This is a very delicate topic among X-Men readers, which has been discussed at length at the X-Fan Message Board. I have now put all the arguments, evidence, and theories together into a small essay. Since I took part in the discussion the most difficult thing was to stay neutral in this approach, I hope I succeeded. People who contributed to said discussion on the Message Board are: dark1phoenix, dermoff, chaosbringer, jpjohn, cindercatz, and myself, peterluzifer.
It is a well known fact that originally, back in 1976, Jean Grey was meant to have mutated into Phoenix, but this was later retconned in 1986. For the new title X-Factor, they wanted to use Jean Grey and had to come up with a way to bring her back from death. They came up with Phoenix and Jean Grey being different individuals (at least different bodies), and while Phoenix died on the moon, Jean Grey had been lying in a healing cocoon in Jamaica Bay the whole time. They had to do it this way, because if Phoenix simply had reassembled herself, they would have had a mass murderer of 5 billion on the team.
Of course, every reader of the comics can choose themselves how to perceive the characters and what to believe or not, but this discussion is not about accepting retcons. This is about what currently is considered Status Quo or Official Marvel Canon, which means "what happened in the Marvel Universe", accepting everything that has been written about the character so far.
I have decided to do this chronologically, throwing in different questions and theories (with reasons why they don`t work) as they occured.
I) The Beginning
On the way back from a space station, the X-Men`s shuttle had to pass cosmic radiation, but its shields were damaged. Jean Grey telepathically aquired the knowledge to fly the ship from Doctor Peter Corbeau and sent all others into a shielded section, while she stayed at the controls trying to filter out the radiation with a telekinetic shield. She failed. Radiation was passing through and the dying Jean called out for help. Surprisingly, help arrived as she was approached by someone/something unnamed. [Events from Uncanny X-Men #100, Classic X-Men #8, and Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
Who or what is this ?
- Force: "I am fire. A force of life. You called out for aid. I answered." [Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
- Force: "The sum and substance of life and hopes and dreams. All that is, is known to me." [Classic X-Men #8]
- Force: "My consciousness - my form, and its ability to communicate on this plane of existence derive from you. They provide an awareness of your dominant emotions and memories."
Jean: "Oh great, you mean you`re a figment of my imagination?"
Force: "In part. You are human, Jean Grey, I am of creation/the universe." [Fantastic Four Vol.I #286 and Classic X-Men #8]
- Death: "When first you met, you called her a figment of your imagination. That wasn`t far wrong. We are concepts, Jean, defining ourselves in terms you can most easily comprehend. The Phoenix is neither being nor entity (as you perceive such things) it is a force. The sum and substance of all that lives." [Classic X-Men #43]
a) Jean created the "Phoenix Force".
> Impossible. How can Jean create the sum and substance of all that lives? This sum does include beings like her parents, that were alive before Jean even existed!
b) The Force itself has been around the Universe forever. To communicate with a limited being such as Jean, it needs to appear in a form that she is able to comprehend, so it taps into her imagination.
Excalibur #52 has an origin story of the Force:
It came into existence when the Universe itself was born; however it had no conscience of itself, it simply was. Then one day a mind touched the force and it awakened. This was the mind of Feron (a predecessor to the Excalibur member). In joyous communion the force let itself be shaped by his dream and the bird image appeared, but suddenly Necrom, a rival interfered. The force fled in pain, in space it tried to get back to its state of unawareness, but it couldn`t. After hundreds of years it returned to Earth only to find Feron gone. Instead, it met Jean.
II) The Exchange
During the shuttle flight, the Force offers to help Jean and her friends, though not without price. Jean reluctantly accepts, they link hands. Now there are two bodies of Jean Grey, the new one puts the original radiation-posioned body in a healing cocoon and adopts the name Phoenix. [Classic X-Men #8]
What happened? Who inhabits the duplicated body?
Note: The use of the word "Force" below refers to the comment being spoken prior to the exchange, "Phoenix" after the exchange, even though she will only give herself that name a few pages later.
