When the X-Men were first introduced in 1963, they were proclaimed as the strangest teenagers of all. In the Marvel Universe, there exist mutants, humans who are inexplicably born with an X-gene that give them incredible powers or strange traits (usually manifesting during puberty). Led by Professor Charles Xavier, the X-Men were both a team of heroes and his students. And one of the founding members of the team was a girl that had technically been Xavier's first mutant pupil: Jean Grey, a mutant with telepathic and telekinetic gifts.
Originally known as Marvel Girl, Jean served with the team for many years. Later, she became more powerful as the hero Phoenix. She seemingly met a tragic end, then resurfaced incredibly some time later. After more years of working with the X-Men and fighting for mutant rights, as well as to protect the Earth that feared and hated her kind, she met her end during an epic battle in New York. Since then, Jean has been mourned but not forgotten. And she's certainly had her share of strange and unusual outfits over her life. So let's take a look, eh?
As usual, we will be focusing on Jean's history in the mainstream Marvel Comic universe rather than dipping into parallel universes such as "Age of Apocalypse" or Ultimate Marvel. Otherwise this would be a novel rather than a column.
FROM MARVEL GIRL TO PHOENIX
During the first several years Jean Grey worked with the X-Men, she wore variations of their standard uniform. These uniforms were discussed in a previous Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. piece, so just follow the fun <a href=http://blog.newsarama.com/2011/05/20/agent-of-s-t-y-l-e-the-real-x-men-first-class/>Agent of STYLE: X-Men First Class</a> and read for yourself. On the whole, these "Marvel Girl" uniforms didn't do much for Jean, except for a green dress and gold mask she put together that she looked pretty great wearing (although some artists made the dress so short that it was ridiculous). It might not have been the most practical of fighting outfits, but man did she look good. And the combination of green and gold is one she would rock again years later.
In the mid-1970s, Marvel relaunched the X-Men after the book had been defunct for years. They brought in a brand new team of international heroes, such as Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Banshee and others. The old team, with the exception of Scott Summers AKA Cyclops, all left. But Jean was still dating Scott so she'd see the team on occasion. During a Christmas outing into Manhattan, the mutant heroes were attacked and circumstances wound up putting them in outer space fighting some nasty killer robots (as happens during the holiday season). To get everyone back to Earth safely, Jean had to pilot a space shuttle through some nasty and fatal levels of radiation. Although the other X-Men were safely shielded, Jean was not and it seemed that she would die before the shuttle landed. But moments after the team crashed into the waters of Jamaica Bay, Jean flew out of the shuttle with a new costume and a firebird aura around her, proclaiming that she was now Phoenix.
So in 1977, Jean Grey went from being the not terribly formidable Marvel Girl to being the most powerful member of the team. She had been imbued with a cosmic force and now all her powers were enhanced to incredible degrees. Whereas before she could, at most, knock out a few people with some telekinetic blasts, she could now telekinetically rearrange the molecules of her clothing so that she could instant change any outfit into any other outfit and then back again. Now a powerful and more confident character, it makes sense that Jean's Phoenix outfit makes her look rather authoritative. The sash has a military feel to it, but the gold coloring, along with the gold metallic thigh-high boots and long gloves, makes her seem regal rather than like a soldier.
The costume is sleek and simple but very eye-catching and still works today, over 30 years later. The Phoenix symbol on her chest and the tiny phoenix clasp on her sash are nice and small enough that they don't distract from each other or seem repetitive (it also helps that they're not directly in line with one another).
Originally, this costume was going to be white and gold but at this point in time it was a good idea never to make a character's costume white because then readers could see through the comic book page and see text and scenes on the other side.
THE DARK PHOENIX
One of the X-Men's earliest enemies was a mutant criminal called Mastermind, whose power was to create illusions that were often indistinguishable from reality. To prove how powerful he was, and have some fun along the way, Mastermind began manipulating Jean's memories, implanting new ones that, as a result, warped her personality. Jean's new persona became selfish and ruthless, someone who took joy in having others under her power.
