When death and resurrection are so common that it becomes indistinguishable from an extended hiatus, it’s difficult for either to have much impact. Even if the death remains a powerful moment within a larger narrative and the resurrection finds a evoke the necessary drama, it’s not always possible to explore the more personal effect it has on a character. That’s why the resurrection of a non-time traveler, non-alternate universe Jean Grey presents such a rare opportunity.
Her return in the pages of Phoenix Resurrection succeeds in ways few resurrection stories achieve in an era of never-ending death and rebirth. It doesn’t just bring back a character whose death had a far-reaching impact and whose rebirth has equally profound implications. It takes a character who hasn’t experienced or influenced the course of the X-men or Marvel universe for over a decade and puts her in a setting that may as well be an alternate universe. In the world she knew, Spider-Man is still married, the Maximoff twins are mutants, and Nick Fury looks more like David Hasselhoff instead of Samuel L. Jackson.
A character that dies and comes back after just a few years is bound to experience some culture shock, but it’s rarely jarring to the point where clones start to make sense. For Jean Grey, so many world-changing events have transpired, including the deaths of some loved ones and the resurrection of others, that she may as well be in another universe. It’s not possible or even in character for her to just brush off how much the world has changed, especially for those close to her.
X-men Red Annual #1 gives her some time to take in this world. It also gives Tom Taylor and Pascal Alixe a chance explore the emotional depth of a character whose passions have a long reach. In doing so, they capture some of the most important elements of Jean Grey’s character, a few of which may have been overlooked or forgotten during her prolong absence. However, the story that unfolds is much more than a refresher course on a beloved X-woman.
The narrative pics up almost exactly where Phoenix Resurrection left off. Jean Grey is alive again, having severed ties with the Phoenix Force and had a heart-wrenching goodbye with her dead husband, Cyclops. She’s surrounded by the friends, family, and teammates who mourned her for so much over the years. It’s one of those situations that can be either intensely emotional or incredibly awkward, but Taylor pursues the former over the latter. For Jean Grey, who is defined by her passions and the predicaments in which she expresses them, it’s very fitting.
Naturally, Jean has a lot to catch up on. Being dead for a couple years is hard enough. Alien invasions, Hydra-led uprisings, and deaths of other characters can occur within that time and there will still be room for holiday specials. Being dead for nearly two decades means Jean has to catch up on schisms, extinction plots, and even an upcoming wedding between Kitty Pryde and Colossus. There’s a lot to take in, if not too much for a cohesive story.
Taylor isn’t tedious with all these revelations, but he doesn’t gloss over them, either. There isn’t a word-for-word retelling of major events, which would’ve made the plot as interesting as a physics lecture by Reed Richards. Instead, the primary focus is on Jean’s inner musings. Her thoughts and feelings emerge through a series of well-designed thought-bubbles, a feature that Chris Claremont utilized to give characters like Jean Grey so much depth in the past. It proves just as effective in this instance and helps set Jean on a new course for the future.
This also helps provide some connections to her role in X-men Red, another one of Taylor’s books. However, X-men Red Annual #1 doesn’t attempt to be a prequel. It’s not an extended epilogue of Phoenix Resurrection, either. More than anything else, it bridges the gap between the past that Jean missed and the future she hopes to build now that she’s back. In doing so, it also provides some needed closure to one of the most jarring details of Jean’s return.
That has to do with Cyclops, namely the adult non-time traveling version, being dead due to the events of Death of X. It’s something that evokes an especially powerful reaction in Jean, one that prompts her to confront Black Bolt and the Inhumans, who are indirectly responsible for his death. It helps inject some conflict and action into an otherwise emotional journey. It’s one of those situations where it could easily devolve into another Punisher-style vengeance plot. However, that just isn’t Jean Grey’s style.
At her core, Jean is a woman of great power and compassion. She has the power to make those who hurt others suffer for their transgressions, more so than Ghost Rider or all the Batman rip-offs ever made. That’s not her preferred recourse, though. True to the teachings of Charles Xavier, which she has championed since the Kennedy Administration, Jean opts for understanding and forgiveness. If someone is willing to apologize, then Jean Grey is willing to forgive.
At a time when heroes and villains alike define themselves by seeking revenge, Jean brings something different to the table. The rift between mutants and the Inhumans after the events of Inhumans vs. X-men cannot be understated. This conflict is what kills the man who held Jean in his arms when she last died. For her to confront those responsible and not seek retribution doesn’t just establish the breadth of Jean’s heart. It shows that is possible to mend these wounds.
It also indirectly establishes just how much the Marvel superhero world needs Jean Grey. At a time when Captain America can be a secret Hydra agent and Spider-Man can have his mind swapped with his greatest enemy, there needs to be a voice that conveys a message of forgiveness. Since Jean’s voice carries more weight than most, the impact of her return feels that much more relevant.
X-men Red Annual #1 has Jean do plenty more besides reminding others that it’s okay to accept a heartfelt apology every now and then. She gets to spend time with characters who’ve missed her dearly. She also gets to meet others who she have a chance to interact with before she died. These moments are brief and leave plenty to be desired. The issue itself is extra long, but Taylor and Alixe could’ve made it several hundred pages and it still wouldn’t have been enough to fully explore every aspect of Jean Grey’s resurrection.
As such, the plot comes off as rushed in a few areas. There are plenty of other characters with which Jean could’ve had a moment. There are also other unresolved details surrounding her death and absence, namely those involving Emma Frost and Magneto, that are never addressed. Even with these oversights, Taylor gets the underlying message across. Jean Grey is back. The world didn’t just miss her. It missed everything she stood for.