Well, fair readers, this is the moment I’ve been dreading. The day when I shall come clean. The day when I conduct X-Men heresy. Without further ado, I’ll say it plainly: I don’t want Jean Grey back.
First of all, let me begin with a few very disturbing facts about an X-Men character who I actually love. When Stan Lee first created Jean, he didn’t really put much effort into her. In fact, Lee’s initial concept for mutants was that every single mutant would have some degree of telepathic / telekinetic powers – that even slipped into the canon in an early issue of Uncanny X-Men, where Magneto of all people happily wanders the Astral Plane and has a telepathic chit-chat with Professor X! Yes, Lee changed his mind; but when you realise that, you also get the feeling Lee couldn’t be bothered reinventing the sole female character in the original X-Men team. In actual fact, in various interviews Lee has admitted he’d forget her name or her powers back when he was writing the comic.
But my main problem with Jean is that, considering she’s had a fifty-year-tenure, she’s really only had two major ‘arcs’ – her love-life and the Phoenix.
It doesn’t matter who you are; if you’re male, you’re a mutant, you’ve got a pulse, and you’re in Marvel Comics, you’ll have a crush on Jean Grey. Don’t believe me? After a quick Google, here’s a list of some of the guys who’ve had a thing for Jean – let me know if I’ve missed any:
- Cyclops (no duh there, huh?)
- Ted Roberts (a student at Metro College)
- Professor X (when Stan Lee was asked about it, he replied, “I don’t know, it just seemed like something that made sense. I tossed it in to complicate things.”)
- Havok (!)
That Jean and Scott were meant to be together was a basic trope of the X-Men up until the Morrison era; another side of that trope, though, was that Jean was forever being tempted by another character. It was the 1990s that gave this trope a bit of a twist, with her being on the receiving end as Psylocke tried to tempt Cyclops into a telepathic affair. It took the head-spinning events of X-Cutioner’s Song to bring Scott and Jean together for good, with them finally taking the plunge and getting married.
Morrison, of course, subverted this. He had both Scott and Jean in love triangles (even though they were, of course, married). Morrison used Jean in particular as a symbol of the ‘good old days’ of the X-Men, and her death (and Scott’s moving on to Emma) was Scott’s necessarily moving on into the future. Note that, for all the sparks between Logan and Jean, Morrison’s dislike of Logan meant he didn’t put anything in place for Logan to move on). I have to be honest, this kind of screwy logic – Scott’s lust-driven psychic affair with Emma as ’embracing the future’ – is the kind of thing that makes me consider Morrison one of the worst X-writers there have ever been.
Bendis has subverted this too in All-New X-Men, with Jean terrified of her future – and so running from her possible relationship with Cyclops, right into the arms of Beast. But a subversion doesn’t mean the character isn’t still a walking, talking breach of the Bechdel Test.
Even when X-fans discuss the return of Jean, one question inevitably comes up; who will she end up with? Scott? Logan? The ghost of Jean Grey’s love-life even hovered over the Schism plotline…
And Jean’s second arc? Phoenix.
It took Chris Claremont to do something new with Jean, amping up her power-levels to a phenomenal degree and then penning some epic stories in which she plays a cosmic role. It was tremendous stuff, full of passion and drama, and culminated in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Editorial mandate required Jean to die (she had destroyed a world, after all), but this was then retconned so the Phoenix replaced Jean rather than became her, so Jean could be brought back.
In truth, in fifty years of X-Men comics this is the only epic that has centred around Jean Grey.
And the writers keep coming back to it. Steve Seagle, for example, was intending to have Jean become the Phoenix in his 1990s run. Jean’s powers began to grow, and she even adopted her old costume. You had a tortuous conversation between Scott and Beast, with Scott terrified that history was repeating itself. You even had the variant cover of Uncanny X-Men #354. Claremont tapped into this in the pages of Wolverine #125-#126, where Jean was brainwashed – and manifested a Phoenix raptor! Don’t get me wrong, Seagle’s plans actually sound rather cool, but it’s not exactly a massive leap from Jean’s traditional arc.
Seagle’s intention was to have Jean get the Phoenix powers, and test her character – see if she would fall as the Phoenix had done. Scott would be in a very different place, and would have acted as an anchor, drawing her back to the right path. You can get more information from Comic Book Legends Revealed.
Morrison, of course, went the whole hog with the Phoenix – with Jean ultimately killed by Logan, and finally by Xorn-as-Magneto.
This is one of the reasons the character of Hope is so hated by X-fans; not only does she physically resembled Jean, but she even has the hook into the Phoenix Force. It feels as though she’s unoriginal, because she infringes too much on another character’s territory.
We know that Jean is coming back. She actually almost came back at the end of Mike Carey’s Age of X, but editorial asked Carey to bring back Rachel Summers from deepest space instead. In the current Battle of the Atom arc, we now have a future Jean, establishing very clearly that Jean has a future in the first place. In that timeline, she’s headmaster of the Jean Grey School but, for some reason, operates under the pseudonym Professor Xorn.
If Marvel must bring Jean Grey back, I have one plea: do something new with her. Move her away from being a simple ‘love-triangle-character who occasionally gets linked to the Phoenix’. Although I may be enjoying Battle of the Atom, this Jean-centric arc sadly doesn’t seem to be the solution to the problem of Jean Grey. If Jean is to truly be worth bringing back, then Marvel have to be willing to do something new with her.