History of The Phoenix: Shades of Grey, Part 1

Like a phoenix from the ashes.

In the newest twist of her long and complex history, Jean Grey’s fiery alias makes its comeback on December 27 in PHOENIX RESURRECTION: THE RETURN OF JEAN GREY #1, by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Leinil Yu.

In preparation for this major event, the time seemed right for a comprehensive, two-part retrospective on the life and times of one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s greatest creations.

Time to light the flame…

Recent History

This August, writer Cullen Bunn and artist R.B. Silva presented GENERATIONS: PHOENIX & JEAN GREY #1, a tie-in to Earth-shaking events of Secret Empire. In this book, a version of the Phoenix Force Jean Grey not seen since the 1970s visited a time-displaced Marvel Girl, from Dennis Hopeless’ run on JEAN GREY. From the clues the book gave us, as well as the cameo appearance of Jason Wyngarde—A.K.A. Mastermind—it seemed as though The Phoenix seen in this issue came from a point between “The Phoenix Saga” (in UNCANNY X-MEN #101#108) and the events of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” (UNCANNY X-MEN #129#138), during a time when Phoenix and Beast believed the other X-Men to be dead.

Readers witnessed several Jean Greys running around in that issue—and even more versions of the character exist aside from those! The story of the Phoenix has seen so many twists and turns, it can be difficult to keep track of all that’s occurred with dear Jean. So let’s go back to the beginning…

Meet Jean Grey

Born to Professor John Grey and his wife Elaine, Jean Grey first appeared in 1963’s X-MEN #1. 18 years later, 1981’s BIZARRE ADVENTURES #27 revealed that the girl first received her powers when, at the age of 10, she watched her best friend Annie Richardson get hit by a car and die, acting as the emotional catalyst necessary to awaken her vast telepathic and psionic powers. During this formative event, Jean first experienced an empathetic interpersonal link that saw her visit the land of the dead alongside her loved one. Jean would have perished in the accident as well, but The Phoenix Force sensed the young mutant’s powers and rescued her from a potential demise. This—the first time Jean was resurrected by The Phoenix Force—forged a strong connection between the two that took years of experience for either to fully understand or accept. As Death would later confess to The Phoenix Force manifestation of Jean in X-MEN: PHOENIX – ENDSONG #5, her “spirit” is “most closely carved” from the power of The Phoenix Force.

Jean emerged from this scarring origin event a psychological mess. Unable to be around others without getting telepathically overwhelmed, she spent most of her time trapped inside her own mind. As seen in X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY #1, Charles Xavier himself attempted to help his future pupil harness her debilitating powers to allow her to cope. Despite this, she lost control again and had visions of The Phoenix Force as it tried to communicate with her again. A power untapped at the time, Jean would later be revealed as an Omega-level mutant, capable of immortality, telepathy and telekinesis, reality warping, manipulation of matter, energy, time, space, energy projection, and the ability to travel beyond the known universe to higher planes of existence. Though as her raw abilities had yet to be tamed, Xavier stemmed her telepathy with a temporary mental block.

In the years after they met, Professor X provided guidance and stability to Jean, who would put her difficult past behind her to flourish socially (falling in love with Scott Summers, A.K.A. Cyclops) at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as well as professionally, becoming the first woman to join the X-Men, using the moniker Marvel Girl. As her confidence grew, Xavier decided to unlock her full telepathic powers by removing her mental blocks. Years later, in X-MEN #101, Jean sacrificed herself to save her teammates during an emergency mission to space when she insisted on piloting a shuttle back to Earth despite the cockpit’s exposure to lethal levels of radiation.

She again would have died had The Phoenix Force not heard her thoughts and rescued her from the brink of destruction. In the aftermath, a Jean Grey scrambled from the wreckage of the downed craft and called herself The Phoenix—though this proved not to be the original Jean Grey at all, but rather an energy-based copy comprised of Phoenix energy. Though this projection called itself Phoenix instead of Marvel Girl, it proved to be effectively the same person as the original as it possessed all of Jean’s memories and feelings. As readers would later discover in 1986’s FANTASTIC FOUR #286, the Phoenix Force stowed the real Grey away in a restorative cocoon until she recovered enough to emerge fully healed from her injuries.

While the original Jean recovered in the cocoon, the Phoenix Force Jean took her place on the team. Accordingly, it took up where Jean left off with her love, Cyclops, and the pair eventually got engaged. Unfortunately, sinister events began to influence those around Jean as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” began to unfold…

Stay tuned for Part Two of our history of Jean Grey and the Phoenix! And grab a copy of PHOENIX RESURRECTION: THE RETURN OF JEAN GREY #1, by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Leinil Yu, on December 27!