They call her Phoenix for a reason. There is perhaps no comic book character who has died and resurrected more times than the X-Man known as Jean Grey. The mutant telepath/telekinetic powerhouse has been in a cycle of death and rebirth for four decades. And that storyline has fueled not just one, but two big screen adaptations now. First came X-Men: The Last Stand, and soon Dark Phoenix will hit theaters. But just how many times has Jean Grey died and come back in the comics? Turns out, it’s quite a few.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first introduced Jean Grey under the codename Marvel Girl back in X-Men #1 in 1963, They didn’t exactly have the character figured out beyond being the token girl on the team, whom all the boys had a crush on (even Professor X, which is kinda creepy). Although she was a powerful telepath and telekinetic, with powers rivaling Xavier’s, her storylines were often merely about her teen love affair with fellow team member Cyclops.
Then in 1975, the X-Men got a huge makeover. Writer Chris Claremont took over the title, and aside from Xavier and Cyclops, the rest of the team departed. Claremont brought Jean back though fairly quickly, and in Uncanny X-Men #101, he had her telepathically maneuver a space shuttle carrying her teammates back to Earth after a mission in space gone awry. Although she saved them, she crashed into New York harbor and seemingly died.
But in that very same issue, she was resurrected as the powerful Phoenix. New costume, new power upgrade, and a far more important role in the X-Men storylines. Over the next few years, Claremont revealed the power of the Phoenix was a cosmic entity that latched on to Jean’s psyche. It began corrupting her, culminating in The Dark Phoenix Saga, in which she consumed a star and killed a planet as a result. Realizing the danger she presented, Jean took her own life in the legendary Uncanny X-Men #137 in 1980.
But a few years later, we got our first “sorta/kinda” resurrection for Jean. When a woman who who was a dead ringer for her named Madelyne Pryor came into Cyclops’ life, he believed it was a resurrected Jean Grey. But she assured him she was just an ordinary human pilot from Alaska. The two fell in love, married, and eventually had a child. That kid would grow up to be the hero known as Cable (how that came to be is a whole other can of worms). But Maddy was actually a Mister Sinister-created clone of Jean. Her purpose was to produce the mutant child that Scott and Jean were meant to have, but couldn’t due to Phoenix’s untimely death.
Resurrection 3 – AKA the Real One
But then, the real Jean came back. Five years after Dark Phoenix died, sailors found Jean in a cocoon at the bottom of the ocean. The story revealed that the Phoenix who emerged from the ocean a decade earlier had copied Jean’s body and mind, and let the real Jean heal for years in stasis beneath the water. The idea that this was the “real” Jean and the other was a copy was a way of absolving her of Dark Phoenix’s atrocities, but the lines between these two seemingly separate characters would blur down the line.
One Big Happy Jean
In the Inferno crossover event in 1988, Madelyne Pryor would take a turn towards the dark side herself and become the Goblin Queen. Although she died in that story, the Phoenix Force would return and give Jean Grey both Maddy’s memories and those of the Phoenix, making them both a true part of her and not just copies. Maddy’s death can count as another Jean death, depending on how one looks at it. The real Jean served for years as a member of X-Factor and returned to the X-Men in the early ’90s. She died briefly, a Sentinel robot killed her, but that death lasted just an issue or two. But it still counts!
Jean or No Jean?
In Grant Morrison’s seminal New X-Men run, the Phoenix began manifesting itself in Jean once more. And this time, it was not a copy of her mind and body, but really her. But when Magneto sent an electromagnetic pulse during a battle with the X-Men, he gave Jean a massive stroke. To save her from an agonizing death, Wolverine stabbed her and killed her (a moment echoed in X-Men: The Last Stand). The Phoenix Force would then briefly resurrect Jean again in Phoenix: Endsong in 2005. In this story, her soul went to a dimension called “the White Hot Room” where she and the Phoenix would ascend to another plane of existence. She was essentially dead, even if her soul continued on.
Phoenix Branches Out
Jean Grey would remain out of the picture and referred to as dead for the next 13 years. However, a version of Jean Grey would return to comics. In 2012, a teenage Jean (along with the other four original X-Men) came to the future and spent several years in the current timeline. But Marvel insisted that adult Jean was dead and gone. The Phoenix Force returned to Earth several times, first possessing five different X-Men during Avengers vs. X-Men, and later the young mutant named Hope Summers.
But Jean was always the Phoenix’s main squeeze. It came back to the adult Jean in the 2018 mini-series Phoenix: Resurrection – The Return of Jean Grey, resurrecting and bonding with her again. Ultimately Jean fought back, and demanded that the Phoenix abandon her for good. The cosmic entity had done enough damage, and the Phoenix complied and departed for space. But Jean was alive and well again, and ready to lead the X-Men. Her teenage counterpart soon returned to the past, fulfilling her role in history. But we highly doubt the Phoenix is really done with Jean. We think this cycle will continue on for many years to come.
Images: Marvel Comics / Twentieth Century Fox