Jean Grey made her comic book debut in 1963, and she’s become one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time. After becoming an X-Men team member on the page, Jean Grey also made her way into animated series, live action movies, and onto toy shelves. Those decades of popularity haven’t prevented her from also becoming one of the most tragic comic book figures.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created Jean Grey, she was the only woman in the X-Men, and as a result, many of her early stories involved her being kidnapped. Over time, Jean Grey’s Marvel Girl became a stronger member of the team, and by the time she was dubbed the Phoenix, she was classified as an Omega Level mutant and was at the center of most of the stories.
Being a main character in comic book stories that involve saving the world from dark forces comes with a price. Instead of being relegated to a kidnap victim, Jean was also targeted for mind control, trusted to keep secrets from her closest friends, and she lost her life - a lot.
Though the teenage version of the character has recently appeared in Marvel comics, the adult version of Jean has been missing since her last brush with death, but she’ll be making a return by the end of 2017.
Before she returns, brush up on the life and times of the X-Man with the 20 Worst Things to Happen to Jean Grey.
20 Captured By Hydra
Marvel comics has a history of retconning character backstories, or even fleshing out character backstories decades after they were first introduced. They’ve done exactly that with Jean Grey multiple times.
One expansion of her backstory included the X-Men First Class comics, which have seen a few different volumes exploring previously untold stories of the first group of X-Men.
In the second volume, as Jean and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) became friends, they were also introduced to Black Widow, a new agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The three were captured by Hydra, who attempted to mind control the women.
Though Hydra used their technology on Jean, she was able to withstand their attempts at making her compliant thanks to a telepathic link with Professor Xavier that helped her focus her abilities.
19 Put Her In A Coma By The Sentinels
Technically, it was just Jean’s body that was in a comatose state. Why? Because her mind was transferred to another body.
In a time when no one in the X-Men trusted Emma Frost, the White Queen asked for their help. She knew that someone was after her team -- the Hellions -- and her Hellfire Club, and she was sure the X-Men would be the next target if hers fell. Sentinels interrupted the fight, and they were more advanced than either group had faced before.
When a Sentinel targeted Jean Grey, she was seemingly killed in action, but in reality, her mind had somehow transferred to Emma Frost’s, who had also been blasted by their enemies.
It was Jean, in Emma’s body, who was then kidnapped and had to hold off the enemies until reinforcements arrived.
18 Stabbed By Wolverine
In addition to dying that first time, and losing family members over the years, the Phoenix force has returned to Jean again and again, and almost every time involves tragedy.
One story saw the Phoenix force pretend to be the version of Jean that was in control of it while interacting with Wolverine, attempting to fool him.
As it turned out, the Phoenix was stronger than Jean yet again, and Wolverine used his claws to stab her. He didn’t just do it once though as the Phoenix kept rising. He had to stab her over and over, each time weakening the force just a little bit more.
Though it was painful for Jean, even she encouraged him to continue weakening the Phoenix. Adding a layer of tragedy to the event was that Jean and Wolverine were both aware of their attraction to one another following her breakup with Cyclops, but had decided not to act on it.
17 Losing Her Sister
Because so much of Jean Grey’s comic book stories center on her time with the X-Men and related teams, not a whole lot of time is devoted to her family. She did have an older sister named Sara though, whom she lost after learning to control her abilities.
After Jean had moved from an X-Men team to an X-Factor team, she discovered that her sister had become a mutant rights activist. Sara and her husband had begun speaking out on human-mutant relations, but they mysteriously vanished.
Jean later found out that a group of anti-mutant activists had targeted her sister and brother-in-law, murdering them. The Phalanx, an alien collective that absorbed the consciousness of other races, absorbed Sara’s body.
It was also revealed that Jean’s sister might have had latent mental abilities similar to Jean’s as she was able to resist the Phalanx for longer than most.
16 A Friend’s Death Triggered Her Abilities
Like most mutants in Marvel comics, Jean Grey’s abilities weren’t readily apparent when she was born. Instead, they manifested during a particularly traumatic moment in her life. The comic X-Men Origins: Jean Grey showed readers just how Jean and Professor Xavier met as a result.
Jean ended up comatose for a time, and her parents were so concerned that she would never return to them that they contacted Charles Xavier for help. His help involved setting up a telepathic block on her abilities that he didn’t release for many years, only allowing Jean to access her telekinetic powers during her youth.
15 Captured By Mimic
Early in her time with the X-Men, Jean and the other team members were involved in a confrontation with Calvin Rankin, a mutant who could “mimic” the abilities of those around him. He kidnapped Jean during the conflict and took her to his laboratory.
The X-Men followed, so Jean wasn’t actually captured for long, but Mimic’s intention was to find a way to make his borrowed abilities a permanent addition to his power set.
Professor Xavier ended up erasing the man’s memory of the entire thing, and less than ten issues later, he was recruited to the X-Men, and bumped into position of Team Leader over Cyclops.
It was a strange situation for Jean, and one that would become the norm as Professor Xavier would continually recruit old foes to join the team, potentially leaving them in harm’s way.
