Jean Grey is undoubtedly one of the most iconic characters in comic book history. Her telekinetic abilities prove her to be an incredibly formidable superhero. She has battled some of the most notorious villains in Marvel Comics while fearlessly leading her own team of heroes.
With this, she has also explored her own dark side. Epic sagas such as the notable DARK PHOENIX SAGA depict Jean as an exemplification of evil itself. However, during this trying period, Jean still overcame the corruption within. She showed readers that even heroes can fall into the clutches of darkness and rise above.
Most importantly though, Jean Grey is and always has been an incredibly multi-faceted character. She has been a student and a teacher as well as the tether between good and evil.
As a result, one cannot help but wonder, where did Jean Grey’s story begin? Where did one of the most powerful, recognizable, and admirable heroes in Marvel Comics history come from?
Every hero has a beginning, some more tragic and trying than others.
So, let’s address these inquiries and travel back in time to the moments when Jean Grey was only discovering who she was capable of becoming.
In the Beginning
In 2008, writer Sean McKeever worked on a comic book story entitled X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY. This particular story provides readers with a brief vignette of Jean Grey’s adolescence.
No, we do not see her take on major super-villains or even interact with her fellow X-Men all that much. Rather, the story dives into the birth of Jean’s mutant abilities and the consequences that followed. Most significantly, it dives into the journey she endured to assert her identity at such a tender age.
X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY begins with an image of the home Jean grew up in: a single-family home nestled in the suburbs. The image, impeccably drawn by the talented Mike Mayhew, exemplifies the irony of suburban safety. Jean is isolated within this home. The idea that the suburbs keep families, especially children, secure is totally upended in this image alone as it cannot protect Jean from her own mind, which we will eventually learn is tormenting her.
Behind the White Picket Fence
As we move into the Grey household, Mayhew continues to provide subtle allusions to the state of the family. Though the house is neat and traditional, there are numerous cracks in the walls within. Thus, no one on the outside is capable of seeing the turmoil the family endures. Jean’s own parents are struggling to understand their child’s conflicts. Of course, they are not mutants and are totally unfamiliar with mutant activity. Therefore, they are entirely in the dark.
Now, it is clear that Jean’s parents care for her wellbeing. However, it is also clear that they do not necessarily wish for her mutant status to be revealed to the world. They excel at keeping the facade of normalcy up when their family is incapable of communicating within their own home.
That is precisely why the evidence of collapse is kept inside, with the daughter trapped within.
The Mind Heist
Ultimately, beneath the whole facade, Jean Grey’s parents are clueless as to how they can help their daughter. They have no experience with mutants nor do they necessarily want to acknowledge the fact that their daughter is indeed a mutant. This is most unfortunate because not only is Jean unsure how to handle her abilities, she is also in great pain.
Jean’s mutant abilities manifested when a car struck and killed her best friend, Annie. As Annie died, Jean’s thoughts molded with that of her friend. Thus, Jean felt each and every emotion Annie experienced as she passed away. Since that moment, Jean has been haunted by the death of her beloved friend, unable to get Annie’s tragic, final thoughts out of her head.
This experience would prove to be traumatic for anyone involved. On top of that, one must note the strength of Jean’s own mind at this time. Its burgeoning abilities proved so powerful that they consumed all of Jean’s thoughts.
As a result, Jean feared death greatly. She feared that the haunting of Annie’s death would consume her.
Fortunately, Professor Charles Xavier’s entrance into her life would lead her to a path of solace. In the Professor, Jean finds a teacher, a guardian, and a kindred spirit. Though Jean’s parents know her and care for her, they do not understand her as a mutant.
Thus, Professor X’s influences on Jean’s life provide her with a tangible perception of who she is. No, Xavier does not heal Jean nor does he provide her with an identity. Rather, he helps her begin a journey of healing and self-assertion. Jean merely completes those journeys on her own, ones that mark the beginning of her career as a hero.
Becoming Jean Grey
Early on in X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY, we actually witness Jean achieve peace within herself. Much of the early segments of the work depict her in a relentless state of chaos within her psyche. This chaos greatly juxtaposes the peace of her suburban neighborhood and seemingly normal family. As a result, Jean mastered the internalization of her pain and uncertainty in regard to her abilities.
Thankfully, her time with Professor Xavier influences her in a positive way. He catalyzes the inspiration that allows her to reaffirm herself in the outside world. Jean finds a teacher who instructs her on the balance between homo sapien and homo superior.
