It’s time we have a chat about Jean Grey. We may hear lots of conversations about Wolverine arcs, and how often the character’s been brought in, altered, or over-used, but that’s mostly due to this prominence in movies during the tenure of Fox’s X-Men franchise. The fact of the matter is, Jean Grey’s story has seen its fair share of oversaturation, too. The next fact is: that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the Smurfette of the original X-Men, the girl deserves all the attention and rehashing she’s gotten. The same can be said for the repeated retellings she’s gotten in the comics through the years, with none more touched upon than the Dark Phoenix storyline, which we’ll next see in the soon to be released live-action adaptation.
In the original Phoenix Saga, Jean wasn’t born with the Phoenix Force inside of her. She does naturally have both her telekinesis and telepathy, but a young Charles Xavier blocks out her telepathic powers until she’s able to control them after Jean finds herself knocked into a coma from saving a friend. The revelation that she has telepathy isn’t the dramatic explosion it was in X-Men: The Last Stand, which utilized a weird combination of origin stories to bring out the power of Dark Phoenix. Instead, the mental block is lifted and her telepathic powers returned to her once she has a few successful missions under her belt as a member of the team – think of it as mutant training wheels being removed. During this time, Jean Grey was still known as “Marvel Girl.”
Jean would shed that moniker in ’76 after her introduction to the Phoenix Force. After some shuttle damage, the X-Men find themselves in mortal peril while in space. Though she’s exposed to fatal levels of radiation, Jean uses what’s left of her abilities to call out into the universe for help. The lucky gal is answered by the sum of all life, known as the Phoenix Force. Touched by her selflessness, the Phoenix Force duplicates a body to house Jean’s mind in while putting her dying body in a cocoon. That cocoon is quickly forgotten in the bottom of the ocean, but the rest of the X-Men don’t know that. All they know is that they survived the crash and got a shiny new Jean with some spiffy new cosmic powers out of the deal.
Turns out, even the sum of all life isn’t immune to corruption. The entity that created this new Jean Grey had never been exposed to evil throughout its existence. That exposure to evil shifts her natural alignment, resulting in the biblical powers of the Phoenix to be used for destruction rather than good. This version of Jean, known as the Dark Phoenix, was given a four-part comic book arc that spanned most of 1980s. In that arc, Dark Phoenix absorbs a star, resulting in the slaughter of all of the inhabitants of the star’s planetary system. Mass genocide’s a difficult thing to bring a character back from, even if the actions were taken by the Phoenix Force rather than Jean herself.
With that knowledge, writers Chris Claremont and Josh Byrne closed out the arc with Jean regaining control of the body Phoenix had created for her and committing suicide for the safety of the universe. Believe it or not, Dark Phoenix isn’t the only evil version of Jean Grey out there (shocking plot twist: it involves clones). Going down that road takes us closer to a Fantastic Four and Avengers crossover than we’ll get any time in the near future in movies, but go ahead and look up Madelyne Pryor if you want more on stabby Jean.
After the Pryor saga comes to a close, Jean Grey finds herself with both Madelyne and the Phoenix Force’s memories. Believe it or not, her story gets even more confusing from there. There’s a daughter from an alternate timeline, her forever beau Scott Summers/Cyclops, her previous feelings for Wolverine, and some extreme annoyance that her future is predetermined. Jean decides to spurn all of it (including her past code names) and join Storm’s Gold Team. Girl should have just stayed there, because when she does finally relent and mend bridges with Scott and the aforementioned daughter, her new husband Scott get thrown two thousand years into the future to protect his son with Madelyne, Nathan. Still following along?
Jean would eventually take up the Phoenix name again. She does so at Rachel’s request. (Rachel would be the aforementioned alternate timeline daughter.) The two see it as a way to restore good to the “Phoenix” name. See, Rachel had been using it all in the name of good, but believed that the only way to help Jean get past the Dark Phoenix trauma was to pick the moniker back up, and Jean is quickly given the opportunity. Nathan, the son that she and Scott were brought to the future to protect, accidentally revives the ghost of the evil Madelyne Pryor…yes, really. (Honestly, this would all be much easier to explain to you with a whiteboard. Comics, gotta love ’em.)
Suffice to say, Jean Grey went through the wringer back in the ‘70s and ‘80s thanks to the Phoenix Force but would come out the other side as one of the best of Charles Xavier’s X-Men. She’s been the host to some evil nonsense in her day, but her heart and strength of character have always mattered far more than any of her powers. Jean may not have been in control (in this particular storyline), but she made the ultimate sacrifice in response to Dark Phoenix’s actions and has spent the rest of her revived life atoning for that evil.
If you’ve seen the trailers for Dark Phoenix, you’ll recognize some of the Phoenix’s comic origins in the trailer. That cloud that we see her in while the team is in space ties into the radiation that would ultimately kill her body, but it still remains to be seen how closely the film will follow these initial comic book origins, with Jessica Chastain’s currently unknown character bringing in an unknown element, as well. Since it’ll all be shown in one film, we’ll undoubtedly be seeing a more truncated version of the arc. But as you head into the movie, at least you’ll have this crash course on her history to prep you ahead of time!
Dark Phoenix is in theaters on June 6. Get your tickets here.