14 Keeping Charles Xavier’s Secrets
Perhaps it’s because Charles Xavier met her long before he formed the X-Men, but the professor had a particular fondness for Jean Grey that meant he trusted her with his secrets more than he did anyone else on the team.
In fact, Charles regularly asked Jean to keep things from her own team members, like the time he faked his own death.
During a battle against a creature by the name of Grotesk, Charles seemingly sacrificed his own life to destroy Grotesk’s equipment and protect his students. Only Jean knew the truth -- that Charles needed time away to prepare for an impending attack by an alien race.
She convinced the rest of the team that she believed he was dead, participated in funeral arrangements and the dividing of his assets amongst them with no one the wiser.
13 Captured By The Warlock
Because of Jean Grey’s impressive power set, she was often kidnapped because a villain wanted to use her abilities, but there were also times she was kidnapped simply because someone wanted companionship.
The mutant known as Warlock was ready to take over the world in issue #30 of the original X-Men series, and he thought it would be fitting if someone like Jean was by his side. He kidnapped her with plans to make her his queen once his rule was secured.
Of course, the X-Men saved the day as Cyclops and his team were sent to stop Warlock. Professor Xavier also returned the mutant to his previous state of suspended animation.
12 Manipulated Into A Relationship With Cyclops
Cyclops and Phoenix might be one of the best known couples in the history of the X-Men comics, but in the early days, it seemed like they would never get together. It was Professor Xavier who gave them a bit of a push.
It was made obvious to the reader that the two characters had feelings for one another, but they were never given the chance to figure things out for themselves.
Instead, Professor Xavier made sure to continually place them in situations that would push the two together, forcing them to confront their own feelings.
That didn’t mean he was always making them train together or team up in the field, but he would do something as simple as making sure it was Scott Summers who delivered items to Jean when she took a leave of absence to attend college.
11 Failing To Save Her Sister’s Children
When Jean’s sister and her husband disappeared, their children became orphans. Not knowing what exactly had happened to them, Jean was surprised to find them in the same orphanage where Scott Summers had spent much of his youth.
Jean and Cyclops had traveled to the orphanage after following a set of clues to track down his son. His son and Jean’s niece and nephew were all there - but they were in an underground laboratory run by villains called Nanny and Orphan-Maker.
Nanny was someone who thought she was doing the right thing -- saving mutant children because all of their parents must be evil.
Nanny was really controlling an army of orphans to make sure they did her bidding. Ultimately, Jean wasn’t able to save her sister’s children or Scott’s son in the ensuing conflict.
10 Losing Abilities During The Psi-War
During the second volume of the X-Men series, members of the team traveled to Storm’s village in an undisclosed African nation because she got a message that her mentor needed help. What they found instead was a Psi-War with the Shadow King.
The Shadow King manipulated their perceptions of reality, making them see figures from their past and controlling those who lived there. Psylocke was the telepath at the center of the story arc, not Jean Grey, as she entered into a psionic battle with the Shadow King. The effects of her battle rippled to other telepaths though.
Psylocke’s fight created “psychic backlash” when she targeted the Shadow King with her mental abilities. Jean felt it half a world away, and after the battle was over, she’s left without her telepathic abilities. She and Cyclops temporarily retired from the X-Men as a result.
9 Cloned by Mister Sinister
Unlike some Marvel characters (like Spider-Man, who might as well have his own army of clones), Jean Grey didn’t have a ton of experience with cloning when she came face to face with Madelyne Pryor.
Madelyne was created by the villainous Mister Sinister, who had a vested interest in the relationship between Jean Grey and Scott Summers.
Madelyne was revealed to have survived a plane crash at the exact moment Jean Grey, as the Phoenix, sacrificed herself, and while plenty were suspicious of her, no one knew the truth until Mister Sinister made her the Goblin Queen.
It wasn’t enough that Jean’s love life, the possibility of her future offspring, and more, had already been manipulated by those around her, but her life was also being manipulated by villains. The story came to a head in the “Inferno” saga, but the repercussions, including Scott and Madelyne having a child, would continue for years.
8 Tortured By Stryfe
Jean might not have been the woman to give birth to Cyclops’ son, but she did share DNA with her. That baby, or a version of him from an alternate reality, was cloned just like Jean. One of those clones made a deal with Mister Sinister that led to Jean and Scott being tortured.
Mister Sinister had actually captured Jean and Scott, handing them over to Stryfe. In return for the two of them, Stryfe gave Sinister a canister that he told the villain contained Summers’ family DNA.
It wasn’t a physical torture that Stryfe attempted. Instead, he telepathically held the two in place while he fought the real child of Scott Summers, Cable.
He also attempted to convince the duo that Cable was the clone and Stryfe was the original all the while. They were forced to watch someone they cared about be attacked by his genetic double.
7 Becoming One of Apocalypse’s Twelve
During one of the villain Apocalypse’s bids to take over the world, he assembled a group of 12 mutants he believed would give him the edge to do it. Among them were several of the members of the X-Men, including Jean, Cyclops, and Cable.
