Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jean Graves

Jean Grey! You 'n' me know her as Marvel Girl, Phoenix, Dark Phoenix, Phoenix with Caramel, Mrs. Summers, and Ol' Deady. Yup! Jean's dead. (That's what I said.) As fanboys we must aver, we thoroughly examined her, and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead. (We poked her with a stick to be sure.) But there's still some mysteries about The Divine Ms. G. F'rinstance: what year did she die?

UXM #138
from [Uncanny] X-Men #138 (October 1980), co-plot and script by Chris Claremont, co-plot and pencils by John Byrne, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski

Oh. Well, that settles that.

But, y'know, that actually asks more questions than it answers. Aside from a few exceptions (Jean and Adam WarRock Warlock aside)...

MTIO #63
from Marvel Two-in-One #63 (May 1980), script by Mark Gruenwald, pencils by Jerry Bingham, inks by Gene Day, colors by Roger Slifer, letters by Joe Rosen

...it's seldom that comic books put a true date on a contemporary tombstone, to avoid locking that character's death into a specific time period. After all, with the Marvel timeline passing by at approximately .33 Franklin-Richard-birthdays for each decade in our world, you could argue that Jean Grey died before the FF stole a rocket ship. And that would be insane, man, insane! Why, there's an entire wing in Arkham Asylum devoted to those who have attempted to perceive Earth-616 time! That way lies madness!

It's much more likely that the dates of birth and death be visually obscured or faded, or hidden by some moss, or Howard the Duck is standing in front of it...they've used every trick in the book. Why, they even resorted to the visual jackanapes of placing Gwen Stacy right in front of her own gravestone to divert us from the realization that she is buried in the same cemetery as Conan the Barbarian!

ASM #149
from Amazing Spider-Man (October 1975), script by Gerry Conway, pencils by Ross Andru, inks by Mike Esposito, colors by Janice Cohen, letters by Annette Kawecki

So we now know that Jean Clytaemnestra Grey died in 1980, age 24. That was, of course, the American Jean Grey. The Brazilian Jean Grey was born and died five years later, and, according to the research I've done online about Brazilian Jean Grey, had some kind of special wax or something. Huh. I dunno what that is. Maybe that's why she was so good at skating.

Superaventuras Marvel
from Superaventuras Marvel #34 (1985)

Next time Jean's tombstone appears, in Bizarre Adventures #27, it's a slightly different shape, but the years are still mostly visible, albeit re-chiseled to align on top of each other. Don't know why they bothered, but hey, gotta keep the intricate economy of the Annandale-on-Hudson Tombstone Carvers Guild running, I guess.

Bizarre Adventures #27
from Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by John Buscema, inks by Klaus Janson, letters by Janice Chiang

Later, some leaves fall down to obscure the dates and keep Scott Summers from remembering that he's fifty-eight years old:

X-Men/Alpha Flight #1
from X-Men/Alpha Flight v.2 #1 (May 1998), script by Ben Raab; script, pencils, and inks by John Cassaday; colors by Jason Wright; letters by Michael Heisler

And some flowers help him alleviate not only his guilt that he's marrying Jean's identical evil twin demonic murderous clone, but also to obscure the years and the fact that it's an entirely different gravestone. Somewhere, some of those witty Shakespearean gravekeepers are giggling uncontrollably at their wacky practical jokes.

UXM #175
from Uncanny X-Men #175 (November 1983), script by Chris Claremont, breakdowns by John Romita Jr., finishes by Bob Wiacek, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski

Yup: most visited gravesite at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. They sell postcards of it at the campus bookstore! How popular is it? It's so popular that Jean Grey herself visits it. Hoo boy, that's pretty cool! It's like going to see Iron Man 2 and sitting behind Don Cheadle! Except Don Cheadle won't bring you flowers. (Also; he will not sing you love songs.)

X-Factor Annual #5
from X-Factor Annual #5 (1990), script by Peter David, pencils by Dave Ross, inks by Geof Isherwood, colors by Nel Yomtov, letters by Joe Rosen

Then, Cyclops's first wife, Jean's identical evil twin demonic murderous clone, blows it up. Kablooey! She blowed it up real good! That's okay—it now looks absolutely different and the dates have disappeared completely.

