Patience in comics isn’t just a virtue. It’s built into the industry. Unlike a movie or TV show, the stories are often structured in pieces and drawn out over multiple issues. That means if something exciting happens in one issue, it could be at least a week or more before anyone finds out what happens next. That structure works well within the unique storytelling format that comics utilize, but the need for patience is a lot harder in the era of binge-watching.
Other than video game fans still waiting for the release of Half Life 3, few comic fans exercise more patience than those waiting for the return of Jean Grey in the X-men comics. For over a decade-and-a-half, her absence acts as a glaring hole in the heart of the X-men’s collective soul. Every now and then, there are teases like Phoenix Endsong, Hope Summers, and the teenage time-displaced version of Jean Grey. However, none of them can quite fill that hole. Only the real, non-clone, non-time displaced Jean Grey can do that.
Now, with Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, the time for patience is finally at an end. At last, Jean Grey is set to return to a Marvel universe that is very different from the one she left in the flip-phone loving days of 2004. In a world that tried to replace her with Emma Frost, time travelers, and clones, the return of the one true Jean Grey promises the kind of catharsis for which even the most patient X-men fans have longed.
Matthew Rosenberg hits every emotional chord as hard as possible, not least by brining Juggernaut into the picture. Throughout the story, he puts Jean in a situation where the prospect of heartache and loss is unavoidable. Such themes are painfully common for Jean Grey, but also bring out the best in her and those around her. Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5 takes those themes, supercharges them with cosmic energy, and pushes the drama to limit. For a character as beloved and passionate as Jean Grey, there can be nothing less.
The mystery that plays out over the course of several issues gives way to a battle of heart, tragedy, and spirit. The blanks are filled in. The motivations, mechanisms, and undertones are all in place. The how, the why, and the context of Jean Grey’s return to the world of the living is firmly established. All that’s left is for Jean to confront it. That confrontation brings out every bit of passion that has made Jean Grey such a compelling character. From Chris Claremont to Grant Morrison, this moment highlights both the strength and tragedy of who she is.
This is not one of those struggles where the X-men have to fight to save Jean. This is a battle Jean fights largely by herself. The X-men are there and they provide support, but that’s about all. Other than Old Man Logan putting himself in the line of fire, literally to some extent, to get the struggle going, it’s Jean who does the heavy lifting. Between dealing with cosmic forces and being Emma Frost’s rival, she’s more equipped than most for this kind of battle.
It’s the kind of battle that only a handful of characters can fight and in a compelling way. That’s because Jean Grey is one of those characters whose story is defined by tragedy, loss, and being overwhelmed by a situation. Whether it’s a cosmic force or an attack by Juggernaut, Jean fights more of these battles than most, but still does it with a sense of compassion. She never lets herself become too jaded or hardened by the struggle. It’s part of why she’s often considered the heart of the X-men.
That heart is often strained and the workings of the Phoenix Force push it to its limit in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5. It doesn’t just tempt Jean with the possibility of great cosmic power. That kind of power tempts someone in the X-men every other week. The Phoenix Force makes it more personal.
It reminds Jean of how many friends, family, and loved ones she has lost over the years. It also lets her know that embracing cosmic power will give her the ability to stop all that. It all sounds so tempting and reasonable, but Jean knows better than most how that kind of power tends to come at a price.
It’s not just a matter of power corrupting, a theme that goes back to the original Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont. The Phoenix Force, in this case, actually shows Jean that it’s possible. It literally creates a fantasy world full of all the people Jean knows and loves, uncomplicated and untainted by tragedy, loss, and the influence of Emma Frost.
It’s a world that anyone with any measure of emotional vulnerability would want to embrace. Jean has to do the opposite in lieu of reliving those painful themes that Claremont did so much to belabor. It’s not the same inner struggle that Jean seems to deal with every time the Phoenix Force gets a little too clingy. Jean has to actively fight the Phoenix Force, pushing it away along with all the temptations that its power allows.
It’s a fight that that involves much more than simply saying no or resisting temptation. Jean and the Phoenix Force have an overdue heart-to-heart, one that strains both her and the Phoenix Force on an emotional level. However, that doesn’t stop the Phoenix Force from making the strain on Jean much greater, attacking her in ways that break her heart multiple times. It hits harder than any attack by Juggernaut or any snide comment by Emma Frost ever could.
It’s because those attacks have such a dramatic impact that Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5 carries with it a unique weight that goes beyond just bringing Jean Grey back to the world of the living after 14 years. The way in which she struggles against the Phoenix Force and the way she confronts the many tragedies of her story resonates on so many levels. Those hit hard by her death 14 years ago are hit just as hard by her resurrection.
That, more than anything, is the primary appeal of Jean Grey’s story. Whether through death or resurrection, hers is one that evokes all the right emotions. It goes beyond survival and tragedy. It even goes beyond the recurring themes of absolute power and its corrupting effects. Jean Grey, even at her most powerful, embodies the humanity that is so championed throughout the over-arching themes of the X-men. In both life and in death, Jean’s ability to channel that humanity is what makes her so endearing.
Her death in the original Dark Phoenix Saga years ago remains one of the most defining moments in the history of the X-men. Her return to life in the pages of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey may not achieve the same iconic status, but Rosenberg still succeeds in capturing the themes that made that moment so special. Coming back from the dead is so common in comics that it’s practically required for heroes of a certain status. Coming back in a way that still hits with such heart and rewards the patience of fans is a true accomplishment.