- Force: "Your own physicality cannot easily be restored. For its own protection, your mind refuses to acknowledge the full extent of the injuries you have suffered. Your existence is far closer to its transition than you know." [Classic X-Men #8]
- Phoenix: "I - I`m alive - more so than ever before - this is fantastic!" Watching the injured, dying body below her, she continues, "Is this... me? I didn`t think there`d be a body. And it`s still alive. Only a spark - but so bright - some piece of my soul, still fighting on it`s own terms, refusing the gift it was offered." [Classic X-Men #8]
- Phoenix: "Two beings - Jean Grey and Phoenix... separate... unique... bound together. I. A symbiote, Peter; neither can exist without the other. Phoenix provides my life-force, while I provide a living focus for its infinite power. So long as I live, the Phoenix will manifest itself through me. And so long as that happens, I`ll eventually, inevitable become Dark Phoenix. The Phoenix is a cosmic power. It can neither be contained nor controlled - especially by a human vessel." [Uncanny X-Men #137]
- Mr Fantastic: "There is only one explanation. Incredible as it sounds, Jean may have imbued the Phoenix with the essence of herself - mentality, spirit, even her soul - while simoultanously, her original body was healing within the cocoon! The energy creature forced itself to totally believe it was Jean... in striving for some kind of authenticity." [Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
- Invisible Woman: "Yes, your inner self could not be surpressed once the Phoenix had taken on. You gave it your humanity, Jean. You gave it a soul." [Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
- Captain America: "And, in the last moments between light and darkness, up there on the moon, that`s what made the difference. Because there`s no force in the universe that can surpress the splendor of the human spirit. And it was that spirit, even in duplicate form, that was enough to defeat the power of the evil Phoenix." [Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
- Force: "Like a jealous child I wanted what I did not possess. A deal was struck. A devil`s bargain. With borrowed life-force I replicated the maind and form of Jean Grey then sealed her shattered frame inside a healing cocoon. I was intoxicated with the rich experience of my life. I learned of friendship, of camaderie and love. Its heady passion overwhelmed me. I denied my own consciousness, buried it beneath a lie." [Excalibur #52]
- Jean: "I summoned the Phoenix, I allowed our souls to merge." [Uncanny X-Men #387]
- The statements from Captain America, Mr Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman can be explained away as personal views and unobjective.
- The thesis of Phoenix totally forcing itself to be (the original) Jean acts as a counterproof to any testimony that Phoenix gives about herself being Jean (like the quote from Uncanny X-Men #137)
- Definition: Merging is two things becoming a third, not two things producing a third. The difference is in the one process there is only one object left, in the other there are three.
a) Jean`s mind and soul are in the new body.
> Then why is there any soul left in the old body?
b) Lying at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, Jean`s mind and soul from afar mentally guides/controls the Phoenix.
> Why doesn`t Jean remember when she is released from the cocoon? Might she be subconsciously surpressing it? And why would the memories and essence then be needed to get returned to the original body when they are already there?)
c) The Force created a duplicate of Jean Grey, 100% identical to the original - same body, same mind, same soul, same memories. Then the Force bonds/merges itself to the second Jean and totally forces herself to believe she is her.
> No merging of original Jean and Phoenix at all in this explanation.
d) As an immaterial objects soul and life-force have no boundaries and no limitations, so splitting or dividing it (is that possible without matter?) might end into the parts being as complete as the fomer whole. The Force takes some of the soul and life-force of Jean Grey and fills the duplicated body with it. Both bodies regain functional complete souls. The Force bonds/merges itself to the duplicate, healthy body with some of Jean Grey`s essence, soul, life-force.
Where do the name Phoenix and the bird image originate from?
- An origin story tells that hundreds of years ago, the Force let itself be shaped in the bird image by a Feron. [Excalibur #52]
- In the flat of Jean Grey on a wall there is a poster of a firebird with the word Phoenix. [Classic X-Men #6]
- Deathbird once followed an ancient Shi`ar rumour about a powerful source named Phalkon; it turned out to be the (Phoenix) Force. [X-Men Spotlight on... Starjammers #2]
a) Jean designed the bird image.
> Only if Jean, hundreds of years ago, was a human male named Feron.
b) The Force was bird-shaped by Feron hundreds of years ago, and went soaring through space, where it inspired the Shi`ar legend, still it never had a name. The picture in Jean`s flat shows that she knew the name Phoenix, probably as the always ressurecting firebird from Egyptian mythology. After the exchange, Phoenix found the name to be fitting, since by definition the sum and substance of all that lives can`t die. Depending on which theory you believe in, it was either Jean who named it, or the name was pluck from Jean`s mind.
After Phoenix sacrificed herself on the moon in Uncanny X-Men #137, she or a part of her encounters Death in Classic X-Men #43. In the form of a construction worker, he addresses Jean and talks to her about the Force.
Who is Death talking to? Actually it is the same question as before - who inhabited the duplicate body of Jean Grey?
