Take, for example, the X-men character Jean Grey. The version of Jean that developed in the Marvel comics universe over the years is interesting, not because her history is uniquely convoluted, but because the problem of integrating disparate parts of her complicated backstory is explicitly addressed in canon. Looking at the way Jean's character has been handled over time makes a good case study -- in both positive and negative ways -- of how to put those complex pieces together.
So we begin with a question:
Who is Jean Grey?
It started out with a girl. . .
When Jean Grey was introduced in 1963, in the pages of the very first X-men comic, there wasn't any question of who she was. Jean was the girl. Marvel's first teen team consisted of four boys with varying personalities and power skill sets -- rich, arrogant Angel; stern Cyclops; brainy, verbose Beast, and playful Iceman. Then there was Marvel Girl -- who was the girl -- and could move things with her mind, as long as they weren't very heavy. For instance, she was really good at moving the wheelchair-bound Professor Xavier out of the way during a fight. And when the cook took a day off, she made dinner for the boys. She even took time to redesign the team's costumes, including her own (in)famous green minidress.
In other words, the early X-men comics were steeped in the gender assumptions of the early '60s, when boys were assumed to be the audience for superhero comics, and girls were assumed to be reading Millie the Model. Jean's most visible role on the team (when she wasn't busy cooking, sewing, or moving the Professor) was to pine after Cyclops (her future husband Scott Summers), who was too busy pining over her to notice. The comic's writers didn't even bother to define her powers very well. Although she originally was defined as a telekinetic, she occasionally seemed to be a mind reader, like Professor Xavier. Eventually, she would be established as both a telekinetic and a telepath, although her powers continued to shift or change, with or without reason, up into the current decade of Marvel canon.
Despite being shown through the lens of '60s culture, and not even having a distinct power set, Jean managed to have some great moments in the first decade of her existence. When the X-men meet the Fantastic Four, she not only compares fashion notes with Susan Storm; she also tangles with Ben Grimm, the massive Thing, and more than holds her own. By issue 63, Marvel Girl is fending off her teammates' attempts to assist her during battle with, "Just like a male to think that only he can meet a crisis!" In the same issue, she sneers at arch-nemesis Magneto's offer to make her his queen, then outwits and defeats him while her teammates are incapacitated.
But although Jean Grey was becoming a force to reckon with, the X-men series, unfortunately, was not. It was cancelled in 1969, with Jean's defeat of Magneto marking one of the team's last battles. The book wouldn't be revived until six years later, when it fell into the hands of a young writer named Chris Claremont.
Enter the Phoenix
When Chris Claremont started writing the X-men, it didn't even seem that Jean Grey was going to be part of the team. In issue #94, Jean left, along with most of the original team, to be replaced by an "all new, all different" cast of characters. But Claremont -- like team leader Cyclops -- couldn't seem to let the redhead go.
After only a few issues featuring the new team, Jean reappears as Scott's Christmas date to Rockefeller Center. But before the couple can exchange 'I love you's, their romantic interlude is interrupted by a Sentinel attack, and they're whisked into space for the kind of epic battle the X-men have been involved in approximately every issue for the past dozen years. But the madcap action takes a serious turn in issue 100, when the X-men find themselves on an out of control space shuttle careening towards Earth. Jean determines that she can use her telekinetic powers to get the team to Earth safely -- but only at the cost of her own death from radiation exposure.
It's not a particularly original plot contrivance: a noble character forced to sacrifice herself for the good of her friends. What's notable is the efficient, almost ruthless way Jean arranges her own martyrdom. First, she psychically rips a flying lesson out of the shuttle pilot's brain, then knocks out Cyclops so that he can't try to save her. When Wolverine tries to talk her out of the sacrifice, she yells at him until he literally slinks away. Only after that does she hug Storm, shed some tears, and ask her friend, "Would you tell Scott I loved him?" Then Jean turns to the task at hand, saying to herself, It's time to do your stuff. . .twenty-seven minutes to Earth's atmosphere. . .not long at all. . .just the rest of my life, and the landmark issue ends with Jean seeming to plunge to her death.
