Over 50 years after she debuted in the pages of “X-Men” #1, Jean Grey will finally have an ongoing series of her own. Marvel made the announcement as part of the RessurXion initiative, revealing that Jean’s first series will arrive in spring 2017 along with a new lineup of X-books. Like any superhero character with decades and decades and decades of history, Jean Grey has a complex, continuity-filled history. Unlike most of her peers, though, those complications come from all the different versions of herself that have appeared over the years.
When it comes to getting replaced or cloned or just taking on a new name, few heroes compare to Jean. When you’re talking about Jean Grey, you’re potentially talking about a number of wildly different characters. We don’t yet know which Jean will be at the center of the 2017 series; honestly, it could be a team book starring Jean Greys for all we know. But still, to prepare for the Jean ongoing, we’ve compiled a list of the X-Man’s many aliases and alternate takes to get you up to speed.
First Appearance: “X-Men” #1, September 1963
The real deal, the genuine Jean. As Marvel Girl, Jean Grey was one of the original five X-Men as well as one of Professor Charles Xavier’s first students. Because of mental blocks placed in her mind by Xavier to prevent the full extent of her powers from being unleashed, Jean was originally just a telekinetic. Her telepathic powers would come into play years later, and would make her one of the most — if not the most — powerful minds on the planet.
Jean served with the team throughout the ’60s, leaving once the second generation (including Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine) joined in 1975. She hung around as she was romantically involved with Cyclops, who was still with the team, and was present during a Sentinel attack in outer space. Surviving that mission led to Jean’s first replacement, the all-powerful cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force (covered in the next two entries). Thought dead, Jean didn’t return to life for almost ten years; the Avengers and Fantastic Four found her body cocooned in New York City’s Jamaica Bay. Jean recovered and joined her old X-Men teammates to form X-Factor. After a few years of coping, dealing with her evil clone (more on her in a bit) and gaining back the full extent of her mental powers, Jean was finally more than whole.
As years passed, Jean continued to serve as an X-Man and even married her longtime partner Cyclops; their honeymoon led to another entry on this list. Her powers even dramatically increased to include many of the Phoenix Entity’s abilities. The powers fully emerged during a battle with Magneto (well, not really Magneto but for all intents and purposes here, Magneto) when Jean used her fiery abilities to save herself and Wolverine from an outer space death. But her powers couldn’t protect her from an eletromagnetic pulse and a cosmic-level stroke. Jean died in 2004’s “New X-Men” #150 — and she’s actually stayed dead.
First Appearance: “X-Men” #101, October 1976
Circling way back a bit to 1976 and that Sentinel attack in outer space briefly mentioned above, that’s where things start to get confusing. In order to save the X-Men, who at the time were not her teammates, Jean volunteered to pilot an unshielded space shuttle back into Earth’s atmosphere, risking severe radiation and extreme heat. It was later retconned that the traumatic event caused Jean to cry out for help — and the cosmic Phoenix Entity answered that call. Overwhelmed by Jean’s willingness to sacrifice herself for others, the Phoenix took her place in control of the ship — fully and totally believing itself to be Jean. The real Jean’s body was placed in a cocoon for protection.
The shuttle crashed into New York City’s Jamaica Bay, with Jean having seemingly sacrificed herself to save the team during reentry. But that’s not what happened, as mere moments after the crash Jean reemerged from the bay, proclaiming herself to be “fire and life incarnate,” the Phoenix. Unbeknownst to the team, the real Jean was cocooned on the bottom of the bay. The incredibly powerful Phoenix — totally and sincerely unaware of its status as an imposter — served as a member of the team during “The Phoenix Saga,” an adventure that took the team to the other end of outer space. But Jean’s newfound overwhelming power would be her downfall.
First Appearance: “X-Men” #134, June 1980
While serving alongside the X-Men, Phoenix/Jean would often find herself pulled into elaborate fantasies urging her to unleash her dark side. As the X-Men learned when they clashed with the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, that work was being done by the X-Men’s old foe Mastermind in an attempt to draw Phoenix over to the dark side.
Mastermind got what he wished for — and regretted it.
