Writer, Tom Taylor, allowed his personal agendas to get in the way of storytelling.
At the time of the announcement of X-Men: Red there were not ‘a lot’ of X-Men books. Not in comparison to their hay day, and absolutely not compared to before Disney bought Marvel Comics. As creator Rob Liefeld stated: “-Marvel kind of turned the volume down on the X-Men.”
So, when a new X-Men project emerged, it caught the attention of comic fans. However, what we got wasn’t so much of an X-Men book more than a bullhorn for the social interests of Australian writer, Tom Taylor. While I’m certain that this sort of writing would interest certain parts of the fanbase, I believe it alienated even more of it. Along with the issues with the narrative- the structure of the storytelling, the bloated composition of the roster, and the artwork in the first half of the 11-issue run didn’t necessarily enrich the reading experience, not for me at least.
In my wholly honest opinion, the X-Men: Red series was average, at best. Nothing to rave about. It had a forgettable plot filled with well-tread upon points and clichés previously undertook by earlier runs. Seriously, what was that? The fourth reprogrammed friendly Sentinel? Maybe the second within the last 4-years? But I digress… The book started out well enough, if not obvious in its direction and focus. There is a mysterious wave of hatred sweeping across the globe and the only one that could stop it is Twitter- I mean, Jean Grey- I mean, the X-Men. Sorry.
It wasn’t a bad premise. But how it preceded after this point? Not so great. The main antagonist of Red’s entire run was Cassandra Nova, a pseudo incorporeal psionic being of pure malevolence that the X-Men can’t seem to get rid of. For the second time in franchise history, Nova has come into possession of a horde of Sentinels. The difference is, this batch is microscopic and instead of hunting mutants, they induce hatred towards them. I didn’t know we needed Sentinels for that.
Whilst tackling the issue we’re treated to several lectures about the gender wage gap in India, social media trolling, and international immigration laws; sometimes several times within the same issue. It’s not that these were alluded to and woven into the narrative, but that Taylor chose to allow these points to dominate the narrative. Addressing social issues and other real-world matters aren’t anything new. How it’s done is how good writers separate themselves from someone just shoving it down the throats of readers.
Tom Taylor oddly addressed these issues by name. He then, for reasons beyond my understanding, melded these real-world problems into a fictional world that doesn’t necessarily have the same problems, yet treated them as if they do. Ultimately, he didn’t fix anything or even propose any remedies. He just pointed them out and kept it moving. At best, I found it distracting. At it’s worst, it made me put the book down.
This was the gist of the story. Tom Taylor used X-Men: Red to address his gripes with the subjects of international news, social matters that he has no experience with, and inconsequential internet feuding. Red was the first book to utilize Jean Grey after her revival. She’d been dead since the early ’00s and returned just before this book’s debut in the 2017 mini-series Phoenix Resurrection. Instead of a book where we get to see Jean rediscover her place in the world and come to terms with the deaths of her husband, Cyclops, ‘friend’, Wolverine, and teacher, Xavier- we got to see Jean and her army of X-Men point fingers at internet trolls and politicians that will never hear of the book, much less who wrote it.
Speaking of the Jean Corp, when I first saw the teaser images for the X-Men: Red series, the first thought I had was- “wow, that’s a lot of characters.” By series end Red had the better part of a dozen members wearing that goofy Care Bear-like “X” on their stomachs. The team consisted of Jean (of course), Storm, X-23, Honey Badger, Gentle, Trinary, Namor, Gambit, Nightcrawler, and their pet Sentinel. Almost as if Taylor couldn’t make up his mind, the book felt overpopulated and severely lacking in the development department outside of Jean and Trinary (a very unnecessary creation, but this is Taylor; a man that’s duplicated a cloned character several times over).
Most of the time, characters other than Jean, Honey Badger and Trinary, just kind of stood around. They sometimes spout the most obvious of facts, or just smirk silently in the background. There was so little use of other characters, it’s a wonder why Taylor bothered to stack the team the way he did. I believe if he’d kept the team limited to five, the interactions may have been more meaningful. And not the ones that he probably thought deserved the spotlight. To be honest the only X-Men that would have made sense were the characters Jean already knew; Storm, Nightcrawler, and Gambit.
