The last time Scott Summers saw his ex-wife Jean Grey alive, she’d managed to fulfill her destiny of becoming the White Phoenix of the Crown, a nearly perfect version of the normally destructive cosmic firebird. This latest version of the Phoenix retained its sanity and had the potential to become one of the greatest forces of good in the galaxy.
As is often the case with Jean and the Phoenix, complications soon followed. Not long after she’d come into her full potential (and a snazzy new white costume), the Phoenix Force was apparently ripped out of its home in a place called the White Hot Room. It was then pulled back to earth to reanimate Jean’s corpse. The entire affair—told in 2005 miniseries Phoenix: Endsong—was very ridiculous and incredibly traumatic for both Jean and the Phoenix. The latter being was so rocked by experience that it was left shattered. With a tearful goodbye, Scott encouraged Jean to leave the planet once again to find all of the disparate pieces of the Phoenix that’d been presumably flung out into the far reaches of space.
In this week’s Jean Grey #8—written by Dennis Hopeless with illustrations from Victor Ibanez and Mike Mayhew—that long forgotten bit of lore about Jean needing to find her puzzle pieces makes an interesting return. The issue unfolds in an appropriately weird adventure that takes Jean deep into the mind of one of her greatest enemies of all time: Emma Frost.
There are few moments in X-Men history that are quite as scandalous as the time that Jean discovered Cyclops and Emma Frost having a psychic affair with one another. It’s wild enough to imagine that anyone would dare sneak behind Jean’s back to have mindsex with another telepath, but it’s that much more juicy when you remember that Emma had the nerve to dress up in Jean’s Dark Phoenix costume while she did it.
Drama like that is the sort of madness than Teen Jean Grey (transported from the past) has grown weary of “hearing” about from her fellow X-Men’s stray thoughts as she’s come into her own as a mutant. Teen Jean’s made her peace with the fact that her future self lived a decidedly messy life and, as Jean Grey’s been playing out over the past few issues, she’s come to accept the fact that the Phoenix is coming back for her and it’s bringing all of its baggage along for the ride.
Through some means of Phoenix-ing that’s yet to be fully explained, the Adult Jean has been psychically haunting Jean and forcing her to confront the fact that she and her teen self aren’t really all that different. Rather than owning that fact, Teen Jean’s spent her time stubbornly ignoring her spectral self’s advice, something Adult Jean finally puts her foot down about this week. The more Teen Jean runs from the ugly parts of their past/future, Adult Jean warns, the more susceptible she’ll be the Phoenix’s corruption. So, Adult Jean does the most sensible thing imaginable and tosses her teen self into Emma Frost’s mind for a bit of self-discovery.
Somewhere within Emma’s psyche, there’s crucial information that the Jeans need to prepare for the Phoenix, but in true Inception-style, Emma’s mind is immediately hostile to Jean. As Jean tries to skulk around Emma’s memories of when she and Scott first began their affair, projections of other X-students gradually pick up on the psychic intruder and attempt to expel her. In the same way that one of the more recent issues of X-Men: Gold felt like a stinging reminder of how great X-Men stories used to be, this issue of Jean Grey is a playful reminder of what a trainwreck the X-Men could be during the early aughts.
The more Jean tries to blend in with Emma’s mind, the more vicious her psychic projections become and Adult Jean tells Teen Jean directly that she can’t keep avoiding the one memory that Emma clearly wants to keep away from her. Forced to either witness her future husband cheating on her or being obliterated by a psychic Sentinel, Jean eventual stumbles upon Emma and Scott and is at first unsure as to why Emma would go to such lengths to hide that particular moment from her considering that Scott’s infidelity is pretty much an open secret.
What the Jeans soon realize, though, is that the memory of Emma and Scott’s tryst isn’t just a memory. It also serves a safe of some sort that Emma’s been hiding a fragment of the Phoenix inside of presumably since she herself was possessed by it during Avengers vs. X-Men. Even though the Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers were supposed to have warped the Phoenix out of existence, at least one splinter of it has been trapped within Emma Frost for this entire time, something that makes absolutely no sense.
Strangely enough, though, there’s an odd sort of poetry to Jean’s discovery. These memories exist as a pivotal moment in Adult Jean’s life, revisited during Teen Jean’s quest to break the Phoenix’s ongoing cycle of rebirth and descent into madness. As much fun as Jean Grey’s been as a series, there are also very subtle undertones of shame and understandable regret as Teen Jean takes stock of her future/past. For all of her attempts and putting space between her and her adult self, she can’t outrun or ignore Adult Jean’s pain because, in a way, it’s her own pain as well.