PHOENIX RESURRECTION #5 / Writer: Matthew Rosenberg / Artists: Leinil Francis Yu & Joe Bennett / Inkers: Gerry Alanguilan & Belardino Brabo / Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg / Letterer: Travis Lanham / Release Date: January 31, 2018 / Publisher: Marvel Comics
In my experience the best surprise is the one I didn’t even know I wanted—the one that came out of left field and satisfied an unknown desire. The fifth and final issue of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey was just such a surprise. There was no battle with the great cosmic entity—at least not in the way I expected. The previous issue’s hint of confrontation was fulfilled, but rather than deliver a fiery battle against a god Matthew Rosenberg wrote a quiet story about a woman who finally got the one thing she’d needed all along: strength and freedom to stand on her own.
Issue five picks up right on the heels of its predecessor as Logan walks into the diner Jean works in and orders a cup of coffee. When Jean’s supervisor suggests Logan take the coffee to go, he slashes her neck. Two pages later the diner explodes, and Jean Grey/Phoenix is back. Her Phoenix costume, colored in red and black, evokes long-absent Dark Phoenix and suggests somehow that those events are a part of Jean Grey. The X-Men are prepared for a fight, but the rest of the issue has almost nothing to do with them. The Phoenix, after Jean expels it from her, pulls a sort of “temptation of Christ” act by showing her dead friends and loved ones that Jean could bring back if only she accepted the entity within her. When that fails the Phoenix goes one further, tempting Jean with her Scott Summers. Ultimately Jean says goodbye to Scott, denies the Phoenix, and fulfills the promise of her return.
If issue four of Phoenix Resurrection was climax, five is all dénouement. Much of the issue is Jean and the Phoenix talking. The entity chose Jean—for what reason neither seems to know. But since that crash landing in the shuttle they have been linked. The Phoenix helped Jean, tempted her, corrupted her, returned her from the dead. But in the trade she lost herself, as well as the ability to feel and to love. Years ago the woman that was Jean Grey crashed in a shuttle and should have died. She has been something else ever since, and she’s been reliant on the Phoenix in ways she eventually realized she never should have been.
The Phoenix spends most of the conversation in silence. Rather than an all-encompassing cosmic representation of rebirth, the flaming bird sits in repose—small and silent. An entity that caused the deaths of millions if not billions has become a sympathetic character. It’s afraid. Not just for its own loss—for what is Phoenix anymore without Jean Grey—but also the dark inevitability that without the Phoenix Jean Grey will be mortal.
That the Phoenix could be made so sympathetic rests largely on the art team of Joe Bennett and Balardino Brabo. This highlights a problem in the issue, the only serious one that stood out. It begins with the talents of Lenil Francis Yu and Gerry Alanguilan which work well enough early on when Logan is in the diner. Yu’s rough pencils, though, are hit or miss when it comes to facial expression, so it’s fortunate that halfway through the issue Bennett and Brabo replace Yu and Alanguilan. The change in art styles isn’t as jarring as it could be because the panels on which it takes place are bright, washed-out explosions. Even so, there remains a tone shift after the art change. Jean Grey’s facial expressions are notably less confrontational in the latter half of the issue which works to its advantage as the subsequent Jean/Phoenix confrontation takes on a note of melancholy.
The issue’s story rests on two moments of deep emotional catharsis. The first is the aforementioned attempt by Phoenix to appeal to Jean’s love for Scott. Jean turns the moment into a tender goodbye. She misses Scott. She wants to be with him. But at long last she knows there are things she cannot have. Making the moment better still is that Scott knows it, too. All the time traveling, all the world saving, all the paths they’ve walked together and separately…Jean and Scott know they can’t have what they both want. In a moment of strange tenderness, Jean kills Scott again.
This brings the reader to the main event. This mostly one-sided conversation with the Phoenix might be the most important discussion Jean has ever had. She hasn’t been vulnerable in a long time, but it’s a vulnerability that she’s realized she needs. In lieu of vulnerability the Phoenix offers power, shelter, and solitude. A younger Jean might have accepted any or all. But this is the Jean who saved the universe, who destroyed a planet, who sent a child to the future, who learned telepathy and exceeded mentor Charles Xavier, and who lost Scott before giving him permission to be happy with another. This Jean has had all the power—all the solutions and all the answers as well. This Jean knows the one thing Phoenix can’t offer is the one thing she needs: the opportunity to at long last stand on her own.
I opened this review musing on the nature of surprise. Matthew Rosenberg opened his comic amidst the shallow breath of expectation. After all the setup that had come before, Logan’s entrance into that diner could have only one result: violence. Jean would have to be stolen back and the Phoenix in some measure defeated. Indeed, Rosenberg gave readers what they expected. For one page. After that he offered up the definitive Jean Grey story—the kind of story everyone experiences in their own right at some point in life: a choice to stand on one’s own. If I am reading the story correctly there will be no more Phoenix. There will be a woman who has loved and lost, who has been a paragon of good and evil, and who has had ultimate power and gave it up. There will be a woman named Jean Grey, and we will follow her journey.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.