Is Jean Grey the Phoenix?

Are Jean Grey and the Phoenix one and the same?

Christina raised an interesting point a couple of days ago; if Jean Grey and the Phoenix are one, then what does that say about Jean’s state of mind?  Her article, while controversially titled, is actually really interesting reading.  Except… I think she misses the point.  Not that I’m any better, because I think I’ve only just got the point myself!

I’ve just reread the Grant Morrison era of X-Men comics.  Now, it has to be said, I’m not a fan; the guy’s writing just sits uncomfortably with me.  But in reality, what Morrison did to Jean sits at the heart of this whole discussion.  And as I thought about this, I actually came to a position where I had a bit of a change of mind…


I heard the word ‘apotheosis’ when I was in school, used to refer to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.  But in theology, it means something very different indeed.  This is the moment when a person transcends their humanity and becomes a god; whether it be the Pharaohs being deified (made as a god) upon taking the throne, the heroes of Greece who received divine honour, or a Roman ruler’s formal recognition as divine by their successor.

Apotheosis of Homer
The Apotheosis of Homer

In Christian theology (particularly Eastern Orthodox), the word ‘apotheosis’ is replaced by the more familiar ‘divinisation’ (or sometimes the Greek word theosis).  It refers to a human being somehow being united with the Divine nature, and St. Symeon refers to the idea of man becoming “God by nature”.  It’s a subtle reworking of the original concept; no longer is a human becoming a god in their own right, but rather they are being elevated by grace to a place of union with the pre-existing Divine nature.  Researching this subject, I found an interesting paper by Craig McBride as regards Christian deification, which you may (or may not) find interesting.  The moment of divination is often stressed as being experiential, and shares many of William James’ characteristics of mystical experience (see James’ classic ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’).

The idea got picked up by the so-called ‘New Age’ movement in the 1960s, to the extent where most modern Christians have never come across it as a theological concept.  Grant Morrison is heavily influenced by this kind of mysticism, and it comes as no surprise that he introduced it to Jean.  He did the same to Quentin Quire, using drugs as the vehicle, in New X-Men #138.  You can read a lot about Morrison’s views on this kind of thing in his book ‘Supergods’.

Supergods cover
Maybe this has all just convinced you Grant Morrison’s a loon. Yeah, me too…

Under Morrison, Jean came to a moment where she transcended her humanity, where she was truly at one with the Phoenix; how that works out is rather more mystical than science-fiction, which I think is why many traditional X-fans struggle with it.

White Phoenix
In the Morrison era, the Phoenix’s status quo changed dramatically.

Now, Morrison’s use of deification carries a sense of the Christian concept to it – union with a pre-existing Divine.  In this sense, then, later writers speak of the two becoming ‘one’.  Oneness does not mean equality; there are still differences of state between the human and the Divine.  What it does mean differs between theological strands, and Morrison and the other Marvel writers have never made it clear as regards the Phoenix.

Certainly it means Jean’s wishes and desires are shared with the wider Phoenix Force; Phoenix: Endsong makes that very clear.  However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are equal.  If they were, then Jean would be a participant in the worlds-shattering rampage in the first act of AvX, and I just don’t buy that.

This is the scene Christina posted that made it all click.

Now I’m changing my mind

Still, all of this brings us to a real problem for Marvel.  Now that Jean has been deified, how can they bring her back?  In an earlier article, I wrote that I don’t want her back; now, though, I’m beginning to change my mind.

Jean would be a god walking among men, powerful enough to swat Thor or tear down Asgard with far more ease than the Sentry did.  Nothing could stop her, nothing could threaten her.

I think there are two possible solutions to what I’m going to call the Phoenix Problem.

The Cosmic solution

The first option is what I call the Cosmic solution.  Bring Jean back, with all her humanity but still somehow in mystical union with the Phoenix – more than just a host, but retaining her humanity and individuality.  Instead of bringing her back to the X-Men, have her stand on a cosmic stage, in battles that rock the Marvel Universe.  Have her be one of the champions who stands tall when reality tears apart; have her struggling to bring peace where there is only cosmic war.  If Jean is a giant, put her in a land of giants (perhaps giants still greater in size), and have her prove herself once again.

If Marvel really wanted to have a laugh, they could bring her back in the ongoing Cyclops series, where young Scott Summers and the Starjammers blaze a trail across the heavens.  Then young Scott would be allied with older Jean, while back on Earth young Jean is allied with older Scott.  The dramatic irony is amusing.

ANXM Cyclops
Could this series be used to bring Jean Grey back?