But Jean doesn't die. She springs from the water, clothed in a new costume, crying "No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever! I am Phoenix!"
It was a beautiful moment in comics. It produced a classic image -- and a good part of the next thirty years of X-men canon would be devoted to trying to figure out what it meant.
First, it seemed, Jean's natural mutant powers had merely been enhanced by her contact with the cosmic radiation. Iffy comic book science, sure, but not that different from the origins of Marvel stalwarts the Fantastic Four. This transformation could have been an easy way to amp up the power level for a character Claremont had an obvious affinity for so that she could have a place on the all-new, all-different team. If Phoenix's origin had never been mentioned again, and Jean had simply rejoined the team with magnified powers and a new costume, it would have been the kind of thing that happens in comics all the time.
But the Phoenix didn't want to go away. Instead of handwaving Jean's transformation as a simple plot device, Claremont and co-plotter John Byrne gradually began to complicate it. First the X-men learn that the Phoenix is an alien entity, variously worshipped and feared by civilizations throughout the galaxy. This revelation leads to one of my personal favorite storylines, contained in issues 107 and 108, the introduction of the M'Kraan Crystal.
Now, despite my massive love for this story, I can't begin to tell you what the M'Kraan Crystal is, or what it does, or why it's important. I can't tell you what relationship Jean and Phoenix were actually supposed to have at this point. What matters to me is that Jean, through sheer force of willpower -- and the very important battle strategy of holding hands with her best friend and with her boyfriend's long-dead father who turns out to have been disguising himself as a space pirate -- saves the universe. With a second cosmic triumph on her scorecard, Phoenix seems poised to become one of the most formidable heroes in the Marvel universe.
Soon after returning to Earth, though, it becomes clear that Jean's power-up comes at a price. Her teammates, her boyfriend, and even her parents no longer know how to react to her. They can't help wondering what happened to the girl they knew. Could she be Phoenix and still be herself?
Meanwhile, Jean's telepathic and telekinetic powers continue to grow, seemingly without limit to their potential -- and a character with limitless power creates serious problems, both within and outside the story. From the writer's point of view, it is necessary to come up with conflicts and challenges strong enough for a hero who cannot be stopped. For the other characters within the story, there will always be the unsettling question: what will we do if the day comes when she isn't on our side?
In the case of Jean Grey, the internal and external problems come to a head in the story known as the "Dark Phoenix Saga." This isn't the place to get into the behind-the- scenes story of Jean Grey's death and eventual return, but it's generally acknowledged that a lot of disagreement among Marvel's writers and editors led to the form the saga eventually took. Nobody involved in creating this storyline seems to have been entirely happy with the outcome -- and yet the result became an instant classic.
To give a short recap of the plot: Jean is psychically assaulted by the supervillain Mastermind, who wants to manipulate her into becoming his mistress. The plot fails, but, somehow, Mastermind unleashes a dark side of the Phoenix's power. In the grips of this cosmic force, she soars into space and, as the narration tells us, "She knows what she was, what she has become, and she does not care. What matters is that Dark Phoenix lives! And all creation is her domain to do with as she pleases." Finding herself hungry and, "without a thought of the consequences," Jean/Phoenix devours a star, destroying an entire solar system, and an inhabited planet, in the process.
Eventually, Jean returns to Earth, where Professor Xavier is able to suppress the Dark Phoenix. Just when a happy ending seems to be possible, the alien Shi'ar arrest Jean and take her to the moon, to answer for Dark Phoenix's crimes. The result is a trial by combat, in which the X-men side with their friend, who they believe is a blameless victim. Even the Shi'ar Empress seems to accept that Jean did not control her own actions, though still insisting that she must be executed to keep Phoenix from threatening the universe.
