X-Men: Red #1

by Charles Martin on February 07, 2018

X-Men: Red #1
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colourist: Ive Svorcina
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

After all of Marvel's hot air about ResurreXion, finally, we get a book that swings anew at classic X-Men themes and does it well. Leave it to Jean Grey and writer Tom Taylor to psychically intuit the things that really matter.

Jean Grey is back. She's a fearsomely powerful psychic, a dangerous telekinetic warrior, and the charter member of the Revolving Door Mausoleum Club. But Tom Taylor focuses on a more crucial facet of Jean's character: She's one of Charles Xavier's finest and most optimistic students. And she's missed the decade of cringe-worthy hero-on-hero infighting that sullied Xavier's dream. Jean is bringing that dream back in a way that should have us standing on tables and cheering.

Let's start with the bad news - which is what the creators did. The $4.99 price tag means we get some extra pages, and these take the form of a pre-title-page scene telling a standard "save a young mutant from a howling mob" story. 

It delivers some nice story beats, some good dialogue, and a scary mystery about the opposition. It also delivers the hardest-to-love parts of the title: Jean's blue linebacker armour, a secret base with a dumb name, and a "meet your X-Men" spread that offers up some "who the ☠☠☠☠ are these guys" roster picks. (Proceed directly to the comments if you want to tear me a new one for not recognizing Gentle.) To be clear, there's not much wrong with this first scene. It's standard-issue modern X-Men action. It looks decent; it's entertaining.

It's also blown completely out of the water by the "two months earlier" story following the title page.

Jean saves another emergent mutant, this one an infant. The "hate and fear" reaction which bursts across the media convinces her that this world needs healing. It needs X-Men.

Everything about Jean's drive to build a new X-Team is smart and brave. She assembles a think tank of brilliant minds - favouring unpowered geniuses instead of the standard Marvel Illuminati lineup - to brainstorm the mutant problem with her. She calls Nightcrawler to be her team's heart. And she enrolls Namor fast to equip herself with political muscle.

It all goes south thanks to villainous opposition, and the villain who arrives to Ruin Everything at the end is a magnificent addition to the story. Jean has some perfectly-chosen opposition standing against her.

I've already mentioned that we've got heart and courage and intelligence on board. The presence of the Kinney Sisters, particularly Honey Badger, takes care of the humour. All of these components are balanced perfectly in Tom Taylor's script. The pace at which the plot unfolds is also flawless, taking us up to the heights of optimism before driving into some shockingly deep adversity.

Mahmud Asrar's art is reaching new peaks. His expressive faces are as great as ever, but he also does some poised composition that contributes significantly to the epic big-budget feel of this story. Ive Svorcina's colours are superb as well. His deep, modulated hues add tremendous texture to the art; the effect is ideal with Mr. Asrar's expansive linework. (And yes, the art team keeps those big blue shoulder pads off Jean once the introductory scene is over.)

The visuals in the pre-title scene are a bit less impressive. Though it doesn't seem likely that that scene sprang up on the creative team at the last minute, it sure does feel rushed compared to the rest of the issue. 

The temptation to simply ignore the first scene is powerful - I confess I had almost forgotten it was there by the time I finished the tour de force main story. Since it is there, driving up the cost and scattering minor stumbling blocks right at the start of this race, I can't call this comic perfect. But everything after the title page is arguing the other way. It's a story you don't want to miss.

After a year of "meh" and qualified successes at best, Marvel has finally delivered on the ResurreXion promise. Jean Grey is back, and she's brought a classic "hero up and save the world" story with her. A character who took a graveyard end-run around the last shameful decade of X-History is the perfect choice to breathe fresh life into Xavier's dream and beat back the nightmares connected to it. It's going to be quite a ride, and you won't regret getting on board right at the start.

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Charles Martin's picture
Chlling realization: Someday some gump of a writer is gonna take Honey Badger and completely mess her up. Tom Taylor's work here assures us that the day hasn't come yet, though. Whew!