This article is from the X-Men Comic Books FAQ, by Kate the Short (firstname.lastname@example.org) with numerous contributions by others.
Okay, it's Ultimate Confusion time. Once upon a time, there was a X-Man
named Jean Grey. She served well and true with the first team (in the
1960s run of the book), and was around for the new team, in the mid-70s.
She was a telepath, a telekinetic, and the girlfriend of the team's
deputy leader, Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops.
Well, during the first year of their new series, Jean Grey, in a
selfless act of heroism (UXM #100), sacrificed herself, giving her life
so that the rest of the team could survive a rather brutal reentry from
orbit. Then, from the crash site, Jean seemed to burst forth from the
water in a new form, a form that called herself Phoenix. She said she
was still Jean Grey, but had tapped somehow into a universal power
source which called itself Phoenix--hence her new name.
Phoenix proved to be a bit out of the usual X-Men's power range. She not
only saved the entire universe in her first major adventure, but was
also capable of telekinetically rearranging reality around her to her
liking. Unfortunately, she was also capable of being emotionally preyed
upon by Mastermind and the Hellfire Club.
The windup of this whole affair was the Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the
few storylines from Marvel that actually earned the right to call itself
a saga, and widely held not only to be the best single storyline in all
of the X-titles, but also one of the best stories in all of comics. Torn
between her human and cosmic sides, Phoenix eventually chose to commit
suicide on the moon to save Scott Summers, her lover (UXM #137). In the
words of the Watcher, "Though Jean Grey could have lived to be a god, it
was important that she die...as a human."
The death of Phoenix was also unusual in that it apparently affected the
creative staff as much as the characters they were working on. Unlike a
lot of comic book deaths (and all the cliches that go along with that
term), Phoenix's was referred back to by the characters, and actually
had some long-term effect on the path of the comic book. So much so that
it was a shock in #168 when Madelyne Pryor was introduced, since she
looked exactly like Jean Grey. Even more suspicious, she was the only
survivor of a large plane crash which happened at the exact moment that
Jean Grey died on the moon. Hmm.
Now, there had been a prior (heh) appearance of a Madelyne Pryor in a
Marvel comic--Avengers Annual #10 (note: first appearance of Rogue),
also written by Chris Claremont, featured a little girl who said her
name was Maddie Pryor, who was once sick but is much better now. A lot
of energy was wasted trying to link the two Pryors together until
Claremont, who was notorious for being lazy with walk-on character
names, admitted that the Maddie in Avengers Annual #10 was named after a
favorite singer of his, Madeleine Prior, the lead singer for the folk-
rock group Steeleye Span, and that the two comic characters had nothing
in common besides their names. Likewise, David Goldfarb reminds us that
in the first Genosha storyline Madelyne is shown having a flashback in
virtual reality (UXM #238) which shows her as the little girl from
Avengers Annual #10, singing "Gone to America," which is one of Steeleye
Span's biggest hits. It's likely just Claremont having a bit of fun.
In any case, Maddie's familiar looks and shared interests with Scott
(they were both pilots) led to them getting married in UXM #175, and
Scott leaving the X-Men to finally enjoy the peace and quiet of a
married life, notwithstanding the occasional jaunt into Asgard. Al
Patterson commends the FAQ for not even "getting into Madelyne's
transformation in X-Men/Alpha Flight, which demonstrated conclusively
the authors clearly never intended Maddy to be what she became." (The
firefountain did not affect mutants, but Maddy was transformed into
Anodyne, a healer. That should be impossible if she was, for example,
supposed to be a clone of Jean).
Around this time, however, Rachel Summers had successfully projected
herself back in time from the "Days of Future Past" future. The daughter
of Scott Summers and Jean Grey in that time line (Jean was still
Phoenix, but had had a lobotomy performed so that she couldn't access
her powers), Rachel was yet another in the endless line of mutants from
the future coming back in time to try and make things better for their
friends back up the time stream. Actually, she was one of the first--
back when she did it, she was just the second who had pulled it off, so
it hadn't become a cliche yet.
