Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Victor Ibanez (Artist), Jay David Ramos (Colorist), VC’s Travis Lanham (Letterer)
May 3, 2017
In 1963’s X-Men #1, a teenage Jean Grey became the newest student at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. “What kind of school is this, sir? I have a right to know!” she demanded, a mutant debutante with white gloves and a perfect Kirby flip of red hair. Fifty years later, young Jean Grey is the star of her first solo series from Dennis Hopeless and Victor Ibanez, and not a moment too soon.
In 2012’s All-New X-Men, teen Jean and the rest of Xavier’s first class found themselves thrust into a future where their mentor was dead and their adult selves were frightening strangers. Of all her teammates, Jean’s story quickly became the most compelling, because her adult self was dead (for the second time!) and in fact hadn’t been regularly featured in X-Men books for nearly a decade. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Jean had moments of spunkiness that shone through her thankless role as “The Girl” of the X-Men, but the combination of time travel-related trauma and a modern perspective resulted in a Jean who was angrier, more impulsive, more boundary-pushing, and thus, more polarizing among fans.
Jean Grey #1 opens with Jean eating ramen in Kyoto, ruminating on the life that should-may-will happen to her with the angst of a girl discovering Sylvia Plath’s poetry for the first time. (“A genocidal madwoman corpse, all decked out in her burgundy bad guy clothes,” is how she describes Dark Phoenix.) Of course, which would be scarier for a seventeen-year-old girl: being trapped in a cosmic cycle of death and rebirth with a giant space chicken, or learning that your crush will inevitably break your heart? I enjoyed Hopeless’s characterization of Jean in his fun X-Men: Season One graphic novel with Jamie McKelvie. Jean has the believable voice of a bright, complicated teenage girl who loves brunch and feels suffocated being surrounded by boys all the time.
What follows is a solid solo adventure, with Jean catching the Wrecking Crew in the middle of an armored truck robbery. Hopeless and Ibanez show off the breadth of her telepathy and telekinesis; she can fend off the Wrecking Crew, but not easily, and then there’s that whole “comes great responsibility” thing. Flipping over cars with the power of your mind is cool as hell, but you have to be careful where they land. I do wish the Japanese citizens had roles to play other than screaming, fleeing bystanders, since after watching Anne Hathaway in Colossal I’m a bit mindful of East Asian cities playing the backdrop to a white woman’s superpowered problems. But then Jean has a sudden and terrifying vision of the Phoenix returning to Earth–her giant space chicken has come home to roost.
I can already hear some Jean fans howling, “The Phoenix? Again?” but honestly, I would be thrilled to see Jean take the Phoenix mantle back from young upstarts like Hope Summers and Quentin Quire. (Accept no substitutions!)
Considering how long Jean’s been in the present, there’s a lot of storytelling potential in her finally confronting the force that’s been her greatest fear. Will Jean become the Phoenix again? Can she break the cycle and change her future, or is the looming shadow of Dark Phoenix inescapable? I’m excited to see how this conflict will unfold under Victor Ibanez’s pen. This is a beautiful comic. Gone are the white gloves and Mad Men dresses, as Jean sports a slick new McKelvie-designed costume and modern haircut. I wasn’t an instant fan of Jean’s shaggy bob–I just love that John Byrne-ian flowing cloud of hair too much–but Ibanez’s take on the Kim Pine look fits this new Jean, who definitely isn’t a ’60s girl anymore.
Flashbacks to the Dark Phoenix Saga, and even Jean catching Scott and Emma in bed together in New X-Men, are as overly familiar as Barbara Gordon replaying being shot in The Killing Joke, but Ibanez imbues these scenes with pathos. (It would be great to see a female artist in a guest spot, though,and Stephanie Hans and Marguerite Sauvage drew wonderful variant covers.) Oh, and if you’ve ever wanted to see a BAMF eat Pocky, your time has come.
Importantly, Ibanez is adept at conveying the youngness of Jean, whether it’s an impertinent lip curl or shy body language as she apologizes to an angry store owner. She’s also visually distinct from the older, fully-Phoenix’d Jean, reminding us she’s not that woman yet, if she ever will be.
Jean Grey #1 is an effective and intriguing re-introduction to a character who has frequently been called the heart of the X-Men. She’s not quite the Jean Grey Classic that many longtime fans miss, but she’s not a “New Coke” version of the character either. Bringing the first female X-Man into the spotlight, at last, this first issue is a spark that will hopefully ignite an inferno.