Sometimes, it helps to be out of the loop for an extended period. It helps give an outside perspective from someone who isn’t an “outsider”, allowing them to circumvent the many complications that tend to confound the current status quo. Even in a comics world where few characters stay dead for long, Jean Grey’s extended absence from the Marvel universe is one of her best assets. X-men Red demonstrates this in plenty of ways, but it culminates perfectly in X-men Red #11.
Upon her return after the events of Phoenix Resurrection, Jean enters a Marvel landscape scarred by the events of schisms, civil wars, secret invasions, and extinction events. Both the X-men and the superhero community at large have many reasons to feel jaded. Jean Grey carries no such burdens. She throws herself into the current state of mutant affairs, not knowing or caring about the lingering effects of M-Day or the X-men’s war with the Inhumans. It serves her well in getting the X-men back to basics rather than starting fresh schisms.
Like Captain America being transplanted from another era, Jean Grey brings a less complicated version of Charles Xavier’s dream of peace and understanding to the X-men at this time. To that end, it’s fitting that her greatest enemy throughout X-men Red is Cassandra Nova, someone who seeks to obscure that vision so much that there’s no room for resolutions. One era embodies a singular, idealistic vision. Another embodies a complex web of corruption and subversion. Naturally, both sides are destined to clash and X-men Red #11 makes it a struggle to remember.
This isn’t just another case of an evil psychic battling a heroic psychic. It’s a war of ideas, literally and figuratively, that pits Jean’s vision for a better world against Cassanda’s desire to destroy that world — with plenty of explosions and fighting. When the Avengers and Namor’s Atlantean army enter the picture as well, there has to be. It has all the makings of a brutal battle that’s sure to leave plenty of destruction, but Tom Taylor employs different tactics. In a war of ideas, winning traditional battles is the easiest part.
Cassandra Nova starts with plenty of advantages. She builds her strategy around tapping into the hatred that’s already in the minds of many people. She understands that these powerful emotions subvert any inclination for peace and understanding. Being a telepath with access to nanoscale Sentinels, she effectively weaponizes humanity’s worst traits, so much so that she doesn’t have to do much fighting herself. She can just throw an endless wave of hate-filled civilians at the heroes.
It doesn’t help that some of these civilians are soldiers from governments who don’t need more reasons to invest in Sentinel technology. Being soldiers, they also have weapons that include a nuclear powered Helicarrier. It ensures that all the heroes Jean assembles can only do so much with their collective power. These are characters who can stand against Skrull invasions, Hydra infiltration, and renegade Celestials. When faced with corrupted civilians, however, they hesitate.
As a result, Jean Grey is Cassandra’s greatest threat. She’s the only one capable of stopping her on an ideological level. Many other character end up playing a complementary role and not just in terms of dealing with unstable nuclear reactors. Characters like Gabby, X-23, and Nightcrawler all help put Jean in a position to win the day. However, it’s how she wins that makes X-men Red #11 a blueprint for winning idea wars in comics.
In these kinds of conflicts, it’s not enough to just defeat the person spreading the bad ideas. Even if that person dies or gets thrown in a jail cell next to Thanos and the Red Skull, the underlying sentiments don’t go away. They just linger until someone else comes along to channel them. It’s not like blowing up the Death Star. It’s akin to combating the very idea of a planet-destroying weapon in the first place.
What Jean Grey ends up doing is a testament to her uncanny compassion. She has plenty of chances to just end Cassandra like Wolverine, Thor, or the Punisher would. Instead, she reveals to Cassandra a truth that she had been avoiding since before their first encounter. It’s a truth that’s only possible to know when someone takes the time to understand why someone feels such hatred in the first place, and offers insight in response, rather than violence. When that truth is exposed to Cassandra, it doesn’t just end the battle. It immediately fills her with regret and remorse.
That kind of resolution feels too fanciful for comics writing in our era of trolls, fake news, and Infinity Gauntlets. There’s this underlying notion that it’s impossible to change someone’s mind about anything. Once someone embraces hatred, we fear that there’s no going back. It may as well be a terminal condition. Jean Grey directly counters that fear in X-men Red #11. She makes the argument that it’s worth digging a little deeper into someone’s psyche, literally and figuratively. Fighting hatred is easy, but understanding it is hard. It’s only by understanding it, though, that a war of ideas can be won.
Since X-men Red #1, Jean Grey carries herself as someone who can fight on the front lines of a corrupt and hate-filled world. X-men Red #11 marks the final battle of a war that has tested Jean’s ability to hold onto the ideals that X-men are supposed to embody, despite facing extinction every other week. More importantly, though, she wins those wars of ideas with the right tactics. She may come from a different era of heroics due to her prolonged absence, but the peace and understanding she champions are timeless.