In the Marvel Universe, the Phoenix Force reigns supreme. With a power that dwarfs the combined might of the X-Men, the Avengers and most of Marvel’s heroes, the Phoenix stands among the most powerful entities in the Marvel Universe. While the Phoenix Force has played a big role in fairly recent stories like 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, the Phoenix’s most famous host, the original Jean Grey, has been largely absent since her death in 2004. Now, Jean’s Phoenix is set to make her long-awaited full resurrection in the aptly-titled upcoming miniseries Phoenix: Resurrection.
TO celebrate, CBR is taking a look back at some facts about the Phoenix that you might not know. In this list, we’ll be untangling the twisted history of the Phoenix Force in comics, movies and TV. We’ll also be digging into the histories of some of the Phoenix Force’s most prominent hosts like Jean Grey and Rachel Summers. With Simon Kinberg’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix set to bring the Phoenix to the big screen in 2018, we’ll also be looking behind-the-scenes at the stories behind famous X-Men tales like “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” While its presence in the X-Men’s world might ebb and flow, the Phoenix lives up to its namesake and always comes back around.
15. PHOENIX: THE FIRST AVENGER
While the first official Avengers team was founded by heroes like Iron Man and Thor, the Phoenix was part of a team that existed a million years earlier. As Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic revealed in 2017’s Marvel Legacy #1, the Phoenix was a member of a Stone Age-era team called the Avengers 1,000,000 BC. Along with the Phoenix, the team included Thor’s father Odin, the Sorcerer Supreme Agamotto and early incarnations of Iron Fist, Starbrand, Black Panther and Ghost Rider.
Even though that’s one of the mightiest Marvel teams ever assembled, their combined might was barely enough to defeat the Fallen, a massive diseased alien Celestial that had fallen to Earth. Although it’s unclear when, Aaron also revealed that the Phoenix and Odin had a particularly intimate relationship in the distant past. While these are ongoing plot points, these surprising revelations will probably shape the Marvel’s immediate future.
14. PHOENIX’S OTHER HOSTS
Since the Phoenix Force was created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum in 1976’s X-Men #101, the Phoenix has usually been linked with Jean Grey or her alternate reality daughter, Rachel. Still, the Phoenix Force has taken on dozens of hosts over the course of Marvel’s history, and it’s taken on even more hosts in alternate realities. In 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, the power of the Phoenix was famously split among Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik, the X-Men better known as the Phoenix Five.
In the future of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, a human named Giraud became the new Phoenix to the population of a planet dominated by mutants. More recently, Thane, the Inhuman son of Thanos, took on the Phoenix Force as part of his ongoing efforts to destroy his father in the pages of Jeff Lemire and German Peralta’s Thanos.
13. JEAN GREY’S PSYCHIC CHILDHOOD
Even though Jean Grey met the Phoenix Force for the first time as an adult, it had actually been watching her since she was a child. The Phoenix was drawn to the vast potential of Jean’s mutant psychic power, which emerged when a young Jean made a telepathic connection to her dying friend, Annie Richardson. After that incident happened in 1981’s Bizarre Adventures #27, by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Grey’s parents turned to Charles Xavier to help their haunted daughter.
While Professor X helped Jean gradually embrace her powers as she matured, another aspect of that original relationship was quickly abandoned. In 1964’s X-Men #3, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the middle-aged Xavier frets about his romantic love for the teenage Jean. Not surprisingly, this angle was quickly dropped and only mentioned again in “Onslaught,” a 1996 crossover about Xavier’s dark side.
12. THE IRON FIST CONNECTION
While the Phoenix almost certainly won’t show up in the next season of Netflix’s Iron Fist, the cosmic has a surprising number of connections to the mystical Marvel martial artist. Long before Danny Rand became the Iron Fist, one of his predecessors served as both the Iron Fist and a host to the Phoenix Force, as revealed in 2012’s New Avengers #25. Near the end of Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato Jr.’s tale, the Iron Fist Phoenix flew into space, claiming that the Earth wasn’t ready for her power.
While Misty Knight was a bigger player in Netflix’s Luke Cage, her comic book counterpart dated Danny for decades. Shortly after the Phoenix took Jean Grey’s form, Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum revealed that she was Jean Grey’s roommate in 1976’s X-Men #102. After that, Misty befriended most of that era’s X-Men and gave them a standing invitation to visit.
11. DARK PHOENIX’S ORIGINAL FATE
In “The Phoenix Saga,” by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, Jean Grey seemingly allowed herself to be possessed by the Phoenix Force to save the X-Men from crashing into New York’s Jamaica Bay. The Phoenix then served with the X-Men until she went power-mad and destroyed a galaxy in Claremont and John Byrne’s iconic “Dark Phoenix Saga.”
