A founding member of the X-Men, Jean Grey was initially dismissed as one of the team’s weaker members, with her demure personality coming under fire, too. Both of these criticisms were eventually addressed in The Dark Phoenix Saga, which established Jean–now bonded with the cosmic Phoenix Force–as one of the most powerful players in the Marvel Universe, while simultaneously pushing her character arc in a decidedly less timid direction.
For these reasons (and many more), The Dark Phoenix Saga has continued to cast a long shadow over both Jean and the entire X-Men franchise; it’s even served as the basis for not one, but two not-so-great big screen adaptations. But the thing is, as great as this storyline is, it’s far from Jean’s only claim to fame – and as this list illustrates, there are several moments from Ms. Grey’s career that are even bigger!
10 Shielding New York City From Nuclear Warheads
We know, we know: the Age of Apocalypse crossover event is set in an alternate timeline – but the Jean Grey of that reality is still Jean Grey. What’s more, she’s technically a “purer” version of Jean, since–owing to her altered backstory–she wasn’t able to draw upon her Phoenix Force-based abilities (not consciously, anyway).
So factoring in her more modest power levels at the time, we think it’s beyond impressive that Jean erected a telekinetic shield capable of repelling a nuclear bombardment about to rain down on her world’s New York City. Sure, The Dark Phoenix Saga’s Jean could have done the same thing with a snap of her fingers – but it wouldn’t have resonated half as much as it does here.
9 Returning From The Grave (The First Time)
In case the whole “Phoenix” superhero codename wasn’t a complete giveaway, returning from the grave is pretty much Jean Grey’s number one party trick. Seriously: she’s been resurrected more times than we care to count in the last 40 or so years – so much so that Jean undergoing a miraculous revival has become a fairly pedestrian affair.
But rewind back to 1986, and not only had Jean been deceased for six whole years, but the company line at Marvel Comics was also under the impression that she was never coming back, either. So when Jean was revealed to be alive and well in an issue of Fantastic Four at the start of that year–reversing her supposedly permanent exit–it was arguably an even bigger moment than her demise at the climax of The Dark Phoenix Saga!
8 Becoming Headmistress
Ok, we get it: on the face of it, the day Jean Grey was appointed Headmistress of the Xavier Institute doesn’t really compare to the galaxy-shaking spectacle of The Dark Phoenix Saga. But a moment doesn’t need to boast intergalactic fireworks to rate as significant – it just needs to count as a gamechanger.
Jean’s ascension to the top job during Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run definitely fits the bill in that regard. Aside from raising Jean’s profile on the world stage, it also served as a long-overdue acknowledgment that she’s far more than just her at-times uncontrollable abilities, and recognizes her for the intelligent, confident woman she is.
7 Confronting Onslaught
The Dark Phoenix Saga is an undeniably epic affair – but even so, its scope is limited to the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel Universe. By contrast, the impact of the Onslaught crossover was more widespread – as well as Marvel’s Merry Mutants, the heavyweight villain of the title was capable of taking on the combined might of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, too.
Bearing this in mind, the fact that Jean confronted Onslaught one-on-one and lived to tell the tale is nothing short of remarkable. True, Jean–who had yet to regain her connection to the Phoenix Force–wasn’t a match for her colossally powerful foe, but she nevertheless went on to play an instrumental role in stopping the baddie in the end.
6 Closing A Black Hole
It’s not just that Jean single-handedly seals a black hole in X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong, although that’s obviously pretty cool.
No, what makes this moment really noteworthy is what motivated her to do it: at the time, she’s psychically connected to all her current and former teammates and students, and she’s spurred on by their affection for her.
That’s what really resonates here, more than the awe-inspiring power on display: just how many lives Jean has touched, and the lengths to which she’ll go to protect the people she cares about.
5 Traveling To The Ultimate Universe
For all The Dark Phoenix Saga’s drama and pyrotechnics, it all takes place on the one plane of existence – so surely Jean’s excursion to the Ultimate Universe has to count for something? We think it does, especially since we’re talking about a younger, less experienced Jean from the past.
During her trans-dimensional jaunt, the time-displaced Ms. Grey joined forces with the Miles Morales incarnation of Spider-Man to rescue Beast from Doctor Doom. Along the way, the (platonic) chemistry between the two young heroes was palpable, and Jean even planted a peck on Miles' cheek at one point! Action, friendship, and parallel worlds – this adventure basically had it all.
4 Fully Unleashing Full Fury Of The Phoenix Force
Admittedly, the Phoenix Force-fuelled carnage depicted in this entry didn’t actually happen – it’s only a dream (or to be more accurate, a nightmare) sequence. Nevertheless, Jean’s vision in All-New X-Men #26 is a haunting demonstration of what she’s truly capable of, should she ever truly lose control of the cosmic energies roiling within her.
It also represents the sum of all Jean’s worst fears: her dearest friends (not to mention everybody else on the whole dang planet) slain by her hand. In The Dark Phoenix Saga, she narrowly avoided this scenario – but here, it’s a vivid reality (for as long as the dream lasts, that is).
3 Trading Blows With Galactus
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created Galactus way back in 1966, they modeled the iconic Fantastic Four antagonist on none other than God. This should give you some indication of this planet-munching adversary’s power levels – and just how mighty you have to be to go toe-to-toe with him.
So when Jean stands her ground against Galactus in Phoenix: Generations, it’s yet another occasion when she earns her spot in the Marvel Universe’s big leagues. Yeah, she doesn’t exactly fare too well–the Big G swiftly siphons the Phoenix Force energy within her–but there’s no shame in going down to a guy who literally eats entire worlds for breakfast.
2 Repairing The M’Kraan Crystal
Although they’re often grouped together, The Phoenix Saga and The Dark Phoenix Saga are actually two separate (albeit related) narratives – with a small publication gap between the two. And while The Phoenix Saga is typically considered the less significant storyline, it can lay claim to several events even more astonishing than anything seen in its sequel.
Take the moment that Jean mends the M’Kraan Crystal – the otherworldly gem that functions as the “nexus of all realities.” Besides fulfilling one of her core responsibilities as a host of the Phoenix, Jean’s actions here ensured that all of creation survived its otherwise inevitable destruction… so not too shabby an effort, really.
1 Restoring The Timeline
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: The Dark Phoenix Saga is jam-packed with jaw-dropping moments. But seriously: what could be bigger than literally fixing the future? That’s exactly what Jean–at the peak of her powers as the White Phoenix of the Crown–did at the climax of Here Comes Tomorrow, the final arc in Grant Morrison’s landmark New X-Men run.
Funnily enough, though, it’s not the god-like power on show here that fans tend to dwell on: it’s Jean’s tremendous capacity for self-sacrifice. In a heartbreakingly noble gesture, Jean restores the Marvel Universe’s proper, non-dystopian timeline by “watering it with her heart’s blood”–or to put it more bluntly, by psychically pushing her husband Cyclops into the arms of Emma Frost – before vanishing from the physical realm (sob!).