You know when you try really hard to do something right and then a sadistic psychopath comes in and messes everything up? The recently resurrected Jean Grey knows this better than anyone, after her many years as a member of the X-Men, and now as a member of the new Red team. Although Jean was added back to the X-Men roster only a week ago, writer Tom Taylor isn’t giving her any time to relax before getting back to saving the mutant world in X-MEN RED #1. Taylor, Mahmud Asrar, and Ive Svorcina’s explosive first issue of the awaited series sees Jean’s failed, but inspiring, political attempts and introduces one of the X-Men’s most infamous villains.
Saving the World is Easy (If You’re Jean Grey)
A lot has changed in the world of X-Men since Jean Grey last saw it. The school moved, relationships developed, new mutants joined and others left. But, in reality, nothing has really changed for the X-Men, as Jean finds out after rescuing a mutant infant. As always, the press angrily attacks mutants and condemns even allowing them to be born. Jean, who hasn’t seen the real world thirteen years, is shocked.
Within a few pages, she does what anyone with her powers and sense of responsibility would do: she gets political. Jean isn’t new to the political scene (check out her first speech to Congress in NEW X-MEN #123) but this time she tries a new approach. Telepathically using the brains of some of the world’s brightest thinkers, she devises a plan to help save mutantkind. Her confidence in the plan builds as she gains more supporters, including Nightcrawler, Black Panther, and Namor.
Sadly, like a lot of things in Jean’s life, her confidence is short lived. A somewhat successful meeting with the UN turns sour when the British Ambassador falls dead while talking with Jean. Just before her demise, the Ambassador’s demeanor changes as she’s possessed by a mysterious being. A moment later, Nightcrawler is forced to teleport Jean to safety as the police descend on the perceived murderer.
A Brave New X-Men
X-MEN RED #1 doesn’t present a Jean we haven’t seen before. Jean’s always been a level-headed (if a little idealistic) spokesperson for the X-Men. However, what has changed is the X-Men themselves. While their problems may be the same, the X-Men have changed since the last time Jean entered the political sphere. She doesn’t have Cyclops or Professor X to lean on for support. Aside from Nightcrawler and Wolverine, she doesn’t really have anyone at the moment. Taylor isn’t trying to make a whole new character out of the resurrected Jean. Instead, he’s showing how she reacts to a world that is both different and similar to the one she left.
This first issue shows Jean trying to do what she’s done in the past to make mutant relations better. Using telepathy and working politically didn’t work in NEW X-MEN and it doesn’t seem to be working in X-MEN RED #1 either. Jean will need to get past her drive to do everything solo and learn to rely on new members of the X-Men as she once relied on Professor Xavier and Cyclops. Without the Phoenix force, she’ll definitely need the other members of her team.
While Jean is the star of this first issue, Taylor is clearly setting Nightcrawler up as an important character. Although Nightcrawler has been in the X-MEN GOLD series for twenty issues, his characterization has been minimal. But, X-MEN RED #1 seems to be rectifying that by giving Jean and Kurt an emotional heart-to-heart. The fact that Kurt is the first person Jean reaches out to about her new plan is a big deal. It shows that his status as a minor character is over and that everyone’s favorite teleporting mutant is about to get more dialogue in upcoming issues.
Mutant is a Metaphor in X-MEN RED #1
Mutants have always been a metaphor for minorities, but it’s nice to see that element of the X-Men becoming prominent again. Some recent X-Men titles such as INHUMANS VS. X-MEN (2016) and ALL-NEW X-MEN (2012) deal with issues within the X-Men themselves or with other superpowered groups. With these, it becomes easy to forget what the X-Men metaphorically stand for as minority symbols. X-MEN RED #1 brings back the idea of minority discrimination full force. Replace the word “mutant” in this issue with LGBTQ or POC and suddenly Jean’s problems become frighteningly close.
The end of the issue includes a big reveal of a villain who Grant Morrison fans might remember. Bringing back that particular antagonist within the theme of mutant discrimination is a good choice, since the best way to prove that something isn’t dangerous is to bring in a psychopathic killer mutant. Having this antagonist in the series will create some interesting questions about mutant rights and the public response to mutants. Depending on what their big plan is, Jean might need to think broader than just petitioning to the UN.
Gone With the Old
The artist, Mahmud Asrar, does a good job creating an easy to follow story within a complex issue. Occasionally his Jean looks slightly mechanical, with weirdly angular features that don’t exactly fit her character. If she was still the Phoenix, those angular expressions might work. But since this is the new non-Phoenix Jean, I’d like to see the softer, more human side of her in both dialogue and drawings. But, Asrar’s Nightcrawler shines, showing off an array of emotions during his emotional conversation with Jean.
The only real issue with the art is not the drawing but the coloring. Colorist Ive Svorcina and letterer Cory Petit choose green and yellow as Jean’s color scheme which doesn’t really fit with her new non-Phoenix and non-Marvel Girl persona. The traditional “good Phoenix” colors show up in her narration bubbles and in the X-Men themed outfit she wears to visit Namor. It also doesn’t help that Teen Jean’s uniforms were frequently green and yellow, making the two Jeans even more indiscernible. In the future, I hope Jean’s palette leans more towards her new red and blue colors instead of the colors of her past.
X-MEN RED #1 represents more than just the return of Jean Grey as a superhero. It also represents a new hope for the X-Men. Though Jean’s grandiose plan to sway political opinion didn’t work, her determination to change the world is inspiring. For a while, the X-Men have been consumed by negativity, but I think X-MEN RED will finally change that. This first issue set the framework for a series that will make the Children of the Atom a clear force for good — in a not so good world.