Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jean Grey:Default Love Interest


As one of my first posts I talked about all the reasons I think Cyclops is awesome but it's virtually impossible to talk about Scott Summers without talking about his super heroic-other half, Jean Grey (sometimes Marvel Girl, sometimes Phoenix). Both characters have been with the X-Men since the very beginning, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were still pumping out superheroes in 1963 and their individual histories are so deeply entangled it's almost impossible to talk about one without talking about the other. This little number has been in my archive for awhile and I figured it was time to polish it up and trot it out. Please bear in mind that it is purely about personal opinion. This is important because...
            I don't like Jean Grey that much. Now I know she's got some fans and probably some haters as well but I don't fall into either camp. She's just not interesting to me  and she never has been. I've seen her in comics, in the movies, and in multiple television series. Each time I just pass right over her. Her stories typically eat up large portions of screen time yet always fail to grab me or make me care in the least bit about what happens to her.
            The only thing that keeps me from jumping full force into the "Jean Grey Haters" pool is this...I don't think it's really her fault. There are a number of reasons for this and I'll go into them below.
            See, Jean is your pretty standard, generic protagonist. First I want to lay something out. While she may be boring it is not because she's "too good" okay? Common misconception. She doesn't need a hardcore 90's style makeover to make her more "edgy" and modern. After all, the modern version of Emma Frost is really just a slightly bitchier version of Jean Grey and I find her even less interesting than the character she replaced. Jean Grey is boring because she has no personality, no defining character traits that separate her or make her unique from the rest of the team. A lot of people say Cyclops is boring but at least "uptight dick" gives you something to work with, you know? Unlikable as some readers may find him Cyclops has a personality that can be bounced off other characters to create tension or humor.
Wolverine's got a tortured past and a temper problem. Gambit has a tortured past but he's charming and roguish, Nightcrawler is fun loving and adventurous, Beast is smart but he's got the whole covered in blue fur thing working against him. Jean Grey has nothing. I tried to come up with a list to describe Jean Grey's personality and it goes like this:

1. Nice to people.
2. has Red Hair
3. Is a girl.

See? I think # 3 really sums it up, though. I've read and watched interviews with Stan Lee where he's talking about how he created the X-Men and when Marvel Girl comes up says he'd forget the character’s name or what her powers were when he had to write her. She was added in because it was decided that the team needed a woman on it to fill out the roster. She was just your stock female character armed with the bland, inoffensive personality most 1950's female characters were saddled  with. Jean Grey was just "The Team Girl." Now comics at this time were aimed at a much younger audience made up mostly of boys. Most characters, especially female, were pretty one-note so Jean's circumstance weren't particularly remarkable. However, the medium as a whole matured slowly over the years, the X-Men in particular. The characters and subject matter became more complicated, the storylines more structured as the audience they were marketed towards got older...but Jean Grey stayed the same. In the past she had a hint of the feisty, flirtatious contrast to her then boyfriend Scott's more uptight and withdrawn personality, but as time has gone by other characters have come into the field who have filled that role and did it better than she did. Rogue, Psylocke, and Emma Frost spring to mind.

            Now, some may argue and say," Maybe she started out like that but what about Phoenix?" See Chris Claremont was the man who first redefined the X-Men in the 1970's, overhauling the roster and playing with the themes after the books popularity had been steadily flagging for several years. He reinvigorated the series and many of the storylines that he introduced make up the backbone of what fans consider X-Men canon. Under Claremont, Jean Grey became "The Phoenix," gaining a significant power boost and a new costume to go with her name. Over time the "Phoenix Force" proved to be a potentially malevolent and destructive entity, a personality separate from Jean Grey's. This created tension in the character as she struggled to restrain the violent impulses of the cosmic being living inside her mind. At the same time the famous love triangle was introduced between Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Cyclops, cranking up the tension in her personal life. Later on Jean got brainwashed, became evil, killed an entire planet, died and then came back to life. These are the acts that have come to define the character of Jean Grey in modern comics and other adaptations.
            That’s pretty dramatic right? Lots of emotion and intrigue in those storylines. So maybe Jean Grey isn't boring after all right?

Drama!
           Nope. Don't get me wrong, those storylines are awesome...but Jean Grey as a character is still boring. I think Jean Grey is a character that stuff happens to. People fall in love with her. Evil cosmic beings take over her body. People she loves get killed. Things happen to her and she reacts and it's good for a couple storylines but in the end the issue gets resolved and then there's nothing left for the character to fall back on. She is affected and influenced by the stories of those around her but she has no core of her own. She's just there, hanging around the X-Mansion. Being pretty.
            Why do you think the same "stuff" keeps happening to her? She keeps losing the Phoenix Force, she keeps getting it back. She keeps dying. She's been bouncing back and forth between Cyclops and Wolverine for the last three decades, never really figuring out who she "truly loves" despite marrying and having a kid with one half of the love triangle(one third?) ages ago. The character has been stuck on repeat ever since the Dark Phoenix Saga in 1970. Writers can't figure out how to tell new stories with the Jean so they either rehash the same ones...or just KILL HER. I've watched her in the X-Men movies, I've watched her in X-Men The Animate Series, X-Men Evolution, and Wolverine and the X-Men. In each example I can't for the life of me care about the characters struggles or conflicts because I've seen this story a hundred times before! I know how it ends.
            Now it looks like Marvel is gearing up for a return of Jean Grey, after leaving her dead for a surprisingly long time. Despite this rant and my generally low opinion of the current X-Men titles I'm actually kind of excited for this. Maybe this will be the year someone finally writes a story that makes me care about Jean Grey. The lady just needs someone who really cares about her, y' know? :)
After all, I've always been of the opinion that any character can be interesting in the hands of a talented writer. Any character that is...except for Longshot.
Longshot can never be cool.

 So what do you guys think? What are your opinions of Jean Grey? Have I enraged anyone with my completely inaccurate analysis of the character?

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