At long last, Jean Grey has returned to the Marvel Universe. For years, it seemed like the core member of the original X-Men was gone for good, only reappearing in indirect or symbolic ways through the introduction of new characters and time-traveling teen versions. For many, it’s a relief. For more, it probably feels like a slap in the face. The saga of the Phoenix post-Morrison’s New X-Men, where Grey was given the most proper send off if there ever was one, was largely rooted in the finality of her death, and having lasted a little over ten years, it got a lot of people thinking that, like Uncle Ben, this was one death Marvel was sticking to.
What this issue does is more than simply bring back a fallen character. Writer Matthew Rosenberg does what any good revival arc should do, and what many fail to. It provides a rationale, explains itself, makes you respect its decision, even if you don’t agree. First and foremost, it pulls at the heartstrings, and that’s just a given with a Jean Grey story.
Writing a Phoenix story means writing something on the cosmic scale. Writing the return of a founding member of the team your story focuses on means it should be bigger than that. With all that said, it feels like the visual element by Lenil Francis Yu & Joe Bennet hasn’t conveyed that large-scale feeling since it began. When we see The Phoenix conversing with Jean Grey in this book, its appearance doesn’t convey that God-like feel The Phoenix should. This is an entity that destroys worlds, and this book portrays it as a big bird made of fire, which is the last thing the Phoenix should be considered.
We see the demystification of the entity both in how its drawn and the voice it’s given. This thing is bargaining with Jean, desperate to keep their connection. In this sense, its reduced stature makes a lot of sense, but for such a crucial story, probably the final Phoenix story for a while, one would think we would get a larger scale encounter. Instead, we get a lot of talking, which certainly has its own merits.
With what can now be seen as ten-ish years of build up, you could say this story has a lot to prove. Rosenberg could have tried to craft this epic homage to all things Jean Grey, and in a lot of ways he has, but in a lot of ways he also kept it simple. The return of Jean Grey is a piece of the decade-long Phoenix saga that has continued to appear, disappear, then reappear in the X-books. Kind of like a Phoenix, it’s gone in cycles, and this is just a piece of the story. Heck, it may not even be the end.
(W) Matthew Rosenberg (A) Khoi Pham (CA) Leinil Francis Yu