- Death: "I am that I am. And you already made your choice."
Jean or Phoenix: "When I bonded with the Phoenix? But I killed? I mean, I just built a piece of your tower, what else could I be but a part of you?"
Death: "What else is life, but a part of death? And death the frame that gives life form and structure? The universe revolves about my tower because oblivion is where we begin and end. Nothingness to nothingness, with the brightest of fires in between. I built the structure, that the Phoenix may craft her chaos, within and without. Make no mistake, lass, you`re hers. Body and soul."
Jean or Phoenix: "Why can`t I just be mine? Belong solely to myself?"
Death: "Who says the two are mutually exclusive? Since creation, Jean, I`ve never encountered a creature as fiercely, unconquerably devoted to life - you risked your own to ensure your best friend wouldn`t come to me alone. Faith, you cast aside your own mortality for the sake of those you loved. Small wonder the Phoenix heard your cry. You`re kindred spirits."
Jean or Phoenix: "So?"
Death: "Do you think it was an accident that, as a child, your thoughts touched Scott Summers`? Or that he was orphaned by the Shi`ar Emperor? That fleeting contact eventually drew Scott to the Professor Xavier`s School for Gifted Youngsters, where he grew into Cyclops, leader of the X-Men. He fell in love with you, and you with him. So that, at the proper time and place, when that mad emperor attempted the obliteration of ALL... you`d be there to stop him. If you hang a balance, lass, to judge yourself, be sure to measure the countless lives saved as well."
Jean or Phoenix: "You saying this was all pre-ordained? What are we toys for your celestial amusement?"
Death: "I`m saying that SHE is the embodiment of life, itself embodied by passion - messy and chaotic and agonizing as that can be - as I represent order and structure and entropy. And she could not bear to see her handiwork undone. She required a form - an AVATAR - through which to act. And who better than a spirit - a fire, if you will - carved most closely from her own."
After the soul finds out that it can go back to life and departs, promising to make it better this time, Death looks into his cards again and foresees that Phoenix will be rejected by Jean in the cocoon and instead turn to Madelyne. Death comments with the words: "The sadness being that the mosaic of life contains more pieces than you know. Things you can`t be told, but have to discover for yourself, no matter what the cost. I`m truly sorry, child, you`ll remember neither words, nor me." [all from Classic X-Men #43]
- Force: "Only my love for him gave me the strength to trigger the alien cannon that vaporized the mortal shell I had replicated. My essence survived. Hidden in the smoldering crater, I watched Scott Summers grieve. Not for me but for the woman he thought I was. Long after Scott left I reflected on my folly." [Excalibur #52]
a) This is might not be Death, she has never looked or sounded like this.
> Death appears as the same construction worker again in Excalibur #25. Death is also changing through his/her various known incarnations. Rachel recognizeses Death through buried memories of Phoenix that she received when the Force bonded with her.
b) Even after dying Phoenix still totally believed to be Jean and Death simply played along. In the end he sayed that there are things that can`t be told to her.
> Why should Death keep the truth from her, when she won`t remember their dialogue at all?
> By definition the sum and substance of all that lives can not die, it can be zero, when nothing is alive anymore.
c) Upon dying, Phoenix split apart again. The Force stayed on the moon, watched Scott and reflected her actions. The life-force and soul of Jean that wanted to die, confronted Death. The things that Death was keeping from her might be the knowledge that the Phoenix Force will inadvertently cause yet more horrible destruction in the form of Madelyne Pryor.
