Giant Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman and Russell Dauterman
Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
"Dawn of X" being a wave of team books highlighted how the new state of play allowed classic character dynamics like Scott and Logan being on the same team to stand alongside new ones such as Betsy taking on the Captain Britain mantle. If the purpose of those first few months was to build the status quo out further, it seems the new wave consisting of titles like last week’s Wolverine, the imminent Cable and this limited series – made up of five character-specific one-shots – means it’s now time to start getting more focused perspectives and digging in to the rich groundwork.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way upfront. Jean Grey and Emma Frost is a stunning issue to look at, drawn and coloured by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson, the duo that spent time blowing minds on a monthly basis during their collaboration with Jason Aaron on Thor. When talking about Giant Size X-Men, Jonathan Hickman has said the issues are based around which characters the artists wanted to draw and are being made via Marvel Style, a decades-old method where issues were outlined for artists to draw with the writer returning to do the dialogue once the pages were produced.
The grand contradiction of the issue is that despite being made in a manner which offers its artists a greater level of freedom compared to working full script, there’s a sense of déjà vu due to it being an homage to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men #121. That’s the issue where Emma and Jean delved into Cassandra Nova’s mind in order to find out what was going on with her and Xavier. After setting up that something’s wrong with Ororo in its opening scene, the next one is essentially the first scene in that almost twenty-year old issue, albeit with a couple of panels swapped around and a widescreen visual cut into two.
Perhaps the best way to talk about this issue is in terms of it being a cover version of a stone-cold classic. The “Silence: Psychic Rescue in Progress” is now written in Krakoan and there’s a contrast to be seen in the brick and metal of the Xavier Institute compared to the more natural, pink and green island textures. This is reinforced further once the two begin the subconscious journey in Ororo’s mind. A sole tree lies ahead of them while thick, tall grass runs underneath, a visual that’s akin to Black Panther’s ancestral plane and a world away from the confined steps and tower setting that Quitely used in depicting Nova’s headspace.
Emma and Jean are on more equal footing with this issue, the obstacles faced along the way are something they handle together, while the original issue split them up and used one of its few moments of written language to further stir up the tension and conflict in their relationship. The similarities between these two issues are apparent all the way through, right down to the fact that they deliver their final story beat in the same fashion. The contrasts that exist show what’s changed between that era and this one in terms of setting and the duo’s relationship without doing anything beyond pointing them out.
While the overarching idea of the issue is beholden to something that came before, Dauterman and Wilson’s depiction of their journey is a noble attempt to escape that restrictiveness. He’s more willing to shake up his approach at various points while Quitely was more structured in terms of his layouts. When the ground starts shaking, Dauterman’s panels become untethered from their axis and shift dimensions as if they’re in flux; the sides close in and the left side tilts forward. A later moment involving negative space is designed to guide the reader’s eye through it in the intended way despite the lack of a traditional layout. As a playground for the pair, it plays well to their skillset in terms of crafting grand vistas while not allowing a chance for them to show off the strong emotional storytelling chops. Jean’s new costume deserves special mention, however, for finding a working compromise between the Marvel Girl outfit she’s returned to recently and her X-Men: Red style.
That detail shows how the past and current can work in tandem without the former holding the latter back. Beyond that, this is an issue of surface pleasures rather than a meaningful examination of the pair’s relationship right now, much less what’s been alluded to between them, Scott and Logan. Its final story beat lacks the wow factor of its influencing issue because it seems at odds with the new status quo and the direction it set up. Previous stories are always going to have a level of influence on current ones, but this is the most beholden that the Krakoa-era has been to looking back instead of prioritising moving forward.