Marvel has been in the midst of an X-Men renaissance of sorts since relaunching the X-men line with X-Men Prime #1 early last year. The relaunch may have experienced some turbulence in some of the X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue story arcs, but the X-books have been mostly solid in the last year, especially Astonishing X-Men and Phoenix Resurrection. The crown jewel of these series, however, is undoubtedly Tom Taylor’s X-Men Red, starring the newly resurrected Jean Grey. X-Men Red #6 continues to prove why it’s the best X-title on shelves right now with an issue filled with unsettling moments of villainy, scene-stealing moments of comedic gold from Honey Badger, and more excellent Jean Grey scenes.
One thing that is prevalent throughout X-Men Red #6 is the emphasis on the series’ villain, Cassandra Nova. While previous issues have positioned Jean Grey’s X-Men’s biggest foe on rising anti-mutant sentiment, this issue lifts the veil behind the heinous woman stoking the flames of bigotry. This isn’t done through some shocking revelation or jaw dropping splash page, but is instead subtly executed through small exposition and poignant dialogue.
The story opens with a disturbing image of two fetal twins in the womb as one tries to asphyxiate the other. Artist Carmen Carnero comes out the gate swinging here with a genuinely upsetting image that sets the tone for every scene featuring the series’ villain. The dialogue from Taylor here only strengthens the unsettling demeanor of Nova, as she recalls the source of mutant bigotry comes from her brother (Charles Xavier, heard of him?) trying to kill her in the womb.
While that is creepy enough on the surface, it’s even creepier to think how psychotic someone would have to be to fixate their hatred on something pre-natal, something they definitely do not recall. This all takes place over just one page, but its a moment where the art, dialogue, and narrative implications come together beautifully to create a real sense of discomfort in Nova’s presence. Throughout the rest of the issue, Taylor provides Nova with more snippets of dialogue that continue to cement her as one of the more unsettling villains in the Marvel universe right now, with righteous bigotry so nonchalant and calm in such an uncomfortable way.
While Cassandra Nova leaves every panel she’s in soaked in a palpable sense of unpleasantness, Gabby Kinney a.k.a Honey Badger and Jean Grey swoop in to remind readers this is, after all, a happy story about hope. As she has done in every installment of the series, Gabby steals every scene she’s in thanks to her childish but not annoying sense of humor injected into her dialogue by Taylor. This particular issue may be lighter on the Honey Badger than the ones before it, but the scarcity of her appearances within these pages only makes her wonderful puns all the more enjoyable.
Jean Grey, on the other hand, continues to shine as the best X-Team leader since the linewide relaunch last year. No offense to Kitty Pryde nor Jean’s younger counter part, it’s just Jean is so much more effective as a team leader. She doesn’t simply bark out orders or make the plans, she actively strives to make every member on her team better. Like Gentle, for example, who struggles with his mental health thanks to a traumatic childhood. Jean uses her power to discover the root of this problem in order to relieve Gentle of his pain and allow him to be the best version of himself. The best leaders are the ones who make those around them better, and Jean Grey does that at every turn, especially in this issue.
Jean isn’t perfect though, she makes some weird decisions. Her plan to clear her name after being framed for murder in this issue is one of those weird decisions. Jean wants to clear her name by stealing a dead woman’s phone from a federally owned British airplane and then hack into the phone’s database and access the sound recordings that prove Jean was not the culprit. Look, I am no X-Men and the only thing I’ve ever led are drunken USA chants on the 4th of July, but that sounds like a pretty s----y plan if clearing your name is the objective. It’s not that the plan won’t work, it just seems like there’s a higher chance it will end with Jean in an even worse light than before.
I also wish this issue had more narrative progression. The focus on characters and emphasis on the villain are very strong, but not much happens to move the needle. This issue is so well done readers would be remissed to skip it, but missing it would also not effect someone’s understanding of the greater plot.
With only a couple minor flaws, X-Men Red #6 is another excellent entry in a series that has become the undeniable champion of Marvel’s X-Men lineup. If you’re not reading X-Men Red, do yourself a favor and get on the hype train now.
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