Death, rebirth, and retcons, oh my!
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is just around the corner and Jean Grey is yet again about to be thrust into the spotlight--but what, exactly, is her deal?
For being one of the X-Men’s most notoriously complicated mutants, Jean's story actually has a relatively simple start. She's one of the original team members, introduced back in the very first issue back in 1963. She was the token girl on the otherwise all-male team back in the day, and the only mutant with telekinetic powers in the mix--the others, Iceman, Psyclops, Beast, and Angel all had largely physical powers. For years, this was as tricky as Jean got. She was known as Marvel Girl, and she could move things with her mind--no fuss, no frills.
Becoming The Phoenix
The simplicity didn't last, however. Over time, more of Jean's origin was revealed to be a somewhat insidious effort by Charles Xavier, who had clocked her as an up-and-coming telepath with potentially dangerous abilities. As she was enrolled in Xavier's Academy For Gifted Youngsters, Xavier placed special telepathic blocks in Jean's brain to limit her mutation to just telekinesis at first.
After a considerable amount of training and practice, her telepathic powers were eventually unlocked, allowing her to grow that particular skill as she participated in missions with the team--but eventually, Xavier's fears began to become realities. It started slowly at first: During a mission set in space, Jean was forced to sacrifice herself to save her teammates, but in doing so, sent a massive telepathic plea out into the universe itself--a plea that was answered by a cosmic power known as the Phoenix Force, the manifestation of the power of creation and life itself in the universe.
The Phoenix Force took up residence inside of Jean, saving her from the near-death experience. She emerged with a new look and codename: Phoenix.
For a few fleeting moments, it actually seemed as though that was all there was to it. Jean seemed mostly fine, despite the trauma, and her revival was mysterious but not completely unheard of in superhero comics. But after some time, the truth came to light--sort of. The Phoenix Force had actually taken over Jean's body and mind, creating a duplicate body to house her consciousness and the Force itself, along with Jean's memories, while Jean's real body was placed in a special stasis pod/cocoon to be healed.
Yeah. Look, X-Men stories are a lot of things, but simple ain't one of them.
Enter Dark Phoenix
So anyway, Phoenix Jean--who, for all intents and purposes, was Jean, or at least, completely believed herself to be Jean--eventually started to experience strange visions of a past life where she was known as Lady Grey, the nefarious Black Queen of a group of evildoers called the Hellfire Club. The story of Lady Grey was, in fact, a complete fabrication by a villain known as Mastermind, who was specifically working to undermine Jean's sanity. And that's exactly what he was able to do. As the visions increased in frequency and intensity, Jean eventually accepted them as reality and succumbed entirely to a new evil alter-ego: Dark Phoenix, the full, unbridled potential of the Phoenix Force unchecked and given horrifying, hedonistic purpose care of the false Hellfire Club memories.
Dark Phoenix promptly became the single most powerful and deadly psychic in the universe--and we mean that in the most literal and comic book-y way possible. After turning on her friends and team, Dark Phoenix opted to leave Earth, getting herself pinged on the radar of a handful of alien races and committing a handful of casual planetary genocides on the way--you know, like you do--which specifically got her noticed by the Shi'Ar Empire, who deemed her a greater threat to the galaxy than Galactus himself.
The conflict eventually escalated so dramatically that the Shi'Ar nearly enacted "Plan Omega," which would evolve destroying the entire solar system in an effort to destroy Dark Phoenix, but thankfully the X-Men were able to head things off before they went that far. After briefly regaining her sense of self and her human memories, Jean heroically sacrificed herself, forcing the Phoenix Force out of her body and saving the universe.
The cycle of death and rebirth
But things don't end there. Remember the original Jean Grey body that was left in a healing stasis? The disembodied Phoenix Force tried to possess that version of Jean--it doesn't work, but it does bring that Jean back into play, prompting her to wake up and begin a new life with no memory of any of the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix events at all. Meanwhile, another, totally different duplicate Jean, a clone made by the villain Mr. Sinister, isn't so lucky. A portion of the Phoenix Force found a home in that body and creates another version of Jean altogether, known as Madelyne Pryor.
So to recap, there are three Jeans in the mix here: the original Jean who was stuck in a healing coma for the events of the Phoenix saga, the duplicate Jean who was the embodiment of the Phoenix Force who became Dark Phoenix and died, and the clone of Jean who became the second Phoenix Force host, Madelyne Pryor.
Remember what we said about X-Men comics not being simple? Yeah. We really meant it.
After the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean's life never really went back to normal. She and her on-again-off-again flame Scott Summers were married for a while (though Scott also had a thing with Madelyne Pryor, too, which is a whole other can of worms) but their relationship eventually began to fail with a little help from the villain Apocalypse, who temporarily killed Scott and Emma Frost, with whom Scott engaged in a "psychic affair."
Sometime later, Jean was killed yet again--this time by a former teammate named Xorn (who was actually Magneto, don't worry about it)--only to be revived by the Phoenix Force all over again--sort of, at least. There are some alternate timeline shenanigans at play here that both do and do not negate her death. Ultimately, it was revealed that Jean bonded to the Phoenix Force to become a god-like entity known as the White Phoenix Of The Crown, and completely ascended to a higher plane of existence known as the White Hot Room, an extra-dimensional nexus that served as a sort of hub for the Phoenix Force and its hosts, rendering her somewhere between life and death. Though, as far as anyone was concerned on Earth, she was just the normal sort of dead.
She actually stayed dead for a while this time--kind of, at least. While Jean was technically dead for all intents and purposes, her consciousness still resided in the White Hot Room and would occasionally come into play in the form of psychic messages and manifestations (also through her various clones and time traveling pseudo-descendants like Hope Summers).
What about now?
That's how things stayed for some time until she was finally resurrected again, by way of uh--an egg. Get it? Because the Phoenix is a bird? She even briefly had her very own team of X-Men after her resurrection, who acted as a sort of top secret mutant black ops unit trying to "heal" the world of its anti-mutant sentiments.
Oh, and there were a couple of time-displaced versions of her running around too, including the child version of herself brought to the present alongside all her original X-Men teammates. Kid Jean even got her own solo series for a while, which is something the adult version of herself never managed to nail down.
So what does this say about Jean’s turn as the Phoenix in the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix live action movie? We can guess based on trailers that we’re going to see a pretty villainous turn for Jean on the big screen as is par for the course in the source material, but it’s difficult to guess just how this particular incarnation of the Phoenix Force is actually going to work. It seems like a safe bet to expect a major self-sacrifice moment from Jean by the end of the movie, but with news that the ending has been reshot, where things will end up is really anyone’s guess. It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see big screen versions of any of Jean’s clones, though, if only for the fact that this particular arm of the X-Men cinematic universe is likely coming to a close thanks to the Disney/Fox buy out. But hey, anything’s possible.