X-23, Honey Badger, Gentle, and Trinary seemed out of place. Like all the time. I take that back. Jean’s reason for keeping X-23 around made sense. She claimed it was the last part of her friend left on the planet (ignoring all the other Wolverines running around I guess). But the Jean I remember from the books prior to her untimely death wouldn’t be all that keen about putting the lives of children in danger, trained or not. Gentle isn’t any more than 16 or 17, and the new character Trinary is the greenest X-Man in the catalog, yet somehow, she operated in a manner no different than the vets.
Funny enough, this point was even strained when we got a panel of Honey Badger’s mid-section being blown away by the same Sentinel they would commandeer. I suppose it was meant to be funny, but I found the depiction of a child’s innards being incinerated, disturbing. That should have been the last issue with Honey Badger. Jean, seeing what they were up against, should have shipped Gabby back to the school and kept the untrained Trinary safely stashed behind the battle lines. Instead, it was waved off and never brought up again. It rebels against the entire concept of having a school.
The last member being Namor makes the least amount sense, both in terms of his relation to Jean, but also within the book itself. Despite the peace, Namor is the still the sworn enemy of Black Panther and Wakanda. One of the main plot points behind Taylor’s story was the idea of a ‘Mutant Nation’ where they can even be recognized by the UN. I guess it’s not that ridiculous an idea, but without an actual country with borders, what are we talking about? That’s where Atlantis and Wakanda come in. Jean, who’s been dead for years, somehow brokered sponsorship to speak to the UN through Wakanda, while having a base of operations in Atlantis.
That doesn’t make a lick of sense. Not to mention, Namor, a short time later in the Avengers is the main antagonist and is outright murdering anyone that even enters the ocean. So, atop of ignoring the well-documented, poor relationship between two nations, Tom Taylor and Jason Aaron (Avengers) are writing the same character in monstrously different ways literally within months of one another. I won’t even get into the fact that Storm, someone who still sees herself as a part of Wakanda, being its former Queen, had no objection to any of this. Gentle, oddly enough, didn’t seem to have an issue with it either.
It wasn’t bad. But for goodness sake, the only way I can describe Mahmud Asrar’s art in the first half of this run is ‘muddy.’ He seemed to handle the action well enough, but his thick lines and colors of Ive Svorcina (later taken over by Rain Beredo) made this book hard to look at. Characters were drawn inconsistently; facial expressions were limited to two: smug smirk and frown. The dark color palette made the experience dower, slow, and overall lacking in energy.
When Asrar was replaced by up-and-coming artist Carmen Carnero (later Roge Antonio), I saw it as a solid step in the right direction for the series. While her style was indeed an improvement on the heavy lines provided by Asrar, I think she was paying a bit too much respect to his work. It appeared she was really just trying to toe the line and compliment what was already in existence instead of truly bending the art to her much superior stylings.
Before we wrap-up, let me put this out there, especially for those not familiar with me or haven’t bothered to do the typical Twitter-stalking that comes with having an opinion these days. I’m a first-generation Jamaican-American, Democrat from Miami, Florida with friends and family from all over the spectrum. So, before you go off and accuse me of being a white-supremacist, right-leaning, “phobe” or “ist” for not liking where this book took us- get your facts straight.
I bought the entire run and the annual issue, while it was still on the stands. I earned the right to criticize this book and no one can tell me if I can or how I’m supposed to critique it. At the time of publication, this was indeed the best written traditional X-Men team book on the stands, but in my opinion, that says more about the state of the franchise than compliments the series. It wasn’t an innately lost cause, but it got so muddled in its own avalanche of self-righteous virtue signaling, it became a hopeless mess that I struggled to finish. The only reason I did, muscle through was to support my LCS and finish out the subscription.
I can definitely see how this type of writing would have energized a certain base within the fandom, but I can’t imagine what sort of numbers Marvel was expecting. The story ultimately had no bearing on the greater mythos and will most likely be forgotten as the X-Men’s new status quo following Age of X-Man sets in.