UXM #240
from Uncanny X-Men #240 (January 1989), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Dan Green, colors by Glynis Oliver, letters by Tom Orzechowski

But, that's okay, 'coz Jean ain't in her grave. (See also: Jean Grey visiting her own grave, above.) Now, here's the funny story (inhale), it wasn't really Jean who died but actually the Phoenix Force taking Jean's physical form and then burying Jean in suspended animation inside a capsule under the Hudson River thus invalidating all the emotion we invested in those early Cockrum and Byrne stories where we all thought Jean was pretty neat and the most interesting she'd been in the series since the time she was a swimsuit model after Professor X died and the X-Men broke up (whew!). See?

Avengers #263
from Avengers #263 (January 1986), script by Roger Stern, breakdowns by John Buscema, finishes by Tom Palmer, colors by Christie Scheele, letters by Jim Novak

What's that, you ask? Well, it looks like Captain Marvel (the glowy one, not the "Shazam!" one) underwater stalking a fish with Kirby Krackle gas (serves him right for eating the Ultimate Nullifer!). Also, there is a mysterious pod.

Long-time Marvelites will note that pod looks uncannily like the ones Jack Kirby drew in the mid-60s Fantastic Fours, cocoons from which "Him" (later, Adam WarRock...shoot, did it again. Warlock) and "Her" (aka Kismet) and "It" (Tony Danza) were hatched. Spooky, cool, intriguing tie-in to an important part of Marvel history, you say? Sure. Until we find out that the mysterious crunchy coating that looked like the cocoon was just a rotted old mattress wrapped around a cylindrical capsule. Way to puncture your own sense of wonder and amazement, Marvel! Next thing you'll be telling us is that Rocket Raccoon is a rabid squirrel and Man-Thing is a pile of old leaf cuttings!

Avengers #263

Hey, ya know what? Jean Grey's in there! How do I know? Because, just like her gravestone, the capsule changes shape when the story continues in that month's Fantastic Four. Looks like John Byrne missed the weekly meeting, huh?

FF #286
from Fantastic Four #286 (January 1986), script by John Byrne and Chris Claremont, pencils by John Byrne and Jackson Guice, inks by Terry Austin and Jackson Guice, colors by Glynis Oliver, letters by John Workman

Well, there ya go: thanks to a conveniently psionic infodump, we find out that Jean Grey, lazy girl, has been snoozing away at the bottom of the Hudson while the events of Uncanny X-Men #101-200 have passed by up above her—and she didn't even get to do her Little Mermaid longing song. Why, she hasn't even met Kitty Pryde yet!

FF #286

Even still much later, Jean gets to visit the former site of her former gravestone destroyed by her identical evil twin demonic murderous clone, where she hangs out with Cable's spaceship in the form of a man. Hey, it's X-Men! You can sum this stuff up but you'll never believe that you're actually saying it! "Widget was the merging of a Sentinel and Kitty Pryde from Earth-811!" See what I mean?

X-Men Forever #1
from X-Men Forever V.1 #1 (January 2001), script by Fabian Nicieza, pencils by Kevin Maguire, inks by Andrew Pepoy, colors by Paul Mounts, letters by Richard Starkings and Saida Temofonte

Anyway, then Jean Grey was killed again by Magneto Xorn Xorn II Magneto Grant Morrison, and she got a new tombstone. When I say "new," I mean "obviously Cyclops got a good deal on the pre-cracked marble at Marble World on Route 58 and Sunrise Highway." No dates on this one. Just a lotta leaves and some kids carelessly setting off fireworks around her tomb. Scary? Not as scary as the announcement that Chuck Austen is the scripter!

New X-Men #156
from New X-Men #156 (June 2004), script by Chuck Austen, pencils by Salvador Larroca, inks by Danny Miki, colors by Udon Studio, letters by Rus Wooton

You can tell the X-Men are becoming a real franchise now because they have their own graveyard. Behind Jean's, I'm guessing that's maybe Colossus's tombstone. We can't see it in this panel, but it does say "In Soviet Russia, worms play pinochle on your snout!"

A different angle shows us not only a handful of additional gravestones (Thunderbird! Cypher! Psylocke! Revanche! Joseph! Maggott! And Jerry Mathers as the X-Beaver!), but also that Scott Summers is visiting his late wife's grave with a midget in a polar bear costume.

