Starting out as one of the first students at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, this host of unfathomable power was also one of the original X-Men - and the only female at that. For decades, fans have followed Jean from New York to outer space and into a post-radiation storm slumber at the bottom of Jamaica bay. Some may not remember the days before Chris Claremont and the Phoenix Force forever changed Jean’s character, but there was a time when this Omega level mutant was actually just Marvel Girl!
“We come into this world alone and we leave the same way. The time we spent in between - time spent alive, sharing, learning together... is all that makes life worth living.”
With this in mind, I'd love to delve a little deeper into the X-Men lore and show why Jean Grey is the cornerstone of humanity of the X-Men franchise; from her early beginnings right up to Sophie Turner's take on the character in X-Men Apocalypse.
Jean was born in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York City, New York to John and Elaine Grey. She lived a healthy and happy childhood, for the most part. Jean's powers of telepathy and telekinesis manifested when her best friend, Annie, was killed in a hit and run accident. Jean unwittingly formed a psychic connection with Annie and experienced her death with her. This show of strength caught the attention of the Phoenix Force, a cosmic being of life and death. The Phoenix Force intervened and severed the psychic link before Jean herself died.
Jean was eventually enrolled in the Xavier Institute. Jean met fellow students and X-Men Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, and Beast. This first class of X-Men faced off against a variety of enemies including Magneto and the Juggernaut. After defeating a Sentinel threat in outer space, the X-Men’s spaceship was unable to function as they returned to Earth during a radiation storm. Jean saved her teammates at the expense of her own life. In doing so, she was once again is visited by the Phoenix Force. The Phoenix Force and Jean Grey merged, saving everyone, and giving Jean significant powers, including immense cosmic abilities involving fire, space and time control, and life force control.
“Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever -- I am PHOENIX!”
The character of Jean Grey, especially as the Phoenix, deals with issues including female empowerment, power and corruption, and privacy. When Jean merged with the Phoenix Force, her powers amplified and new abilities emerged. Jean became a cosmic force, a vessel of unimaginable power that even she did not know the full extent of. Eventually, it is discovered that the woman who returned to earth after the radiation storm was not Jean, but a clone inhabited by the Phoenix. Though it was not Jean herself, the issues that were faced regarding power and corruption remain unchanged.
Once afraid of her mutation and hardly able to control it, Jean suddenly found herself with the ability to do just about anything she pleases. At first she continued down the righteous path, helping the X-Men and saving the world. Soon, the power became too much for her and she began to give in to temptation. In a fit of rage and hunger, Jean consumed an entire star to sustain her power. This act led to the destruction of a neighboring planet, killing all 5 billion inhabitants.
As her mental state deteriorated further, she went between fits of rage as Dark Phoenix and pleas for help as Jean. During a battle on the moon, Jean made the ultimate choice in a moment of clarity, and killed herself to prevent her lust for power from causing anymore pain and suffering. No story could more clearly illustrate that power corrupts and that absolute power, does indeed, corrupt absolutely.
“Scott, am I worth it? I destroyed a world–in my mind, I can still hear the screams of the dying–and it felt good! I don’t want that feeling ever again. And yet–I do!”
As the only female in the first group of X-Men, Jean served as both a mother figure and a potential lover for some. As the series went on, the stories more clearly illustrated her constant struggle in being either the Madonna or the whore. More often than not, Jean is seen as an equal to her male peers. Readers will rarely see her doing any domestic chores or motherly doting. Though she certainly has very feminine attributes evidenced in her attire and some mannerisms, Jean is essentially one of the guys when it comes to equality. This was a revolutionary depiction of a woman in 1963.
Privacy has grown as an issue over the years, both for the modern world, and for Jean Grey. With her powers of telepathy being quite strong, Jean has always had to struggle with keeping herself in check. This is a particular issue in the young version of Jean that appears in 'All New X-Men'. Young Jean accidentally wanders into people's minds more than most would like and with just a little more ease then it takes for people to violate each other’s privacy online today. Jean’s power advanced more rapidly in this storyline, and she was soon able and willing to control people’s minds, using others to do as she would like. Though she did not make a habit of this, it is certainly the telepathic equivalent of stealing one’s identity and using it for personal gain.
Despite all of the power struggles and darkness, Jean Grey never gave up in her efforts to do the right thing. Jean climbed the ladder from an underutilized female character to the most powerful being in her universe. She did this all while illustrating the balance we must keep in our lives and putting a spotlight on social issues both past and present.
What do you think of Jean Grey? Do you agree that she is the cornerstone of humanity within the franchise? Comment below with your thoughts!