The Phoenix has been a thorn in the side of the X-Men for decades. It’s usual host, Jean Grey, is dead. But it’s not called the “Phoenix” for no reason, which is what the X-Men will presumably re-discover in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1.
Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1
Cover Price: $4.99
Release Date: December 27, 2017
Collected in: Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey
She will return, like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Years ago, Jean Grey died and the X-Men mourned her. Since then, the world has changed, her teammates have lived without her and died without her. And now, when strange events start happening all over the world, those teammates can only come to one conclusion – the one true Jean Grey is back!
Jean Grey has died and been resurrected so many times in the Marvel universe that it’s something of a joke at this point. She has actually been off the board for a while now, which may be more impressive than any efforts to bring her back. Of course Marvel tried to have their cake and eat it, too, which has resulted in a young, time-displaced version of Jean running around in the modern Marvel Universe. There was potential in that particular story inverting the dystopic future trope by having our X-Men be the terrible future that the past X-Men needed to divert, but that story went off the rails years ago and so we just have a bunch of young copies of pre-existing mutants running around rather aimlessly.
With a Dark Phoenix movie in production over at Fox Studios (and presumably it will be unaffected by any sales to Disney) it is now time to bring the fire avatar back into the Marvel universe. Having a teenage, inexperienced Jean running around and not the battle-hardened veteran Jean is a bit of a problem storywise since there’s no good reason the Phoenix would want teenage Jean as a host. This particular plot is being dealt with in young Jean’s solo series, but that actually creates its own problems.
The first comic I ever read was X-Men #28, and in it a confident, strong Jean Grey smacked around the vicious looking Sabertooth like he was a stuffed animal. She has been my favorite X-character ever since. So it should be obvious then that I’ve been looking forward to her return for quite some time. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, the entire process has been a mess. The groundwork has been laid over in young Jean’s solo series, which has the elder Jean acting as something of a force ghost to her teenage self (no, that’s not confusing at all…). That series has also been setting up the return of the Phoenix since its first issue, and even seems to have showcased the character’s return in the most recent issue. Which makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1 all the more confusing.
Over in the solo title the Phoenix has already returned, and is engaged in an epic telepathic battle with some of the X-Men’s heaviest hitters. On top of that young Jean has been warning the X-Men for months that the Phoenix was on its way back. But, no, when weird things start happening all over the globe involving seemingly long dead opponents and friends no one thinks it might be connected. I would think that this occurred before Jean Grey #10, but there’s no mention of the timeline here. Additionally Emma Frost, Hope Summers, young Jean and Quentin Quire are absent from this book, which suggests that they are actively involved with their battle with the Phoenix already (or, more appropriately, already lost it).
The X-Men do still have Psylocke with them, but she is one of the ones who has helped train young Jean to protect herself. Psylocke also doesn’t seem to recognize that the Wolverine she encounters is just a mental projection of sorts. In fact, no one really comments on the fact that the Wolverine they fight is supposed to be the dead version (although readers will recognize he has probably returned in Marvel Legacy). You would think that Old Man Logan, at least, would have some words for his younger self.
Ultimately that’s the real problem with Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1: the X-Men are plagued with plot-induced stupidity. Even ignoring the fact that the reader knows going into the book exactly who the threat is, there are so many clues that the X-Men are missing upfront. The most novice members of the team should be able to identify that they are, at a minimum, facing a psychic threat. But, no, everyone has to act like idiots until the plot requires them to figure out what we already know (this hasn’t actually happened yet).
The book does end on a better note as we finally get to the entire point of this exercise. Jean Grey, presumably the real Jean, finally shows up in what appears to be a purgatory or afterlife stand-in. She’s waitressing at a diner where Banshee (also dead) is eating, and later meets up with her on-again, off-again lover, Cyclops (also dead). It’s possible we’re setting up here for a mass return of classic X-Men characters, which I honestly would not be opposed to. It would at least add more weight to this series beyond just bringing Jean back.
Thoughts on the Art
Lenil Francis Yu takes up the art duties for the series, with Gerry Alanguilan joining him as the inker and Rachelle Rosenberg providing the coloring. Lenil is by no means a stranger to the X-books, and that does add some weight to this whole exercise. His style is on the scratchy side, and I find that his characters tend to have hollowed out cheeks, which looks odd compared to their usually more rounded look. However, he does have a good sense for action and panel layout. He knows how to tell a story, and that’s what Marvel needs here more than anything. I do find it odd that he has somehow managed to make Beast, who is covered in fur, look bald, which is some kind of weird accomplishment.
Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1 is the latest in a long line of Marvel projects where an objective has been set with little idea of how to get there. That’s especially odd since the Jean Grey solo title has been laying out the ground work for this for the better part of a year. I suppose that story will eventually get folded into this one, but for the moment it’s hard to see how. I can understand that Marvel wants to sell this as a standalone event without needing to read the Jean Grey series, but it does make it read strangely, and makes the X-Men look like morons throughout.
Writer Matthew Rosenberg has turned in some solid work on titles like Secret Warriors and last week’s Tales of Suspense, but this one just isn’t clicking. That’s not entirely his fault as he was handed a bit of a lemon in terms of story telling. He has to deal with the fact that everyone already knows beat for beat how this is going to go, so he needs to toss in some curveballs to keep it interesting and stretch this out for five issues. Unfortunately that has resulted in the X-Men all undergoing lobotomies and missing all the obvious signs in front of them. It’s still possible that it is actually us getting faked out by the writing, but it’s going to be a hard sale. This book is also coming out weekly, so it’s not like adjustments can be made to any of the issues based on feedback from this issue at this point.
At the end of the day Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #1 has a job to do, and it is doing it. Sadly that is about all it is doing, and it is not doing it well. There are still four issues to go, and Matthew Rosenberg has built up enough credit with me to at least see it through. Barring a major twist, though, this series is most likely going to end up being a footnote about Jean’s latest return from the dead. At the slightly higher price tag of $4.99 it is hard to recommend this issue to people.