Jean herself is less certain that she was innocent. "I destroyed a world --, " she tells Cyclops. "In my mind, I can still hear the screams of the dying -- and it felt good! I don't ever want that feeling again, and yet -- I do!" Her boyfriend responds by saying that they can't give up, that he knows Jean isn't evil, and then kisses her -- a grand romantic gesture that doesn't seem philosophically adequate to the situation. The other X-men seem to follow Cyclops' lead; unable to sort out the enormity of what Phoenix has done to any real satisfaction, they each in their own way decide that love of the girl they know outweighs the deeds of a cosmic entity. Personal connection ultimately overcomes philosophical abstraction. They can't grasp Jean doing such a thing, and so fighting to save her becomes important.
But Jean does know what it felt like to be merged with the Phoenix. As she tries to explain to her teammates, "Two beings. . . a symbiote. . . neither can exist without the other. Phoenix provides my life-force, while I provide a living focus for its infinite power. So long as I live, the Phoenix will manifest itself through me." She then begs, "Kill me!" But the others refuse. As in the space shuttle back in issue 100, Jean is the first to understand the necessity for her own destruction. Once again, she psychically disables Scott, but this time leaves him conscious to watch. "I love you, Scott. A part of me will always be with you," she says, then activates an alien weapon that vaporizes her before his eyes.
At that, it seems, is the end of Jean Grey's tragic story.
The Great Phoenix Retcon
It seems obvious, today, to say that Jean's death was never going to last. But in 1980, when the last issues of Dark Phoenix were published, comic book death was nowhere near the revolving door that it has since become. In fact, 1986's Avengers #263 might be called the comic that launched a thousand retcons. In this issue, the Avengers and Fantastic Four discover Jean's body, preserved in a cocoon in Jamaica Bay. Reed Richards determines that she has been in suspended animation since the shuttle crash at the end of X-men #100. Jean is alive and well and, because she's been in the cocoon since before Dark Phoenix manifested, she (conveniently) isn't responsible for all the destruction that her alter ego caused.
The initial retcon solved a couple big problems: Jean wasn't dead anymore, and she wasn't a killer. Unfortunately for readers seeking any kind of story logic, it created another big one. If the "Jean" of issues 100-137 wasn't really Jean but an alien entity, then none of the wonderful character development Claremont and Byrne had given her could really "count". Her strength and leadership in the M'Kraan Crystal story, the escalating intensity of her romance with Cyclops, and ultimately her courageous choice to sacrifice herself to prevent the Phoenix resurfacing -- none of these had happened.
When Jean reunited with her original teammates to form the spinoff series X-Factor, it was the retcon's effect on her relationship with Cyclops that got the most immediate attention. Scott and Jean's romance in the Dark Phoenix era was unusually steamy for the time, in that it was almost canonically acknowledged they were having non-marital sex: witness the most famous soft fade in comic book history. As if it weren't awkward enough that Scott had been getting hot and heavy with someone he only thought was Jean, there was the small detail that he had gotten married to, and had a child with, Madelyne Pryor -- who happened to look exactly like Jean.
The first 70 issues of X-Factor are more fascinating than they probably have a right to be, because they provide an object lesson in trying to recover from bad canon. Some of the book's early choices -- having Scott leave his wife and son to rejoin X-Factor, and not even telling Jean that he had been married -- complicate an already difficult situation. But writer Louise Simonson, who took the book over early in its run, worked with Claremont, who was still writing the main title, to create an ingenious (though far from unproblematic) resolution.
As explained over the course of both X-titles, and some back up stories in Classic X-men reprints, the 'updated' version was essentially this: When Jean was dying in the space shuttle, she psychically cried for help, attracting the attention of the Phoenix Force. Phoenix offered to create Jean a new body, and to live with her as a symbiote. Not wanting to die, Jean almost accepted, but became wary of Phoenix's intentions. So Phoenix took the new body for itself and sent the badly injured Jean into a cocoon. Phoenix then took over Jean's life, equipped with an exact copy of her body, and apparently her personality and memories.
