It’s disingenuous to pretend that Jean Grey’s been “dead” in Marvel’s comics for some time now, considering that her time-displaced younger self has been leading a team of teen mutants in X-Men: Blue. But it also hasn’t quite been accurate to say the “real” Jean as been alive, either.
The Adult Jean Grey, who first bonded with the Phoenix force before dying during Chris Claremont’s “Dark Phoenix Saga” and subsequently returning in X-Factor, has been dead and in the ground since Greg Pak’s X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong from 2005. But it was only a matter of time until the cosmic firebird responsible for resurrecting Jean over and over again worked its magic once more and wrested Jean from her “final” resting place. After years of teases (see: Hope Summers) and false starts (see: Jean Grey, the series), the full Phoenix force is back in the final issue of Matt Rosenberg, Khoi Pham and Leinil Francis Yu’s Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey, and it has a singular, predictable goal.
Unlike every other Phoenix-focused story in the past, Resurrection has largely steered clear of more traditional plot lines that involve Jean coming back from the dead, seeming normal at first, and then having the Phoenix inevitably corrupt her and shift into Dark Phoenix mode. Instead, the limited series has taken its time to lay out an unsettling, almost Lynchian tale about the horrors of eternal life.
All throughout Annandale-On-Hudson, New York – the same town Jean Grey grew up in – strange psychic phenomena have begun inexplicably manifesting at random. After an encounter with a psychic apparition of a redheaded girl leaves two human children in comas, floating off the ground and bleeding from their faces, the X-Men travel to the small hamlet to investigate just what the hell is going on.
Everyone suspects that they’re dealing with something big, bad and Phoenix-related, but it isn’t until dead mutants from the X-Men’s history such as young Wolverine and the Hellfire Guard begin appearing that everyone realises just how in over their heads they may be. Annandale-On-Hudson, the X-Men discover, is being haunted by their fallen comrades and enemies, and they all seem to be emanating from a local diner where a young, redheaded waitress named Jean works for her good friend Annie.
Over five issues, Resurrection has followed the X-Men as they desperately scramble to figure out just what Jean and the Phoenix are doing in upstate New York, but it’s also delved into the unnerving way that this Jean Grey perceives the world.
To Jean, Annandale-On-Hudson is something like a well-worn record chock full of her favourite songs, but the record skips and glitches in ways you as a reader can perceive as being weird and impossible, but she cannot. As Jean goes about her simple, little life, she’s haunted by visions of flaming birds and corpses that assure her everything’s perfectly normal. She has nightmares of herself crash-landing a space shuttle into Jamaica Bay and then being chased by a terrifying version of herself in a form-fitting green outfit with a bird emblazoned on her chest. Unbeknownst to Jean, she’s reliving the Phoenix’s greatest hits, and the X-Men, understanding that there’s quite literally nothing they can really do to fight her, resign themselves to simply waiting to see what happens next.
What’s made Resurrection feel like such a unique Jean story is that it’s never been particularly concerned with turning into a straightforward “how are we going to save the world?” comic. Rather, Resurrection wants you to sit with and mull over how traumatic Jean’s relationship with the Phoenix has been. As much as people have maligned Marvel’s repeated Phoenix resurrections, they do make sense when you make a point to remember that the neverending cycle of rebirth and death is literally what phoenixes are all about. But in the past, most X-Men books haven’t bothered to examine or make you consider what that kind of fate might mean for someone who was born mortal.
Whatever part of the Jean/Phoenix hybrid that’s maintaining the psychic illusions in Annandale-On-Hudson is obviously at odds with her humanity, and the struggle between them comes to a perfect head in Resurrection‘s final issue. After being confronted directly by Old Man Logan about the falseness of her reality, Jean, for the first time, fully opens her eyes and sees things as they really are. She sees herself for what she’s become – a new Phoenix with a badarse new costume and a bone to pick with the cosmic entity responsible for her transformation.
It’s wild to think that in all of their years of being bonded with one another, Jean and the Phoenix never spent all that much time talking to one another. But when the Phoenix manifests Jean’s dead parents in an attempt to convince her to stay within the protective bubble reality it’s built for them, Jean lashes out and asserts that she’s finally ready for it – her connection to the Phoenix to be over.
The promises of eternal life and the power to fundamentally alter reality, Jean realises, are all the Phoenix’s desperate attempt to cling to the version of itself it had become with Jean’s help. For all of its unimaginable power, the Phoenix fell in love with being part of Jean and being able to tap into the mortal desires that made them, as a single being, feel alive. In Jean, the Phoenix found a partner unlike anyone else in the universe who was able to make it a better version of the being it had been before, but that simply isn’t what Jean wanted.
And so she breaks up with the Phoenix the way one might an emotionally-unstable ex.
In the end, it’s a heart to heart conversation about codependence and toxic relationships that subdues the Phoenix force and removes it entirely from Jean. Resurrection‘s final moments make you wonder how it is that no one ever thought to try and get Jean and the Phoenix in a room together for a bit of old-fashioned talk therapy.
The series does end with a now Phoenix-less Jean making peace with the return of her mortality, but Resurrection also leaves Jean with a kind of closure that feels right for the character. Jean’s lived more lives than she can count and wrapped the very fabric of reality around herself as a safety blanket. Now, for the first time in a long time, she’s finally ready to be a regular person again – a luxury she’s long, long overdue.