Fantastic Four (1st series) #286

Issue Date: 
January 1986
Story Title: 
Like a Phoenix!

You Know Who (writer / penciler (see notes)), Terry Austin (guest inker), John Workman (letterer), Glynis Oliver (colorist), Michael Carlin (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief), special thanks to Roger Stern and Kurt Busiek

Brief Description: 

The FF return from a space adventure to Avengers Mansion, where they examine the cocoon the Avengers recently found in Jamaica Bay. Using the Invisible Woman’s powers, they learn that there’s a young woman in suspended animation within the cocoon. Mr Fantastic works to free the woman and finally succeeds. However, the woman, who turns out to be Marvel Girl, still believes she is fighting Stephen Lang and his Sentinels. After the FF and Avengers have calmed Jean down, they want to find out what happened to her, especially as Jean doesn’t remember what occurred after the X-Men’s battle with Lang’s robots. While Captain America stays behind, the others visit the home of Jean’s parents, where they find a holempathic matrix crystal of Jean. With the help of the crystal, they learn what happened to Jean: how, after the battle with Lang’s Sentinels, Jean was forced to steer the X-Men’s space shuttle through a solar storm. Jean was about to die, when a mysterious being appeared, sealing Jean in a cocoon, thus saving her life while taking Jean’s place as Phoenix. While Jean is left to wonder whether she’s truly herself or Phoenix, Captain America joins them. Having perused the Avengers files, he has learned of the threat of Phoenix and how she died. He explains that Jean’s personality, even as a copy, was so strong that it forced Phoenix to commit suicide, rather than become a threat to all that lives. Somewhat mollified, Jean still wonders what to do next with her life. Reed Richards states he has a suggestion and proceeds to call someone.

Full Summary: 

The spaceship carrying the Fantastic Four is nearing Earth and their newest member, She-Hulk, is breathing a sigh of relief. There were times when she doubted they’d ever return. Her fellow teammates tease her about her incredulity and She-Hulk comments that all those side trips should provide grist for some fine stories for the people who publish their magazine. Maybe, Johnny Storm replies, before adding that he’d heard that “cosmic” doesn’t sell these days. And you can’t get more cosmic than these past weeks. While he and She-Hulk get into a friendly argument over whether all of their stories see print or not, Mr Fantastic asks them to keep it down. He wants to contact John F. Kennedy International Airport for clearance to land.

Surprisingly, J.F.K. denies the clearance. They are closed to all incoming traffic until further notice. The FF are to be rerouted to LaGuardia. Richards asks if there is anything the FF can assist with, but is told that everything is under control and that the Avengers are helping.
The Invisible Woman suggests they land straight at the headquarters to find out what’s going on, but Reed reminds her that, unlike the Baxter Building, Avengers Mansion isn’t equipped for a vehicle this size to land. They’d better land at La Guardia and take a taxi to Manhattan.

One quick taxi ride later, they arrive at Avengers Mansion, where they are welcomed by Captain America and Hercules. While Herc flirts with the ladies, especially She-Hulk, Reed inquires about the situation at J.F.K. Cap explains that the Wasp is still leading the clean-up operation there and brings Reed up to speed.

Captain America’s story:

It began with the crash of a private jet out at J.F.K. The plane had hardly been in the water of Jamaica Bay, when a bolt of tremendous energy burst from the waters. Naturally, the Avengers investigated and found a mysterious object covered with slime and silt from the bottom of the bay. But it was still generating enough power to give them quite a rough ride. Eventually though they prevailed.

Cap shows them the object they found, a mysterious white cocoon, now completely placid. Reed is fascinated and attempts to touch it. A moment later, an energy surge throws him away but Susan quickly catches him with a forcefield. Reed thanks her and concludes that the object is not from this world. He asks Sue to use try and make the object invisible to show them what is inside. Sue uses her power, in spite of the resistance she is feeling, and slowly they see the shape of a young, red-haired woman, sleeping woman within the cocoon. Before long Sue has to stop her power display and the cocoon goes white again. The others are puzzled - none of them recognize the woman.