IV) Three New Beginnings
The Force could not concieve a way to undo the evil it had done save for returning Jean Grey the stolen life-force, essence, soul. On her way down to Earth, it passed Rachel`s astral self, floating over New York (projecting her consciousness through time is Rachel`s own mutant power). At first mistaking it for Jean, she soon discovered that is was a the future daughter of Jean, with a similar psychic resonance. Amazed by this timely anomaly it probed deeper and found out about the life in pain and misery (serving as Ahab`s hound, betraying and killing her friends) Rachel had led, yet she never gave up. Impressed by another such passionate creature, the Force wanted to know more, but Rachel was about to re-enter the time-stream. The Force keyed the stolen fragments of soul, life-force and memories to Jean`s genetic structure and sent it circling the globe, then it left with Rachel to the future, where it bonded to her. [Excalibur #52]
The package of life-force and memories entered Jean in the cocoon, but she rejected them. Quote: "It tries to return the portion of myself that it has stolen away, sends it back to my genetic specifiy code. Instructed to awaken me. But it arrives with nightmare visions of destructions... and I reject it." The package went around the globe again and found the same genetic key in Madelyne in Sinister`s lab. The blank slate was imprinted with the life-force, essence, soul and memories of Jean Grey that had been used by the Phoenix. Sinister tried to change, surpress the memories (plane crash survivor = flying, fire, destruction) but later they resurface (death of Jean`s friend Annie at the age of 10). [Classic X-Men #43 and X-Factor #38]
The cocoon is discovered in Jamaica Bay, when the Avengers investigate a plane crash. With the help of the Fantastic Four they probe the cyclinder, damaging Jean`s telepathy and release her. Using the Shi`ar empathic-imprint crystal they discover what really happened during that fateful shuttle flight. Jean joins X-Factor. [Avengers Vol.I #263 and Fantastic Four Vol.I #286]
Much later Jean fought Madelyne during the Inferno. Forced into a mindlink, Maddie plans to pull Jean towards death. The small part of the Phoenix that was used to "package" the life-force, soul, and memories appears and offers to help. Jean has no choice but to accept. The stolen life-force and soul are recombined with Jean`s, along she also got the memories and personalities of both Madelyne and Phoenix. [X-Factor #38 and Uncanny X-Men #242]
a) The Force goes to Maddie.
> Then Maddie would have been extremly powerful. Her alliance with the demons to awaken and alter her latent powers would be totally unneccesary. During Inferno, she would have been able to kill Jean and the X-Men with a single thought.
b) The Force goes to the future, the memories to Madelyne and the soul and life-force back to Jean. These are the whole soul and life-force of Jean, she wouldn`t have need of them anyway while lying in suspended animation.
> Jean clearly states that she rejected the things Phoenix attempted to return to her.
c) Jean was incomplete until she regained the stolen life-force, soul and memories.
> Depends on the definition of complete/incomplete. The assumption was made previously that even by dividing or splitting immaterial, limitless concepts as soul, essence and life-force, the parts function as whole. Phoenix led her life with the X-Men; Jean seems to have no troubles after she is released from the cocoon. A case where someone was left incomplete would be Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel. Rogue permanently absorbed her powers, personality, and memories. Even though the memories were restored, she was incomplete, having no emotional ties to them.
> In the sense of the missing time period, while Jean was in the cocoon, she is as much incomplete as a patient awakening froma coma after a certain amount of time. They hadn`t experienced anything during that time period, but they are still complete.
Certainly Jean would have been better off without the extra personalities of Madelyne and Phoenix and their memories; for some time she had difficulties sorting out who she was, till she finally found a way to cope.
Before finishing with the result, here is a collection of misunderstandings, danglers, and other topics somehow connected.
The following quote led to a popular misunderstanding:
Death: "Your unique gift is to be the one capable of wielding that force. It came to you, Jean as it will in time to your children because, like the sword Excalibur was to King Arthur, it is yours by right." [Classic X-Men #43] This caused many to believe that the Force can only be wielded by Jean and her offspring, like a legacy or royalty following a genetic lineage. However, the quote doesn`t say "only" by your children. And the comparison to King Arthur is most obvious - Arthur became king not by hertage, but because he was able to pull the legendary sword Excalibur out of a stone, a deed foretold to be done only by someone worthy. Jean and Rachel were touched by the Phoenix by the right of personality, because of them being kindred spirits in their way of perceiving life itself.
UNEXPLAINED ENERGY SIGNATURE
Rachel repairs the holoempathic crystal of her mom, and by doing so she activates the Phoenix Force within her for the first time. "It`s a glorious moment as she pours her heart and soul into the crystal sphere she holds. A moment - a song - whose repercussions are felt a quarter million miles away... in a back alley on the moon... where Jean Grey sacrificed herself to save the universe." Then the Watcher observes a yellow energy signature rising from the moon towards Earth. [Uncanny X-Men #201] The interesting part is that the issue came out in the same month that the Fantastic Four found Jean`s real body.
Obviously this was meant to show that Rachel aquires the Phoenix Force. In the issues before she took on the name Phoenix and vowed to wash that name clear, which the Phoenix Force saw as volunteering to become it`s new host. Since then however retconning established that the Force was already inside of Rachel and now was the time Rachel first tapped into it.
a) This yellow energy was Jean`s soul/mind returning into her original body. It wasn`t the portion that merged with Maddie cause she was already alive and with the X-Men at that time!
