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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
The Daniel Jackson solution
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.
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.