Strap in, fellow nerds, because this might take a minute.
Killing Jean Grey has become sort of a tradition for X-Men writers. Like signing your name on the graffiti wall at your college or burning down a building before you move away from your hometown, it’s a great way contributors to the beloved franchise to mark their time — to say “I was there.”
But is it all too much? Have decades of watching Jean get the spleen stabbed out of her by Wolverine while he’s in various states of shirtlessness numbed us to the prospect of another dead redhead in our comic books? Will we even care if something happens to Mary Jane Watson or Archie Andrews at this point, or are those emotional nerves too deadened? Let’s go back to the beginning and decide.
Now and forever, she’s back again
It all started back in 1976, when Jean Grey was on a sort of Magic School Bus trip to outer space with the rest of the X-Men. When things got hairy, the young mutant had to guide the group’s shuttle back to terra firma with nothing but her crazy brain powers. She died in the process, sinking to the bottom of Jamaica Bay in a scene that the movies would kind of mirror at the end of X2: X-Men United.
Luckily, this being her first brush with the Grim Reaper, she got let off the hook pretty easily, resurrecting during the same issue with a snazzy new costume and declaring “Now and forever… I am the Phoenix!” Thanks to the help of a wacky cosmic entity that had taken up residence in her torso, Jean got her first get-out-of-jail-free card, mortality-wise.
Unfortunately, said cosmic entity turned out to be sort of a bad egg, and it wasn’t long before Jean was out there eating planets and so forth. Put on trial for her crimes, she decided that the cool guy thing to do was to blast herself with an alien turret in front of her boyfriend. Boom, death number two.
Part Two: Jean Grey’s confusing years
Things get murky here. A few years after the business with Jean and the planet eating, Scott met a lady who looked suspiciously like his old flame. She super-duper double-promised not to be a Phoenix reincarnation, which was technically true — she was actually a clone created by Mister Sinister to try and finesse a super baby out of the Scott and Jean genetics he’d been stanning for a while.
Then, things get even murkier. It turned out that the real Jean had never died, or even come up out of the wreckage of that ship she crashed a few years prior. The Phoenix had copied her memories and body and made itself a poppin’-fresh Jean Grey to tool around the universe in. The real Jean was found in a protective shell at the bottom of the bay. She returned, and the writers killed off her clone, presumably in an attempt to save red ink. Jean had all of the memories of the clone and the Phoenix copy funneled into her head, and she was a complete, confusing person once again.
Time passed. Grant Morrison took over the X-Men universe for a few years, and the world was a better place for it. Jean has a stroke during an attack by Magneto, and a shirtless Wolverine treats her to a hasty mercy stabbing, a la the tail end of X-Men: The Last Stand, albeit in space instead of California. She dies (probably) and comes back and gets stabbed some more, before transcending physical existence and staying dead forever.
No, but for real this time
Until she didn’t. In 2012, Brian Michael Bendis launched the unstoppably charming All-New X-Men, in which modern-day Beast uses time travel whatnots to bring the original five X-Men to the present in a poorly considered plot to get Cyclops to be nicer. Still, the original original Jean — the one that kept dying before — was gone for good. Case closed. The end.
Until she wasn’t. The adult version of Jean Grey returned yet again in 2018, rejecting the Phoenix Force after it brought her back to life again because some people just can’t be bothered to say “thank you.” She remains alive and active as a member of the X-Men, and she will never be dead again… until she is… until she isn’t.