So, we’ve made our first small push into the world of the X-Men, and what have we learned? We’ve learned that Peter David writes some of the best mutant books around, we’ve learned that Jason hasn’t read too many stories featuring Nightcrawler, and we’ve learned that just that short stint into the X-World gave me a headache. The sad thing about that last statement is that the concept of the X-Men and the mutant world is a solid one. The oppressed minority is never a theme that will grow out of date or become less relevant (sadly) and it will always resonate with readers. Unfortunately, over the years Marvel’s Merry Mutants have become so horribly enmeshed in a convoluted and hard to follow continuity that sometimes trying to figure out where a certain character stands can be difficult for the casual reader (and sometimes it’s hard for the devoted reader). As a case in point, let’s examine the poster child for screwed up continuity….Jean Grey.
Jean Grey was introduced in 1963 as one of the five original X-Men. Given the name of Marvel Girl, she was telekinetic. She and Cyclops were dancing around a relationship, and would eventually become romantically involved, a romance that would last for more than four decades. Marvel immediately began to confuse Jean’s origin by claiming, after she had already existed for some years, that she was not just telekinetic; she was also telepathic. Plus, she’d known Professor X for years before joining the team. Um. Ok. Well, that was never shown in her early appearances, but no worries. We’re comics fans, and we can roll with these things. Jean left the X-Men when the series was revived from obscurity in the mid-70s, but she continued to make guest appearances in the title, and was unlucky enough to be guesting when the Sentinels came calling. Along with other members of the team, she was kidnapped to outer space. On the return trip (after the Sentinels had been defeated), Jean piloted the space shuttle back to Earth through a radiation storm, while the other members of the team stayed safely in some shielded pods. Sadly, the radiation was too strong, and poor Jean died when the ship crashed into the Hudson River.
Her first death lasted less than an issue; she was back pages after expiring, now calling herself Phoenix, and with powers far beyond those of mortal mutants. She made even more appearances in the title as Phoenix, but her power levels began to grow to truly cosmic levels, and after going a tad mad and destroying an entire planet, she committed suicide to protect those who she loved from her own out of control powers and emotions. Oooh, death #2. This one was going to last a little longer. Five years, to be precise.
However, while Jean was dead, she wasn’t forgotten. Cyclops met another woman who looked exactly like Jean. Her name was Madelyne Pryor, and while Cyclops could never completely forget about Jean, he began to fall in love with Madelyne. They got married, and Madelyne got pregnant. Everything looked rosy. Then Jean returned.
Yes, during a routine emergency, the Avengers found a life support pod in the Hudson River. With some help from the Fantastic Four, they cracked this baby open and found….Jean Grey! But wait…wasn’t she dead? Well, not as dead as you might think. It turns out that Jean Grey had never been Phoenix. In reality, the Phoenix was a cosmic force, who had put Jean in suspended animation and had taken her place. Jean had never destroyed an entire planet. That was all the Phoenix Force. Jean was now free and clear of the guilt, but wait…she no longer had telepathic powers. She was only telekinetic again. But she was back. She didn’t want to rejoin the X-Men, who at that time were associating with Magneto, who felt that he could be a good guy if he just ran around with a giant ‘M’ painted on his costume, so she convinced the original X-Men to form a new group: X-Factor.
The idiocy which was the original X-Factor is fodder for another column, but I do want to digress for a minute: This is where it became clear that Cyclops is a jerk. When Cyclops finds out that Jean has returned to life, he abandons his wife and UNBORN CHILD and immediately runs to her side. He comes back shortly after his son is born, but stays for a very short period of time and leaves again. This would be a slimy enough move if he told Madelyne that he was divorcing her, but he doesn’t even do that; he simply leaves, with not so much as a “Dear Madelyne” note. Wolverine wasn’t kidding in the first X-Men movie when he called him a dick.