Reed prepares for some intensive research, a signal for the rest of the team that things are about to get very boring for them. Johnny leaves, intending to go see his girlfriend, Alicia, and She-Hulk joins him, mentioning that she could use some quality time with the love of her life: herself. Johnny asks how things are going with her and his old college roommate. He thought she and Wyatt were a pretty hot item but, after that little number with Hercules… Jennifer explain that this was sheer self-defense. Hercules has the tendency to put the moves on anything that hasn’t been cremated.

The next morning, Jarvis brings some breakfast into the lab. Reed, Cap and Herc hadn’t even been noticing that they’d been at it for eight hours without a break. When Jarvis inquires whether they had a fruitful night, Reed explains that he’s managed to lock onto a subdued brain pattern. The young lady is in something close to suspended animation. Only her deepest unconscious mind is slightly active and that seems to trigger the defensive mechanism of the pod.

So, it is not the woman who has superhuman powers? Jarvis inquires, as he pours some coffee. Reed admits that he doesn’t know. But the next step involves a gentle bio-radiant stimulant, which will hopefully awake her from her coma. The next moment, the coffee floats upward as, indeed, does everything in the room.

And above the room as well, Sue Richards finds. One moment she’s asleep in bed, the next, she, the bed and everything in the room is floating in the room. Sue realizes that something has happened in the lab and wonders how she can get downstairs.

In the meantime downstairs, the men are facing the same problem. Reed realizes that this isn’t the pod’s defenses; it’s the woman herself doing this. He stretches his arm to reach the hyperphase modulator intent to release the woman, before the pod’s defenses turn on her. He is successful as the pod seems to be hatching and the young woman arises, threatening someone named Lang that his rotten game is finished. She turns quiet, as she gets a good look of her surroundings. This isn’t the SHIELD satellite, she realizes. Reed, still hanging in the air, as are the others, explains that this is Avengers Mansion and he is Reed Richards.

The woman refuses to believe this. The last time she met them, the FF wore blue costumes, she points out, not black ones. Reed insists that there is an explanation, if she’d let them down. Suspicious, the woman refuses. After all, if Stephen Lang could build duplicates of the X-Men, he could do the same for anyone else. So long as she has all that extra power, she announces, they can stay up there.

Suddenly, she is hit by an invisible force field and falls to the floor. The redhead takes Sue Richards' arrival as further proof that they are Lang’s robots. If Sue were human, her telepathic powers would have sensed her sneaking up. Puzzled, Susan corrects, her insisting that she is indeed the Invisible Woman. Another slight in her programming, the redhead mocks. That should be Invisible Girl. She uses her telekinesis, intending to dismantle Sue, but nothing happens, as Sue has surrounded herself with a forcefield. The next moment, she surrounds her opponent with that field. With her power cut off, the men and the lab equipment finally fall to the floor.

X-Men are made of sterner stuff.

Hearing the name X-Men, the others start realizing what she and Reed are talking about. Cap remembers the name Marvel Girl, but she hasn’t been heard of in years. Not since several Christmas Eves past, Reed agrees. Reed asks Sue to drop her forcefield, to show Marvel Girl they are not hostile by placing themselves at her mercy.

Jean doesn’t understand. If they are really who they claim to be, then what has happened to her? As Jarvis kindly offers her a chair, Jean tries to make sense of what has happened to her. She relays to the other what she remembers.

Jean’s flashback:

She was having Dinner at Rockefeller Plaza with a friend on Christmas Eve, when they were attacked by Sentinels. They’d battled these mutant-hunting robots before but, this time, they were part of a government-approved operation led by a madman named Stephen Lang. The Sentinels captured Jean and several other X-Men and abducted them to Lang’s base on SHIELD’s giant orbital platform. The rest of the X-Men virtually hijacked a NASA shuttle and came to the rescue.

