Well, X-Fans, it’s been a long wait, but Dark Phoenix–the final film in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men saga–is finally in theaters. But we’re not here to discuss whether you loved or loathed this latest attempt at adapting what is arguably the greatest X-Men story of all time. This X-Men Monday, we’re here to celebrate the movie’s star… the first X-Woman… the winner of AiPT!’s Last X-Man Standing Tournament… the Phoenix herself…
Now, while it’s always a privilege to have Jordan D. White here answering questions, even Marvel’s X-Men Senior Editor recognized what a momentous occasion this was. Jordan knew he couldn’t celebrate Jean alone, so… well, you know what? Let’s let Jordan eXplain!
Jordan: You know what? Sure, I could just answer all your Jean Grey questions, easy peasy, and then X-Men Fandom could build a psychological profile of my Jean Grey thoughts and know everything that will happen with Jean forever based on it. But you know what? I think instead, to celebrate Jean’s big movie, I am going to bring in some friends to help out! There is room in Jean Grey fandom for lots of different voices and opinions! For example, let’s kick things off by letting Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Rosenberg tackle the first one!
AiPT!: Well alright then–I’m never going to say no to X-Men Monday cameos! Our first question comes from snewp, Agent of G.I.R.L. (@Sn0rpD0rg). What is your interpretation of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”? That it was legitimately Jean Grey like modern comics seem to view it or that it was the Phoenix thinking it was her as established by the 80’s retcons?
Matthew Rosenberg: Retcons are always a tricky thing. Finding the balance between respecting the original authorial intent and what the reader originally read versus what is currently happening in a story is one of the most difficult things about being a comic reading literalist. I grew up with the Dark Phoenix being a manifestation of the Phoenix and I didn’t know that to be anything other than what the original story intended. It was all so crazy and weird, it just fit perfectly with everything else in the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga. But these days I tend to take each story on a case-by-case basis, and while I love the idea of Jean safely tucked away while the Phoenix is doing awful things in her name, that’s not the truth I gravitate towards. The story of Jean’s salvation and destruction at the hands of the Phoenix is a really tragic tale and one of the great Marvel stories so I choose to take it at face value.
All of this is a little easier to justify when you are dealing with the Phoenix, of course. A giant, infinitely rebirthing, space-god bird with the powers to bend reality is always going to have some stories that us mere mortals aren’t going to fully understand. If you believe in the Phoenix, as we all do, then you must also accept that there is not just one truth and one reality.
AiPT!: Thank you, Matthew! So, Adult Jean Grey recently absorbed Teen Jean’s memories. After Teen Jean, that’s three lives that Jean has in her head that weren’t truly her own (Teen Jean, Phoenix and Madelyne Pryor). Nir Revel (@revel_nir) was curious as to how Jean deals with that.
Jordan: Great question! Let’s ask Amazing Nightcrawler writer, novelist and tremendous X-Fan Seanan McGuire what she thinks!
Seanan McGuire: Denial, denial, denial! At this point, I’m not sure even Jean has the clearest sense of what it means to be “Jean Grey.” Between all the bonus lives and her psychic bond to Scott meaning that his thoughts will have occasionally flavored her own, and just being a psychic (even an Omega-level one) in a world where most people aren’t taught telepathic etiquette, she’s more of a composite than she is the person she was at the beginning. I think she has the power to fix it if she wanted to, but those memories matter, and purging them or locking them away would be tantamount to psychic murder. So she goes along, not fighting it, and lets herself be whoever that combination naturally is. It hurts less than constantly locking parts of herself away.
AiPT!: Thanks, Seanan! Speaking of Teen Jean… was “Ghost Jean” from the Teen Jean Grey ongoing series the adult Jean we have now? Avalon (@braddocklegacy) would like to know.
Jordan: Teen Jean’s book was before my time in the X-Office, and while I could just give you my interpretation, why not turn to the writer of that book to let him weigh in?
Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum: I always wrote Ghost Jean like she was the spirit of the deceased adult Jean reaching out through the ether to help prepare her younger, time-traveling self for the return of the Phoenix. Whether that spirit was a traditional ghost or something more Phoenix-powered remains a mystery. So… In my opinion, yes, Ghost Jean and resurrected Adult Jean are the same person. When Jean was reborn, that consciousness (eventually) returned to her new body.
AiPT!: And one more psyche for Jean’s head–yikes! But thanks, Dennis! Now, both LZ (@UncannyLZ) and Mike Thacker (@MichaelSThacker) had questions about Jean’s lack of a codename. So, generally, what is your view on Jean not having a codename? Does she need one?
Jordan: Good question! Jean, Kitty, Emma–there are a couple of X-Ladies who don’t go by codenames so much anymore. Say, Darren Shan, editor of X-Force, Prisoner X, X-23 and NextGen, what do you think?
