With the X-Men’s future in doubt after the Hellfire Gala, one of their mightiest needs to look at their past in Jean Grey #1.
I’ve covered enough “Fall of X” spinoffs by this point to do the full spiel again, so you know what’s up. Things are bad bad for the X-Men right now and Jean is kinda sorta dead, but not really? Death is canonically a mere suggestion and not a rule for Jean; even without the Phoenix force behind her anymore, she’s still an incredibly strong telepath and can keep herself alive (astrally) through sheer force of will. So that’s where we find her in Jean Grey #1, hovering between life and death as she tries to find her way back before it’s too late. To do that, she must examine her past and figure out what she could have done differently to avoid her present situation.
With classic and beloved writer Louise Simonson at the helm, Jean Grey #1 pays reverence to its titular subject without coming across as cloying or sanding off some of her edges. (Yes, Jean does have some edges!) An astute scholar of X-Men lore may remember that Simonson’s original run on X-Factor was where Jean first came back from death after the Dark Phoenix Saga, so Simonson knows a little something about that whole aspect of the character. So what exactly is the plot here, then?
Taking a surprising narrative cue from 2018’s Extermination, of all things(!), this series begins with Jean experiencing what would have happened had she and her fellow time-displaced X-Men (remember them??) went back into the past with the accumulated memories of their future in the present, rather than have them wiped — which means a young Jean would have emerged without Xavier suppressing her full potential. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t turn out great! It seems this series as a whole will be predicated quasi-”What If?” scenarios regarding Jean’s personal history and how they relate to the X-Men’s present, which is a solid hook. This sort of throwbacky angle has become fairly common in Marvel’s publication slate, but here it stands to have some tangible impact on what happens after, rather than serve mostly as a novelty pandering to nostalgia.
As stated, Simonson clearly has a great handle on this character, but her reverence for Jean doesn’t get in the way of storytelling; the Jean we see rise here is kind of a supervillain? Like late stage Xavier-level bad? Without her potential blocked, she more or less becomes Magneto with Xavier’s telepathic prowess, which is a fascinating spin. I’m curious to see how Simonson continues this experiment. She’s joined by fellow X-Men veteran Bernard Chang on art for this series, and he gets a lot of material to work with. There’s one double page spread here that is full of details and references to Jean’s past that would take a solid few minutes to decipher, but the thing as a whole is a solid package worth checking out even if you’re not super interested in the Kraoa saga but love the character.