by Dennis Hopeless, Victor Ibanez & Chris Sotomayar
Imagine placing Grant Morrison created characters into a Christopher Nolan written film. Sounds awesome, I know. Then imagine the story revolving around a teenage girl being telepathically guided by an older, dead version of herself. Throw in some expressive art and perfectly restrained coloring and you have Jean Grey #8.
This is the first issue of Jean Grey which is considered part of the Marvel Legacy initiative. Now, Marvel Legacy may look scary to both new readers and long time fans, but I assure you it is nothing to be afraid of. The book you are reading may appear to have jumped hundreds of issues forward, or you were thinking of catching up to a series and now you don’t know where to start. Take my advice; don’t worry about all that numbering garbage. Find out which issue the Marvel Legacy initiative starts on and pick up there. Marvel has created easy jumping on points without slapping #1s all over their books. Jean Grey #8 is the first issue marked Marvel Legacy, and also the first part of the “Psych Wars” arc.
The inner demon of young Jean Grey has, and always will be, the imminent future of the Phoenix Force possession. Issue #8 picks up with young Jean in the head of an unconscious Emma Frost. I keep saying young Jean because the long-deceased Jean of the current time has in fact returned in spirit form. She is also in the head of Emma Frost simultaneously. So, what you have is a young Jean physically walking through the memories of Emma Frost while an older Jean is coaching her through it telepathically. Right away we find ourselves reading an Inception-style plot as Jean does her best to fit in with the subconscious of Emma. Where does Grant Morrison fit into all of this? The Emma-memory Jean finds herself in is from the New X-Men days.
I recently read the entire New X-Men run by Grant Morrison, so it was a treat seeing the comic open on the Stepford Cuckoos giving Jean attitude. Things go south fast as Emma’s subconscious begins to detect the intruder and much like in Inception, it begins to attack her. One of the character beats I really appreciate is young Jean being very tentative in combat with the X-Men. Older Jean is yelling in her ear that hurting them doesn’t matter, because they aren’t really her friends and simply Emma’s subconscious memories. This succeeds at both separating the two Jean characters and also giving the reader a sense of how real things feel inside the mind of Emma.
The fantastic art by Victor Ibáñez strongly supports Hopeless’ emotional content. From page one you can see that Ibáñez excels at character expressions. He is especially impressive with Jean, who is clearly nervous and out of her element here. But, Ibáñez isn’t just a one trick pony. The issue is packed with action and he is able to create a feeling of intensity during these sequences. The pages are laid out with interesting panel designs, sometimes having overlapping panels bringing the action to the foreground while at other times leaving it in the background with the character’s emotional reaction as the foreground focus. I expected an issue with this much action to have a big payoff splash page, but it never came. Ibáñez was able to fit three, four, or sometimes five detailed action panels per page, which helped aid the flow of the story and captured the panic of the issue. It is hard to create stakes in a dreamlike world or a virtual reality scenario when you don’t really feel like your hero is in trouble. This comic surprisingly does not suffer from that common downfall even though there is no exposition dump about the real danger Jean is in, and I attribute that to the fast pace and emotion-filled art that Ibáñez is bringing to this book.
I can’t continue praising the art without tipping my cap (good thing I put on my review cap today) to colourist Chris Sotomayor. When I think of great colourists in the industry today, the names that come to mind are Jordie Bellaire, Matt Wilson, Elizabeth Breitweiser and Dave Stewart. I will now be adding Chris Sotomayor to that list. I have heard that a good score for a film is one you don’t even notice. Sure, I can get on board with that. However, a great score for a film is one I am compelled to point out to others. I would say the same principle applies to comics and colouring. A comic that has a good colouring job is one I don’t notice, but a comic that has a great colouring job is one I stop to admire. Sotomayor matched the feel of the New X-Men era perfectly. He uses a lot of muted colours in the character work, tiptoeing the line between dreamlike and realistic, but also uses a lot of vibrant colours to make the vivid moments pop off the page. Fantastic work by this art duo to bring the correct feel to a tricky story.
Hopeless and Ibáñez have created a heist-style feel in this issue continuing the parallels with the movie Inception. The movie introduces the concept that if a safe exists in your dream your mind will subconsciously fill it with all your important information. Similarly, Jean is searching Emma’s mind for a puzzle piece related to the Phoenix. As this is valuable information, Emma would be storing it in a secure place. Jean spends some time delicately questioning the subconscious X-Men trying to get some hint as to where this puzzle piece might be. While Inception lets you know valuable information is stored in a safe, this comic keeps the hiding place a secret until the very end. Without any spoilers I think the hiding place pays off and when you combine it with the logic of Inception, it’s a really interesting idea.
It’s well known I’m a long-time fan of Hopeless’ character writing. When he gets his hands on a character, I find he usually focuses on aspects and characteristics that resonate with me. Jean is a favorite character of mine and it has been terrific these last couple of years to have a young Jean running around the Marvel Universe. Since her return, she’s been in the hands of some fantastic creators, and whether it is because she now has her own series or because Hopeless is writing it, I find myself enjoying Jean now more than ever. With this arc, I even have the pleasure of reading two Jeans constantly playing off each other. It really is incredibly enjoyable reading her character in this new way, and when you throw in an Inception-style plot in the Grant Morrison era X-Men, forget about it!
Jean Grey #8 is a great jumping on point. So, don’t let Marvel Legacy or the #8 on the cover scare you. Just pick it up and enjoy the ride.