Yes, those “X-Men” books do keep multiplying and piling up for me to read. The ones that I’m actually interested in following at any rate. So it happens that I picked up three new titles in my last big order of comics. While that includes the latest volumes of flagship titles X-Men: Gold and X-Men: Blue the second (and final) volume of Jean Grey was also in there as well. Were they any good? Well, while the quality of Jean’s title is sadly irrelevant at this point, “Blue” and “Gold” look to be settling into their own respective levels at this point.
In my review of the first volume I said that the trip writer Dennis Hopeless was taking us on looked to be worth it. While Jean Grey vol. 2: Final Fight isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, it still does a good job of wrapping things up. A particularly impressive task when you consider Hopeless’ decision to dive headfirst into the Phoenix’s convoluted history as it prepares to make its return and claim young Jean as its latest host. Fortunately Jean has an ally of sorts in the psychic echo of her older self who’s looking to toughen her up in advance of this fight. Which is all well and good until it’s revealed that her method of “toughening up” involves breaking into Emma Frost’s mind to steal a fragment of the Phoenix and maybe settle some old scores along the way.
That issue where Jean breaks into Emma’s mind is probably the weakest of the bunch since it mostly feels like an excuse to go relive the glory days of Grant Morrison’s “New X-Men” run. I can’t really blame Hopeless too much for that -- it’s my favorite run after all -- but everything surrounding it is better. From Jean’s team-up with the Scarlet Witch, to the run-up and actual fight against the Phoenix, the writer makes a pretty good argument for this version of Jean as her own distinct character. He’s also given some good support from artists Victor Ibanez and Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque, both of whom mix the crazy and the grounded with ease. Yes, there’s a complicated deep dive into the Phoenix’s history in the final issue, however it all ends on a final note that has me looking forward to the character(s) future. Maybe that’ll include giving Hopeless a shot at a proper flagship title down the line.
You know, a title like “X-Men: Gold” after its writer Marc Guggenhim has finished his run. Which, after reading through X-Men: Gold vol. 4 -- The Negative Zone War, I’d like to see come sooner rather than later. This volume represents the culmination of the Kologoth subplot the writer has been seeding since the start of his run. If you’ll recall, he was the alien deemed “Creepy New Guy” by Kitty who attacked the team as part of the new Brotherhood. As we found out in his spotlight issue from vol. 2, he was a mutant born on the planet of Dartayus in the Negative Zone, ostracized for his frightening appearance but possessed of a keen enough mind to stage a revolution and get himself exiled to Earth for his trouble. Now his fellow revolutionaries have come for him and the X-Men have the bad luck to get in their way.
I say “bad luck” because Kologoth actually doesn’t want to fight them. He just wants to get back home to continue the fight, but since Kitty and Nightcrawler get caught aboard the spaceship that comes to get him back, a team made up of Old Man Logan, Storm, Armor, and Ink winds up having to invade the Negative Zone to rescue them. What follows is a conflict that never feels like it gets to a lever where it deserves to be called a war. Particularly when things move fast enough for the X-Men to be fighting the planet’s god in the next-to-last issue, and stranded on a desert planet in the finale. I can see the structure of what Guggenhim was going for here and it all winds up being a disappointing case of “reach exceeding grasp.” There’s solid, if stylistically inconsistent, art from Lan Medina, Ken Lashley, and Diego Bernard, but they can’t salvage a story that’s as weakly written as this one.
Guggenheim could stand to learn a thing or two about how to cram more plot and character into an issue from Cullen Bunn. X-Men: Blue vol. 3 -- Cross-Time Capers is also a volume-length story that has the time-stranded team of original X-Men having to do some time-traveling of their own after Magneto, Polaris, and Danger all blink out of existence. Before he disappears, however, Magneto tells the team that they need to return to their own time. Though they immediately set about doing that using the time platform in their mansion’s basement their haste causes their initial jump to go haywire, landing them in the 2099 era.
Now, this arc might seem like it’s coming into it with two strikes against it. The first is that previous “All-New X-Men” writer Hopeless did his best to put an end to the need for this team to return to their own time at the end of his run. The second is that jumping into the times of “X-Men 2099” and subsequently “Generation X” has “Cross-Time Capers” coming off as a bit of a nostalgia-fest. Bunn is thankfully smarter than that and having the team jump into these two eras is done mainly to show that something is very wrong with both of them. Which continues on to when they come face-to-face with themselves in their own time and… well, only spoilers await after this point.
The good news is that Bunn actually wrings an entertaining story out of undoing the ending from a previous one. He manages to pack lots of fun character moments as the teams from different eras interact with each other, along with Magneto in full-on old-school villain mode. All of this character work pays off in a rousing climax that delivers the superhero action goods. It also helps that the majority of the art is from RB Silva who has an animated and detailed approach, reminiscent of original artist Jorge Molina at his best, that really serves the story. I hope he sticks around, though I wouldn’t be averse to the angular stylings of Thony Silas who tackles the first issue. Vol. 3 shows “X-Men: Blue” hitting its stride, which makes me a little apprehensive that it’s heading for a major shakeup in its next volume -- a team-up with “Venom” of all things.