Classic Jean Grey vs The X-Men

This Editorial comes to us from Everett Christensen

People make sacrifices based on how important things are to them, the most common component of that sacrifice is time. The true lifeblood of any hobby are hours and hours spent focused on either consuming or producing the work. Similarly, time is something that connects us all. No one can retry yesterday and once we die, well for most of us that’s it. We grow older and if we’re lucky, wiser. Continuity is the raw happenstuffs of time in comic book form and we as an audience ask for different things from continuity from different companies. But from the X-Men in specific there has always been a focus on legacy, passing on the torch to a new generation, and continuing the work of activism for the marginalized and oppressed. Instead of telling stories about the current generation of mutant leadership, Marvel Legacy is rolling back the status quo with a pair of resurrections. Bringing back both Logan and Jean Grey undermines the strength of every story built on their sacrifice, everything since Charles died.

Let’s recap, in 2010 after the destruction of the Xavier School, Scott Summers moved all of the mutants to an island off the coast of the Northern California. The narrative surrounding Professor X and Magneto changed, both acknowledging the time had come to pass on the mantle of mutant leadership. Wolverine decided to take as many kids as he could out of what he viewed as harms way, becoming the rival to Charles’ legacy. He would be justified in this suspicion as mutants squared off against The Avengers in a costly event that saw a Phoenix Force possessed Cyclops kill Professor X. At this point Jean Grey had already been dead for 7 years.

It was the moment that left only one heir to the dream, Logan. In the years before The Death of Wolverine Logan had the remit of mutant leadership, he was the Headmaster and Scott was the activist, a status quo at once new and very familiar to readers. Logan’s death left the question of leadership wide open and Storm stepped in as interim leader, as is her wont. Fast forward to now and what do we have? It’s the house that Wolverine built. Kitty Pryde is the Headmistress, Jubilee is the homeroom teacher of the ‘new class’, Laura is the Wolverine. These are the women mentored and raised by Logan and they are now the heirs of the dream. Cyclops is dead. Jean Grey has been dead for nearly 15 years.

In a franchise that began in the early 1960s with a mostly, sorta, unbroken line of continuity it is now the generation after the generation that assumed mutant leadership from Professor X. It’s 2017, the fact that we are only on the third generation of mutant leader is wild, but comics have that sliding timeline. Aside from the revolving door criticisms, editorial has given these characters no chance to grow into their positions or examine Logan’s legacy before derailing them with line-wide crossovers multiple times before bringing him back. Bringing Logan back calls into question Kitty Pryde’s position as headmistress and strips Laura’s primacy. This is a regression to the status quo and that wouldn’t be so bad, except for Jean.

Classic Jean Grey is the franchise leading lady, let’s not get it twisted. Originally by way of being the only girl on the team for the 60’s and later by leaving the biggest mark on the X-Men, perhaps of all time, in the Dark Phoenix Saga. She has led the team more than once and was the centerpiece of romantic plotlines time and time again. Bringing classic Jean back sets back the priority for stories centered on the current cast. This was largely inevitable. It was going to happen to some cast someday, it’s the Phoenix. But the cost today must be paid by a diverse and largely female-led line of comics. As a founding member classic Jean steals spotlight that might have been given to actually advancing the state of the line.

The timing is devastating to any momentum behind the stories that we have right now. It’s another one-two punch to a line of books that have been hurting since their launch. The fear is that by rolling back the status quo on the line as a whole it will damage the foundation of the entire line once again, damage that was already done in spades by the Secret Empire and Death of X crossovers. Consider that in the last year we’ve had stories about a large number of the once-again emerging mutant population being devastated by Terrigen Mists and those that survived have been rendered sterile. Though it has not been brought up since the involuntary sterilization of minority populations and reproductive autonomy in general are devastating civil and human rights issues being fought today and must be addressed. Hydra controlled America then concentrated all of the mutants not trapped in a giant Darkforce bubble in California, the opposite coast of the Jean Grey School. Then the newly reformed American government, now without being able to use Hydra’s fascism as an excuse for this behavior, used Sentinels, actual genocide machines, to burn New Tian to ashes. Traumatic is the only word that comes to mind! By once again bringing a renumbering and renaming of the books it is as if this past year of X-Franchise comics have simply been a placeholder, a gimmick to bridge between IvX, a shaky ResurrXion, and Marvel Legacy.

Placing the entire line of X-Men into an airliner like holding pattern for a year is madness. The sidelining of the mutants from the focus of the comics alone is bad enough, but this particular tactic has cost the franchise dearly both in readers and in the narrative itself. Marvel’s merry band of mutants doesn’t need its status quo reset, it needs time to rebuild and craft a narrative that will rejuvenate an exhausted fan base. Endless events and genocidal threats have left the comics anemic, let’s get back to basics and we’re not talking about baseball. Let’s have new mutants, new enemies, new ideological challenges to overcome. Let’s start talking about bigotry and how it gets expressed today.

Generation X by Christina Strain is better than just a good book, it’s great X-Men. It is the exact kind of book we need if we are going to evolve the franchise message about discrimination. It is laying the slow-burn groundwork that hasn’t been done for years, actually giving us space and time to grow to know a familiar cast in an unfamiliar lineup. It’s the natural progression of Jubilee’s story, from a ward of Wolverine to one of the caretakers of his legacy and his school, from student to teacher. What will become of this delightfully diverse book now that Legacy begins to unspool? It and Iceman have been under-promoted in favor of Secret Empire tie-ins and Marvel Legacy hype. This book used to be in the top 10 most sold of all comics 20 years ago, the whole X-Men line used to top the charts honestly, how far the line has fallen. It would be unfair to lose the most promising book in the line because of holding pattern mismanagement!

The X-Men line of comics would be rewarded for centering books like Generation X instead of bringing back classic Logan and classic Jean Grey because we don’t need the same things out of the franchise than we do out of, for example, DC properties. In our lives as comic book readers our grandparents will retire or pass, our parents will get older or pass, we will get older or die. This franchise is 54 years old, this year saw the celebration of Jack Kirby’s centennial and the passing of Len Wein. Buried in the X-Men story is a generational tale of the disenfranchised, each group of leaders passing the torch of activism to the young heroes that will change, threaten, and save the world. It is our responsibility to safeguard the message of tolerance, equality, understanding, and love, to ensure the legacy of our beloved franchise. If either one of these characters had returned individually it wouldn’t be as damaging. It must be demanded that the comic line continues to evolve and grow, not revert to old status quos that do nothing to further The Dream.

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