Jean Grey is talking to someone, explaining that she was the Phoenix, and died, and came back. She’s not willing to accept the hate-filled world she’s awoken to. She thinks back to the day she returned, and how overwhelming it was to meet her X-Men friends once more.
Seeking to make connections with the two men she loved most, she seeks out Laura, clone ‘daughter’ of Logan, and Rachel, her daughter with Cyclops in an alternate timeline. Both meetings present their challenges. Even for someone who’s seen, who’s lived, as much lunatic drama as Jean Grey, relating to your almost-daughter is a scary prospect. But their telepathy, and a little trust, presents a way forward.
As for Laura, the current Wolverine is naturally defensive.
But there’s an icebreaker in the form of Laura’s sister Gabby, the young mutant who goes by Honey Badger.
The meeting is cut short when Jean senses the presence nearby of Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans and the man most responsible for the death of Scott Summers. She doesn’t know what she’ll say to him, but she has no intention of fighting. Black Bolt, though, assuming she’s here for his head, strikes first. His mistake.
As for what happens next, it’s a satisfying step forward in the troubled relationship between mutants and Inhumans, courtesy of writer Tom Taylor, and a nice capper to an Annual that’s loaded with enticing character moments arising from Jean’s long and complicated comics history. It’s the story we needed in between the Phoenix Resurrection mini-series and the first issue of X-Men Red, showing Jean revisiting old friendships and forging new ones. I love that Jean, while puzzled by the changed world, isn’t thrown by it; she puts herself out there, asking the questions that might solicit the answers the world needs. While the line about the Phoenix Force holding her back is likely hyperbole, there’s no denying she’s one of the most powerful people on the planet, and not easy fodder for Black Bolt’s vocal explosions.
And thinking on, her psychic multi-tasking here does rather recall those days immediately prior to the manifestation of Dark Phoenix, as she showed Scott just how far her powers had grown. Jean should be this impressive.
There’s some business with Gabby that’s adorable, an apparently throwaway character named Chad for whom Taylor may have plans, and a killer epilogue.
Pascal Alixe is an interesting artist - his work rarely looks the same from series to series. Maybe it’s a question of inkers, or colourist, or altering his approach according to the project. Whatever the reason, Ka-Zar doesn’t look like Captain America doesn’t look like Eternals certainly doesn’t look like X-Men Red Annual. Alixe works really hard to give us a Marvel Universe with a tinge of naturalism, and at times it works really well - a hot dog scene, the physical characterisation of Gabby, the climactic moment of the Black Bolt encounter... my only problem is his depiction of Jean. For much of the time she’s recognisable as a version of the Marvel Girl who debuted in the Silver Age - a pretty, open-faced redhead. But the panel to panel consistency isn’t there, which is odd as I suspect he’s using a model; more than once she looks like a crone in a soaking-wet ginger wig, and the painted-on nature of her outfit is just unpleasant. Yet I appreciate that Alixe isn’t coasting with safe compositions, he’s trying something new. And if Old Man Logan and Jean suddenly look like amputees, well, we probably won’t be seeing that again.
Colour artist Chris Sotomayor does his usual bang-up job, especially when it comes to facial modelling, while Cory Petit’s letters are as sharp as ever.
I’m not keen on Travis Charest’s cover. It’s not badly executed, but it implies a story that isn’t here, and presents mutant-next-door Jean as an evil brunette.
All in all, this is a pretty decent book, making me feel I know Jean a little better and incorporating a lot of entertaining moments. If you’re an X-Men fan. I recommend it.
X-Men Red Annual #1 review, Thom Taylor, Pascal Alixe, Chris Sotomayor, Cory Petit, Marvel, Jean Grey