Probably the thing I was most excited about with the new shake-up of the X-verse and the X-titles was the prospect of a Jean Grey solo title.
Arguably the most interesting character from the time-displaced, sixties X-Men has been little Jean. So getting to see her in her own book seemed like a good idea.
Having Dennis Hopeless as writer for said title also seemed like a great fit. I’ve really enjoyed Hopeless’s run with Spider Woman (check the old reviews of Spider Woman here and here) and the tone and style of that book seemed like something that would translate well for a kid Jean Grey solo series.
Jean Grey #1 seemed to affirm this satisfyingly. Of all the new X-Men titles, this is the one I enjoyed most and was the most encouraged by.
Hopeless has got the tone and style exactly spot-on for what I would want this title to be; Victor Ibanez’s style of art also matches this perfectly and seems like the best possible fit. Ibanez’s style here is innocent and cartoony enough to fit the happy-go-lucky teen Jean Grey vibe, but also capable of being engaging enough in the right places to capture the serious notes.
What I immediately loved about this book is the seamless duality of breezy, lighthearted characterisation and serious, ominous overtones (which emerge as the story progresses). It almost immediately made me feel even more attached to a character I was already very fond of already.
The teen Jean here is funny, endearing and charismatic, and both the writing and the art style here make you feel at ease, make you feel like you’re hanging out with a friend.
In story terms, this is probably the right sort of place to start – with a simple, low-key affair that has Jean randomly going up against some minor-league villains, allowing us to focus and center entirely on her personal disposition and psychological preoccupations instead of on plot details.
This book is all about Jean and her issues; particularly her struggles with being someone displaced from her original time, someone who lives in the shadow of her alter-ego, the grown-up Jean Grey whose life she never got to live out. This is expressed particularly wonderfully from the outset, in the opening pages and images, which don’t simply play to nostalgia but serve to ground us in the broader Jean Grey mythology and to place this version of Jean firmly within that context.
When the spectre of the Phoenix later shows up – in Jean’s mind – we know this is the beginning of trouble ahead. Jean is not only haunted or troubled by the awareness of this timeline’s previous Jean Grey and that woman’s life, but literally also by the fear of the Phoenix looming over her as-yet-unwritten life story.
This theme has been touched on before, of course (particularly in the terrific ‘Trial of Jean Grey’ X-Men/Guardians-of-the-Galaxy storyline some years ago – again, my old review for that is here); but it is inevitably always something that we’ll have to come back to again and again with any iteration of this particular character.
Beyond the main themes or issues, what this book also gets right is the little touches. Jean Grey #2 does that even better; but even here in the first issue it is lovely, for example, that Jean has this pet relationship with one of Nightcrawler’s Bamfs. It isn’t something that draws much attention to itself; just a minor detail that is presented as simple fact.
Jean Grey #2 steps things up terrifically and is a charming, endearing entry; perfectly centered on Jean of course, but drawing in appropriate guest appearances.
It seems like everyone shows up in this story – McCoy, Rachel Summers, Hope Summers, Magik, even Carol Danvers – but all of the supporting cast are people who make sense in the story.
As established in the first issue, Jean is psychologically struggling with the creeping shadow of the Phoenix. So she seeks out others who’ve had experience with the Phoenix to get advice. Everything about this is perfect, from her using Cerebro to contact her various potential helpers, to their respective input and varying levels of helpfulness. It’s great to see Hope Summers show up; and, in general, all of the characters are put to really good use here.
It’s a good demonstration of how rich and diverse the X-Men world is and of how to effectively make use of a wide range of characters in the appropriate way.
There’s lots of wit and charm here too throughout the book, with everyone getting at least one or two great lines. Jean herself ends up being a funnier, wittier character now that she’s the central focus than was ever really apparent in previous ensemble books. The underlying theme – Jean’s anxieties about the Phoenix – remain interesting, never overpowered or minimised by all the humour and charm.
In all, Jean Grey #2 is a really nice, well-measured piece of character work and low-key storytelling that further sets this series up to be a great addition to the Jean Grey mythology.
Jean Grey #3 manages to be even more enjoyable, though it narrows the narrative down to solely an encounter between Jean and Namor.
I really enjoyed this little chapter, for a bunch of reasons. One is the simplicity of having a whole comic focused purely on the exchange between two characters. Another is the fact that it’s these two characters in particular. If you had to find one word to describe Jean Grey #3, that word would be ‘endearing’.
Any chance to visit Namor and have an underwater, Atlatean adventure is a good thing. The sparks fly between the King of the Deep and the young Jean Grey from the outset; the dialogue sparkles, the dynamic is fun, and the underwater distractions provide a rich backdrop. Namor doesn’t necessarily provide much counsel in terms of how Jean should deal with the Phoenix; but the low-key, character-based enjoyment of this little interlude is more than enough to justify itself.
Again, this Jean Grey series is proving to be the one X-book right now that is genuinely and consistently delivering quality.
Following the same pattern as #4, Jean Grey #5 has our favorite teenage, time-displaced Marvel Girl seeking out the counsel of Thor (or ‘Odinson’). As a narrative device, this procession of Jean seeking out elder heroes for advice it pretty charming, each issue giving us a lighthearted, endearing clash of personalities. The Odinson encounter isn’t quite as interesting as the Namor one, but is still witty and enjoyable.
Though, it has to be said, nothing really happens here – it’s tricky to work out what Jean actually accomplishes by visiting Thor. That said, there are worse ways to pass half an hour. An imminent encounter with Betsy Braddock could yield a lot more.
These first five chapters of this Jean Grey title have been a real pleasure; possibly my favorite of the current X-Men books. Dennis Hopeless is helping not only develop the time-displaced Jean-teen nicely, but also framing her much more strongly in the legend and mythology of the Jean Grey and Phoenix mantle.
It’s a winner, on all fronts.