When Phoenix/Jean chose to sacrifice herself on the moon, the retcon continues, the Phoenix's essence tried to return to Earth and revitalize the body in the cocoon. However, the Phoenix carried with it "nightmare visions of destruction." The "original" Jean chose to reject integration with Phoenix/Jean, and would remain in the cocoon until the Avengers and Fantastic Four found her.
Meanwhile, the villain Mr. Sinister, wanting to exploit Jean's growing powers, created a genetic clone of her, but could not get it to attain consciousness. The remaining Phoenix Force, rejected by Jean, was drawn to the clone and gave it consciousness. From this point, Sinister was able to brainwash and manipulate the woman he had created -- Madelyne Pryor -- into Scott Summers' "perfect woman," so that he would marry her and have a genetically-gifted child. Once Scott left Madelyne to join X-Factor, Sinister ordered the child kidnapped and Madelyne left for dead.
These circumstances set up the Inferno crossover, in which Madelyne, under the influence of goblins and further unhinged by learning her own origin, attempts to destroy New York City, and to sacrifice her own infant son in the process. The X-men and X-Factor combine to defeat her (and save the baby), leading Madelyne to kill herself. Jean tries, unsuccessfully, to prevent the suicide, and ends up absorbing parts of the essence, and all the memories, of the Phoenix Force and of Madelyne. The final effect of all the X-Factor and Inferno retcons, then, was to reconnect Jean with the experiences she had when she was "replaced" by Phoenix.
Yet for the reader seeking closure on the integration of Jean's identity, it isn't really there on the page. In X-Factor #53, Scott continues his pattern of trying to turn their story toward a happy ending. While Jean is disconcerted by her inability to sort out her sets of memories, Scott insists it doesn't matter. "Memories can't hurt you," he says, and asks her to marry him. "I've loved you since the moment I saw you. . .and now that you're really you. . " Scott is ready and willing to treat their relationship as linear -- to accept, essentially, the retcon within his own life and pretend that the intervening events never happened. Jean, still unsure of her own reality, tells Scott she loves him, but rejects the proposal.
From that point forward, it would be almost a decade before canon resolved the question of Jean's level of identification with the Phoenix. She continues as a core member of the X-teams, and as Scott's lover and eventual wife. For the most part, her role on the team is as a "nice girl," contrasted to seemingly tougher or bitchier characters, like Rogue and Psylocke. Significantly, this is the period when many current readers picked up the X-men books, and when the popular animated series was created. It's this sweet, slightly passive and even submissive version of the character -- unconnected either to the person she had been before she became Phoenix, or to the experiences that happened to the Phoenix entity -- that became the definitive Jean for many fans.
When convenient, it was assumed that she has the memories and experiences that she acquired when replaced by the Phoenix, but if the question was squarely addressed, readers would be reminded that they were, in fact, different people. Even Uncanny X-men 308, the otherwise sweet flashback issue in which Jean and Scott finally do get engaged, has to stop for a confusing info dump as Jean has to explain how she remembers what happened on the moon, even though she wasn't really there. According to the standard canon position that held for ten years, Jean was never Phoenix, and Phoenix was never Jean, and that was as far as the story could be explored.
It was only in 2000 that Claremont -- who had left and returned to the X-men more often than Jean had, by this point -- got to write a scene that had probably been on his mind since the original retcon. In Uncanny X-men 387, Jean is attacked by a surviving warrior of the D'Bari people, whose planet was destroyed by Dark Phoenix. She confronts him on the psychic plane and is able to neutralize him -- but as she does so, he takes the form of Dark Phoneix, and she must confront him. Accused of destroying the planet, Jean insists, "It wasn't me!" and Phoenix answers, "It is you who allowed that primal spirit to become flesh!"
Jean returns to her teammates, seemingly victorious, and explains what occurred. This time, when Rogue repeats the "official" story -- Phoenix wasn't Jean; Phoenix only pretended to be human -- it is Jean who takes the opposite view: "I summoned the Phoenix, I allowed our souls to merge. I didn't want to die, but more, I didn't want the X-men to die. . . I set the events in motion. From that perspective, doesn't that make me responsible?"