The Daniel Jackson solution

Daniel Jackson
OK, this is officially the weirdest blog I have ever written. Everything from the apotheosis of Homer to my love of SG1, all wrapped up in one blog post. Grant Morrison, look at what your writing has done to me–!!!

The second option, though, is one that runs similarly to that of Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG1.  Daniel transcended humanity, becoming an Ancient, but he committed an act that meant he was cast back down to mortal life once again.  In the same way, Jean could well be resurrected somehow without the Phoenix; the deification reversed, perhaps due to her refusing to support the Phoenix Force in some cosmic act of judgment?

In actual fact, when Marvel introduced the Mutant Messiah I thought something similar had happened.  I thought that Wanda’s curse – “No more mutants” – had stripped Jean Grey of her powers, and that the Phoenix had cast her aside lest she be consumed in its fires now she no longer had her powers.

I know she’s not massively popular, but I’ve always been fond of Hope!  Click the image to see my thoughts on her.

Of course, Marvel went in a completely different direction, but the point is simple: it’s doable.  It just takes a bit of thought.

So, in conclusion, first of all I mildly disagree with Christina’s interpretation – only mildly, mind.  I still think some fans take this too far, turning Jean and the Phoenix into one single entity in a way that I find disturbing (particularly since it means Jean guilty of many acts of genocide in AvX).  But I now think I’m beginning to get my head around this strange concept, and in so doing I see options for Marvel where before all had been restricted.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ah, brilliant. Another view point to add to the books.


  2. Adam says:

    This all points to a thought I’ve long hand in that Jean Grey sticks out like a sore thumb in the X books. I love her character and find the Phoenix stuff fascinating, but it has little if anything to do with what the X-Men are supposedly about, rights and oppression of those who are different from the mainstream.

    When of those characters is touching the divine, how the hell do you bring her back down?


    1. Yeah, as you say – the character no longer gels well with the X-Men themes! Although that being said, it seems a while since that theme’s been prominent (bar an occasional Purifier appearance…)


  3. chamlet5127 says:

    Nice response and great observations, Tom! I don’t know if you answered your original question, but you did present and excellent essay on the nature of duality and some interesting options for Jean’s return!

    My original article was not that oneness meant equality, but to counter a specific notion: that Jean was the embodiment of the Phoenix, controlling it completely and that she was destined past, present and future to be its ultimate host and that the two cannot be separated. As an example (again) Endsong seemed to make a case that the Phoenix was driven by Jean’s thoughts and desires and that Jean had a conscious and significant control over the entity. In that context, it would appear that she could have also intervened in AvX but didn’t. So to my original point, those were the inevitable pitfalls I saw with that particular take on Jean, not necessarily any take on oneness.

    It would be very convenient to try to use the above to retain a cosmically powered Jean and then divert blame from her when the Phoenix Force becomes destructive. But I think the relationship between Jean and the Phoenix would have to be regarded as one of mortal achieving state rather than any sort of dual aspect. Normally with a dual relation equal states or a higher state is cognizant of the nature of its ‘lesser’ aspects to some degree. Up to her death, the Phoenix never really indicated that Jean was a destined or even intentional host. Even Morrison’s transcendence seemed more consciously achieved than predestined.

    Of the two I like the Daniel Jackson option better but (in my opinion) for it to work, it has to be a complete severing of Jean and the PF. Any relationship with the PF will leave many clamoring for the Phoenix and bide their time until it returns.The X-men has always been the “human” book (ironically) their struggles more grounded in what it meant to be a human, the themes much more…..mundane (in the Earthly sense.) Which means that people with extremely high or cosmic powersets are doomed to be cycled out when the storyline comes back to its roots and away from the cosmic threats that the Fantastic Four or the Avengers use as their staples. It happened to Jean as well as to Storm and Rachel in those times the team had just come off a cosmic storyline and headed into a more human period. If they bring Jean back with the PF inevitably she will be depowered or killed.

    I love Jean _because_ of her human struggles and her quest for identity have everything that’s happened. I get that some people love the power set and I’m okay with that, though it is frustrating to me that it’s gotten so that there can’t be a discussion about Jean without bringing her Phoenix power set into it. And really she’s one of the only characters that’s seems to be the case with. I was very leery of Bendis bring the O5 here and it seemed like a gimmick, but really this has been some of the freshest development Jean’s gotten in ages, even before her death. I may not end up liking the final direction, but at least she’s going somewhere. Hopefully it’ll be a place that all Jean fans can be happy with.

    LOL sorry for the long comment. I probably should have made an new post, but I didn’t want to go all dueling banjoes on you. 🙂 Thanks for the deep thoughts!


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