It’s then revealed that Madelyne looks so much like Jean because Madelyne is actually a clone of Jean, created by the villainous Mr. Sinister (who is villainous because it’s hard to be a hero when your name is Mr. Sinister). Madelyne suddenly has super powers, begins calling herself The Goblin Queen, and fights Jean to the death. Madelyne dies, but not without revealing that (and I must quote Wikipedia for this, since even though I’ve read the bloody issues, I still don’t know what happened) “the piece of Jean’s consciousness that had merged with the Phoenix Force (which had migrated into Madelyne Pryor upon the death of the Phoenix) returned to Jean, granting her all the memories of both Madelyne and the Dark Phoenix. Jean now also contained a spark of the Phoenix Force but would later expel it while helping an alien world fend off a Celestial.” Thank you Wikipedia. So, Madelyne is dead, there’s only one Jean Grey again and even though she’d never been Phoenix, she now remembered it like she had been, and had a sliver of cosmic power in her. And, even though she’d never been her own clone, Madelyne, she remembered that too as if she had been. Oh, and somewhere in there she regained her telepathic powers. Also, somewhere in here, I began drinking heavily.
Jean and Scott now plan to raise the baby that Scott and Madelyne had, since Jean, with Madelyne’s memory, considers it her baby as well. Of course, they don’t have much of an opportunity to raise the child, before it’s infected with a technovirus by the villain Apocalypse, and they have to send it to the future to be cured, where it will also be raised and will grow to become the hero Cable, who will come back in time as an adult. He’ll actually come back in time twice, coming back again some years later in a younger incarnation calling himself X-Man. Jean tries to deal with parenting both of these people, but it’s difficult when they’re almost as old as she is. Of course, she should be used to it since a daughter from YET ANOTHER future timeline that had already come back to the past, when Jean was originally dead, and had called herself Phoenix, and had joined the X-Men. Jean met her a few times after she returned to life, and the meetings were often awkward, as any meeting with your child from an alternate reality would be. I’m sure we can all relate.
Who wants aspirin?
So, Scott and Jean finally get married. For a honeymoon, they go to the future, where they get to raise the son that they sent to the future years ago and who would become Cable. They spend years in the future, but she doesn’t actually age because she’s inhabiting someone else’s body at the time. So, she does get to raise her son…well, Madelyne’s son, but it’s almost like her own. So, everything is hunky-dory in Jean-land and things can get back to a semblance of normality, right? Well, not quite. Cyclops, proving he’s just as much a dick now as he was when he deserted his wife and infant son, starts having an affair with Emma Frost, a former villain who tried to kill Jean on numerous occasions. The two women aren’t too friendly, since when Sentinels killed Jean a few years before (the third time Jean died) she had projected her mind into Emma’s comatose form. Not surprisingly, Emma was never happy about this, and even less surprisingly, Jean eventually returned to life in her own body. Anyhoo, Cyclops explains to his wife that he and Emma only screwed around on the mental plane, not in reality, so it doesn’t count. Jean’s not sure she agrees, and the marriage isn’t doing well.
Things never have the chance to get sorted out. Jean is on a spaceflight with Wolverine and they are being pulled toward the sun. Perhaps Jean should stay the hell off spaceships? In any case, Wolverine kills Jean so she doesn’t die when they go into the sun, because being stabbed through the heart with bone claws is so much more enjoyable then being incinerated. Death #4. To the surprise of no one, Jean returns to life, again manifesting the Phoenix Force which makes no sense, since she was never Phoenix in the first place! Arrrgh! I hate these stupid writers! Why can’t they keep their bloody stories straight!? This sort of thing is the reason that…..
Sorry. (Keep it together John. You’re almost there. Deep breaths.) Ahem. So, Jean is alive for the fourth time, and returns to Earth, where she fights Magneto, who kills her for the fifth time. This happened four years ago, and she’s stayed dead so far, but anyone who thinks that this one is going to stick needs to go back to Remedial Comics and read some more Marvel comics.
I’ve just re-read that, and it still makes no sense to me. What really bothers me is that I like Jean Grey; I think she has interesting powers, and I think she’s an interesting character, when she’s not being crushed under the weight of her own ridiculously convoluted backstory (and I’ve actually simplified things and also left out some minor deaths and story points). If the X-Titles can do this to one of the founding members of the X-Men, it becomes obvious why so many people have problems following their titles.
What say you? Does Jean have potential? Do you agree that she’s been ridiculously mishandled? Is there even anyway to save a character this badly mangled?
Yeah. Should we go back to talking about the Avengers?
No, no, this is good. I mean, really it’s awful, but in a good way. You never realize how ridiculous a lot of this sounds until you see it written out in a completely biased way. Wikipedia gives a solid history of the character, but they don’t delve into the laugh-out-loud horror and nonsense implied in such a backstory.