> This goes against all other explanations and later storytelling.
b) The Phoenix Force, riding in the back-seat of Rachel, is allowed full awareness for the first time after merging with Rachel. It recognizes that Jean has not come out of the cocoon, so it sends another wake-up call.
> Why does the yellow energy come from the moon, and not from the Force inside of Rachel`s body?
c) Rachel tries to repair the holoempathic crystal and the Force collects the last residue of Phoenix II to enter it into the crystal.
In the Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix limited series, Scott and Jean went to the future to raise Cable. There they also met Rachel as an old woman. She knew that for Jean a lot of hurt was attached to the name "Phoenix", but for herself it also represented much goodness. After all, Rachel derives from an alternate reality and was said to be the daughter of Phoenix (not neccesarily Jean Grey). Upon dying, Rachel asks Jean to take on the codename, and Jean agrees. It is not surprising that she wants the name of her mother to be restored to what it meant to her. Even though this future has since been erased from existence, and Rachel never ended up there, Cable, Scott, and Jean recall having been there and Jean kept the name.
CYCLOPS' COMMENT AT THE END OF THE TWELVE
"He wants to make the jump from this single world to a celestial stage. But one among us already did that, on her own, and for the most noble of reasons. And because of the rapport we share, I walked hand in hand with her the whole way. You`ve always shown me the best we were capable of Jean. You`ve always been the beacon lighting my sould with hopes and dreams. Whatever happens, I love you." [X-Men #97] Sweet? Sentimental? Perhaps, but it also has the man she shares a psychic rapport with state that he believes. For Cyclops, the time with Phoenix was real. It might be confusing sometimes. And besides, part of Phoenix is Jean.
In X-Men: Black Sun #5, the narration box reads: "She feels the beginnings of a great and terrible joy, that carries with it a hunger for more. It is a temptation she has felt before, with consequences she knows only too well. Which is why she`s determined to deny it." This and similar quotes can be easily explained. Since she assimilated Phoenix`s memory, she knows how the hunger and temptation feels.
IS JEAN GUILTY OF PHOENIX'S CRIMES ?
She accepted the Force`s offer, but by then she could not have known what would happen. Since Phoenix was using her as a template, meaning her soul and essence, it is clear that Jean under the same circumstances would have acted in the same way as Phoenix has. Quote: "The MONSTER is no more. I`m just a woman who happens to look like her. Thing is, like it or not, on some level, the monster was ME. I summoned the Phoenix, I allowed our souls to MERGE." [Uncanny X-Men #387]
DANGLER X-MEN #43
Jean and Skids crash down from Avalon to Earth. Upon reentry, the typical cosmic radiation sound "Tac Tac Tac Tac" is heard, and Jean shouts Scott`s name. (Sounds familar!)
> Skids` presence probably filtered out the cosmic rays.
DANGLER VARIOUS PHOENIX SIGHTINGS
Shortly before Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle left writing the books, they had hinted a possible return of the Phoenix. In X-Men #61 and #65, Jean shortly spaced out of reality. In Uncanny X-Men #352-358, she recalls flying around the moon, puts on the Phoenix gold and green costume, and clears a bird-shaped areal of snow. Whatever they had in mind, we`ll never know. It might have been hints of being pregnant with Rachel. It could also be a resurfacing of the buried Phoenix memories and personality triggered be the incident in X-Men #43 (see above).
I have to admit that I am kind of surprised. Ordering the arguments and evidence, and writing it all down made me rethink the topic and in various points I had to change my opinions. I think that all of us had some parts of the whole picture, but each of us was also throwing in some unproven assumptions. Those might have been working and functioning theories, but so far nothing in the books follows them... yet. Who knows what will have been retconned 10 years from now?
And so here it is, the result:
Both characters (cocoon woman and Phoenix) are Jean, but they aren`t the same.
Phoenix is Jean empowered by a universal force.
Jean is more than one woman; actually her soul and life-force were split apart with each part being as complete as the former whole. The Jean in the original body never wielded the Force, but she had to assimilate the memories of the other Jean in a newly built body doing it.
The numbering of the characters in the X-Fan Character Bio section, which precipitated the discussion, is correct.
Phoenix I: Baron Helmut Zemu, who used the codename for a short time.
Phoenix II: A duplicated body of Jean Grey, filled with (some of) her life-force, cosmically empowered by a universal force.
Phoenix III: Rachel Summers.
Phoenix IV: The original Jean Grey, who later had to assimilate Phoenix II`s memories and adopted the codename in honor of the dying Rachel Summers.