New X-Men #154
from New X-Men #154 (May 2004), script by Grant Morrison, pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Joe Weems, colors by Steve Firchow, Beth Sotelo, John Starr, and Brian Buccellato, letters by Rus Wooton

Later on, while also simultaneously being 150 years ago, we see...(counting on my hooves) approximately 101 Ex-X-Men are buried behind the School for Gifted Youngsters (really, you gotta wonder why the parents keep paying the dang tuition). But hey, they also have a weeping angel back there. Do not take your eyes off it! DO NOT STOP LOOKING AT IT!

New X-Men #151
from New X-Men #151 (March 2004), script by Grant Morrison, pencils by Marc Silvestri, inks by Batt, Joe Weems, Billy Tan, and Eric Basaloua, colors by Steve Firchow, letters by Rus Wooton
(Click picture to Fred Dukes-size)

Like her previous tombstone, Jean's Tombstone II: the Tombstonining seems to possess the powers to transform its appearance—here it gains some filigree on the sides and the typography is re-arranged on different levels. Also, Domino is violating it. That wacky Domino! She cracks me up!

UXM #511
from Uncanny X-Men #511 (August 2009), script by Matt Fraction, tracings from Victoria's Secret catalogue pencils by Greg Land, inks by Jay Leisten, colors by Justin Ponsor, letters by Joe Caramagna

And it's different again in the future when Zombie Jean Grey visits, coming in from the downstairs entrance. Hmmm, that gravestone must have an image inducer. Or...wait a minute...it's a Skrull! Jean Grey's tombstone is a stinking dirty Skrull!!!

X-Men Phoenix Endsong
from X-Men: Phoenix: Endsong #1 (March 2005), script by Greg Pak, pencils by Greg Land, inks by Matt Ryan, colors by Justin Ponsor, letters by Clem Robins

And it's completely different again in...oh wait, no, actually I can make a good argument for this one (lower left-hand corner in the below sequence) being a completely different tombstone. It's got to be the Grey family plot in Annandale. Why does Jean have two different gravestones? I'd imagine her parents got sick and tired of having to wait behind bawling Wolverine every time they wanted to visit her grave. Well, she's in good company: this cemetery is chock full of the Grey family, dozens of them, every single member of the family, in fact, murdered en masse by the Shi'ar Death Commandos. All because several years ago Jean threw out her applications to Yale and Harvard and went instead to Xavier's. Way to go, Jean.

UXM #468
from Uncanny X-Men #468 (March 2006), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Chris Bachalo, inks by Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba, Norm Rapmund, Tim Townsend, Al Vey, and Sean Parsons, colors by Studio F, letters by Joe Caramagna

Jean, lucky corpse that she is, also has a monument to her closer to the house on the X-Mansion lawns. Pretty impressive, huh? There's also a wing of the mansion named after her, and on Thursday nights Storm serves up the always-popular "Jean Grey Melt," a delicious hot sandwich of prosciutto and three kinds of cheese. When Thunderbird's parents visit, they get to go see the John Proudstar Memorial Black-and-White Television in Wolverine's room, which is constantly playing F Troop. Mr. and Mrs. Proudstar really hate the X-Men.

UXM #460
from Uncanny X-Men #460 (August 2005), script by Chris Claremont, pencils by Tom Raney, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Gina Going, letters by Gina Going

Movie Jean Grey has a grave, too! It's just like the comic book ones, but it's hotter because Famke Janssen is in it. Famke Janssen! Famke Janssen! I don't have a joke here; I just like saying Famke Janssen!

X-Men The Last Stand
from X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), directed by Brett Ratner

So, that's pretty much the whole story of Jean Grey's tombstones. And, as we saw when we started out, it solved the mystery posed by X-Men #138: what year did Jean Grey die? Still, one baffling mystery still remains from UXM #138...

What the heck does Kitty's Bedazzler'd t-shirt say???

UXM #138

So, now that you've seen The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves The Many Graves of Jean Grey, what do you think would be appropriate to chisel upon it? Well, if I were writing the X-Men, I think it would go...something like this...

Jean Grey BRB


Ron Hogan said...

My best guess is the word on Kitty's top is something that would have lost them the Comics Code seal of approval if we'd seen the first & the fifth letters.

raphaeladidas said...

Like Ron said. I figured that one out when the comic originally came out when I was 10.

Brian Smith said...