Darren Shan: It’s sometimes a little odd when she doesn’t go by a codename. But at the same time, her name is SO recognizable, that I don’t think it’s really necessary. I will say, her best codename was “Phoenix,” but it only works when she’s got Phoenix Force.
AiPT!: Thanks for stopping by, Darren! On last week’s edition of X-Men Monday, Kevin Ong left a comment that said in recent years, Jean has been portrayed as the most powerful telepath–even more powerful than Charles Xavier. Is this an idea that you think should be maintained or would you rather return to the original status quo of Xavier being the most powerful mind on Earth?
Jordan: Great question! But who cares what I think! Let’s see what Marvelous X-Men and all-around Age of X-Man co-mastermind Lonnie Nadler thinks about it!
Lonnie Nadler: I think it’s far more valuable if Jean maintains her status as the most powerful telepath on the planet (aside from Nate Grey, of course. Have you seen the stuff he’s doing in Age of X-Man? It’s crazy). If Xavier goes back to being the premiere telepath, it comes with the notion that nothing ever really changes, that everything reverts back to how it once was, in this eternal recurrence that runs the risk of feeling rather boring in a been-there-seen-that kind of way. Jean’s only just recently been resurrected and she’s come back with more conviction and purpose than ever and I’m personally far more keen on seeing what she can do when she’s uninhibited and second to none. If Xavier regains his status, it diminishes Jean and her abilities. We’ve rarely seen Xavier be subordinate to anyone, and the idea of the pupil outgrowing the master, while it is a trope, is bringing both characters to new places and will force them to not only act differently toward one another, but on the whole. Superhero comics tend to fall back to the status quo more often than not, it’s part of the genre, but an aspect I love about the X-Men is that they are one of the few teams and characters who have shown real growth over the years, and shifting the power dynamics of a group is one surefire way to ensure the inevitability change.
AiPT!: Well said, Lonnie–thanks! OK, Jordan, you know we can’t go a week without trying to get some new information about Jonathan Hickman’s upcoming run. Young Bru (@BrunoMellx) asked, if you could define Jean Grey in House of X and Powers of X with one word, what would it be?
Jordan: I think there’s only one man who can answer that, and since he only has time to do exactly one word of interviews right now between scripts, this works perfectly.
Jonathan Hickman: Prominent.
AiPT!: Hm, tell me more… just kidding. Thanks, Jonathan! Moving on, from Rachel Summers to Madelyne Pryor–and some would say, even Hope Summers–there are several characters that wouldn’t exist if not for Jean. Grey_life12 (@304grey_fan) asked, who is your favorite “Jean derivate character”?
Jordan: Ah, the old “all redheads are actually Jean” concept! Why don’t we turn to X-Tremists scribe Leah Williams to tackle this one?
Leah Williams: Gosh, this is such an infinite question. I feel like there are MANY arguments to be made about who can be considered a Jean-derivative character outside of the obvious ones, too. Rachel Summers/Rachel Grey is one of my favorite characters period so I would have to put her at the top of the list, though. She is so much her own person at this point that I tend to think of her as just her own person, and not actually an alternate reality daughter of Jean’s.
AiPT!: You’re certainly not alone, Leah–thanks for contributing! Jordan, Zack Jenkins (@XavierFiles) wanted to know if you think there’s too much emphasis on Jean’s love life.
Jordan: Do you mean in the comics or on the internet? Either way, let’s turn to the other Age of X-Man co-mastermind and co-writer of Marvelous X-Men, Zac Thompson, to answer!
Zac Thompson: Absolutely there is. I think people are attached to an idea of Jean’s past where she’s tethered to Scott at the hip, but realistically she needs to grow. She needs to change. As we all do over time. Jean is an individual above all else, and one of the most powerful telepaths in the world. Let her run wild. Single Jean is wise, caring and decisive. Let’s enjoy that for as long as we can and savor her as a person who can lead the X-Men better than anyone. Naturally, she’s bound to fall in love again. Maybe there’s a new mutant out there for her.
AiPT!: Thanks, Zac! And thank you, Jordan for making that Zack-Zac question-and-answer combo happen! So now, I’m going to ignore the takeaway from that answer and ask one more question about Jean’s love life. There will always be fans who want to see Jean and Wolverine finally get together in regular Marvel continuity–not the Age of Apocalypse or X-Men Forever. What is your personal view on Logan and Jean? Do you think it could work, or do they always work best as one of those classic will-they-won’t-they pairings?
Jordan: Hmmmm, since we’re talking about forbidden love, why not check in with the writer of that lovefest of a series, Apocalypse & The X-Tracts, Tim Seeley?