Perhaps the most pivotal point in this transition to balance is when Jean visits Annie’s grave. The act serves as an externalization of the trauma Jean suffered upon experiencing Annie’s death. For once, Jean is not keeping her grief within. For once, her memories and thoughts aren’t consuming her. In this moment, she attains agency over her grief and makes it something she can cope with.
Unfortunately, this peace is fleeting as Jean’s abilities prove to be stronger than expected once again.
When Professor Xavier attempts to push Jean’s limits in the outside world further by bringing her to a crowded shopping mall, Jean finds herself experiencing another bout of chaos as she becomes overwhelmed by the plethora of voices she hears. She breaks down and inadvertently unleashes her power. So, she once again becomes a prisoner of her own mind fighting for release. She loses control of herself despite feeling as though she had found solace. So, she feels as though her persona has been restricted to a cyclical state of being. A tug of war entraps her mind between the hauntings of her past and the capability of moving forward.
Unfortunately, the unexpected eruptions of her abilities seem to be the catalyst for her isolation. Thus, after the incident at the mall, she reverts to her solitude, once again becoming a prisoner to the powers of her mind.
Consequently, Professor Xavier attempts to find a solution that will undoubtedly help Jean achieve reconciliation with herself. Of course, he believes Jean’s abilities to be gifts, yet they have cursed her so greatly simply because she was never prepared to handle the onslaught of voices and power.
Accordingly, Xavier devises a plan. With the support of Jean herself, in addition to her parents, he implements telepathic barriers within Jean’s mind to block voices and thoughts that may prove to be too much for Jean’s psyche at the time.
Welcome Home, Marvel Girl
Now, along with the decision to put up the telepathic barriers, Professor Xavier suggests that Jean leaves home to attend a school where people like her exist. Knowing that they cannot play much of an advisory role in her life anymore, Jean’s parents make the ultimate decision to let her go to attend the school for the gifted.
Thus, there is another transitory moment in Jean’s life. She finds herself leaving the chaos associated with the walls of her own home. She finds herself entering a world she truly belongs to, one in which others will not look upon her abilities with uncertainty and shame. Most importantly though, Jean finds herself establishing a new identity for herself, one rooted in heroism.
In this moment, Jean Grey leaves behind the teenage girl afraid of what she can do. Rather, she becomes Marvel Girl. In her first moment as Marvel Girl, Mayhew exemplifies a gorgeous image of a confident Jean who has found her niche in the world. She looks straight into the path of a missile, undeterred by the danger as she is, relatively, assured her abilities will stop the weapon.
Mutant and Proud
Now, despite her newfound dauntlessness, Jean still feels a void within that is restricting her from tapping into all of her potential. One may attribute this to the telepathic barriers Xavier placed in her mind. Perhaps those barriers are infringing upon places Jean could reach.
However, there is probably a more obvious catalyst for the void.
Though Jean has found a dynamic space to thrive in at Xavier’s school, she is still quite isolated from the outside world. She has left her family and the life she once knew to better herself. She has gained an abundance of knowledge and benefits from her time at the school, but she does want more of a balance.
Jean feels as though her destiny is pulling her to be a part of the world, protecting it.
Thus, one day, Jean decides to break the rules and leave school grounds to explore. During her day off, she unexpectedly finds herself saving an abundance of lives from a rogue truck. Through this act, she asserts herself as a mutant with awesome abilities in addition to a teenager who does enjoy breaking the rules from time to time like any other “perfectly healthy teen.”
When Xavier confronts Jean for her infraction, she lies and says that the event would never happen again. He is aware of her lie, yet approves of it as the comic comes to a close.
Xavier becomes aware that Jean is not destined to be a student or a follower. Rather, she is destined to become a hero who will take every opportunity to save a life.
What Lies Beyond
Again, X-MEN ORIGINS: JEAN GREY is merely a vignette of Jean’s beginnings. It gives us brief insights into various stages of Jean’s early life. However, these brief insights maintain many interpretations.
We come to learn in this work that there were a variety of paths young Jean could have pursued. She could have remained a prisoner of her home, unable to explore the depths of her powers. She could have refused to attend Professor Xavier’s school, choosing instead to live life as a wholly “normal” teenager.
Of course, we do not necessarily know what her life would have become had she had not gone to Xavier’s school. Though, we do know her life would have been much less iconic.
Each and every event Jean experienced, no matter how difficult, contributed to her journey to the X-Men.
Thus, Jean was always meant to be a hero. Destiny always called her to be something more. All it took was for her to obtain the right guidance because it was Jean who defined herself, not Professor Xavier.
She herself expressed a desire to be more than a student.
Jean Grey wanted to be a hero, and that is exactly what she became.