Having never read X-Men #138 (I have a lot of catching up to do), I'm curious: Why does Kitty get the "Her name, as you may have guessed" introduction? Nobody else got that, did they? "His name, as you may have guessed, is Warren Worthington III"? "His name, as you may have guessed, is Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin"?

And I hope I never forget being an eighth-grader reading Avengers #263 in the gym when pal John Wagner glanced over my shoulder, saw the ending and freaked out; he was the only one of my friends who'd been reading comics long enough to know who the heck Jean Grey was.

Kid Kyoto said...

Another great bit of research! Do Jason Todd next!

SallyP said...

Ok, I have to admit that I completely lost it when I reached the comment about F-Troop. And hey, according to her FIRST tombstone, I'm actually younger than Jean! And I'm Old!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant stuff, lot of work, great laugh

Dave said...

Shouldn't that be "In Soviet Union, you play pinochle on worms' snout"?

Jason Michelitch said...

If anyone is interested, Kevin Maguire in X-Men Forever #1 wins for Least Accurate Depiction of the cemetery at Bard College. I don't know where that gigantic guardrail came from, or what it's guarding against. The cemetery is super tiny, on a little hill, completely surrounded by trees, with a crooked little path running through it. I used to cut through it to get to the dining hall. Takes about 30 seconds to get from one side to another.

Jason said...

'Why does Kitty get the "Her name, as you may have guessed" introduction?'

She'd already appeared in three issues of Uncanny before this one. Also, earlier in this issue, when Scott is recapping the X-Men's history up to that point, he mentions that the X-Men recently met a spunky new mutant named Kitty Pryde.

This is great, Bully! Question: The scene with Jean visiting her own grave ("It's tragic when ANYONE passes away"), should that be X-Factor ANNUAL #5?

Brian Smith said...

Thanks, Jason! That was legitimately confusing me, and I was hoping someone would answer.

And looking at that panel from FF #286, I'm reminded how weird I thought it was when Jean said, "The FF wears BLUE uniforms -- not BLACK!" I mean, I know about blue highlights NOW, but what color was a 13-year-old boy supposed to think those outfits were?

Jason said...

Byrne liked to throw in "lessons" to his comics. His online forum is revelatory when it comes to this. Compliment him on any given scene he wrote from the 80s, and you have a solid chance that he'll say, "That was in response to a letter we got where people didn't understand such and such, so I used this scene to explain it."

Byrethink = "How can people fail to realize that the costumes that are colored blue are NOT colored blue? Must make this clear in some forced dialogue!"

Thus Jean's brilliant logic that the FF are impostors because they have new costumes. After all, superheroes NEVER get new costumes. :)

Bully said...

Ron and Raphael: I know that's what it looks likes, but geez, it's way out of character for (at teh time) good li'l Kitty, which is why I always thought it couldn't be. Then again, we do know that Byrne's sense of humor could be politically incorrect at times.

Dave: Indeed it should. I'm not very happy with that joke at all, but I couldn't figure out a way to make it work backwards. Then again, the worms get us all in the end wherever we are, hmmm?

Jason: That's fantastic! I find it very funny when comics artists get things so wrong visually. Then again, I'm sure they didn't always have reference material, and/or they were pressed for time, and/or the scene called for a more..."imaginative" idea of what the real area looks like. I still remember reading an early issue of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones and seeing Indy running through a London Underground tube tunnel...which was square. And the trains looked like New York City subway trains.

Jason: Whoops, it is indeed the X-Factor Annual. Corrected with my thanks, and you are hereby awarded the official Jean Grey Memorial No-Prize! (Don't tip it, it's got her ashes in it.)

And on the FF's new uniforms: I remember liking them but thinking, "Boy, I sure wouldn't wear those until I'd tested them to see how much radiation they soaked up when they changed." I guess we can assume Reed did test them and proclaim them safe in between issues, but when a few issues later Sue has a miscarriage, I was wondering if it was because she had been wearing a massively radiated leotard.

Jason's "Superheroes never getting new costumes" reminds me of the early days of X-Factor when no one realized that the X-Terminators (including a guy who shot red force beams, a guy with wings, and a guy covered in ice) were not the original X-Men. The Marvels: Eye of the Camera series played a bit with that, with Phil Sheldon looking at the photos and instantly recognizing them, and wondering if everyone else is an idiot because they are easily fooled by the new uniform.

One of these days, let me tell you how I woulda written the Spider-Man series after he returned from the Secret Wars with the black suit.