Now transformed, Jean Grey joined Mastermind as a member of the Hellfire Club, becoming its Black Queen (all members of the club's inner circle took the rank of a chess piece). In keeping with the style of the group, and emulating Hellfire Club member Emma Frost (its White Queen at the time), she wore an outfit that made her resemble a dominatrix. This is an indication of how much comics have changed. These days, I would expect most artists to have the corset not fully tied and for Jean to be practically popping out of the thing while wearing panties that left almost nothing to the imagination. But as these old pictures display, she's sexy and sexual, yes, but it's just avoiding being vulgar. And it suited her new persona.
Jean broke free of Mastermind's control, but the damage was done. Whether it was her own inherent and repressed passions finally finding release or whether it was because the Phoenix force decided it rather liked the taste of being a conqueror instead of a protector, Jean went nuts. She was obsessed with more power now and treated her X-Men teammates like playthings that were solely useful for amusement. She was now Dark Phoenix and her costume altered in two subtle ways. The green became black (with red coloring to show highlights and give it texture) and the chest symbol became several times larger, no longer confined in black borders. This is enough to tell you Jean has a new personality and the larger symbol implies that the Phoenix powers are now overwhelming her. Very effective.
Later, Jean gained control of herself long enough to put an end to matters. Telling Cyclops that her power was too great a threat to risk unleashing again and that she couldn't be trusted to repress her dark side, Jean destroyed herself rather than ever take a life again.
In a story the followed this up, we saw Jean in a spirit plane and she learned that the different colors of her costume were not merely cosmetic changes but that they signified different states of being for her, as they had for other people who had wielded the Phoenix force in the past. Green had been her role of protector, black (or red) was the destroyer. And now on this spiritual plane, she wore an all-white version of the outfit. This white Phoenix costume would be seen again decades later at the end of Grant Morrison's run as writer of
MARVEL GIRL RETURNS
A few years later, Marvel decided to have the original X-Men reunite and form a new team called X-Factor. Rather than let a little thing like being dead keep Jean from joining in the fun, they brought her back. The initial explanation was that Jean had never been Phoenix but had actually been replaced by a cosmic entity that had acted and looked like her. Years later, it was said instead that Jean had indeed been Phoenix. When she had accepted the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force, her body had already been ravaged by radiation. Thus, a new, healthy body was created for her to inhabit, allowing her original form time to heal. When Jean later destroyed herself, her consciousness returned to the original body, now free of the Phoenix's influence.
In any event, Jean was back and needed some new clothes. The X-Factor team operated in a strange way. Technically, it was one team acting as two teams. The public saw the group as X-Factor, a team of mutant-hunters who advertised that they could help people who feared that their neighbors or co-workers were mutants. In this guise, Jean wore a blue jumpsuit with some simple line work and an X-badge. But after collecting their fee and learning where these suspected mutants were hiding, Jean and the others would don superhero costumes and call themselves the X-Terminators, revealing that they were mutants too and were willing to provide a safe house for those who wanted or needed it. As the X-Terminator called Marvel Girl, Jean wore a gold and green jumpsuit decorated by an enormous X. It's not a bad costume, but maybe a little too simplistic.
Later, Jean changed the colors from green to red. It makes her stand out more, but the alteration to the gloves, boots and mask now make it seem a little bit like a skiing outfit.
During a brief stint with the X-Men again, Jean went to their standard gold and blue uniform. Again, check out our previous look at those uniforms to get a sense of it.
When she returned to the X-Factor team (who by this time were open about being a team of mutant heroes and no longer pretended to be humans who hunted them), Jean took the traditional X-Men colors and got a new design. And wow, we turned up the volume on this thing resembling a skiing outfit. The shoulder pads and the slight bagginess at the top just make this seem like sports apparel.
BACK IN THE X-MEN
In the 1990s, the X-books relaunched with new teams and a new status quo. X-Factor was reformed as a government funded mutant rescue team, led by Cyclops' brother Alex Summers AKA Havok. Jean, Cyclops and the other founders returned to the X-Men, which was now split into a Gold strike force and a Blue strike force. While Cyclops led the Blue team, Jean joined the Gold team led by Storm. Returning to the X-Men and the X-Mansion evidently required another change in wardrobe.
