Review: 'X-Men Red' #1 Is a Bold New Direction for Marvel's Mutants

Jean Grey has returned to the Marvel Universe, and she is wasting no time in carving a path toward the future for the X-Men.

X-Men Red #1 from writer Tom Taylor and artist Mahmud Asrar follows up on the events of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Jean is back among the living and finally free from the whims of a cosmic entity.

The first issue starts with the new team of X-Men on a rescue mission before diving into the backstory of how that team came to be. This trick is sometimes used as a cheap way to hook readers with the most sensational part of a story up front, but Taylor and Asrar do something much more effective, allowing the backstory leading up to this rescue mission to provide an emotional context for the opening. The issue does more than just tell the story out of a chronological order, it illuminates past pages and paints a fuller picture as it goes in a way that rewards a second reading.

X-Men Red
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

Asrar's artwork infuses even the quietest of scenes with a tangible energy. His fluid linework allows for some truly expressive facial acting from his characters. The expressiveness at times pushes the boundary of consistency but does not break it; the issue's panel layouts are imbued with a forward momentum that gives the story a fast pace and the tone of a high-concept blockbuster.

The concept behind X-Men Red is to reexamine Xavier's dream, the bedrock of the X-Men, and consider how it fits into the current era. The world that Jean Grey was reborn into is different than the one she left, and that's not just in regards to the mutants and superheroes who inhabit it. The Marvel Universe is a reflection of our own world, and so changes in our reality are reflected there as well. X-Men Red filters the divisiveness and tension that have permeated much of the real world's cultural narrative through the lens of the Marvel Universe and the mutant metaphor.

As one of the world's most powerful psychics, Jean is uniquely capable of reaching out and feeling the strife and unease that has grown in the hearts and minds of so many while she was away. As a recognized icon in the Marvel Universe, she is uniquely positioned to do something about it, which is where the new team of X-Men comes in.

The idea feels like a combination of the spirit of Grant Morrison's New X-Men with the setup of Chris Claremont's X-Treme X-Men. Like New X-Men, X-Men Red seems interested in exploring the evolution of the role of the X-Men in the Marvel Universe and subsequently mutants as a metaphor in relation to the real world. However, rather than take place at the school, X-Men Red assembles an offshoot team with a singular, grand mission.

X-Men Red #1
(Photo: Marvel Entertainment)

In gathering up the team, Taylor digs into Jean's relationships to her fellow mutants and others. To some, like Nightcrawler, she's an old friend worthy of implicit trust. To others, like Wolverine, she's a respected elder and even role model who is worthy of following. For someone in a position of political power like Namor, she's a representative of her people worthy of an audience with ideas equally worthy of consideration. There's a line of dialogue or two in these conversations that feel a bit unnatural, moments where it feels like Taylor is telling the reader how these characters see one another rather than showing the reader. Despite that, Taylor has a clear grasp of the characters and their dynamics and seems eager to begin exploring them further.

X-Men Red teases the return of a villain who is perfectly suited to the story the series is looking to tell. In their first issue, Taylor, Asrar, and company present a story that has plenty of visceral energy and that seems interested in carving a new path for these characters rather than recapturing past glory.

That combination of big ideas and big action makes X-Men Red one of the boldest new X-Men comic in years.

X-Men Red #1

Published by Marvel Comics

On February 7, 2018

Written by Tom Taylor

Art by Mahmud Asrar

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