Tim Seeley: Here’s the sad truth you learn when working in ongoing serialized fiction: No one REALLY wants the will-they-wont-they couples together. The moment the creator does it, they’re subject to the ideas and expectations of every reader, and that means every single reader will be disappointed. It’s the old Sam and Diane Conundrum from Cheers. The moment you do it, you lose the story engine that comes from the tension. See also, my experience with Nightwing and Batgirl!
AiPT!: Nightwing and Batgirl? Are they mutants I’ve never heard of? Kidding, kidding. Thanks, Tim! As we approach the end of our Jean Grey celebration, I’m curious… she’s appeared in multiple films and animated series. Do you have a favorite interpretation of Jean outside of the comics, Jordan?
Jordan: Hmmm, good question! Famke! Sophie! TAS! Evolution! There are a lot of versions to choose from! Let’s see what my other assistant editor, Annalise Bissa, has to say!
Annalise Bissa: I really prefer comics-Jean, but I guess if I have to pick another version, it would be the one from the movies. Gotta be a fan of the scene where she explodes out of a lake.
AiPT!: Thank you, Annalise! OK, Jordan. We can’t have an X-Men Monday about Jean Grey without asking what your favorite Jean Grey story is and why.
Jordan: I will open this one up to everyone… except Jonathan, who is already locked back in his scripting cage.
Tim: Mine is actually her origin story… where it’s revealed her powers first manifested after her friend Annie Richardson was killed when she was struck by a car, and Jean felt her die. It’s so dark and visceral, but it also shows how strong this woman is. I also read that story when I was like 10, so seeing a KID die in a comic was emotionally devastating, and made me relate even more.
Seanan: Grant Morrison’s storyline for her in New X-Men. I adore her relationship with the Phoenix as he explores it there, and I like seeing her move beyond her childhood romance with Scott and begin figuring out who she wants to be as an adult. In the same vein, the story Tom Taylor told with her in X-Men Red was, for me, the best of what Jean Grey can be: weaponized empathy and kindness, and a willingness to burn herself alive for the sake of making the world a measurably better place. My greatest fear for her future is that she’ll be slapped back into a relationship with Scott because it’s an easy character note to play, and keeps her from growing into someone new.
Lonnie: Aside from the obvious choices, I have a real soft spot for The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix after revisiting it last year for research. For me, the X-Men have always been about family, specifically this idea of found family, and how you do anything to protect the ones you love. This miniseries epitomizes that idea in the most melodramatic, most 90s X-Men-y way possible, by boiling it down to a story about parents (Jean and Scott) and their sort-of-child (Cable) and the struggle to keep him alive in a bonkers future world that’s fascistically ruled by Apocalypse. Throughout the series you get to see Jean and Scott struggle with parenthood, with being separated from everything they know, but doing so because they know the fate of mutantkind rests on their shoulders (doesn’t it always?). Despite the over-the-top setting, the book offers a more intimate look at who Jean and Scott are, how they make a great team, and just how strongly they hold to their beliefs.
Annalise: Is it a huge cop-out to say her first appearance, when she rolls into the Xavier School and politely-yet-firmly lays out her whole deal? I also love the entire lead-up to the Dark Phoenix revelation, where she’s using more and more power–there’s an amazing scene where Jean changes the molecules of her costume into a swimsuit in front of Cyclops and he’s like “…should I ask what’s up with Jean lately?” and then immediately talks himself out of it. Relatedly, I love that there were several weeks (months?) where Jean was fading in and out of being possessed by Mastermind and everyone, for the most part, just reacted like ‘classic Jean!!!’
Zac: I’m incredibly partial to Tom Taylor’s landmark work with Jean in X-Men: Red. Writing Jean immediately after Tom was pretty much my greatest fear in life made real. He turned Jean into the face of the X-Men as they faced the modern world. He showed us that she’s fearless and can navigate the worst of us with compassion and ease. While it’s a brand new title, I’m sure it will forever be viewed as a turning point for Jean’s character. Every issue is packed with real moments of emotion and action that showcase the X-Men at their best, under her leadership.
Matthew: “The Dark Phoenix Saga” was the first comic I ever read, and actually one of the first anythings I ever read. My tiny little mind could not even begin to keep up with the story on those pages but it wanted to so much. Since then, it’s a story I revisit every few years and each time it offers me something new while still feeling elusive in a lot of ways. It’s an amazing piece of storytelling. The innocent young woman, the heart of the team, sacrificed herself to save them and was offered a second chance. But what she becomes is something else… Something that isn’t her. It’s a story that does the very difficult task of being both universe-shakingly huge and deeply intimate. It’s a Shakespearian tragedy wrapped up in biblical stakes.
Also the scene where Jean makes Scott take off his glasses in Uncanny X-Men #132 is one of my favorite comic moments of all time. It’s just so beautiful.