For many folks, this is the classic Jean Grey costume, since she also wore it during the popular X-Men cartoon series that aired during the 1990s. It's a very weird costume. The shoulder pads don't seem necessary, the belt is oddly thing considering it has no function other than to draw attention to her waist, and the head-piece means that Jean has no disguise of her identity (although that apparently wasn't a big concern for her since she stopped using a codename around this time). The blue/black section of it also gives a strange French cut impression down her crotch. It's not flattering and almost looks as if Jean wanted to wear a thong but then though better of it so she just painted a thong design onto a bodysuit. The padding down the thighs is also weird. Is that actually functional as protection? It doesn't seem to have any other purpose.
Another weakness of this outfit is its inconsistency. In some comics it was teal and orange. In some it was gold and blue. In some it was neon yellow and blue. In some it was gold and black with blue highlights. Some had the thigh padding colored different from the trousers, some didn't. Some comics added bands around Jean's arm, beneath the shoulders, some didn't. It was so generic, it's no wonder artists never agreed on its elements.
After wearing this for a few years, Jean went back to the green and gold original Phoenix costume and it definitely looked better on her. She also began using that codename again, even though she didn't have the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.
Starting in the year 2000, when the teams were reformed yet again, Jean got a new version of the Dark Phoenix suit. This was a deep red rather than black with red highlights. The phoenix symbol was now a separate layer that stretched over the shoulders. Along with this, we have knee pads and bandages around the arm that really seem unnecessary and a bit distracting.
And are those stiletto heels? I know Jean's supposed to be a bit short, but surely there are better shoes for someone going into combat. In fact, those boots are weird in general. The implied wing tips don't work.
MORRISON AND QUITELY RELAUNCH
In 2001, low sales and low interest haunted the X-books. Marvel decided the X-Men needed a shot in the arm to attract new readers and keep older ones interested. Writer Grant Morrison took over the title, renaming it and artist Frank Quitely joined him for the initial story arc. Since they hadn't acted as traditional superheroes for many years, focusing almost exclusively on mutant issues and threats to mutants, the team dropped the colorful costumes and wore outfits that seemed a mix between biker wear and fire fighter gear. As the X-Men went public with their identities soon afterward, they now explained themselves as a volunteer rescue force that was willing to help any mutant in need and was trained well enough to put down any mutant terrorist that threatened innocent lives. This outfits were also meant to more closely resemble the leather jumpsuits that the X-Men had worn in the recently-released, very popular live-action film.
As Morrison himself explained in his New X-Men manifesto, "The movie had it almost right: I think we should go for hardcore biker style exo-rubber uniforms, maybe military pants... A again. Youth culture looks are going uniform anyway. The look's brutalist and military and I think the X-Men should reflect that to stay on the cutting edge of cool. Long leather coats with a big X on the back as our heroes get smarter, prouder and louder."
I've always seen the X-Men as more of a counter-terrorist force than a club of superheroes like the Avengers, so this look definite works for me. Jean rocked out a few variations of this new uniform. She wore biker jackets with a large yellow X on them, she wore long leather dusters decorated by the X. She'd wear a black ribbed shirt that was decorated by a gold X medallion (the short sleeve version of which looked better on her, I think).
She also occasionally wore a Phoenix T-shirt with this new uniform. This was definitely a nice mix of the classic and new styles and let Jean maintain an identity of her own. As her Phoenix Force powers began returning at this time, the black leather provided a very nice contrast against the fiery raptor aura that would surround her.
Towards the end of Morrison's run, Jean met her end again and it seemed that this time there would be no real saving her. We did see a version of her that lived in a possible future and had succumbed to the Dark Phoenix persona again, this time sporting a new look. This is simple by very effective. Using a black firebird as her shirt may seem a bit revealing, but it actually works for the character and if she has cosmic powers and can telekinetically rearrange clothing, then I have no problem believing this was able to stay on her torso. At the end of this final story about a possible future, Jean was seen as a White Phoenix again and went off into a cosmic afterlife, joining those who had come before her.
Jean may be gone but she is not forgotten. Many stories have followed up that have teased about her and/or the Phoenix Force possibly returning. She has also continued to appear in cartoons and films since her death. Can you really kill a character who took her name from a mythical bird that resurrects? In any case, I hope you enjoyed this look at the first woman of the X-Men family. This is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.