X-Men: Red #1
Written by Tom Taylor
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The Phoenix is gone, but the adult Jean Grey has returned - and she has brought hope back in her wake.
Writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar recasts the X-Men’s resident resurrectionist in a brand-new role in X-Men: Red, not as a symbol, not as a love interest, not as a target, but as a mutant leader in her own right. And in a lot of ways, Taylor and Asrar provide a wonderful antidote to the doldrums the Children of the Atom have found themselves in lately - there’s a compassion, a warmth, and a clear purpose to Jean Grey’s mission that you can’t help but want to follow.
Call me a traditionalist, but whenever the X-Men seem to veer away from their central mission - about the peaceful coexistence of man and mutant - the franchise winds up getting stuck in its own idiosyncrasies. And while jaunts into space and time have led to fun wrinkles like the Shi’ar or the Age of Apocalypse, let’s be clear - those are detours to the X-Men’s central themes of diversity and inclusiveness. So it’s refreshing to see Taylor tackle these ideas head-on, with perhaps an unlikely lead - Jean Grey. For so many years, she’s been framed as either Scott Summers’ love interest or a WMD-in-waiting, but Taylor takes a new angle on the character: Jean not just as a telepath, but as a thinker. She’s had a second chance on life, but the world has only gotten darker since she last walked among the living - and thanks to her innate mutant abilities, Jean’s able to bring together ideas, countries, and teammates in a way that feels ambitious and inspiring.
And while it’s still early in the proceedings, Taylor’s characterization for the rest of the team that signals a lot of potential for this book. For now, we only get to see a handful of Jean’s X-Men, but Wolverine and Honey Badger are a welcome continuation from Taylor’s own All-New Wolverine, bringing edge and a sense of humor to the proceedings, and Namor’s cameo is short but sweet - or at least as sweet as the prickly King of Atlantis can get. But to me, it’s Taylor’s handle on Nightcrawler that makes me feel like there’s really something to this - he’s not brooding over the loss of his soul or preaching as a pious man of god. Instead, Taylor hits that sweet spot, as Kurt is rightly recognized as the soul of the X-Men, someone who would be the perfect confidant for Jean as she hatches an idea that could change the world.
Mahmud Asrar, meanwhile, acquits himself nicely with this issue - he’s not the flashiest artist in the biz, and occasionally his rendering of Jean can look angular to the point of being severe, but there’s a clarity to his style that’s accessible and easy to follow. In particular, Asrar’s take on Wolverine and Honey Badger is really strong, with Laura having a lot of Logan’s hard-edged smirk but still her own inimitable style. Asrar does solid work with Laura and Gabby’s initial action scene, as they have to disarm a baby with a sonic scream - seeing Laura’s hand get sheared to the bone is a nice beat - but to me, Asrar really excels the most with the more emotional scenes, such as Jean and Nightcrawler discussing their plans for the future. It’s a heartfelt moment, colored ably by Ive Svorcina, and one that does an excellent job at convincing readers why the X-Men cared so much about Jean in the first place.
While not perhaps not as mind-blowing or esoteric as New X-Men or All-Star Superman, you can’t help but see Tom Taylor following in the footsteps of Grant Morrison in X-Men: Red. There’s a sense of hope at the heart of this work, the belief that new ideas and new ways of doing can bring salvation and peace. The X-Men have always been about evolution, about coexistence, but I think in the face of ever-expanding events, dodgy team additions, and a true identity crisis in the face of Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and other books, it’d be easy to believe that the Children of Atom have lost their way. But thankfully, Jean Grey is back — not as a phoenix, but as a guiding light. And I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
X-Men: Red #1 goes on sale February 7.