Phoenix. Artist: John Byrne.

MARVEL GIRL (aka PHOENIX aka JEAN GREY)

Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: Marvel Comics
First Appeared: 1963
Creator: Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)
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The Fantastic Four had Invisible Girl. The Doom Patrol had Elasti-Girl. The Mighty Crusaders had Fly Girl. Starting when Wonder Woman joined The Justice Society of America, and continuing for …

continued below

… decades before something closer to gender parity was achieved, practically every superhero team had a token female (and until the '70s, a majority had the word "girl" as part of their names). When The X-Men started out, in 1963, the token female was Marvel Girl.

As a token female, Marvel Girl (civilian name Jean Grey) had the sort of super powers that seemed appropriate for girls, i.e., ones that didn't involve a lot of physical exertion (in contrast to, say, The Beast's super-agility or The Angel's ability to fly using angel-like wings). She had the power of telekinesis, i.e., she could move things by mental concentration, without actually touching them. Later, when it became fashionable to upgrade the women's powers, she also turned out to have telepathy, which, unless it's on the scale of the group's mentor, Professor X, is even more passive.

With the rest of the group, she was introduced in X-Men #1, published by Marvel Comics with a cover date of September, 1963. The introductory story was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, respectively, the pair that was also behind The Mighty Thor, The Incredible Hulk and most of the other properties Marvel has been exploiting since the '60s. And like the rest, she appeared steadily for the 66 issues of the original run (the last dated March, 1970), and in the reprints that ran until 1975. Early in this run, she developed a romance with Scott Summers, who held membership in the group under the name Cyclops.

And with most of the other founding members, she left the group in '75, when it started up again under writer Chris Claremont (Iron Fist) and artist Dave Cockrum (Legion of Super Heroes). But (also like the other founders) within a few months she started making cameo appearances again. Before long, no-doubt because Scott had been the only founder to stay past the membership turnover, she was doing full-scale superheroing with them again.

It was then that Claremont, whose female characters tended to be very strong, turned her into much more than a token female. During an adventure in space, she had one of those experiences that would have killed most people outside of comic books, and did come very close to killing her and the other X-Men. But she saved them all, through sheer mental exertion, and emerged with immense power — enough to wreck stars and planets if she so chose. Recalling the near-death experience, she re-named herself Phoenix, after the mythological bird that would repeatedly undergo fiery death only to rise again from the ashes.

She put mental dampers on her own powers, to avoid accidents, but they dissolved when her mind was tampered with by telepathic villains. She wound up destroying an inhabited planet in a burst of exuberance, and thereby came to be regarded as a galaxy-class menace. Claremont's original plan was to have her undergo a sort of cosmic redemption, get at least partially de-powered, and live happily ever after with Scott. But editor Jim Shooter decreed that young ladies who wipe out entire alien species must be punished for their crimes, so she was disintegrated in X-Men #137 (September, 1980).

That's where things got confusing. Within a couple of years, Scott was married to a twin of her, who later turned out to be a clone. Then The Avengers recovered her original body from where she'd first appeared as Phoenix — turned out Phoenix was a separate entity, which had merged with most of her, leaving a remnant behind. The remnant was resurrected as the original Jean Grey. Several offspring, either real or hypothetical, from alternate futures, got involved via time travel. She and Scott both died and came back a couple of times. She switched back and forth between the names Phoenix and Marvel Girl, and frequently avoided the question by calling herself plain old Jean Grey — a ploy often used in 1990s TV animation (where she was voiced by Catherine Disher, also heard in Rolie Polie Olie) and 21st Century feature-length films (where she was played by Famke Janssen, a face actress otherwise devoid of toon connections). The clone was disposed of by being driven insane, turning into a villain, and committing suicide.

And stuff.

Eventually, she achieved a close enough semblance of normality to become a founding member of X-Factor, a new group that reunited the original X-Men. She stayed with it as long as it lasted, and is now intermittently part of a sort of Greater X-Men Community, an enormous and amorphous melange of mutants that come and go in the Marvel Universe. She and Scott are married, and may or may not be parents and/or step-parents of another mutant superhero named Cable.

— DDM

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Text ©2006-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.