Rachel ended up being adopted by the X-Men, but terrified by all of the
differences she saw around her (Scott marrying Madelyne, for instance),
she didn't tell Scott of her partial relationship to him. The birth of
Nathan, son of Scott and Madelyne, also further distanced her; in her
timeline, she was Scott's eldest child.
This relatively nonconfusing state of affairs lasted for a while, until
X-Factor was given the go by the Marvel editors. The whole "hook" of
X-Factor was that the original X-Men would take secret identities and
save mutant lives while posing as mutant exterminators. Because all of
the original X-Men had to show up for the idea of the comic to work, the
New Defenders title was cancelled to free up Iceman, Angel, and the
Beast, while Scott Summers was shown to be a deserter to both his wife
and son by being called from New York by... Jean Grey.
Yes, to get X-Factor "right", they resurrected Jean Grey. In the pages
of Avengers #263 and Fantastic Four #286, Jean Grey was found stuck in
an energy cocoon by the Phoenix Force, and then freed by the genius of
Reed Richards. The retconned story was now that Jean wasn't possessed by
the Phoenix Force, as before, but merely Xeroxed by it, with her real
body being placed under the sea in the cocoon so it could regenerate
from the radiation damage. Meanwhile, it was the actual deity-like
figure of the Phoenix Force itself who merely pretended to be Jean Grey
during all the adventures it had with the X-Men, all the way up to, and
including, the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Now this last bit annoyed a lot of older X-fans, a population which some
jokers have commented that Marvel apparently doesn't remember exist. The
whole strength of the Dark Phoenix story was that it was Jean Grey, the
human, who was able to overcome Dark Phoenix, the cosmic force, even if
she had to die to do it. Despite the claims from Marvel that the Dark
Phoenix story still had all its emotional strength and punch because the
Phoenix duplicated the emotions and thoughts of Jean Grey and had even
convinced itself that it was Jean Grey, it just doesn't hold up under
even casual scrutiny. It's no longer a human choosing to die from love,
it's a cosmic force pretending it's human who decides to fool a human it
supposedly loves into thinking that it's committed suicide, when really
it hasn't. No longer a sacrifice, it makes it a cosmic shell game, with
Scott's and the readers' emotions as the victims.
Hence you will get the odd comment on racmx about how the "real" Jean
Grey died on the moon. Some simply refuse to accept the retcon.
Eventually, Madelyne Pryor was revealed to be a clone of Jean Grey,
created by X-villain Mr. Sinister, in yet another of his endless
attempts to try and get some genetic material out of Scott Summers (in
this case, apparently, a son). Seduced by the renegade demon S'ym,
Madelyne was transformed into the Goblyn Queen (UXM #234), which brought
about the crossover called Inferno. This transformation was revealed to
be possible from yet another retcon.
Now, when the Phoenix Force pretended to commit suicide on the moon (UXM
#137), it sent a portion of itself back to the still-comatose Jean Grey
beneath the waters of Jamaica Bay, in order to give her the memories the
Phoenix had gained in her place. Jean rejected these memories, however,
and instead the portion of the Phoenix imparted them to the then-dormant
Madelyne Pryor, Jean Grey's clone by perennial villain Mr. Sinister.
This was such a traumatic procedure that Sinister was resorted to giving
her false memories of being the only survivor of a plane crash to ease
her troubled mind. It was that portion of the Phoenix Force that allowed
Madelyne to wield the powers that she did as the Goblyn Queen. All this
was revealed by Mr. Sinister in UXM #243. Inferno ended when Madelyne
killed herself in X-Factor #38 (who then fled as a psychic presence into
Jean's mind, only to be expelled forever in X-Factor #50, but that's a
minor subplot). The real Madelyne is dead.
