A Match Made in Space
Jean Grey: “You think you can fix me?”
Professor X: “Jean, you are not broken.” – Dark Phoenix (2019)
An army attacks a school for mutants. Soldiers gun down the inhabitants en masse. A young woman cradles a dead student, tears falling from her eyes. A soldier shoots at her, but the bullets slam into an invisible wall. The woman lifts her head, her expression changing from grief to hate. Her tears evaporate as her eyes burn orange. She screams.
A massive fireball engulfs the school. Flames in the shape of a bird rise. The soldiers hear the firebird make an avian screech, filled with pride, freedom, and unfettered rage. The X-Men arrive to see their worst fears come true. The Phoenix has returned.
Phoenix is actually two characters. The first is Jean Grey, the first female member of The X-Men. The second is an ancient entity that has made Jean its avatar. So who is Phoenix? How did these two bond? What is the Phoenix Force? Let’s find out!
Solar Spark: Phoenix’s Backstory
Logan: “You’re talkin’ about a person’s mind here, about Jean.”
Professor Xavier: “She has to be controlled.”
Logan: “Control? You know, sometimes when you cage the beast, the beast gets angry.” – X-Men: The Last Stand
Jean Grey debuted in The X-Men #1 and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Originally the team’s weakest link, she soon became its most powerful member.
Jean Grey was a typical child. Her best friend was hit by a car while they were playing, which awoke Jean’s telepathic mutation. Jean forged a mental link to keep her friend alive, but the strain threatened to kill her too. Jean’s struggle attracted the attention of The Phoenix Force, a primordial god of creation. The Phoenix Force felt kinship with Jean and broke the connection to save her life.
Jean was sent to study under powerful telepath Professor Xavier. He created mental blocks to blunt her powers and help her control them. When she became a teenager, Prof. X recruited Jean for the X-Men and gave her the code name Marvel Girl. Jean became an integral part of the team despite being caught in a love triangle with fellow mutants Cyclops and Wolverine.
During a space mission the X-Men were trapped in a damaged spaceship. Marvel Girl was the only one with the powers and knowledge to pilot the ship back to Earth, despite lethal levels of radiation and heat. In agony she called out for help, and the Phoenix Force answered once more. This time it bonded with Jean, who took the new name, Phoenix.
Dark Phoenix: Phoenix’s History
Jean: [sobbing] “Kill me.”
Jean: “Kill me before I kill someone else.”
Logan: “Don’t say that.”
Logan: “Stop it.”
Dark Phoenix: [sardonic] “Kill me.” – X-Men: The Last Stand
Jean gained a major power boost from the Phoenix Force’s possession. The power slowly corrupted her and was exacerbated by a villain called Mastermind loosening Jean’s inhibitions. She snapped and became a psychopath called Dark Phoenix. The Dark Phoenix trounced the X-Men and took off into deep space. She absorbed a star to recharge her powers, destroying a galaxy in the process.
Jean’s subconscious sent Dark Phoenix back to Earth, where she battled the X-Men again. Jean’s lover Cyclops got through to her and helped Jean regain control. Realizing that she couldn’t hold The Phoenix back for long, Jean committed suicide to stop it after a company executive decided the character should die for her past misdeeds.
Like a phoenix, Jean tends to come back to life after she dies. It’s become a running gag that she comes back to life, has romantic drama with Cyclops and/or Wolverine, then dies again only to repeat the process in a year or two.
During a mission involving time travel, Jean convinced the Phoenix Force to stop resurrecting her. The pair separated with Jean becoming mortal. The Phoenix Force has flown off into deep space, where I’m sure we’ll never hear from it again.
From the Ashes: Phoenix’s Powers and Personality
[Jean is talking to a past version of herself]
Jean Grey: “Have you not been paying attention, little me? What do you think will happen when you meet the bird? The Phoenix is equal parts good and evil. Pleasure and pain. Both sides. The whole coin.” – Jean Grey #6
Jean Grey is one of Marvel’s most powerful psychics even without the Phoenix. She can read minds, create illusions, mind control others and even turn off people’s brains. Jean also has telekinesis that lets her manipulate objects, create force fields, or blast enemies with psychic force.
Bonding with the Phoenix Force increased all of Jean’s powers to cosmic levels. The Phoenix Force’s limits have never been nailed down, but they go all the way up to reality-warping at their full potential. The Phoenix Force is known to have dominion over life, creation, and passion.
Jean Grey is kind and compassionate, but also has one helluva temper. She loves the X-Men and has sacrificed her life on countless occasions to save them. Jean has identity issues due to her multiple personalities, clones, and duplicates from parallel universes claiming to be her. Yeesh, writers will do anything to retcon the resurrections.
The Phoenix Force is bipolar. It does anything necessary to preserve life, even if that means killing others. It destroys anything it judges obsolete so that something new can be created. Only the Phoenix’s host is able to hold it in check.
The Actors who play Phoenix
Phoenix debuted in The Marvel Super Heroes, but her voice actor is uncredited. She next appeared in the 1992 show X-Men, voiced by Catherine Disher. The show also debuted the Phoenix Force and performed a 1:1 adaption of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Venus Terzo voiced Phoenix in X-Men: Evolution. Prolific voice actor Jennifer Hale voiced Phoenix in Wolverine and the X-Men and reprised the role for Marvel Anime: X-Men and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
Famke Janssen played Phoenix in the X-Men film series. The films changed the Phoenix Force from a space god into an evil split personality that had been suppressed. The Phoenix was unleashed at the end of X2: X-Men United and became the main villain of X-Men: The Last Stand.
Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner took the role of a young Jean Grey after time travel shenanigans. She unleashed the Phoenix to defeat the titular villain in X-Men: Apocalypse. She will next appear in her own film, Dark Phoenix.
Didya get all that?
Psychic avatar of a bird god. Like Tweety, but tougher.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.