I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Friday, September 30, 2011

My Favorite Marvel: Jean Grey

If there is one person who really has his act together in the Marvel universe it is Mr. Sinister. I don't mean that he has his act together in that he's fighting for the right cause or doing anything good in any way. I mean that he just has the best taste in mutants. Mr. Sinister has been obsessed for hundreds of years with the bloodlines of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, and they just happen to be two of my absolute favorite characters in the Marvel universe. For that, Sinister ought to be applauded. He's like a foodie, only with individuals who have genetic mutations that give them amazing and terrible powers. For all the other stuff, Sinister can go... Well, I'm sure you know what he can do with himself.

If I had begun my X-Men experience as a child reading X-Men #1 and continuing throughout the various X-comics, I think my first love would have been Jean Grey. (As it was, my first X-Men experience involved watching X-Men: The Animated Series, and my first love was Rogue. Or was that my first lust? When you're young and being burned alive with testosterone those boundaries can be confusing.) Jean Grey was much like many of my real-life first loves for the boys of the original X-Men team. Many of them had never been noticed by a girl before, much less one so beautiful, and though they were constantly racked with doubt - I'm talking mostly about Scott Summers now, but I'm sure the others had their moments - Jean Grey made them feel really good about themselves when she was there and made them miss her when she was gone.

There was never a better use of thought bubbles than when Jean Grey wondered whether Scott Summers loved her and when Scott Summers wondered whether Jean Grey loved him. Maybe this is the side of me who really adored the first couple of seasons of Dawson's Creek, but the added brilliance of the X-Men comics was that Jean Grey would develop the ability to connect those thought bubbles, to bridge the gap between thought and speech. Originally, her mutant ability was limited to telekinesis, and later she was given a degree of Professor Charles Xavier's telepathy. (Of course, I think that post-Phoenix this was retconned, but I'm not sure about this. The way I imagine the story has something to do with how the X-Men movies told Jean Grey's story. When she was young she was haunted by voices and her amazing power, amped up by a confusing and unknown force that would later be revealed to be the Phoenix force. When Xavier encountered her, he was forced to hide these powers behind a psychic wall. Thus, when Xavier gave her a degree of his telepathy, I imagine that to actually be Xavier tearing down part of that wall, perhaps the part that could have kept the Phoenix from taking over...) With the power of telepathy, one of the most romantic concepts ever conceived came into being, the psychic rapport between the lovers Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Because of their commitment and love, their thoughts would never be separated, regardless of distance and any other intervening factor short of death.

Now, much of this has been my understanding of Jean Grey through ruby-quartz glasses. But there is something about Jean Grey outside of Scott Summers' perception of her that is fantastic. For one, she's possibly the most powerful mutant of all time. But like Superman, her power is accompanied by a great deal of personal strength, of will. The first appearance of the Phoenix power manifested itself in Jean Grey when she was piloting a doomed space craft to Earth. Though there were others who were better pilots, others who were more manly, she sacrificed herself for the sake of the safety of the others. And through this sacrifice we were introduced to the Phoenix force for the first time. It was this show of great strength that brought Jean Grey strength beyond imagination. Once the Phoenix force was established, Jean Grey showed us what we should have been learning from over-powered DC characters for years, that immense power is tempting and terrifying, that it will drive you mad, that you will spend all of your life trying to keep this power under control.

Though Jean Grey represents acceptance, love, power, courage and strength of character, I think the most important thing about her is that she represents life. From the beginning, Jean Grey was the green-eyed lady, and while some associate green eyes with greed, there has always been a kind of folk myth about the ephemeral green-eyed lady, the ones who come and go from your life. Jean Grey is fleeting like life. Once you got used to her being around, she went off to college. Once you got used to her being around again she died. Once you got used to her being around, she died again. I guess it is a little depressing, but then again, so is death. On the flipside, however, let's not forget that one can also encounter acceptance, love, power, courage and strength of character in life. It may not last forever, but it is full of great beauty. Such is the myth of the green-eyed lady. Such is the myth of the Phoenix.

And such is the myth of Jean Grey. Whether you're calling her Jean or Marvel Girl or Phoenix or Red, Jean Grey is simply one of the best characters ever created.

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