the team itself. While Namor did make a brief appearance in Jean Grey he’s often pretty unseen and as a standard of Golden Age comics it’s only fitting that they bring him back in such a great book. Laura Kinney and Honey Badger also make an appearance, which is nice considering their recent popularity with the well loved All New Wolverine series. Fan favorite Nightcrawler also makes his way into the book even though he is also in the Gold series, but we can overlook that because hey, it’s Nightcrawler.
The premise follows the basic anti-mutant plot that we’ve seen often in X-Men comics. It starts with the team already assembled and sees their main objectives as saving undocumented mutants who don’t understand their powers from the masses of mutant hating extremists. It seems Jean wants nothing more than to help the misunderstood and those not yet able to fully control their powers, in essence she’s taking on her interpretation of Charles Xavier’s dream. Of course the public lashes out when an incident occurs and the anti mutant people just come out of the woodwork demanding genetic testing for the mutant gene in utero. In response Jean calls out to all members of various non-normal human nations and assembles a council at United Nations declaring that whether mutant kind has formed their own country or lived alone they have always been targeted. She calls for acceptance and is recognized by Wakanda and Namor of Atlantis as a member of a mutant nation. Of course, this victory is ruined by the ambassador’s head exploding in front of the UN by Cassandra Nova and all of Jean’s hard work being undone by implication.
While not the most original of plots, it kept things simple and to the point. The book didn’t bother to create an overcomplicated story with tons of promises it couldn’t fulfill and it ended with a pretty decent twist. Yet the most important part of this comic is that this is the Jean Grey we wanted to see in the Phoenix Resurrection. Granted she did have to come back in the first place, but I would have much rather seen the love and quality not only seen in X-Men Red but in all the titles across the mutant generation of comics. Sadly it just wasn’t there for Jean Grey’s return… again. Red does stand on its own for its debut issue and joins in the accolades of storytelling and I’m very excited to see what twists and turns we’ll see in the coming weeks; hopefully its success doesn’t provoke Marvel into killing Jean again, otherwise I might just have to flip a table.
All images courtesy of Marvel Comics