In honor of her recent return, we look at the last time Jean Grey was properly and truly alive in Greg Pak and Greg Land’s “Phoenix: Endsong.”
Written by Greg Pak
Penciled by Greg Land
Inked by Matt Ryan
Colored by Justin Ponsor
Lettered by Clem Robins
The mysterious and powerful Phoenix Force is life incarnate, and yet it consumes whole worlds in a moment. Its long history with the X-Men is fraught with tragedy… especially concerning one of the most beloved of their number, Jean Grey. What will happen when the Phoenix returns to Earth in search of the one mortal who could ever contain its power… only to find her dead?
I’ve written a lot about the X-Men over the last few months thanks to Mutantversity. I’ve written a lot more about Jean Grey in particular thanks to the current ongoings in the part of the Marvel universe. Jean Grey, the actual Jean Grey, not a time displaced one, is back in the pages of “Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey” and this seems like a perfect excuse to take a look back at her last proper appearance in the Marvel Universe. Jean Grey last appeared in “Phoenix: Endsong” way back in 2005. This was the last time the X-Men dealt with their friend, partner and fellow hero before all the weirdness got started with the time displaced teen version and it takes place that even gets heavily referenced in the current series bringing her back to life. So, does “Phoenix: Endsong” hold up after 13 years? In short, yes and no.
In “Phoenix: Endsong,” Jean Grey is dead and her friends and family have mourned her. She’s been gone for a few years now and everyone has sort of moved on. Scott Summers and Emma Frost are involved with each other but she’s still there, lingering in his memories and Emma knows this. The Shi’ar have done something bad. They’ve brought the Phoenix Force back to life but they forced it back to life, hoping they could kill it since it doesn’t have a host. What they’ve done though is driven it to a sort of madness because it doesn’t have a host and it was dormant for so long. It goes to Earth (in the form of a firefly) and it flies around to those who matter to Jean Grey. It forces Scott awake and pushes his powers to a dangerous level. As this happens, the firefly Phoenix awakes the also dormant Quentin Quire, who’s been in stasis in Beast’s lab. This is a long story in and of itself so for the purpose of this evergreen review, I won’t get into that. The Phoenix Force makes its way to Jean Grey’s grave and brings her body back to life but Jean is never truly in control because as she keeps saying, all the pieces aren’t together yet. It wasn’t time. Jean, Scott, Emma, Wolverine, the Phoenix Force and the rest of the X-Men have one final (for now) confrontation that puts their dear friend to rest for the final (for a while) time.
Greg Pak is one of my favorite writers but man, you can really tell that he’s still early on in his career at this point in time. His dialogue is clunky. It’s full of cliches and super dramatic lines. His Emma has a wicked sense of humor and superiority that really works for me. It’s part of why I love this character. This version of Quentin Quire is still just a baby and hasn’t truly evolved into the terrible little trash boy that X-Men fans have found a lot to love in. However, the story is very good. This is a great story that not only lets the X-Men say goodbye to Jean Grey but also makes the Phoenix Force a bit more of a malevolent being all of its own instead of this great cosmic thing. The Shi’ar screwing around with the Phoenix Force in hopes to destroy ties into their long history very well and centering the Phoenix Force’s entire story around Jean and Scott really makes the whole thing feel personal in a way that previous entries into this long saga don’t.Continued below
“Phoenix: Endsong” was really just that – an ending. Jean Grey didn’t really properly return until late 2017 so for a longtime, this was the thing we were left with and as a goodbye, it works to an extent. While the story is good, the miniseries doesn’t feel like a goodbye until the single splash page with the X-Men saying Jean Grey’s name with love and reverence. Yet, I wonder, if there’s ever really a way to say goodbye to a character when you know that they will eventually return. And I question whether it is even possible to really say goodbye to a character like Jean Grey’s who’s entire thing is rebirth. It’s hard with corporate comics to ever feel like someone is gone so you kind of get what you’re going to get with something like this and at the very least, Pak makes a really strong attempt to make the reader connect with that goodbye. One of the weirdest things, even now, about this series is Quentin Quire subplot. Later down the line, his relationship with the Phoenix Force matters but this miniseries does him no favors as a character and really it accomplishes nothing at this point in time. He comes off like a whiny sad boy with a creepy fixation on a girl who doesn’t care about his. His subplot merely touches on what will come for him later and his meltdown only serves to make this final fight even bigger.
Then there’s the art from Greg Land. Folks, Greg Land is not a good artist. I wonder if “Phoenix: Endsong” would have been a much more emotional story if the art had been drawn by someone who isn’t drawing every single character as a porn star or swimsuit model. One of the most hilarious things throughout this is that this cover pose is used later in in the actual issue by Emma Frost. It’s recycled, like many of the faces are. There’s no personality in these characters and honestly they are so distractingly sexual and attractive. It completely takes you out of the story and you’re completely lost in the end after you realize Land draws Cyclops to look like Tom Brady at one point. Justin Ponsor does his best on colors but ultimately the whole thing is so glossy and saturated that none of it really ever works. When Jean makes her final grand stand as the White Phoenix of the Crown, there should be something powerful there but instead the angles don’t work and there’s no emotion here.
“Phoenix: Endsong” is a worthwhile look back for fans of the character and if you look closer, there are things to pick out here that tie to “Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey.” Jean’s insistence that this isn’t the time is something that I’m thinking about a lot now after this re-read. Everything with Jean Grey runs in cycles and this time the cycle was interrupted with near disastrous consequences. Greg Pak is a better writer now and maybe, one day, he’ll get another crack at writing a meaningful Jean Grey story.