Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #3 is a back-from-the-dead superhero story with substance. For a story from the big two that sees the return of one of its biggest characters, that’s surprising. With comics history being filled with half-assed deaths and half-assed returns, it’s hard for the modern reader. For a story where that character is Jean Grey, it isn’t as surprising to find that substance. Jean Grey, more appropriately her alter-ego as the Phoenix, has kept a steady presence in the X-Men comics even after her death. Hope Summers and the time-displaced Jean are just the most recent Jean-ish characters to appear in the books, with characters like Rachel Summers and Madelyne Pryor having been around long enough to find their own place in the X-Men mythos.
With the return of the real deal Jean, we’re seeing the long, intricate history of this character play out in a sort of All-Stars event. That is to say, while Phoenix-centric stories of the past have centered around the introduction of a new character or status quo (starting with Jean being taken over by the Phoenix Force itself) Phoenix Ressurection is using the existing semi-Jeans of the X-Men books to tell a tale about the return of the final, and most important piece of their fiery family.
The past few issues have seen the time-displaced Jean trapped in a bubble town scenario, surrounded by other mutants but not knowing anything of her old life. Aside from a few ominous scenes featuring the Phoenix Force itself, much of this issue focuses on her more than anything– or at the very least, you could say her scenes are the most compelling. While the moments with Cyclops’ X-Team add a bit of suspense and work to push the story forward, there’s something about a bottle world like the one writer Matthew Rosenberg has cooked up— the “something is off but I’m not sure what” vibe — that generate a car wreck effect. It’s uncomfortable and you almost would rather not see it, but you also can’t look away.
The added dimension to a story like this is that the reader starts to feel trapped too. There’s no doubt that feeling works to compliment the Phoenix’s return: the young Jean’s feeling of isolation mirroring our own until both are shattered by the full-fledged, real deal Jean popping back up in the middle of the issue. While it might have been too obvious to end the issue with Jean’s return, having such a climactic scene follow a few more pages of story did make the already dull final page even harder to appreciate.
While overall solid, Joe Bennett and Lorenzo Ruggiero’s art doesn’t seem well-suited for this book in particular. Landscape scenes feel a bit incomplete, and their portrayals of fire come off feeling less free-flowing and more concrete like a tree trunk. or a book about The Phoenix, that last point seems kind of crucial.
Colors from Rachelle Rosenberg add a diverse feel for the diverse locations this issue visits. Moments inside Jean’s bubble world have a softer look to imply the kind of innocence that’s supposed to permeate from the town. The moments with the rest of the X-Men, however, are rely on a lot of greys. Whether intentional or not, Rosenberg does something cool with her colors leading up to the page where the Phoenix returns, flipping the visual feel of the two settings so that the bubble town comes off as ghostly and broken, while the X-Men outside are given a brighter palette.
Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #3 starts strong and fails to keep momentum, though the few final pages of this otherwise exciting tale don’t ruin the issue as a whole. If you’re excited for the return of Jean Grey, or if you want to be but need some convincing, this is the issue where things really take off, and despite a few issues, the payoff is well-earned.
(W) Matthew Rosenberg (A) Joe Bennett, Lorenzo Ruggiero (CA) Leinil Francis Yu