I agree that Jean Grey used to be an interesting character. And, even though I’m usually completely against the soap opera aspects in the X-Men canon, her frustrating love triangle with Cyclops and Wolverine was inspired. Of course, as you’ve pointed out, they never really handled Cyclops’s side of it very well. What a lousy double standard.
Sadly, the only thing I can think to do (since she will inevitably return at some point) is to give her some sort of brain injury. Honestly, if we’re going to embrace all the daytime mantras for these characters, we might as well incorporate some memory loss. I’d take it a step further and actually give her a physical blow to the head that cuts off some of her exaggerated powers, makes her forget her past with Scott and all the weird alterna-kids, and maybe even forces her to absentmindedly drool a bit. Ooh, maybe even give her an eyepatch. Eyepatches are cool.
Seriously though, Jean became highly inconceivable once her powers and abilities ballooned out of control. The twisted relationship she shared with Scott was completely unbelievable. And the Cable-Nate Summers-Rachel Summers-Madelyn Pryor-Phoenix stuff just makes my cerebellum bleed. I has head asplode!
Jean Grey was great as a cute telekinetic girl, sort of naive and sheltered, who grew up to be a stalwart supporter of a dedicated cause. I have a weakness for redheads, so I always wanted her to be useful. Most of the time I was disappointed. And it’s strange to say that the X-world isn’t really that much different without her around.
That said, she is the only female founding member of a fairly significant part of Marvel’s history and should be restored to a position worthy of such status. I was only half joking when I suggested memory loss. If she were to forget who she was, what she was able to do, and what she meant to people, I think her character could be regrown in a positive way. It would be a natural catalyst to dampen her powers. It would also allow us to explore other relationships with her, which would then cause reactions in her former friends and lovers. And it would add an innocence back to the character which has been sorely lacking. I mean, really, I think you become pretty complacent with things after your third or fourth death. Or so I’ve heard.
So yeah, I’m actually advocating a swift blow to the head. How does that feel?
I think you may be on to something. There’s no real way to fix Jean’s backstory; any fix that I can think of would just complicate her history even more and that’s the last thing she needs. I think the best thing to do when she returns (and we all know she will) would be to just ignore the past, and the only way that the character can ignore it is if she doesn’t remember it. Whether that actually involves the Blob smacking her on the head and giving her amnesia, or more likely, Jean returning from the dead with the amnesia already in place, that’s the best way to go.
As for reducing her powers, I don’t mind the telepathy (although I don’t think it’s integral to the character), but they truly have to divorce her from the Phoenix concept once and for all. It was a great plot, and the original story is a classic, but it’s done now, and it’s time to move on. Keep her power levels down to more average levels, and instead of focusing on whether or not she’s going to go cosmic again and start destroying planets, focus on her personality.
That brings us to her love life, and yes, let’s move her beyond Cyclops. That ship has sailed, and Cyclops is obviously over her. I’d love to see them actually explore the Wolverine angle. Of course, Marvel has teased it for years, but I think they’re afraid to let Wolverine get close to a female. I’d love to see what would happen if Wolverine began to get close to Jean; especially a more innocent Jean. It could be interesting for both characters. Not that Wolverine is the only option; let Jean play the field a little. I’m not saying she should sleep with any guy with an X on their costume, but let her date a little and see what’s out there. Since her first appearance in 1963 she’s been stuck on Cyclops, who’s treated her horribly. It would be interesting to see her with anyone else. (It also might be interesting to see Cyclops’ reaction to Jean dating other men. Would he finally get jealous? Would other characters put him in his place, by relating his past missteps in the romance department?)
So, Jean comes back, as we know she will, and she has amnesia, allowing the character to begin in as fresh a way as possible. I like it.
Yes, yes! I was more or less angling for the amnesia angle. My favorite resurrections have always been the mysterious ones. And what’s more mysterious than when the character herself doesn’t even know what happened? I say they stumble upon her lying nearly unconscious out in some barren desert. She gets nursed back to health, eventually regains some of her powers (I guess I don’t mind the telepathy. I just hate when the power levels are so crazy.) and maybe even falls in love with…Angel or Iceman? How awkward would that be for everyone involved? Cyclops would probably instantly pine for her, which could end up backfiring easily as she gets turned off by his constant whining and attention. Teach that jerk a lesson.
I know it’s a cop out, but a permanent sort of amnesia is a great way to reboot relationships and personalities and all the rest. Bring back Jean, but make her a blank slate!