While the Dark Phoenix ultimately died for her crimes, that wasn’t always the plan. As Claremont revealed in 1984’s Phoenix: The Untold Story, he originally wanted the Phoenix to relinquish her powers and return to the X-Men as a powerless Jean Grey. Although she would’ve eventually resisted a new offer of power from Magneto, Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter felt that she got off too easy in that scenario. While the idea of putting her in an alien prison was briefly considered, Dark Phoenix sacrificed her life in one of the X-Men’s defining moments.
10. JEAN GREY’S UNEXPECTED RETURN
With the death of Dark Phoenix, Marvel seemingly did the unthinkable by killing off a major hero. Due to an edict from editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, Jean would stay dead, unless she could be absolved of the Phoenix’s actions. Thanks to an offhand idea from a young Kurt Busiek and his college friends, John Byrne revived the original Jean Grey in 1986’s Fantastic Four #286. In that story, an oblivious Jean emerged from a cocoon in Jamaica Bay, where she had rested since the Phoenix saved the X-Men and duplicated her body. So, Jean slept in stasis while the Phoenix killed.
Despite the initial objections of iconic Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont, Jean Grey returned to action in an aggressively marketed storyline. After being revived, Jean found a new home in the pages of X-Factor, where the original five X-Men were reunited for the first time in over a decade.
9. PHOENIX’S DUPLICATE JEANS
Even though the Dark Phoenix was technically a duplicate of Jean Grey, Marvel still treats that Phoenix and Jean as the same person. As Chris Claremont and John Bolton’s story in 1987’s Classic X-Men #8 revealed, that’s because Jean and the Phoenix Force fit so perfectly together and influenced each other so much that they became one. In later comics like Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey, Marvel creators have simplified the issue by treating Jean Grey and her Phoenix duplicate as one and the same.
When the Phoenix duplicate died, Jean’s essence was split between her original, cocooned body and Madeline Pryor, her perfect genetic clone. In a Frankenstein-esque moment, Jean’s essence was the spark that gave life to the clone, who’d been created by the mad scientist Mr. Sinister. After Pryor also went insane and evil, Jean took back her essence and absorbed the memories of her duplicates.
8. WOLVERINE’S PHOENIX GUN
In its traditional form, the Phoenix Force looks like a giant bird made of fire. In Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert’s underrated miniseries Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, the entire might of the Phoenix Force was contained in the Phoenix Gun. In that time-twisting 2010 miniseries, Spider-Man found the gun, which was built by the X-Men’s Beast, in a far future timeline.
In that future, Doctor Doom took control of the sentient planet Ego to become Doom, The Living Planet and destroyed most of the Earth. When Doom threatened Earth’s remaining ruins, Wolverine stole the device from Spider-Man and used it to defeat Doom once and for all. Although that action cost Logan his life, Spider-Man was able to revive him without too much effort by using a reality-warping Cosmic Cube. After that, the two heroes bonded as their time-traveling adventure continued.
7. PHOENIX’S COSMIC WARS
While arguments about who Phoenix could beat in a fight have echoed around comic shops and message boards for decades, the Phoenix Force has stood up against Marvel’s strongest cosmic beings. In 2017’s Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey, by Cullen Bunn and R.B. Silva, a Phoenix Force-using Jean Grey was able to single-handedly save a planet from the world-devouring Galactus and his herald Terrax.
The Phoenix has had a shakier track record when confronting the reality-warping power of the Beyonder. While Rachel Summers usually only manifested a portion of the Phoenix Force’s energies, the Beyonder gave her full access to the Phoenix’s power in the 1985 crossover Secret Wars II. Even though he granted her those powers, he was quickly overwhelmed by the full might of the Phoenix. On the other hand, a Phoenix-powered Cyclops was quickly killed by Doctor Doom, who held the Beyonder’s power in 2015’s Secret Wars.
6. PHOENIX RAISED CABLE
In addition to hosting the Phoenix Force for lengthy periods of time, Jean Grey and Rachel Summers, who’s also gone by Rachel Grey, have another thing in common. They both helped raise a young Cable, Nathan Summers, in a distant alternate future. After Rachel got lost in the timestream in 1994’s Excalibur #75, by Scott Lobdell and Ken Lashley, a copy of her was sent into a future ruled by the X-Men villain Apocalypse.
