Monday, November 6, 2017

Wars of Hearts, Minds, and Psychics: Jean Grey #8

The following is my review of Jean Grey #8, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In a perfect world, a friendly rivalry brings out the best and worst of two characters. Since no world is perfect, especially one that has Loki and shape-shifting aliens in it, that kind of friendliness is next to impossible. In the Marvel universe, rivalries between heroes and villains are widespread, common, and a vital part of its mythos. There isn't too much complexity in the sense that the dynamics are fairly clear-cut. The two characters are on opposing sides. They hate each other and want their side to triumph. Anyone who watches professional wrestling can understand that.

It's only when two heroes develop a rivalry that the narrative gains a layer of dynamics that can't be fleshed out by seeing Captain America fight the Red Skull for the billionth time. These rivalries often pit two characters who are on the same side against each other, sometime to the point where they undermine their own heroic efforts. For Jean Grey and Emma Frost, that point is far behind them and they've long since entered uncharted territory of bitterness.

These aren't just two characters who occasionally disagree with how to conduct themselves as superheroes. These are two characters who have actually hurt each other, physically and emotionally, on multiple levels. Going back to the early days of the Phoenix Saga during Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-men to Grant Morrison's run on New X-men, these two have a long and varied list of reasons to hate each other.

Even though Jean Grey ends up dead, there's a sense that these two are destined to clash again. With Jean Grey #8, the beginning of the Psych War arc, the wait is finally over. Dennis Hopeless pits a teenage, time-displaced Jean Grey against Emma Frost at a time when she shows little hesitation in sparking wars between the X-men and Inhumans. It may not involve the same dramatic elements that Morrison or Claremont utilized, but the stakes feel every bit as high.

From the beginning, Jean Grey #8 follows similar themes that Hopeless has established in previous issues. The time-displaced Jean Grey, in her effort to prepare for the Phoenix Force, finds herself in a situation she's completely unprepared to handle. Her being a teenager gives her a pass to some extent, but that only goes so far when the stakes are cosmic and the egos involved include Emma Frost. There's really no amount of preparation that can prepare anyone for that kind of struggle, regardless of how much time travel is involved.

In a sense, Jean is in a unique position to offer commentary on the events that led to her most recent death. Her venture into the mind of Emma Frost, her future rival, sends her on an abridged journey through those moments, eventually culminating in a direct encounter with the former White Queen during a lurid, yet familiar situation. It's the context of that encounter, though, that establishes the stakes and the drama for the Psyche War arc.

It's a rare, but increasingly common theme throughout her solo series. The time-displaced Jean ventures into a world that's destined to kill her, but with a different set of perceptions, compared to her older self. While being an immature teenager does plenty to skew anyone's perceptions, it still has the advantage of lacking the baggage of the older Jean Grey that perished. That's an important factor for the Morrison-era X-men because that same baggage played a significant role in causing her death.

Hopeless doesn't ignore those factors as the time-displaced Jean traverses Emma's mind and the memorable moments from the world of New X-men. In a sense, that baggage takes form and substance with the ghost of the older Jean Grey. The previous issue establishes her presence with the teenage Jean and not in a very friendly way either. The two Jean Greys from two different eras are constantly at odds, arguing and yelling at one another in various moments that would strain anyone's mental health.

That constant clash, which becomes a lot more heated as they fight through Emma Frost's mind, establishes an important distinction for Psyche War and for Jean Grey's ongoing story, as a whole. The Jean Grey of the past is still very much at odds with the Jean Grey of the future and not just because she ends up dead. Even though both Jean Greys share the same goal in avoiding the fate of the Phoenix Force, they're not on the same page in terms of methods. If anything, they trip over one another in their conflicting efforts.


It raises the stakes in the ongoing struggle while also revealing how ill-prepared Jean Grey is for the challenge before her. It gives the impression that she has never had a true grasp of the Phoenix, despite her being its most iconic host, going back to the Claremont era. It also makes the role Emma Frost plays feel more personal, especially as it sets the stage for a more heated battle that won't just involve psychic attacks.

The situation, context, and tensions are all there for Jean Grey and Emma Frost. The journey to their clash never gets derailed or subverted. However, even with so many critical ingredients, the lack of heated drama leaves the overall story in Jean Grey #8 feeling muted. While it doesn't try to fight the entire battle between these intensely passionate characters all at once, it stops short of probing the open wounds between them.

They never berate each other over past failures. There's no heated exchange on how Emma affected Jean's marriage to Cyclops. There are all sorts of emotional sub-plots that didn't find their way into the conflict. While the door is left open for these sub-plots, the story still lacks the connecting emotions that give all its potent ingredients the necessary impact.

Psych War still has plenty of potential to make this latest clash between Jean Grey and Emma Frost as dramatic as it deserves to be. Jean Grey #8 is just the first step in that effort. These are two of the most powerful psychics in the Marvel universe and they just happen to have a long list of reasons to resent each other. Anything less than an omega-level clash just won't cut it.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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