But then, Lang unleashed his most heinous ploy, his X-Sentinels, ersatz version of the original X-Men set to fight the new team. They battled the real X-Men almost to a standstill, until the tide was turned when Wolverine’s enhanced senses enabled him to guess the truth about their attackers. Lang’s scheme fell apart. But then something horrible happened.

The present:

Jean buries her head in her hands. Something horrible happened, but she just can’t remember what!
Mr Fantastic muses that he remembers the reappearance of the Sentinels on that particular Christmas Eve. Captain America adds that he recalls the government disavowing approval or knowledge of Lang’s scheme. Jean’s story seems to be true. But none of this explains how that poor girl ended up in a pod at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, Sue interjects. How can they get into the closed part of her memories? Couldn’t Reed use the bio-stimulator again? Reed refuses. He’d never have used it in the first pace had he known Jean possessed mental powers. It’s a miracle she didn‘t suffer any brain damage. At the moment he can’t think of anything.

Jean jumps up. She can. Professor X is the most powerful telepath on Earth. Surely he can help, she suggests. Captain America tells her that wouldn’t be wise, considering that the X-Men are associating with a known criminal. The others agree, telling Jean that they have seen the X-Men fight side by side with Magneto. Jean stares at hem in abject disbelief. Maybe they’ve been brainwashed…?

Susan carefully tells her that they have seen the X-Men with Magneto and, whatever they’re doing, it seems to be voluntary. Jean feels she’s going mad. She grabs Sue by the shoulder, asking her to take her to her parents’ house. Sue assures her they will. Reed interrupts, stating that this isn’t a good idea. Her parents will have believed Jean to be dead for years. Her return would be quiet a shock. Hercules agrees. Sue, however, puts her foot down, insisting that Marvel Girl needs familiar surroundings, while Jean just pleads in a whimpering voice. She’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sue reminds her husband that she has just barely recovered from the mental turmoil Psycho-Man put her through. She knows what Marvel Girl needs. Reluctantly, the men agree. Cap adds that he’ll follow soon. He’d like to check something out first.

A short while later, an aircraft lands at the house of Jean’s parents on Annandale Road. They weren’t able to rouse the Greys on the phone. Jean tells the others she has no idea where her parents could be, while Hercules carelessly crashes the door in. Jean angrily berates him for his behavior and he sheepishly admits that he misjudged the strength of the door. Reed tells Jean they’ll replace the door. Standing at the threshold, Jean hesitates. It’s only been a few weeks for her since she last was here, but for the rest of the world…

She is interrupted by an embarrassed ‘zounds’ from Hercules. He is holding a crystal ball with the likeness of Jean in his hand. He explains that he mistook it for a simple representation of Jean but it is far more. Reed examines the globe, stating that it is a holempathic matrix crystal. Theoretically possible, but thousands of years beyond current Earth technology. Basically, he explains, it is a means of recording the very essence of a living being, their thoughts and dreams. To touch it is to experience everything that made the person what and what they were in life.

But how could her parents have come to own such a thing, Jean wonders. Reed has no idea, but this crystal could be the answer to their problems. If Jean were to hold this, to experience what lies locked within… Jean hesitates. For such a thing to exist, it must have been made after she…died. Reed urges her to take it. Panicked Jean refuses, admitting she’s afraid.

Back at Avengers Mansion Jarvis asks Captain America what’s bothering him. Cap admits that something about Marvel Girl keeps pinging at his old battle sense. He remembers the X-Men connection and accesses some security files recorded by the former Avenger, Beast.

The Beast’s face appears on the screen as he grimly relates the facts about Jean Grey: how he and Jean were among the founding members of the X-Men. Beast states that Jean is dead now, but before she died something had happened to her. On a space-shuttle returning to Earth, she was exposed to a massive dose of cosmic radiation. Jean emerged from the crash, transformed. She had become infinitely powerful and called herself Phoenix. Something in that terrible power corrupted Jean. She became evil and threatened to destroy the world, perhaps even the universe. But, she regained control of herself and used and ancient alien weapon on the moon to kill herself and thus save everything else. Beast explains that Jean is gone now and only a holempathic crystal, a gift from the alien Shi’ar, remains to commemorate her. Beast prays that the power of Phoenix was dispersed into the cosmic void from whence it came. Should Phoenix ever appear again, then it could signal the end of everything. As the file ends, Jarvis looks shocked and Cap is pensive.

