[3 February 2014]
In an era of spoilers and leaked scripts, it’s next to impossible to react naturally and genuinely to a surprise ending. It has become as common as popcorn and soda at a movie to look up spoilers before committing to the ending. That crushing fear that such a commitment would end in disappointment is too much of a risk. And when its known ahead of time that an ending is going to disappoint, it’s easier to just avoid that feeling altogether. It may seem lazy , but it makes too much sense to discount. And since the internet can’t be uninvented, it’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay.
But what if someone read the full spoiler, hated it so much that it was mentally traumatic, and was forced to watch it anyways? There aren’t any documented cases of anyone being trapped in a movie theater and forced to watch Godfather 3 so it’s difficult to imagine in the real world. But that’s exactly what Jean Grey has to do through in the pages of All New X-men. Early on in the series, she was given the full spoiler of how her life and multiple deaths would play out. It didn’t just upset it. Her devastated her to the point where it created an alternate future timeline where she went insane and tried to erase her existence. Even angry Star Wars fan that were upset by Episode I: The Phantom Menace couldn’t relate to that.
And she has been struggling to confront her future throughout the series. Being an emotionally confused teenager, she doesn’t exactly have a winning record. But in All New X-men #22, which is the first issue in the much-anticipated Trial of Jean Grey arc, her future finally confronts her. It would be akin to a major movie spoiler requiring a certain number of broken bones to reveal. And these particular wounds for Jean Grey run deep. They harken back to the Dark Phoenix Saga, by far one of the most important events in Jean’s life and that of the X-men. The crimes she committed while under the influence of the Phoenix Force can’t be understated, especially for a teenage girl that has been content to avoid the ramifications to this point.
But it isn’t just the crimes of Dark Phoenix that Jean Grey is forced to confront in All New X-men #22. She also finally gets to vent some of her emotional frustrations with Cyclops. It is actually a lot more pressing than anything having to do with the Phoenix. Her relationship with Cyclops is every bit as important to her personal mythos as the Phoenix Force. And the spoilers she uncovered about their relationship were every bit as traumatic as what she uncovered about the Phoenix Force.
It’s easy for a couple of hormonal teenagers to embrace the most basic forms of puppy love. It’s much harder to embrace the idea that the most important relationship in Jean’s life ends with her dying and her lover ending up with someone else who happens to be her hated rival. It puts an indelible stain on all those future happy moments because like a pig that knows it will eventually become a plate of bacon, the ending is always looming.
Jean doesn’t exactly have a heart-to-heart with Cyclops that ends in Hallmark moment. There are still a lot of unresolved emotions that have been developing since All New X-men began. But Cyclops goes out of his way to let her know that regardless of what she knows about their future, he still cares about her. And Jean claims that she’s dealing with it when she’s clearly doing a very poor job of it. She’s basically an angry girlfriend giving her lover the silent treatment, saying one thing and showing the opposite. It’s another instance of inexperienced teenagers struggling to deal with the harsh truths of the real world and coping skills at that age might as well be a mutant power that none of the original X-men have. In fact, the one who seems to cope best is Iceman. All he needs is snow and Run DMC music to be content in the future.
But neither Jean nor anyone else in the time-displaced X-men get a chance to improve their coping skills. With so many issues between her and Cyclops left unaddressed, the Shi’ar arrive to address her future for her. She and the rest of the team are blindsided by someone else that knows the spoilers to Jean Grey’s life all too well. This makes the outcome of the battle fairly predictable, but the struggle still resonates because the emotions that Jean Grey vented with Cyclops are still raw. This establishes the theme of a teenage girl who can’t process the future knowledge she has about herself. She can barely process being able to know the intimate thoughts of her friends and teammates. Now a bunch of hostile aliens are prepared to process it for her and that creates an emotional impact that hits all the right chords. It won’t make anyone gasp like the first three seasons of Lost, but it will make it hard not to care for Jean Grey and what she is going through.
The underlying premise of All New X-men #22 is basic but effective. Reading the spoilers for this issue won’t surprise anyone, but that’s not the point. The intent of this issue is to create an emotional investment in Jean Grey so that even the fans who complain about her inability to stay dead will care about what happens to her. By that standard, this issue succeeds. The battle against the Shi’ar and the arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy is secondary, so much so that it doesn’t resonate as much as it should. But it fits into an emotionally compelling narrative that involves more than just a couple of teenagers struggling to process the real world with their limited life experiences.
Cyclops and Jean Grey’s hopes and dreams about the future may be crushed much earlier than it is for most typical teenagers, but they don’t have the luxury of curling up into ball and sulking until they accept it. They have to confront what’s going to happen to them. And if they don’t, a race of angry, war-loving aliens is going to do it for them.