PHOENIX RESURRECTION #4 / Writer: Matthew Rosenberg / Artist: Ramon Rosanas/ Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg / Colorist: Travis Lanham / January 24, 2018
The Phoenix entity, introduced during Chris Claremont’s run in Uncanny X-Men, has given Marvel years’ worth of drama despite an original story that was relatively brief in both length and intended aftermath. Even had then-editor Jim Shooter (who took over several issues before the end of the arc) not insisted on Jean Grey’s death following Dark Phoenix’s extermination of the D’Bari system in Uncanny X-Men 135, Claremont’s original intention was to depower Jean—effectively dropping her as an active team member.
Over the years, though, the Phoenix has re-emerged on a variety of occasions both real and imagined. Based on title alone, Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey promises the former: the Phoenix is coming back as is the woman most often associated with that entity. This inexorable truth is the opening salvo for the mini-series’ fourth issue—which at long last advances the plot of an otherwise too-decompressed story.
The issue opens with three pages of striking art from Ramon Rosanas and Rachelle Rosenberg. Jean Grey wakes up in a ruined house, oblivious to any unusual circumstances. She’s wearing her waitress uniform from the day before—complete with torn sleeves—and she’s rushing out of her home late for work. Her departure spontaneously sets fire to the crumbling home as well as those houses in close proximity. It’s a seemingly conscious blaze that torches everything both ahead of Jean and behind her while leaving the immediate surroundings picturesque (even though they had been burning before her approach).
The aforementioned plot advancement happens when the X-Men enter the bubble revealed to them at the end of the previous issue and find themselves immersed in the world Jean has been living in. As with the first three issues the X-Men find themselves fighting dead teammates, but this time the conflict leads to a working theory:
The constant fighting of X-Men versus (dead) X-Men is the Phoenix’s way of preparing Jean to be the kind of host the entity desires. Only Jean has ever successfully (if not morally) wielded the Phoenix power for an extended period. The Phoenix needs Jean to “hatch,” and this alternate world in which Jean must ultimately kill her friends is the device that will enable this.
As the bulk of the X-Men keep their former companions at bay, the rest of the team comes upon Jean in yet another haunting image courtesy of the art team: a diner sitting below a lone ray of sunshine and otherwise untouched by the surrounding conflagration.
Here, Matthew Rosenberg demonstrates Kitty’s leadership acumen. Not only does Kitty recognize the futility of violently engaging Jean, but she also chooses the right X-Man to talk to Jean. Instead of sending her star-crossed-lover Scott Summers or any other X-Man whose connection to Jean is solely emotional, Kitty sends Logan—someone capable of reaching her emotionally but also willing to kill her if necessary.
I’ve been critical of Matthew Rosenberg for failing to advance the series’ story meaningfully in the first three issues, and his choice to finally answer the questions he’d posed isn’t a mark of accomplishment for a writer in serialized literature. That Rosenberg finally wove together the threads he’d laid down in previous issues is by itself not praiseworthy. The real strength he displayed in issue four is his command of mythos and history—something he could only show off after he contrived to put the Phoenix and the X-Men together.
Rosenberg’s return to the Phoenix’s origins—both good and bad—opens the door to connect the actions of Dark Phoenix to Jean Grey as part of her history despite the retcon that allows for Jean’s return by saying her original body and psyche had been preserved in a cocoon in Jamaica Bay. The dearth of additional telepaths and the unspoken consequences to Scott in Avengers vs. X-Men allows Rosenberg to dismiss out of hand the notion that the Phoenix would desire or tolerate an alternate host. And finally the very notion of an egg from which Jean needs to hatch recalls Grant Morrison’s run on the series and returns readers to the idea of the White Room and through it a character who never truly left.
It’s a rare writer who can integrate competing themes that stretch through decades of stories. In one issue Matthew Rosenberg took a complicated history rife with retcons and distilled it into an idea that X-Men readers—both old and new—can understand: Jean Grey and the Phoenix, for better or worse, are beings that need each other. They’re not quite two sides of the same coin, but they’re at least inextricable. Exploring this truth has even shown Marvel to be open to writing a Phoenix that is at long last fully connected to Jean Grey in thought and deed. While the final issue of the mini-series is still to come and may even disappoint, Rosenberg’s narrative bravery on this installment earns the issue a superior grade.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
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.