Back at the Greys’ home, Reed Richards tells Jean that he understands her fear, but the crystal is the only key to her prison. Using reverse psychology, he taunts that, if she were truly one of the first X-Men, she must have faced greater terrors. It works, as Jean reluctantly takes the crystal from his hand. The next moment, the room transforms, as the crystal’s power-source momentarily revitalizes Jean’s telepathic power. They all experience the events blanked out by her trauma.

Jean’s memory display:

They find themselves on the command bridge of the NASA shuttle after the fight with Lang’s X-Sentinels. The control computer was damages during the fight, leaving only the possibility of manual re-entry. But nobody could pilot the shuttle and survive the solar flare, Dr Corbeau declares. Jean decisively states that she can do both. She absorbs the knowledge of flying the space-shuttle from Corbeau. When Cyclops protests that her power cannot keep out the radiation for that long, she stuns him and orders the others into the lifecell.

Over the next minutes, Jean pilots the shuttle with no illusion about her chances for survival, as the shuttle is bombarded with cosmic rays, which very soon get through her faltering telekinetic shield.

Reed, Susan, Hercules and the present Jean watch with horror how Jean slowly withers, yet refuses to yield to the inevitable. As they all wonder how Jean could have survived, all of a sudden, the past Jean hears music and sees light. No longer feeling any pain, she is sure that she is about to die and will fail her friends. Suddenly, a human shape emerges from the light, telling her she means no harm. The energy being tells Jean that she called out for aid and she has answered. Jean begs it to save the X-Men… “And especially Scott?” the energy shape states.

It explains that its conscious form derives from Jean, in a way it is a figment of Jean’s imagination. The being takes on Jean’ shape and explains that Jean’s own body cannot easily be restored. Jean admits that she wants to save her friends and live. The being asks her to take its hands, offering Jean her heart desire for a price. Jean takes the creature’s hands and the being completes its change into a Jean look-alike, now in the Phoenix costume. While the being states that she is alive, more so than ever before, the real Jean is frozen in a cocoon.
The being proclaims that she is Phoenix.

Back in the present, Jean shouts that she is not. She’s Jean Grey! Jean notices other memories recorded besides her own, but she’s too tired. The crystal falls as she collapses. Sue administers to her, pitying Jean.

Reed, in the meantime, concludes that there’s only one explanation: From the entity’s own words, Jean’s “physicality” could not be restored easily. Instead, incredible as it sounds, Jean imbued the Phoenix with the essence of herself – mentally, spirit, even soul, while her original body was left to heal in the cocoon.

Jean exclaims that part of her feels fine. She has all her memories, her feelings. But she sees the problem, doesn’t she? Reed asks. The creature forced itself to totally believe it was Jean, to strive for some kind of authenticity, he presumes. So how does she know she is really Jean and not that… thing, Jean wonders desperately.

Captain America enters, stating that he can answer that. He’d seen the end of that show. It matches very well with what he has learned from the Beast’s report in the Avengers’ files.
Jean’s shuttle did crash in Jamaica Bay and there were no fatalities. In fact, one person came out better than before: Jean Grey. Or something that thought it was Jean. That thing later turned out to be the embodiment of pure evil. The creature. It called itself Phoenix and might have destroyed them all until Jean defeated it. Jean is utterly confused. She was still at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, wasn’t she?