With her dark side unleashed, the Dark Phoenix stretched out Mastermind’s consciousness to encompass the cosmos, driving him insane. Mastermind would never recover. Dark Phoenix’s thirst for power elevated her to the top of the X-Men’s list of adversaries, as their ex-teammate made quick work of them time and time again. But the fleeting glimpses of the Jean they remembered made the X-Men reluctant to take decisive action against her — even after she destroyed a planet full of sentient beings. In the end it was Phoenix herself that seized on a moment of Dark Phoenix’s vulnerability and blasted herself with an alien laser, reducing herself to ash. Years later, the real Jean’s body would be found cocooned right where Phoenix left it in Jamaica Bay.
The Phoenix Force would return time and time again, inhabiting plenty of other powerful redheads (like Rachel Grey and Hope Summers) but this version was dead.
First Appearance: “Uncanny X-Men” #168, April 1983
But Dark Phoenix’s death had an unintended consequence: it gave Madelyne Pryor life. A clone of Jean Grey created by the creepy scientist Mister Sinister, Pryor laid dormant in an incubation chamber until the moment Phoenix died. She was given life by the Phoenix Force, seeking to return the bit of Jean’s soul it had borrowed to her host body and giving it to her clone instead. Sinister seized this opportunity and placed Madelyne, installed with false memories and believing herself to be a human pilot, squarely in the life of Scott Summers.
Pryor and Cyclops married after a whirlwind romance and soon after had a child, Nathan Christopher Charles Summers; yes, this is Cable and yes, that’s a whole other article. But Madelyne eventually discovered the truth about her origins and how Sinister had created her to do exactly what she had done: find and mate with Scott Summers. Disgusted by the hand she’d been dealt, an enraged Madelyne turned to demonic means to exact her revenge on those that had controlled her, betrayed her and lied to her. That included her husband, Cyclops, who had suddenly left her to reunite with the not-at-all-dead Jean Grey in X-Factor; as soon as Jean emerged from that cocoon, Cyclops came running.
Madelyne’s big, world-destroying plan came to a head in a big battle with Jean Grey herself. Jean defeated Madelyne, seemingly killing her. And just to make matters even more confusing, Jean — the real Jean — added Madelyne Pryor’s memories to her own. Madelyne’s memories also contained those of the Phoenix/Jean, meaning that the real Jean was left with memories of two of her replacements. Remember that “finally more than whole” remark from the Jean entry? This is that.
And comics being comics, Madelyne Pryor would later return to life for a few more adventures — and an alternate reality one will soon be menacing the kids in “All-New X-Men.”
First Appearance: “Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix” #1, May 1994
Unlike the previous few entries in this list, this one is actually Jean Grey. Years after taking on the memories of Madelyne and Phoenix, Jean Grey married Scott Summers. In true superhero fashion, their honeymoon was anything but peaceful. It was actually spent thousands of years in the future.
Okay, to sum things up: the thousand-year-old daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from an alternate future pulled her parents’ consciousnesses thousands of years into the future so that Jean and Scott could raise little baby Nathan Christopher Charles Summers who, after a series of events, had ended up stranded in that future timeline. To do this, Jean and Scott took on the names Redd and Slym Dayspring, and they spent a dozen or so years raising the man who would be Cable in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
So yeah, Jean’s all-powerful alternate future daughter gave Jean the gift of raising the kid her husband had with her evil clone in a nightmare hellscape. There’s no way Jean and Scott registered for that.
First Appearance: “All-New X-Men” #1, January 2013
Lastly, there’s teen Jean. We’ve dealt with clones and alien imposters so far, but this Jean is a time travel paradox. Years after the real, adult Jean’s death at the hands of “Magneto,” Jean’s close friend and fellow original X-Man Beast did the ill-advised thing of traveling back in time to weeks after the X-Men were originally formed — and bringing those kids forward in time to the present day. That meant that teenage versions of Beast, Iceman, Angel, Cyclops and Jean Grey were — and still are — running around in the present day, some alongside their adult counterparts.
This Jean was horrified to learn of her fate — a.k.a. all the crazy stuff you just read about — and has actively worked to prevent all of it from coming true. Her telepathy has emerged years earlier than it originally did, and she’s worked hard to learn new skills and do things differently from her adult self. She’s even left her time-displaced teammates behind, joining Storm’s adventuring team of X-Men. Aside from a Madelyne Pryor here or there, this version of Jean is the only one that’s still alive and kicking right now — and it’s most likely that this is the one that’s getting an ongoing series.
Although as we’ve learned from this explainer, you should just expect the unexpected when it comes to Jean Grey.
Marvel’s “Jean Grey” ongoing series will debut in spring 2017.
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