Jean, who has previously insisted on separating the different aspects of her experience, is making an argument for integrating them. She doesn't allow the newfound sense of responsibility to turn into debilitating guilt, however. Instead, she says, "Phoenix was meant to represent the fire and passion that creates life. I choose to bear the name -- and do so proudly -- in order to set things right." For Jean, accepting culpability for the past leads her to a renewed commitment to the future.
It also seems to have led to a renewed energy and direction for the character. Previously, Jean's most interesting backstory had mostly been off limits to writers. Now that her connection to her cosmic identity had been re-established, the old rules didn't apply. Claremont's D'Bari issue was followed immediately by Joe Harris's Search for Cyclops. In this miniseries, Jean leads a rescue of Cyclops, who has been possessed by the villain Apocalypse. In order to save her husband, she cries out, "I release this beast within!" -- displaying a flame suggestive of the Phoenix, and a defiance reminiscent of the Marvel Girl who was telling Magneto where to stick his offer of queen-ship, back in 1969.
This new Jean (that's really quite an old Jean) became most prominent in the New X-men series written by Grant Morrison, starting in 2001. Opinions of Morrison's influential run are famously mixed, but one aspect that is impossible to deny is his role in bringing both Jean and the Phoenix back to center stage in the X-men universe. Morrison's characterization of Jean as stubborn, strong-willed, and emotionally volatile is, as noted above, nothing new. But Morrison, more so than any predecessors, emphasizes Jean's leadership role with the team.
It's not that Jean had never shown leadership with the X-men. But leading was never really seen as her job, the way it was for Cyclops or Storm or Professor Xavier. In a Scott Lobdell-written story arc shortly before Morrison took over the book, Jean spends several issues gathering a team to rescue Xavier, Cyclops, and Wolverine from Magneto. She certainly seems to be taking charge, but as soon as something goes wrong with the mission, Jean muses, via narration box, " Let's face it -- some people are just not cut out to be leaders. Me, for example. My husband Scott, as Cyclops, has led the X-Men on many occasions. But me, as Phoenix...? First time out of the gate, and I've already lost one in battle." The fight ultimately ends when Wolverine defeats Magneto, so it's not as if the writer is giving Jean a crisis of confidence she will eventually overcome. It's more a way of saying, Sure, Jean can act like she's in charge when there's no one better around, but don't make the mistake of thinking she's the leader.
Morrison, thankfully, calls shenanigans on this kind of writing. After all, if your team includes an intelligent, experienced superhero, who has proven capable of godlike power, and also happens to be physically attractive and very well-liked -- doesn't that seem like someone that people would want to follow? Jean gets a chance to show her stuff early in Morrison's run, when Xavier apparently goes on television and publicly announces the identities and location of the X-men. This later turns out to be a sinister plot by the Professor's evil twin (don't ask; just -- don't ask), intended to expose and weaken the mutant group. But Jean, perceptively, sees openness and publicity as a potential advantage. She arranges a media visit to the school and dazzles the world with an inspirational speech during which, apparently without conscious effort, she produces a fiery Phoenix effect.
Possibly for the first time since the M'Kraan crystal story back in the Phoenix's early days, Jean's godlike power is linked more closely to the positive aspects of her character than to the dangerous and destructive ones. But the dangerous side cannot be forgotten. When Cyclops expresses concern about Jean becoming Phoenix again, this puts further strain on their already troubled marriage. Jean acknowledges that her powers are growing but insists she is now capable of channeling the force to positive ends, and goes to Xavier for guidance only, she says, so that he can reassure Scott she isn't "evil."
