REVIEW: X-Men Red Annual #1 – “The #1 That Should Have Been?”

X-Men Red Annual 1

X-MEN RED ANNUAL #1 / Writer: Tom Taylor / Artist: Pascal Alixe / Color Artist: Chris Sotomayor / Letterer: Cory Petit / Released: May 30, 2018 / Publisher: Marvel

X-Men Red Annual #1 cover

The Jean Grey brought back to life in Phoenix Resurrection was a new woman. Unfortunately we never got to see that woman step back into the world that moved on without her. X-Men Red #1 started some time later and avoided almost all those moments of personal connection or hands-on interaction prior to the start of Jean’s self-assumed mission. X-Men Red Annual #1 finally fills in that missing time, and Tom Taylor—by revealing this new Jean to the world and the world to her—crafts an emotional story that could have (and perhaps should have) been the series’ first issue.

X-Men Red Annual #1 picks up on the last panel of Phoenix Resurrection #5. Told from Jean’s point of view, the story is a relatively simple one of a person reconnecting with family. Those X-Men who were present when Jean returned embrace her immediately. Stories are told and reintroductions made before Jean is whisked away to the mansion grounds in Central Park. As Jean ruminates on how far mutants have come—living out in the open, for instance—she finds herself on the receiving end of a hotdog thrown by a bigoted griller. Fortunately she’s a telekinetic. Events inside the mansion are much the same as those at her resurrection site, but Jean displays greater use of her telepathy. Eventually Jean senses in New York the presence of a man she needs to talk to—Black Bolt. What she wants is simple, and after speaking with Black Bolt she senses he already knows what needs to be said: “I’m sorry.” The end of the issue swings back to the opening of X-Men Red #1.

The story in X-Men Red Annual #1 is constructed like a painting. Jean is Taylor’s brush, and the reader experiences the story through her narration. This creates a story built on impressions. Most reunions are suggested rather than explicit. Even those with characters of personal import to Jean—Old Man Logan, Rachel, Laura—are reduced to a few panels. This approach makes it difficult, if not impossible, to connect the scenes as the issue is read. Like a painting, the reader can’t guess the issue’s end product before it reveals itself in total.

In this case that final product is a woman who has been through a profound change now deciding how she wants to impact the world. The most significant moment as I read the issue was Jean, waiting to gain audience with Black Bolt, explaining all the ways she was using her powers in that moment. Jean had gone beyond her previous abilities and was impacting a variety of circumstances simultaneously. Among those things Jean is using her powers for is to keep an eye on Chad, the bigot from Central Park. Because of Jean he’d had a difficult conversation with his parents and was questioning prior assumptions; Jean makes sure he won’t harm himself or others. That one moment makes clear the moral foundation at Jean’s center while establishing what kind of leader she’ll be. She won’t be militant like Scott or Magneto, willing to take casualties to get the job done. But unlike the Professor’s early days she will not hide or diminish who she is or what she can do to make people feel comfortable. We learn more about post-resurrection Jean in that single panel than in the entirety of the series’ first issue.

X-Men Red Annual #1

In fact that panel is one of four moments that X-Men Red #1 lacks. The whole of X-Men Red Annual #1 could have been the series’ first issue, but in lieu of that these four moments would have contributed greatly to understanding the series and its main protagonist. The most minor of these moments is Jean’s exchange with Laura, who asks Jean to respect her privacy and not use telepathy on her. Jean’s easy acquiescence tells the reader that while she has no compunction taking liberties when necessary she respects choice and privacy. At the issue’s end Jean seeks an apology from Black Bolt rather than vengeance; this is different than Jean’s last appearance during The New X-Men when she was vengeful against Scott and Emma when she felt wronged. Rather than vengeance her concern is compassion and forgiveness. Jean’s exchanges with Chad, though, are most informative. The moment with the thrown hotdog and yelled epithet gives Jean firsthand experience with the hate she merely observes from a remove in X-Men Red #1. Meanwhile her later concern for Chad despite his professed bigotry is an informative counterbalance to Jean’s stridency in the series’ first issue and adds crucial layers of compassion that were not readily apparent.

As strong as the writing is in X-Men Red Annual #1 the art from Pascal Alixe is a definite weakness. Most significant is Alixe’s seeming uncertainty on what his characters look like. Throughout the issue there is inconsistency on characters’ facial structure when seen from different angles or in different environments. Even Jean suffers from this. One example of this artistic shortfall is during the meeting between Jean and Rachel where Jean has three subtle but different looks within three pages. One of these is a result of rough, heavy shading. It’s not always clear if this heavier shading, which appears periodically throughout the book, is actually the result of the character being in shadow. Fortunately Jean’s narrative steals the show, and artistic shortcomings aren’t major distractions.

X-Men Red Annual #1

Tom Taylor’s task in the shadow of Phoenix Resurrection was unenviable: to start a series centered around Jean Grey following her very emotional return. I disagree with how he started that series (I believe this issue provides a great deal of the emotional context that X-Men Red #1 lacked). However, I can see why he did it this way. X-Men Red Annual #1 is an emotional soft landing in the wake of Phoenix Resurrection, and in that—regardless of what story should or shouldn’t have kicked off the series—Taylor is completely successful. This book isn’t an emotional tour de force; it’s an emotional road trip—slower, longer, and with a satisfying destination.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 bigots who learned better

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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.

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