This month sees the return of the original Jean Grey—not a clone, not a woman from another universe, not a time-displaced teenager—to the pages of Marvel Comics after nearly fifteen years. It’s been a long wait for fans of the original X-Woman, but as excitement mounts for Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey and we see more and more preview pics of Jean’s new costume in X-Men: Red, I thought I’d look back at her most classic looks, ranking them from threat to mutantkind (worst) to White Hot (best). For simplicity’s sake I’m only looking at the costumes of the adult Jean, so apologies to fans of whatever the hell this was from Age of Apocalypse.
10. Black Queen
We begin with the Black Queen, the “Slave Leia” of Jean’s costumes. She wore this scant outfit for a scant three issues, but the Diana Rigg-inspired Black Queen has been immortalized in statues, a slightly less scandalous action figure, countless comic convention pinups, and even made it onscreen with few changes in the 90s animated X-Men series. I certainly get the appeal of the dominatrix look, but this is ranked dead last because of the creep factor; namely, Mastermind brainwashing Jean into becoming the Black Queen so he could make her into his love slave. Gross.
9. Here Comes Tomorrow
I love this incarnation of Phoenix as a woman made of fire, and her spiky black attire is perfect for the Jean Grey who wakes up 150 after her death in a desolate future. She looks alien and dangerous, and the X-Men (as well as the reader) don’t know if she’s returned to be a savior or a destroyer. Jean’s “Here Comes Tomorrow” costume gets knocked down several notches, however, for portraying Jean as basically topless, save for the black phoenix emblem pasted on her chest. She looks like she raided the closet of a random Chaos! Comics heroine from 1994.
8. The 90s
Probably my most controversial ranking. I know that Jim Lee’s Jean Grey costume, the one she wears on the cover of the bestselling comic book of all time, is considered by many to be the definitive Jean Grey look (and it was clearly an inspiration for her latest costume in X-Men: Red), but I think this costume is just. So. Damn. Boring. The blue and orange color scheme is all wrong for Jean, and it looks like Lee just lost all interest designing her costume from the waist down. (Does she have thigh armor? Side pouches? What are those things?) Adding a ponytail in the animated series gave Jean the appearance of a buttoned-up schoolmarm—a bad look for a character known for her fiery passion.
One of Jean’s lesser known costumes, from the “Revolution” era of the early 00’s. Red and gold are two of the colors most associated with Jean (as we’ll see) and I dig the huge, metallic phoenix incorporated into the design. (The only part I hate? The weird arm wrappings that look like bandages, making me think that Jean is always injured.) Considering Jean had reclaimed the Phoenix codename and was just beginning to tap into those bigger powers again, the Revolution costume recalls the past while being something new.
6. X-Factor (Red)
See what I said about red and gold? Jean’s second X-Factor costume switched to this color scheme in time for the “Inferno” crossover event, so she fit right in. If there’s not much to say about this costume, that’s because it’s perfectly, wonderfully simple—and I’m a sucker for any X-Men costume that incorporates a big, dramatic X on their body. Of all the “Team Voltron” costumes Jean’s shared with the original X-Men, this one is the best.
5. X-Factor (Blue)
Jean’s most overlooked costume, appearing only in a handful of X-Factor issues before she re-joined the X-Men and *sigh* traded it in for the Jim Lee duds. (In fact, this costume is so forgotten that I had a hell of a time finding a decent image of the full outfit.) Like her previous costume, it’s dominated by a gold X across her chest, but features a new and interesting silhouette, with pointed shoulders that accentuate the X without quite looking like Dynasty-era shoulderpads. One downside is that Cyclops wore pretty much the exact same costume, giving them “matching his & hers pajama set” vibes. I wish this costume had stuck around longer, especially since the blue and gold evoked, wait for it…
4. Kirby’s X-Men
Jean notably compared her very first, Jack Kirby-designed costume to Christian Dior, and while that’s an interesting comparison to make, there’s no question that these costumes are classic. Hell, they’re so classic that not only did blue and gold become the X-Men’s official team colors, their names were given to team squadrons and two currently published X-books. That condom-head mask must have been murder on Jean’s fab flip hairdo, though.
3. Marvel Girl
Jean designed this Marvel Girl costume for herself after the X-Men “graduated” from the Xavier Institute, and it meant so much to her that she wore it during her last stand against the Shi’Ar in “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” Are a miniskirt and go-go boots the most effective battle wear? Of course not, but this cute little dress and fabulous pointy mask also feel like the exact kind of outfit a college-age superteen would put together. This costume also established a green and gold color scheme for Jean that stuck around for decades. (See also: teenage Jean’s Jamie McKelvie-designed costume in X-Men: Blue.)
2. New X-Men
The New X-Men costumes should not look nearly as good as they do, given that these mask-less black leather duds were designed with the then-new X-Men movies in mind. (“Showtime, corporate synergy!”) Instead of looking like Matrix castoffs, though, the ribbed black sweaters and platform boots (featuring wonderful, big gold X’s) made the X-Men look like real, approachable people—the exact opposite of the garish 90’s costumes where spiked shoulder armor and gratuitous pouches grew like fungi [You’re breakin’ my heart, here! —Ed.]. The New X-Men costumes, while rooted in the early 2000s, also feel strangely ahead of their time, predicting the current trend of superhero costumes (like Babs Tarr’s Batgirl) that are designed with whether they’re wearable and cosplay-able in mind.
1. Phoenix (All Incarnations)
Like I could have picked anything else? Dave Cockrum was perhaps the most important comic book character designer after Kirby—pick up X-Men: Gold right now and you’ll see Nightcrawler and Storm in the costume and tiara, respectively, he designed for them forty years ago. Phoenix’s costume is similarly timeless; deceptively simple in design but instantly memorable. (My favorite detail? The little Phoenix-shaped clasp on the sash around her hip.) Imagine Jean’s most important moments—rising reborn from the sea on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #101, dying on the moon in “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” or ascending to the White Hot Room at the end of New X-Men—and it’s likely you’re seeing her in this costume. And with Jean’s transformation from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix, no costume color swap has ever stirred up so many feelings of dread and excitement. No wonder we’re seeing Jean Grey in this classic costume on the cover of Phoenix: Resurrection; it will always rise from the ashes.