Apocalypse’s plan was to use the energy of the Twelve to power himself up. It was Cyclops who tried to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the day, allowing himself to merge with Apocalypse. Most of the X-Men believed he was dead.
Jean refused to believe that Cyclops was dead since she could still feel his mind inside the evil being. She might have lost him temporarily, but she never lost faith that she had lost him forever.
6 Tricked By The Hellfire Club
A recurring antagonist for the X-Men was a group known as the Hellfire Club. The secret group was full of high profile rich men as well as mutants who helped keep them in business. One of the men involved had special plans for Jean.
Jason Wyngarde AKA the villain Mastermind was not a member of the Hellfire Club at the time, but needed to prove himself to officially gain entrance.
Mastermind’s plan was to prove how convincing his illusions were by manipulating Jean into believing she was the Black Queen of the club.
As a result, Jean fully believed herself to be a villain for a time, but really, her becoming the Black Queen triggered a larger transformation. It was the first hint of what readers would see as Jean Grey became the Dark Phoenix in following issues.
5 Her Husband’s Psychic Affair
Jeany Grey and Scott Summers had been the will-they-or-won’t-they couple of the X-Men team for years before they finally got together, and after plenty of heartache and tragedy, they managed to make it to wedded bliss, sticking together through power losses, team changes, and even deaths. What they couldn’t get beyond was a telepathic affair.
Following Cyclops melding with Apocalypse, he returned to the X-Men as a much darker hero. He was even more closed off than he had been in the past, creating a wedge in all of his relationships. The strain on his marriage and his team had him landing in therapy with telepath Emma Frost.
Emma, who was once a villain, didn’t keep their therapy sessions (which used her telepathy) strictly platonic. She frequently role played as Jean, introducing scenarios that weren’t professional, and ultimately inducing a psychic affair that left Jean jealous and hurt.
4 Saving Emma Frost
If discovering her husband had a telepathic affair with one of her long-time rivals wasn’t enough, Jean also had to repeatedly come to the same woman’s aid during situations when there wasn’t another powerful mutant around.
Shortly after discovering the affair, Jean was placed in such a position. Emma was shot while still sporting her hardened diamond form, and she shattered. Jean’s anger and jealousy made her a suspect, but she had’t been the one to pull the trigger.
Instead, it was Jean who used her abilities to gain medical knowledge quickly and then put Emma back together molecule by molecule.
The rescues also extended to psychic situations. When the Phoenix force occupied Emma’s body in a later story, Jean was able to forcibly remove it, saving Emma’s life all over again.
3 Becoming The Phoenix Force Vessel
One of the most memorable story arcs of the X-Men comics was Jean Grey becoming the nearly all-powerful Phoenix as an ancient force took over her life, destroying worlds, and leading Jean to sacrifice herself on more than one occasion.
When Jean was in mortal danger, the Phoenix force found her and in order to save her, took over her life, preserving her body. Jean, in some versions of the story, unconsciously reached out for the force as well. The power was initially too much for Jean’s mind to handle, corrupting her, essentially turning her into a villain that hungered for more.
Years after the Phoenix forced first took hold of Jean Grey, it was revealed that Jean wasn’t special because of her mutant abilities, but because of her bloodline.
The Grey family has something unique in its genetic code that attracts the Phoenix. This reveal led to many of Jean’s family members being killed by those who wanted the force for themselves, or those who wanted to eliminate it altogether.
2 Death By Magnetic Pulse
The X-Man Xorn had been a trusted member of the team, but in a twist, turned out to believe himself to be the real Magneto, and betrayed them all.
Xorn-as-Magneto had Jean and Wolverine on an asteroid drifting toward the sun, intent on letting them die a slow and painful death. Wolverine tried to put Jean out of her misery, but the Phoenix force woke up and intervened, taking them both back to Earth to continue to fight “Magneto.”
Unfortunately for Jean, the Phoenix force couldn’t stop an electromagnetic pulse that caused her to have a “planetary level stroke,” as the false Magneto unleashed all of the power he had been holding onto her. She died, telling Cyclops she forgave him for his affair, and urged him to live a full life.
1 Time Traveling
Though traveling through time isn’t part of Jean Grey’s power set, she’s done her fair share of it in the comics, and not always with great results. Time traveling might be one of the worst story conventions used for Jean Grey.
As a result of time travel, Jean’s older self has traveled back to her early days with the X-Men and taken over her younger self, her younger self has been brought to the future to fight with the older X-Men, and a version of her has even telepathically contacted Cyclops from a “dark” future.
Alternate timelines caused massive retcons to her story, created a splintering of alternate universes so that her children from alternate timelines are running around in the present, and meant it was hard for the reader to tell when it was Jean or the Phoenix force running the show.
Time travel has done nothing for Jean or the comic book readers except make her stories even more confusing than the usual retconning already does.
Which of these X-Men events were the worst to happen to Jean Grey? Or did one storyline you love from the comics not make the list? Let us know in the comments!