Reed takes up where Cap left off, understanding his point. The creature knew the risks of taking on a human form, both good and bad. So it was her humanity that turned the creature bad? Jean interrupts. Quite the contrary, Cap replies. He believes it was the power of the entity rebelling against Jean’s will that tainted it. The Phoenix duplicated her too well. Sue adds that Jean’s inner self could not be suppressed, once Phoenix had taken it on. Jean gave it her humanity. Her soul. Cap adds that, in the last moment, as it hovered between light and darkness on the moon, that’s what made the difference. Because no force in the universe can suppress the splendor of the human spirit. And that spirit, even in duplicate form, was enough to defeat the evil power of the Phoenix.

The next day, back at Avengers Mansion, Jarvis marvels at Jean’s story while she tells him everybody would have done the same. Sue Richards jokes that Jean shouldn’t be so quick to put herself down. Not everyone can save the universe by remote control, after all. More like post-hypnotic suggestion, Reed corrects his wife, adding that, amazingly, the only side-effect seems to be the apparent damage to Jean’s telepathic powers. He asks Jean how she is feeling and the mutant admits that she’ still at loose ends. She’s decided no to contact her family and friends until she’s better able to explain what happened. That sort of leaves her all on her lonesome.

Perhaps not, Reed cryptically replies. The present team of X-Men may be out of bounds, but it has occurred to him that there ‘s someone they can still contact.
He picks up a receiver…

Characters Involved: 

Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Mr Fantastic, She-Hulk (all Fantastic Four)

Captain America, Hercules (both Avengers)

Marvel Girl

Edwin Jarvis (the Avengers’ butler)

In Captain America’s flashback tale

Black Knight, Captain America, Captain Marvel II, Hercules, Sub-Mariner, Wasp (all Avengers)

In Marvel Girl’s flashback tale

Banshee, Colossus, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)

Stephen Lang (head of Project Armageddon)

Lang’s Mark III Sentinels

Lang’s X-Sentinels in the shapes of the original X-Men

In Beast’s recording

Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl, Professor Xavier (all original X-Men)

Phoenix II / Dark Phoenix

In Marvel Girl’s memory restored by the holempathic matrix crystal:

Banshee, Colossus, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Storm Wolverine (all X-Men)

Dr. Corbeau
Phoenix force / Phoenix II

Story Notes: 

This issue is continued from Avengers #263 and is continued in X-Factor #1.

The flashback portion of this book was severely altered and, as a result, John Byrne (who had written and drawn most of the story) refused to have his name appear on it. According to Byrne, the changes were written and drawn by Chris Claremont and Jackson Guice. Hence, the story reads somewhat disjointed in part, regarding the nature of the Phoenix.

In Byrne’s original version of the story, Phoenix was intended to be a clearly selfish, evil being that trapped Jean to use her humanity as a pattern to gain a body. Jean fought back with the only weapon left to her, by telepathically dumping her entire personality onto Phoenix, making the creature believe it was truly Jean Grey and act accordingly.

Kurt Busiek (whose name was misspelled in the credits as Busek) was still a fan during that time. However, he came up with the idea of how to bring Jean Grey back from the dead, circumeventing Shooter’s edict that Phoenix, being a mass murderer, had to stay dead.

The flashbacks shown are from X-Men (1st series) #98-100.

At the time, the Fantastic Four were houseguests at Avengers Mansion, thanks to the destruction of their headquarters in Fantastic Four #279.

The background story of how Phoenix copied Jean is told in greater detail in the back-up story of Classic X-Men #8.

The FF and Avengers saw the X-Men team up with Magneto during the first Secret Wars limited series.

Magneto stepped in as head of Xavier’s school, starting with Uncanny X-Men #200.

Sue Richards was brainwashed and victimized by the Psycho-Man in Fantastic Four #280-282. Afterwards, she changed her name from ‘Invisible Girl’ to ‘Invisible Woman’.

The Fantastic Four’s uniforms changed from blue and black to black and white as a result of a trip to the Negative Zone.

The holempathic crytal was given to the Greys by Empress Lilandra in the wake of Phoenix’s death (X-Men (1st series) #138.

The other presence Jean senses in the crystal is either Phoenix’s or possibly that of Rachel Summer, as Rachel added her own essence to that of Phoenix’s in Uncanny X-Men #201.

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