Having thus set up a fascinating tension among Jean and the dark and light sides of the Phoenix, the Morrison series never really follows the ideas through. The storyline diverges in several directions, including a student riot, a pseudo murder-mystery, and a sort-of affair between Cyclops and teammate Emma Frost. The Phoenix story emerges again only toward the end, when Jean finds herself trapped with Wolverine on a satellite headed toward the sun. She asks him to stab her before she suffocates, and this physical death unleashes the Phoenix again.
Revitalized Phoenix-Jean is then able to take herself and Wolverine back to Earth for a final battle, which ends just in time for Jean to be pointlessly murdered (the battle is already over), and to die in her semi-estranged husband's arms. An epilogue to the series, "Here Comes Tomorrow," features the deceased Jean as "white Phoenix," an entity too far above human consciousness to survive on the mortal plane. As white Phoenix, Jean is able to observe the people she loved on Earth, and even gives Scott a telepathic nudge encouraging him to start a relationship with Emma.
It's honestly difficult to evaluate the latter part of Morrison's run on New X-men. He announced he was leaving the book (and Marvel) rather abruptly in 2003, and there's guesswork involved in how much of what happened was part of the writer's plan, and how much an editorial effort to tie up loose ends. To cynical eyes, Jean's final death and post-mortal endorsement of the Scott/Emma relationship looks like a device to wrap up an inconvenient love triangle. Contrasted to Jean's willingly chosen sacrifices in the space shuttle story, on the moon at the end of Dark Phoenix, it's a sadly passive whimper for the character to go out on. Even a brief not-quite-resurrection in the solo miniseries Phoenix: Endsong seemed to focus on every character but Jean, concluding on the vague note that Jean's spirit is floating around gathering pieces of herself throughout the cosmos. If it's better to burn out than to fade away, Jean's most recent death is clearly the lesser option.
So who is Jean Grey now?
Just because a character is canonically dead in the main timeline of an ongoing comics universe doesn't mean she is nowhere to be found. Flashbacks and out-of-continuity series are an option, as are ghost stories. And, despite various editors' occasional insistence that "dead means dead" (I won't even bother to count the number of 'dead' Marvel characters who have resurfaced since Jean was buried in 2004), resurrection is always on the table. For fanfic writers, the constraints of canonicity don't exist, but basically the same options are available to anyone who wants to write about Jean:
1. Write about Jean before she was Phoenix
Over the past few years, this has been the most popular choice. The delightful ongoing series X-men: First Class, by Jeff Parker, features new adventures of the original X-men team. Parker and artists like Roger Cruz and Colleen Coover have modernized aspects of the older stories (the green minidress is replaced by a standard uniform, and no one gives Jean sewing tests), while keeping the core sense of friendship and teamwork among the group. Jean has been a star player in the book since the first issue, and Parker has brought some innovative touches, such as Jean's friendship with ex-evil mutant and future Avenger Wanda Maximoff.
Fanfic writers have happily followed the First Class lead. The community xmenfirstclass is home to some great gen fics about the team, along with Jean/Scott and Jean/Wanda pairing stories. (As any First Class reader could tell you, it's an open question which of these matches is closer to canon).
It's easy to understand why First Class stories are popular in canon and fic alike. No deconstruction of the Phoenix is required, and writers have the opportunity to tell fun, happy stories that won't ever be trumped by future canon. If there's a downside to the focus on early-years stories, it's that they leave many dimensions of Jean's character unexplored. Some time in the future, it would be great to see stories, that carry the idea of Jean's relationship with Wanda, or other concepts unique to First Class, forward into the characters' more mature years.
2. Write Jean as a dream or flashback character?
In canon, this device has been used from time to time, whenever Jean was dead. She has appeared, for instance, to Wolverine in dream sequences in his solo book, and to Charles Xavier in the current flashback-intensive X-men: Legacy series. Most memorably, in Astonishing X-men 14, writer Joss Whedon and artist John Cassaday used a re-imagined version of the Dark Phoenix desert scene in Astonishing X-men 14.