Meanwhile Rachel had ended up over in Excalibur, after becoming the new
Phoenix in UXM #199. She remained so until the Adventures of Cyclops
and Phoenix limited series, when the Phoenix left Rachel for an unnamed
better host. This is a few centuries into the future, however. This
mini, by the way, is when Jean took on the name Phoenix at Rachel's
request. Hard as it is to believe, it's the first time Jean Grey ever
used the name. Rachel showed up in a few issues of Cable, where Nathan
rescued her. In the grand tradition of X-women who survive horrible
events, she decided not to rejoin one of the teams, but instead to go
to college. Of course, one can't be called Phoenix without the Phoenix
force taking notice of it, and in UXM #128, Professor Xavier speaks to
the Phoenix Force as it possesses Jean Grey. Currently, it looks like
the Phoenix is an entity which possesses Jean and ramps up her powers,
which is somewhat consistent with the spirit of previous stories.
Xavier's description of the Phoenix as part of Shi'ar mythology works
well enough--that's basically how the Phoenix Force was presented back
in the Dark Phoenix Saga twenty years ago.
This still leaves us to deal with the Madelyne who appeared in X-Man.
At first, readers thought the Madelyne running around in X-Man was a
construct; Nate Grey apparently created her in X-Man #5 out of her
memories floating around in the ether (X-Man #25). At that time, Nate
tried to un-create her and found he couldn't do it. In the Counter-X
issues of X-Man, Nate eventually found out that the "construct" theory
was a ruse. Evil Queen Madelyne was actually an alternate reality
version of Phoenix (Jean Grey). Writer Steven Grant said that Queen
Madelyne wanted to fool Nate, so in order to make the ruse work she
hypnotized herself into being Madelyne Pryor. Of course, this
information still can't explain the ghostly Madelyne that appeared in
Cable #76. Some readers figure that Queen Madelyne herself tapped into
Madelyne's memories floating around in the ether, which might explain
the psionic connection in the issue of Cable. While it's first said by
Queen Madelyne that she *replaced* Madelyne Pryor "several months ago"
(which some readers though may have occurred during the six month gap),
a later issue suggests that the Madelyne Pryor appearing in X-Man had
been Queen Madelyne all along.
So, as it currently stands, barring any future retcons, the relationship
is as follows:
* Phoenix: A really bored cosmic force who currently lends its powers
to an unknown individual.
* Jean Grey: A telepathic and telekinetic young woman who never had
the Phoenix Force, but now calls herself Phoenix.
* Madelyne Pryor: A clone of Jean Grey who had a portion of the
Phoenix force, became the Goblyn Queen, and was killed by Jean.
* Rachel Summers: An alternate-reality daughter of Phoenix, who has
gone into plot limbo.
* Queen Madelyne: An evil, alternate-reality Jean Grey who tranced
herself (and Nate Grey) into thinking she was Madelyne.
And then Ken Arromdee chirps up, saying "You need to mention Excalibur
#52 here." Paul O'Brien is of substantial help at this juncture. You
see, Excalibur #52 does not help matters. While it was supposed to clear
up Rachel's relationship to the Phoenix, in many ways it complicated it
further. This issue consists of the Phoenix telling its story to Xavier,
Jean Grey and Excalibur as Rachel was lying in a coma. Unfortunately,
the story the Phoenix told did not jibe with what had come before. In
Rachel's timeline, the X-Men never met Phoenix. Jean Grey was killed in
a nuclear explosion in Pittsburgh. Any differing stories would be
"memory implants". That was according to writer Alan Davis. Sadly, that
contradicts all of Claremont's stories that clearly had Phoenix as
Rachel's mother. Phoenix: The Untold Story was published to set up
Rachel's past. In fact, that was the whole point of Rachel's part in UXM
#199: claiming the legacy of her mother. Phoenix:TUS, by the way, is UXM
#137 with the original ending.
Rachel's memories were not messed up until Excalibur; she didn't have
that problem during her stint with the X-Men. Mojo was more likely a
cause, as Longshot went through similar difficulties. Another sticky
point was the nuclear bomb. Odds are good Kate Pryde would have
But why would a celestial avatar lie?
Apparently it did, as Phoenix admitted to manipulating Rachel in later
issues. But why? This issue only gets messier. At this point, since we
now have all of the possible reference contradicting themselves, this
neutral researcher says "to hell with it" and closes the subject.