Comic Reviews: X-Men Red V1, The Hate Machine

Jean Grey debuted in September 1963 with the rest of the original X-Men. Since then, she has become known for two main things: dying (if temporarily), and bonding with a cosmic destroyer. But now, freed from both death and the burden of the Phoenix. So now, fifty-five years later, it seems only natural that she gets to try something else for a while.

X-Men Red gives the (spoiler) currently not-dead Jean a chance to catch up with the X-Men and the world at large. There are reunions, and there are new introductions. There are demonstrations of Jean’s power. And there are problems.

This book is very much a product of its time. It has obvious ties to the early X-Men history – both due to Jean and what the X-Men have represented since the Claremont years – but this part of the Marvel universe is not so different from our own, giant robots and undersea kingdoms notwithstanding.

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So this book is very much about Jean Grey trying to become the standard that Xavier’s dream represented, and trying to make the world a better place. But naturally, others have their own ideas about what a perfect world looks like, and some of those others will go to horrible lengths to support their own visions.

Make no mistake about my intentions here. I picked up this book as something of a longtime but casual X-Men fan, and I saw writing a review as an opportunity and a challenge. We have a Politics Thread for a reason, so I don’t intend for this article to present my views. But it’s impossible to discuss this article without mentioning its obvious themes.

Fortunately, there is plenty else to talk about. Jean using her disappointment in the world to become a leader and a catalyst for change is both logical and a satisfying development for the character. It’s nice to see her in control for a change. A lot of her old friends show up here, and it’s legitimately enjoyable to see her catch up with everyone. (Note: I’m a little disappointed that both Namor and T’challa appear in this book, but we never get to see them interact.) There’s some actual levity, too. And Nightcrawler has a beard, eventually!

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Spoiler: this is some of your cast

Regardless of whether the political aspect is appealing or not, this is a well-assembled book. The characterization is spot-on, and the art is solid. There are some legitimately touching moments and some great visualizations of Jean’s powers. The team has great costumes, and I’m not sure that Jean’s hair has ever looked better.

Mostly, this feels like the good kind of X-Men book, one that gives us a colorful team of weirdos trying to make the world a better place while struggling for acceptance. Those Claremont themes might seem tired at this point, but they are – for better or worse – what define the X-Men. Their world has always been polarized. Maybe this book feels like comics catching up with the real world, but in this case, it might be the other way around.

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So while I don’t think you can separate the social commentary from the superhero soap opera here, I think the book is a success whether the former appeals to everyone or not. It’s a homecoming and a new direction for a character who badly needs both things. Not everyone gets a chance to change their narrative. But few characters deserve one as much as Jean Grey, and hopefully she gets to make the most of it.