While flashbacks are a relatively minor way to make use of a character, they can have enormous significance. A character like Jean may seem just as important as a grief object when she's dead than as a team member when she was alive. The loss and absence, and the effect a dead character can have on the living, is a worthy subject for fictional exploration. The risk is that the reality of the living character can get lost in the memory. It sometimes seems that the X-men valued Jean when she was alive because she was a strong, forceful, proactive leader -- but when she's dead, all they remember is that she was sweet and pretty. The value of a good flashback, like the one in Astonishing, is to give a concrete, detailed reality to the lost character.
3.Write about Jean during/ after she was Phoenix, putting together
all the information that we have about her.
Marvel doesn't publish many out-of-continuity stories about canon more recent than "First Class," so this option isn't often seen in canon. However, it's an opportunity available to any fic writer. When I first got interested in writing X-men fanfic a couple years ago, I started to ask around about the problem of Jean's double consciousness. In order to write about the character's interior life, it seemed obvious that it would be necessary to know how fully she remembered and understood everything that had happened to her. The response I got was basically, "Whatever you want, you can get it to work. It's what the canon writers do."
The more deeply I read into X-canon, the more I realize how true this is. As a writer, I've always preferred the explanation that the Phoenix creature which "replaced" Jean actually believed itself to be her. That way, the many internal monologues, choices, and other character development that "Jean" experienced in the Phoenix-created body are still, in essence, her thoughts and choices. Otherwise, it's necessary to believe that for 37 classic issues of X-men, the narration is lying to the reader. Returning to the puzzle metaphor, it's a bit of a forced fit, but it gets the pieces to work together.
In truth, canon is never going to give a satisfactory explanation for the Phoenix, and any attempt at making a good one will contradict something that came before. If nothing else, the relationship between the courageous, tough-minded woman who is Jean Grey, and the potentially creative or destructive cosmic force that is the Phoenix, lends itself to further exploration than it was allowed to have under the constraints of canon. Either in stories that fit within canon, or AU death-denial fics, the possibilities are varied and limited only by the writer's imagination.
4. The (Inevitable?) Return
There aren't many comics readers who believe that Jean will stay dead forever. Whenever a new creative team comes to the book, the question is raised and denied, or teased and -- whatever the current official position -- it might change in a month. The current status of the character is, "Who knows?" which makes it as good a time as any to think about what should happen to Jean Grey.
Many questions about Jean's return focus on her romantic possibilities. Would she cause a breakup of the relationship of Cyclops and Emma Frost? Would she finally consummate her flirtation with Wolverine? Or might the story go in a different direction altogether? Fanfic, of course, can take a resurrected Jean's relationships in directions that canon wouldn't even be able to approach: a threesome with Cyclops and Emma, a newfound power-coupledom with Wanda Maximoff, a work/play relationship with Avengers leader Tony Stark, or an alternate-universe resurrection that hooks her up with DC's Hal Jordan. (If those last few sound like weird examples, I should confess that they're all storylines I've either written or plotted myself).
But a return story that takes the focus away from Jean's love-life could be equally interesting. Recent canon has the X-men in a new, interesting political position, working as an official superhero team in the city of San Francisco, and potentially at odds with the national power structure represented by Tony Stark. The Jean who was such a powerful political and public relations force during Morrison's run could be a major player in this universe. A greater focus on family and friendships, aside from romance, could also serve the character well.
Finally, of course, there is the opportunity to settle the issue of Phoenix's power once and for all. If Phoenixwill inevitably get out of control and end Jean's life, then there are no long-term possibilities for the character. What kind of settlement, compromise, or victory could be reached in order to give final resolution to this problem? Would Jean be willing to sacrifice some amount of power for greater control? Would she be willing or able to share it with others?
These are just a few of the possibilities open to writers interested in exploring the layered and fascinating history of Jean Grey. The complexity of her canon may seem intimidating, but the payoff in interesting, emotionally complex stories is worth the effort. Ultimately, a writer who wants to play with someone else's toys, just needs to pick them up and have fun. Hopefully, this essay can provide some ideas for how to start.