“Understanding war I do not harm myself.” – Alice Walker
After Dark Phoenix has destroyed a galaxy and appears too strong to control, the Shi’ar, a sort of United Nations for the universe, decides to put her to death. Prof. X, trying to save her, uses procedural grounds to call for a violent “Duel of Honor.”
Artworks by John Byrne, Terry Austin, Chris Claremont, and Glynis Wein:
(Click on the images if you wish to view them individually or larger.)
If the X-Men beat the crap out of the Universe’s strongest heroes, then Jean Grey’s life can be spared (and then I guess presumably she would have gone into some high-powered mental hospital/therapy program instead of being executed). It is a system designed to fail from the start, because the X-Men are no match against the strongest forces in the universe.
For reasons that I love, but that I still don’t fully understand, Jean Grey chooses to wear an old costume for the duel. She chooses an old persona, a previous self.
When Jean Grey loses mental control and turns once again toward being destructive, it occurs only after she sees that her team of X-Men, the people closest to her, have all been violently assaulted or knocked unconscious. Before seeing them in peril, she was so powerful that she probably could have kept anyone from destroying her. She is most weakened by seeing her loved ones in harm’s way. Fearing more violence against her loved ones, she irrationally decides to take her own life.
This story was devised in a comic book culture predominantly run and designed by men. So it’s interesting to also highlight that in the original Uncanny X-Men Phoenix saga, issue #137, at one point or another, ALL the men in Jean Grey’s life let her down. They all care about her, but at some point, each one of them is persuaded to use violence against her, even the men closest to her, including Cyclops, Wolverine, Prof. X (who gives the order) and Colossus (Angel and Nightcrawler don’t actually throw any blows, but they don’t protest or try to stop the other men’s violence either).
Most fans of the comic art are familiar with X-Men #137, pages 44 and 45 . In my opinion, they are two of the best drawn and composed pages ever. They were created by penciller John Byrne, inker Terry Austin, and colorist Glynis Wein. There are volumes of discussions as to the politics that led to the decision to have Jean Grey kill herself. If you do a web search for “X-Men Companion” Volumes I and II, those are two good book starting points (they can also be found on eBay from time to time. They are out of print.) It was primarily a bunch of men, with all their perceptions of women’s roles and duties, trying to decide the fate of one woman.
It should be noted that in the last moments of crisis, all the men close to Jean struggle with their decision to use violence against her. Cyclops realizes the errors of his thinking and concedes the mistakes he has made. He does everything he can to try and convince her to stay alive. But in her depressive thinking patterns and depressed state, she cannot reason clearly and she takes her own life. She silences her creative abilities.
You will find I censor very little on this blog, because I intentionally hope this discussion touches on rarely discussed & important, real issues. But I choose not to show images of suicide, even costumed superhero suicide, for personal reasons. But I think it is important to communicate suicide’s indicators, the cultural thought processes that can lead to suicide’s increased risks, and suicide’s reprocussions. The struggle with suicide is at the core of the original Uncanny X-Men’s Phoenix saga.
In summary, Phoenix plans her own death and weakens herself so that an external weapon can kill her. Her unreasonable rationales are based on her incorrect belief that there is no answer to the conflicts she faces. And ironically, as in real life suicidal reasoning, her perceptions of love for others are a key root of her self-harming rationales. There is no question she loves with all her heart. There is no question she would die to protect others. Everyone around her can see the incredible good and capacity for good in her. The tragedy is that for any number of complex and self-conceptual reasons, she does not fully see the good in herself and she does not see how certain things could adapt or change. And she incorrectly believes her death will make things better for others. She does not understand that the unwarranted death of a loved one never ends. It never simplifies. It never resolves. The family and friends and their children and significant others struggle with it for the rest of their lives.
This post series is called Phoenix Rising because it is focused on rebirth, recovery, and renewal. THE MOST BEAUTIFUL artists and friends I’ve known have on occassion been suicidal. I personally believe this is because they are so sensitive, empathetic, and intelligent. They are so good in so many ways. And if I could discourage stereotypes and misperceptions about suicide, I would say this: Never presume that someone who is suicidal or who has commited suicide was of less value, beauty, intellect, potential or character than anyone else. Never presume they were not loved tremendously by their friends and family. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Discover what was beautiful in them, and remember and discuss those infinitely good things. Don’t be silent. Never forget the good that blossomed in them. Phoenix can rise again from many good sources. Changing personal perceptions and cognitive structures can enable that rebirth more than any superpower ever could.
© All rights reserved for all the images in this post series by Marvel.
Honor those who have passed, regardless of how they passed. Always cherish and remember.
“Understanding war I do not harm myself.” – Alice Walker
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