In that timeline, Rachel founded the Clan Askani, an order dedicated to defeating Apocalypse. Now known as Mother Askani, a 100-year-old Rachel brought an infant Nathan into that world to treat his fatal Techno-Organic Virus. In Lobdell and Gene Ha’s The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, she brought those two X-Men into the future where Nathan was a child. In that 1994 miniseries, Cyclops and Phoenix, using the names Slym and Redd, raised Nathan for 12 years.
5. JEAN GREY GOES BLIND
After decades of countless X-Men stories, “The Phoenix Saga” and “The Dark Phoenix Saga” still stand as high points in X-Men history. When Fox launched its cinematic X-Men franchise in the early 2000s, those stories seemed ripe for adaptation on the big screen. In the final moments of Bryan Singer’s 2003 film, X2, the Phoenix’s birdlike shadow made a fleeting appearance after Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey died saving the X-Men.
While that moment set up the film’s lackluster sequel, it wasn’t in X2‘s shooting script. In that script, Jean temporarily went blind after battling a mind-controlled Cyclops. Singer allegedly added Jean’s death to the climax in the middle of the film’s production, after the script had been distributed to other companies. As a result, official tie-ins, like Chris Claremont’s novelization of the film and even MAD Magazine‘s X2 parody, ended with a blind, but living, Jean Grey.
4. JEAN GREY’S EVOLUTION
After the success of X-Men: The Animated Series in the 1990s, X-Men: Evolution offered a new take on the mutants in the early 2000s. This series followed teenage versions of most of the X-Men as they navigated high school life and trained at the Xavier Institute. While the show ran for four seasons, it was cut short before it could adapt “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”
In the Evolution episode, “Power Surge,” Jean Grey’s mutant powers started naturally developing past the point where she could control them. After a well-timed touch from the power-absorbing Rogue saved the day, these developments would have led to a version of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” that would have taken up most of the show’s unproduced fifth season. Despite that, a glimpse of Evolution‘s Dark Phoenix was seen in a flash-forward sequence at the end of the show’s final episode.
3. THE PHOENIX MOVED TO ANOTHER UNIVERSE
In 1994, Marvel Comics bought Malibu Comics, a fairly young comic publisher with a groundbreaking digital coloring department and a moderately successful superhero line called the Ultraverse. Even though Ultraverse characters starred in TV shows like the cartoon Ultraforce and the live-action Night Man, Marvel relaunched the Ultraverse titles in 1995. As part of that relaunch, Marvel sent a few dormant characters into the Ultraverse. In addition to the Infinity Gauntlet, these included the Avengers’ Black Knight, the X-villain Juggernaut and the Phoenix Force.
In the 1995 crossover Phoenix Resurrection, the X-Men and Malibu’s Ultraforce teamed up to save the Ultraverse from an insane, weakened Phoenix. In that story, the Phoenix took over the human Amber Hunt, the fire-controlling Foxfire and Prime, a Superman-esque hero who was secretly a child. Even after the Phoenix Force traveled back to the Marvel Universe, a small portion of it remained in the Ultraverse.
2. JEAN GREY’S GENES
Even though the Phoenix Force has been wielded by a number of powerful characters, it always seems to come back to Jean or Rachel Grey. While Jean’s passion and vast mutant powers made her the ideal Phoenix host, there was also a genetic component to their compatibility. As Chris Claremont and Chris Bachalo introduced in Uncanny X-Men #467, the Grey’s Genome is unusually suited the Phoenix’s needs.
In that 2006 story, an alien strike force of Shi’Ar Death Commandos attacked a Grey family reunion. While Jean was dead at the time, Rachel watched on in horror as her entire family was wiped out in 24 seconds. Although Rachel lived, the Death Commandos branded her with a tattoo that allowed them to track her location from anywhere in the universe. After traveling in space, Rachel got revenge on the Shi’Ar who ordered the executions in the 2009 crossover War of Kings.
1. DARK PHOENIX AND DARKSEID
While the Dark Phoenix was powerful enough to threaten the entire Marvel Universe, she made an even more formidable threat when she teamed up with Darkseid, DC’s deadliest cosmic foe. In 1982’s Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson brought those villains together in a world where Marvel and DC’s heroes co-existed.
In that well-reviewed Marvel and DC crossover, Darkseid revived the Dark Phoenix as part of his efforts to breach a cosmic barrier called the Source Wall. Having seen the Dark Phoenix’s galactic genocide, the Titans’ Starfire rallied her team and the X-Men against the reborn villain. After working with Darkseid, Phoenix betrayed the tyrant and sacrificed her life to defeat him in a blaze of glory. While that story marks the first time Cyclops wielded the Phoenix Force, it serves as a stark reminder of its immense power.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on the Phoenix’s impending return and the rest of your X-Men news. Let us know what who your favorite Phoenix host is in the comments!
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