If you’re into comics at the moment, you’ll know that there are a LOT of X-Men titles floating around. Maybe too many. We’ve got three ‘main’ series: X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue, and Astonishing X-Men. Then we’ve got mini-series that have turned into ongoings like X-Men Grand Design. There’s also specific groups with spin-off series, like Weapon X, Weapon H soon following from that, there’s single character series like Iceman, Jean Grey, Old Man Logan, and so on. There’s events like Phoenix Resurrection. There’s….there’s a lot.
So what in the world inspired Marvel to put out yet ANOTHER book in the X-Men line, let alone another ongoing title to compete with their other three ongoing titles? The answer to that question puzzles me, but I am glad to be a diligent reader dedicated to timeless characters that will give some things additional chances to be good, because X-Men Red is pretty darn good.
From ‘go’, we get a classic moment of X-Men protecting mutants, specifically young mutants from bigotry and hatred, though this book dares to go that one step further showing even family members turning on their own for fear of what they don’t understand. I worry they might have glossed over this just a little too quickly, but perhaps they’ll revisit the lasting effects that a traumatic event like that can have: a mother aiming and firing a gun at her own daughter because she’s a mutant. Because she’s different.
Then time skips back a bit to show what even began this witch-hunt of mutants, even young ones. It’s based on small occurrences of mutation forming that lead to devastating, or at least newsworthy consequences. This book also takes a political stance, if perhaps a meek one, and reiterates a sentiment that some people actually try to argue against: the X-Men represent the marginalized, they represent the queer community, people of color, women. What a shocker, that their team is often lead by people also fitting into those specific groups, even if in the comic they are targeted for their mutation.
What I enjoyed most about X-Men Red’s start is that while there’s action and intrigue, a large portion of the issue is dedicated to the idea of Jean Grey, as a political and sociological representative of mutants, making conversation and attempting to create a bridge of understanding and compassion with humans, but with COUNTRIES as well. After earning the support of Wakanda and Atlantis and being backed to represent the mutant species as a member of the United Nations, we see that while things start out hopeful, there’s an incident that quickly makes things fall apart. Of course, this is thanks to some shadowy villain, and that will probably be the spark that ignites the flame of vengeance in humankind to hunt the mutants.
This is probably the bravest Marvel has been in a while, but even still, I’d offer that it’s not quite brave enough. I give them credit for creating a setting that, so far, mimics small similarities to what marginalized groups are actually facing in our world today, especially in the United States with our unfortunate current presidency, but Marvel can’t quite pull the trigger and really speak the words out loud sometimes, whether that’s about Captain America uprooting Nazi groups and affiliates from small towns, or the X-Men being bullied or at this point, outright attacked for being who they are, who they can’t help but live as. Don’t get me wrong, they find very clever scripted ways to allude to these ideas and the seasoned reader will pick up what they’re putting down, it’d just be nice to see the words, clear as day, before my eyes.
My wish is this: say those sentiments exactly, without room for interpretation or guesswork. Say that the government and hate-groups are oppressing people of color because they’re afraid of losing their superiority that they’ve held unchecked for years. Say that homophobes are ignorant and insecure and going after the LGBT community and its individuals because they’ve been born and raised in fear. Say that these white supremacist groups are racists. Say they’re Nazi scumbags. Make it undoubted to any reader of any age that these heroes represent what is right, not just what is law, not just the allusion of righteousness to be adopted by the very hate groups and individuals who would skew the message in its opposite direction.
X-Men Red is getting at that, just as the recent run of Captain America has started to get at that. I think at this point, though, we need leaps, not strides.
My passionate rambling aside, this comic is a great start, worth a read and definitely worth a look. Mahmud Asrar and Ive Scorcina create some wonderful visual parallels with the writing of Tom Taylor, such as the saturated blue and reds of Jean’s x-suit, or the tense yellow board room of the United Nations meeting. There’s a really great melting pot of genres for a single issue of a comic as well, from action-packed car chases and rescues, to political newscast arguments over the value of life, be it mutant or human, to a tender scene of Jean and Nightcrawler sharing a vision.
I really hope I can get to see that full vision Jean showed him at some point. I really hope there’s a revisiting of the little girl who was nearly killed by her own mother. As much as I enjoy the fights of heroes versus villains and the discussion of fictional characters and races in a present setting, I have been calling for more heart in Marvel’s stories for some time now. We see glimmers of that here and there, but I want mountains of it, and honestly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Comics that are made of love for the characters and a genuine interest in telling a tale that is new and bold and reaching are what save the industry in a lot of ways, and I dare to imagine a world where it’s hard to choose what comic you want to jump in on, because they’re all THAT fantastic.
I know, I’ve complained about what Marvel should do for much of this review, but I think all those additions to a book like this could create some stellar material. I can still settle for a good book. It just makes me dream of what it could be: great. X-Men Red is the beginning of that, the hint of great that is timid, but waiting to burst out in color and imagination. Here’s to issue 2 allowing just that!
Too long, didn’t read? I rate X-Men Red #1 at 8/10 stars!
Honorable Mentions: Infinity Countdown: Adam Warlock, Swamp Thing: Winter Special #1, and The Walking Dead #176.