WARNING: This article contains spoilers for X-Men: Red #9 by Tom Taylor, Roge Antonio, Rain Beredo, and VC's Cory Petit, on sale now!
In what started out as a return to heroism for Jean Grey, X-Men: Red has become a fascinating chess game between the team leader and one of the most dangerous (and somewhat underutilized) villains in all of X-Men lore, Cassandra Nova. Watching two of the greatest psychic minds in the Marvel Universe engage in a series of increasingly dire duels is the key reason to keep revisiting the series month after month (that and the solid characterizations along with the biting commentary on the current political climate of the Western World).
The clashes between our protagonist and antagonist have been pretty straightforward thus far. Nova will commit some horrific act of terrorism and Jean and her X-Men have to respond accordingly, saving those who they can and preventing any further collateral damage. The notion of a radicalized mutant giving their people a bad name and a group of altruistic heroes stepping in to defend not only themselves, but every beating heart they come in contact with is nothing new. We’ve seen this in X-Men comics since the start.
However, things are a bit different now (both in comic books and society at large). When Magneto and Xavier battled one another, it was over different views of the same issue: mutant rights. Xavier would take the role of passive defender, while Magneto opted to be the aggressive suppressor. Both men wanted what was best for their people, but they had very different ideas on how to achieve this goal.
The Jean Grey and Cassandra Nova struggle, however, is far less nuanced, as it essentially represents the battle between love and hate. There isn’t much in the way of wiggle room for interpretation. X-Men: Red #9 delivers a new conflict that parallels another recent pop culture face-off between good and evil -- Luke Skywalker's final stand against his nephew Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
For fans (and “fans”) of the Star Wars film franchise, the revelation that Luke Skywalker engaged in Force subterfuge to stand up to his corrupt kin in the final act of The Last Jedi was either the most subversively brilliant move the series has ever made... or it was a total cop out.
Honestly, there is an argument to be made for either side, but the fact people are still discussing it (and the entire film itself) speaks to its lasting impact (look, ten months might as well be ten years in Twitter time). Now, it seems that maybe writer Tom Taylor has gleaned a bit from the legendary Jedi’s final sacrifice. In a last ditch effort to rescue Rachel Grey from the clutches of Cassandra Nova, Jean Grey tells her team to stand down as she faces the villain alone.
After a tête-à-tête and a nasty confrontation between Jean and Rachel, Nova releases her prisoner from her mental and psionic shackles, leaving the two heavyweights to face off. Jean convinces Nova she has no intention of fighting back, and she keeps her promise as Nova tears her apart in a horrific panel that makes us wonder if Jean just enjoys getting killed at this point (she does it so often, after all).
But, of course, Jean is fine (even though it would have been a ballsy move to kill her off nine issues in). It turned out “Red” pulled the ultimate Jedi mind trick and projected a psychic decoy much like Old Man Luke. Even though it did not drain Jean to the point of death (for the record, we love having her back; please don’t kill her, Tom), it worked well enough to save someone close and also put Nova in her place.
Cassandra Nova isn’t the biggest fish in the pond, and what Jean Grey did was such a power move it only furthers her rightful place as the leader of the X-Men. Now, whether or not this moment will be as controversial as it was when it occurred in The Last Jedi is yet to be seen, but we’d wager it won’t be. Surely some critics might see it as derivative, but Jean pulling off this sort of thing makes total sense given her established abilities. If everyone could just agree on how they feel about Luke Skywalker doing it, though...