But more than just the mechanics and scale of it, I think the fall and rise and fall again of Jean Grey is truly one of the greatest comic stories ever told from a character perspective. Jean always seemed like she could be so much more, both in terms of her powers and who she is as a character. But when it finally happens, when she finally becomes something greater, she gets lost in it. It swallows her whole. I’ve always felt like that tragedy is so emblematic of the X-Men and what makes them great. It’s the quintessential “Welcome to the X-Men. Hope you survive the experience.” story. When I wrote Phoenix Resurrection (in trade paperback now!), that is the story I kept coming back to–Jean as this tragic figure, consumed by something greater than her, and lost in her own story. That’s why I really wanted to separate her from the Phoenix. I missed Jean and thought it was time for us to see who she could be now on her own. And Tom Taylor and company did such a great job of running with that in X-Men Red. All this death and rebirth means nothing if there is no growth, and Jean is the rare character who just keeps getting better and better and I can’t wait to see what comes next. But it all starts for me with Dark Phoenix.
Dennis: My favorite era of Jean is definitely Morrison/Quitely New X-Men. I was in college just getting back into comics and the messy Jean/Scott/Emma triangle made that series for me. Jean’s personal life is falling apart in epic fashion and the Phoenix is burning back up within her. That’s perfect X-Men soap opera.
Leah: I think my favorite run might actually be Dennis Hallum’s Jean Grey solo with Young Jean. It was such a fresh insight into her character, and one that positions her away from the same kind of roles we’ve seen her getting stuck in a loop with in the past, but it felt genuinely authentic to her character nonetheless and was kind a window into what could have been with her–our Jean, 616 Jean, has obviously had a very tumultuous coming-of-age but she’s also had smaller things affecting her journey, like, “Here is a very bright child who spends the vast majority of her time with genius adults; she’s probably going to turn out fairly precocious.” or the fact that she spent much of her early years hanging out with only boys. (I’m not being critical of this! I just believe these things, especially combined, would have an effect on Jean’s development.) Young Jean felt like it ventured into unexplored territory while remaining true to what makes Jean, Jean. My favorite single issue, however, is Grant Morrison’s and Frank Quitely’s issue of New X-Men #121, where Emma Frost and Jean Grey team-up to telepathically travel inside Xavier’s mind. There’s no dialogue and reading that issue feels like a fever dream.
Darren: It’s not one single story, but rather an entire run… Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run is the best Jean Grey story, in my opinion. If you go back and read it again, you’ll see that Jean was THE star of that series. For 40-something issues, the X-Men (and the readers) were worried about Jean becoming the Phoenix again. Because history has taught them that the Phoenix Force can only lead to darkness. But while everyone doubts Jean’s capabilities, what does she go and do? She saves the freaking universe. Badass.
Jordan: As for me, when I read the question, I was immediately torn between “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and the New X-Men run, and I think reading everyone else’s faves here has swayed me to come down firmly in the Morrison camp.
AiPT!: X-Fans: You have your summer reading list! Finally, we’ll close as we do every week, with your song recommendation, Jordan. What tune best embodies Jean Grey, in your opinion?
Jordan: Let me let you in on my methodology on these song choice questions, because you may be shocked to learn I don’t already have a song mentally assigned to every X-Man. 😛 Basically, I go on my iPhone, go into my playlist of songs I’ve rated 4 stars and up, and start shuffling through those 7,337 songs until one seems to resonate with the character I am thinking about. Then I will listen to the song for a moment and look up the lyrics to see how much I feel like it works. This time, I was really pleasantly surprised when looking over the lyrics for the song I chose… which is “Eye in the Sky,” by the Alan Parsons Project. Here’s a version that also includes the little instrumental prelude song “Sirius,” which is also great.
AiPT!: Listening and… wow, very good pick! “Don’t let the fire rush to your head” indeed, Jean! And with that, we bring to a close this week’s eXtra-sized X-Men Monday celebration of Jean Grey! Thank you to all the Jean fans who submitted questions and a HUGE thank you to Jordan and his talented friends for taking time out of their busy schedules to geek out over Ms. Grey!
And if all this still wasn’t enough Jean Grey reading for you, here are a few past AiPT! pieces Jean fans may want to check out:
In the next edition of X-Men Monday, we’ll be talking X-Teams. And no, I’m not talking Blue and Gold squads–I mean X-Force, Excalibur, X-Factor, Generation X and all the other X-Teams. So if you’ve been sitting on a Fallen Angels question since the late ’80s, now’s your time! Feel free to post your questions in the comment space below, or reply to the prompt on AiPT!’s Twitter tomorrow morning (June 11).
Sorry, Wolverine. Go make a sandwich or something. Next week’s Shatterstar, Meggan, Skin and Bill the Lobster’s time in the spotlight.