Memorable Marvel Moment: Jean Grey sacrificing herself

(Dee’s note – We continue with the Memorable Moments of Marvel Women series!  Welcome Kara, today’s guest blogger.  If you want to write up a moment, email us at  We’d love the help, there are six still available!  We’ll be showcasing a moment a day, and we’ll have the polls to pick the final five up the first week of March.)

. . . and in 1961 the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created “The Fantastic Four” and saw that it was good. In seeing that it was good, on the third year they created something that had never been seen before: “The X-Men”. The X-Men were a group of five teenagers, who unlike the comic-book characters before them, were unique because they were born with their powers. They were mutants. And one of their number, Jean Grey, or Marvel Girl, was a powerful telepath/telekinetic. Jean’s predecessors included Sue Storm/”The Invisible Girl” and Janet van Dyne/”The Wasp”, who grew into great female characters to be certain, but at their creation they did not stand as their own women. Both were little more than girlfriends for more dominant male characters (Mr. Fantastic and Ant-Man, respectively). But Jean, Jean was her own woman. Yes she ended up as Cyclops’ girlfriend, but Jean did not need that to give her status. This was never more evident than when Jean used her powers to save her team-mates lives, returning them to Earth from space in an unshielded spacecraft. She fully expected to be killed, but emerged as something new……she had become the Phoenix! A goddess-like creature of almost pure thought (ignore what this creature was retroactively turned into). The Phoenix was a hero, but a hero suffering from being almost all powerful. This was exploited by Mastermind of the Hellfire Club who managed to twist the Phoenix into the Dark Phoenix, a creature that destroyed an entire solar system, killing all it’s inhabitants. The whole of the X-Men were unable to defeat the Dark Phoenix, even Wolverine could not bring himself to kill her when given a momentary chance. Professor X was finally able to restore Jean Grey’s personality, but not before the alien Shi’ar race arrived to execute her for the murder of a solar system. The X-men fought for their team-mate, but, during the battle, her concern for Cyclops’ safety reverted Jean momentarily back to the Dark Phoenix. She fought her way back from her dark impulses, but knowing she could not maintain her composure she chose to kill herself by firing a Shi’ar canon at herself.

And thus, Jean Grey died as a hero in the arms of her true love Cyclops’. Much can be made of the fact that “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is perhaps the most celebrated Marvel tale ever told. Or that editorial changed the ending because they could not allow a mass murderer to remain on the X-Men. Or that at it’s time, the death of a hero was no where near as prevalent as it remains today. For me, the important fact is that Professor X, Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Magneto, not even the whole of the advanced alien Shi’ar………none could defeat the Dark Phoenix. Only Jean Grey could.


About deense

Canastralian. Cosplayer. Comic book addict. Travel addict. Convention addict. ...I think that's a lot of addictions and I might need a 12 step program
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7 Responses to Memorable Marvel Moment: Jean Grey sacrificing herself

  1. cr8dv8 says:

    This is one of the most important comic book moments for me; when it happened, I was just a kid, not even a teenager yet. Sept 1980, I turned 11. I’d only been reading the X-men for a couple years at this point, but already was hooked. (Prior to this, my comic books had solely been DC comics – the X-men were my introduction to the world of Marvel.)

    Like any pre-teen male comic reader of the day, I had a crush on Jean Grey. Why not? She was a red-head, she was intelligent, she had personality. And then the Dark Phoenix thing happened, and well, that was tragic and fascinating, which only enhanced my appreciation of Jean as a character (though at the time, I didn’t understand this – I just knew she was awesome cool and powerful and sexy.)

    Her death was the first death in comics (and, honestly, any fiction) that held any real depth for me. It was one that I was emotionally invested in, and not just for the duration of a book, read in a day or a couple days, but over a period of years. I cried when she died. Were I to read the comics again, today, I’m sure I’d cry again.

    I really enjoyed what Tara had to say here about how nobody could stop Dark Phoenix, except for Jean herself. Very well put, and a good post.

  2. Aaron says:

    Well said.

    A couple thoughts I had while reading this:

    1. I’m reading a lot of samurai fiction right now, in hopes I’ll get to run a L5R game sometime soon. This self-sacrificial action is much more common, and received differently, in that genre. Death is common, expected, and frequently the sign you’ve done your job well, as opposed to super hero comics where anything can – and will – be written to avoid character death. Jean just found out she’s the creature that will endanger her team/world/lover? Seppuku. She would not be mourned, but honored.

    Not saying I agree with this mentality, just noting the genre difference.

    2. Rereading the first panel I got for the first time the irony in someone saying to Cyclops, “But that would mean I’d have to stay in control of my power every minute for the rest of my life!” That’s kind of a defining attribute for him; how’s it feel to know his girlfriend would rather kill herself than live like he does? Given that Mutants are Marvel’s stand-ins for racism and “coming out”, does that make this a metaphor for Aids? Does it detract from her moment that she’s unwilling/able to achieve what the “mere mortal” in front of her can, or does the difference in power level make this a moot point?

    • illusclaire says:

      There’s a difference in the way they control/would control their respective powers, though – Scott has his visor and his glasses, it’s not an actual act of effort at all times. He just has to put them on, and then not give in and take them off (except for the times that he does). Jean would have to have a precise physiological control at all times, even in sleep. That’s hard enough for Black Bolt, and “not speaking” is probably a few degrees easier than “not thinking”. The Phoenix entity being a separate power rather than coming directly from Jean herself would also add another layer of trouble, too.

    • cr8dv8 says:

      Comparing Samurai novels to Superhero comic books is more than just a simple difference in “genre”.

      First off, you’ve got the entirely different cultural views on death and honor and so forth – that’s the whole mourning vs honoring mentality there.

      Secondly, in books, character death is done differently. Characters die, and unless it’s a zombie story, epic fantasy or super-hero novel, they’re not coming back. In comic books, characters are intended to be ongoing, as long as they’re popular. It’s a money-making element, as much as anything else. (Death in major publisher Superhero comics has become such a non-threat any more, but in 1980, it still held some weight.) So it’s not just an element of genre, but also of medium.. Read any non-licenses super-powered novel or series of books, and you’ll find death is not avoided at all costs by the writers – I strongly recommend the Wild Cards books, edited by George RR Martin.

  3. kara says:

    1st……thanx cr8dv8! :*)

    aaron……! i never really thought about that aspect of jeans death as witnessed by cyclops! it may be part of why he became the leader that he did…….he used 2 seem sorry 4 himself but after her death it must have seemed very petty 4 him 2 have the inconvenience of not being able 2 take off his glasses!

  4. Tara Newman says:

    There is a lot going on in this story – and there is a lot going on for Jean Grey. Jean is in many ways the most real women in comics. I say this, because she isn’t a stereotype. She isn’t a bitch, or the innocent one, or a princess, or the leader, or the sexy one – in a lot of ways she is all of these things. That is what makes Jean so interesting and so real. She is a woman, a very powerful woman – in love, with expectations on her intelligence, powers, ability to succeed, ability to comfort – and usually she handles it all in stride, doing her best. Occasionally, she snaps. She is so real for me – she was the heart and soul of the X-books. Replacing her with Emma has never worked for me, there is a hole there that simply can’t be filled.

    It’s nice to see her pop up now and again to help out in little (if you consider saving people’s – mostly Emma’s – life now and again little, but it is definitely little in terms of her actual abilities) ways. She continues to try to fill in that gap, but I miss her presence – and I think by the dialogue so do the characters.

  5. Pingback: Memorable Moments of Marvel Women | Girls Read Comics Too

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