Welcome back to Mutantversity! In Mutantversity, I, your loyal X-Men tutor, will look at all the things happening in the mutant universe. This spring, Marvel relaunched everything with brand new teams and brand new titles. My goal is to streamline most of this for you and take a deeper look at the history and the future of the franchise with a focus on the comics. This month we’re looking at the one and only Jean Grey. A character with a deeply complicated backstory who’s got the chance for reinvention in the pages of her own series.
Jean Grey is a character that I’ve always been fascinated by. She’s a huge presence over the X-Men despite being dead for years at a time. She’s come to define so much of what’s happened with the franchise outside of comics as animation and live action have adapted “The Dark Phoenix” storyline over and over. She’s had such an influence on so many characters without really owning anything of her. Let’s take a deeper look at Jean Grey’s timeline and dive into “Jean Grey” #1. Be warned, there will spoilers for that issue within this column.
Jean Grey was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee way back in 1963. In those days she was Marvel Girl, the sole female member of the X-Men. She discovered she had the power of telekinesis at a young age and her relationship with Scott Summers (Cyclops) would become a heavily featured storyline. In these early adventures, she was meant to be the weakest member of the team. It was the 60’s, so you know. It wouldn’t be until much later on that the character would take on a different form.
A Phoenix Rises
In the 1980’s things changed in a big way for Jean Grey. While her relationship with Scott Summers remained in tact, her powers and place in X-Men history would change for good. Under the Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrun/John Byrne years, a mission into space turns tragic for Jean and the X-Men. When their shuttle is damaged, Jean pilots it and exposed to a solar flare, which poisons her and ultimately kills her. When she reaches out for help, she is taken over by the Phoenix Force and returns to the X-Men with a different personality, different clothes and a massive amount of power. She is unable to take control over her powers and this is compounded by Mastermind’s manipulation of her in order to get entrance into the Hellfire Club. After this trauma breaks down the final barriers in her mind, she is consumed by the Phoenix Force and becomes the Dark Phoenix. She goes into space but is drained by this. To recharge, she destroys a planet, killing everyone who lived there and this leads to a confrontation with the S’hiar. In that final conflict, Jean sacrifices herself to end this and dies another death.
I Live, I Die, I Live Again
In the years after “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” Jean comes back again thanks to the power of the Phoenix Force. In her returns, she’s far less genocidal but still a very dangerous mutant. She’d marry Cyclops, meet alternate timeline versions of her children, clones and fight the combined consciousness of Xavier and Magneto in Onslaught. Jean Grey died her last death against Xorn but in the years since she’s been far from forgotten. The Xavier School was changed to the Jean Grey School Of Higher Learning and in the years since her death, her alternate timeline children have made plenty of appearances on different teams but it wasn’t until 2012 that Jean really made her return (sorta).
Time Displacement Makes Death Temporary
In 2012, “All New X-Men” introduced us once again to the original five X-Men. After being pulled out of their timeline by Beast, a very, very young Iceman, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast and Angel became stuck in the present day. Their original timeline is now unknown to us (a recent retcon) and they’ve still be unable to get back home. Since they are stuck here, they are now blank slates. Nothing that would have happened to them is set in stone and this has given all of them a chance to be more or better than their future versions. In particular, Jean Grey’s return has thrown things off for the older characters in a big way. This Jean Grey has not been take over by the Phoenix Force. She hasn’t even begun a relationship with Cyclops and she’s yet to really harness her powers entirely. Of all the people in this group, she has the most to gain by having a chance to start again and avoid all that happens to her. She’s got the chance now to be defined by what she does and now what a psychic entity makes her do. She also has a chance to avoid Cyclops, who we know is a terrible romantic partner.Continued below
A Shining Star
And now in “Jean Grey” #1, Jean Grey is the star of her own series with a chance to breakout and be reinvented in a way that doesn’t have to take away anything that’s come in the character’s past. “Jean Grey” #1 finds Jean taking some time out for herself one morning to have a quiet breakfast away from the guys. As she is Jean Grey, nothing can ever be simple and that’s broken by the Wrecking Crew and reflections upon the person that she would have maybe become. Like “X-Men Gold,” there is history in here. It’s unshakable with the X-Men and even though Jean Grey hasn’t actually lived this history, it weighs on her.
“Jean Grey” is all about the weight Jean has to carry with her while she fights tooth and claw to create a new future for herself. Embedded within the way she fights is a deep care about collateral damage. She has set out to do the best that she can with the power she has and while inexperienced, this is reminiscent of the earliest days of Jean Grey before the Phoenix took her over. After that point, Jean Grey become more of a plot point and romantic foil than a woman and hero of her own.
I mentioned this in last month’s installment but I’ve always felt very protective of Jean Grey. I think she’s someone that never really reached her potential and a teenage Jean, with a blank slate this should be the chance to make that happen. Jean Grey is an incredibly powerful woman with a huge familiarity to those who have never even read comic books. She’s a multitude of things to different characters but who is she really? What makes her tick and what does she want to be? That’s something that “Jean Grey” should explore through the eyes of a young woman who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders despite never actually earning that kind of baggage. She’s struggling to find her place in a world that not only hates mutants but also doesn’t have the best opinion of her. Her destiny is to live and die again and again but she’s got this opportunity now to do more and that should be a running thread in everything involving this version of the character going forward.
“Jean Grey” #1 falls back on the Phoenix Force and that’s where I gave it the side eye. Bringing in the Phoenix Force as a presence is not something that should be off the table entirely. I think it’s important to remember what this world remembers of their Jean Grey and use that to help inform the kind of hero this Jean Grey becomes but it’s entirely too early to bog this book down with that. “Jean Grey” doesn’t give Jean Grey a chance to breathe and become something of her own which feels like a missed opportunity. With the Phoenix Force hovering again, it could force Jean Grey to be once again defined by this instead of whatever she wants to be defined by. That’s a running theme with her despite her moments of heroism.
What does this mean for the rest of the X-Men universe? There are a few characters who will be concerned about this coming back into the fold. Rachel, Hope and Quentin are all teased for the future of this series as each one has had to deal with the Phoenix Force at different points in their history. Will this lead to a remake of “The Dark Phoenix Saga?” Marvel likes to do this kind of thing. We’ve had another “Civil War” and another “Secret Wars” so who knows. We’ll revisit this down the line and we’ll revisit this series later on as well.
X-Men fans! Give me your hottest take on Jean Grey in the comments below. Do you care about her? Did you like “Jean Grey” #1?