Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved roll can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In The Replacements, we’ll look back at the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
This week, in honor of Mutant Week, we’re looking at the X-Men’s most storied legacy position. That’s right, we’re looking at the women, men, and clones who have at one time or another called themselves Phoenix.
The Phoenix is a particular continuity nightmare due to the number of retcons, revelations and resurrections that surround the identity. The first Phoenix was thought to be Jean Grey, who died on the moon at the climax of the classic X-Men story “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” but it was eventually revealed that the Phoenix Force itself impersonated Jean and took her place during her entire time using the code name.
Therefore the first Phoenix in continuity wasn’t a person at all, it was the cosmic energy of the Phoenix Force made manifest. In this week’s installment of The Replacements, we’ll be looking at some of the most notable and more obscure characters who have at one time or another laid claim to the mantle of The Phoenix.
Phoenix (Rachel Summers)
Created by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & John Romita Jr. (Uncanny X-Men #141)
Rachel Summers was the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from the alternate timeline commonly referred to as “Days Of Future Past”. She wound up in the main Marvel continuity and, after some confusion and false starts, she joined the X-Men, and was shocked to discover that in this timeline her mother died and her father remarried.
Rachel refused to believe that her mother could have turned evil, and chose to claim the name and power of Phoenix for herself. Using a Shi’Ar crystal that contained a fragment of the Phoenix Force, she became the new Phoenix. She disappeared from the X-Men following an altercation with the Hellfire Club, and wound up a prisoner of Mojo, but escaped and helped found the British superhero team of Excalibur.
Rachel spent some time trapped in the future and watched over the upbringing of Nathan Christopher Summers AKA Cable, who is in a roundabout way her brother. She eventually returned to the main timeline without the Phoenix Force and changed her name to Rachel Grey in honor of her recently fallen mother, and in protest of her father’s relationship with Emma Frost.
The Shi’Ar sought to eradicate the Grey bloodline and killed every Grey on Earth except for Rachel and Cable, but left her with a deathmark tattoo that would allow them to track her wherever she went. She briefly gained a portion of the Phoenix Force back while in space with the Starjammers, but it leaves her when she needs it most, and currently she does not have Phoenix Force powers.
Created by Jim Valentino (Guardians of the Galaxy #9)
Even in the 31st century, The Phoenix Force exists and longs for a host. Giraud was a resident on the planet of Haven, which was founded as a mutant colony, but after centuries the number of mutants dwindled to just nine who ruled over the planet with an iron grip.
Giraud was a freedom fighter and a member of the resistance on Haven who worked alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy to evacuate Haven before its core exploded. At the urging of Guardians member Starhawk, Giraud bonded with the Phoenix Force to utilize its power to save his people.
He used the power of the Phoenix to teleport his people off-world to safety and joined the Guardians of the Galaxy as a reserve member. He wasn’t called upon often, but was instrumental in defeating Ubiquitor by combining the power of the Phoenix Force with Mjolnir, wielded by Thor’s son Woden
Phoenix (Jean Grey)
Created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (X-Men #1)
It’s a common misconception that Jean Grey was the first Phoenix in comics, and while that was originally the case, it was retconned so that the Phoenix Force itself was a separate entity. Jean didn’t actually come to possess any Phoenix Force until the end of “Inferno,” when she absorbed the fragment that lived within Madelyne Pryor, which gave her all of Maddie’s memories as well as memories of the Phoenix Force’s time impersonating her.
Jean didn’t canonically take the mantle of Phoenix until after her adventures in the future raising Cable alongside Cyclops. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Jean actually tapped into her Phoenix powers fully for the first time, defending the Xavier school from the organ harvesting Y-Men.
Jean finally embraced the full potential of the Phoenix Force around the same time that her marriage with Cyclops was falling apart, and things got even worse when she died again. After defeating Xorn, the villain forced Jean to have a “planetary-sized” stroke, and with her dying breath she urged Scott to live because all she ever did was die on him.
Later, a fragmented Phoenix Force attempted to resurrect Jean Grey once again in its search for a host, and this led to the return of Dark Phoenix. However, Cyclops and the X-Men reminded Jean of how loved she was throughout the world, and that gave her the strength to overcome; she became The White Phoenix of the Crown and ascended to a higher plane of existence.
The Stepford Cuckoos (Celeste, Mindee & Phoebe)
Created by Grant Morrison & Ethan Van Sciver (New X-Men #118)
The Stepford Cuckoos were originally introduced as weird quintuplets who studied at the Xavier school and emulated Emma Frost, but after Jean Grey’s ascension it was discovered they were actually clones of Emma — designated Weapon XIV — as a part of the Weapon Plus program.
The siblings returned to The World due to manipulation by both the Phoenix Force and John Sublime and discovered they are just five of one thousand clones of The White Queen, and they were created to spy on the X-Men. The Phoenix Forced wanted to destroy the Cuckoos to prevent them from being used to destroy all mutants, and manifested in the mind of Celeste Cuckoo, as Weapon XIV activated as “The Thousand-In-One”
Celeste managed to use the power of the Phoenix Force to stop Weapon XIV and grant independence and free will to her sisters, but the Phoenix Force destroyed the newly activated clones regardless. She attempted to cast it out, but it refused to leave, so along with the surviving sisters Mindee and Phoebe, they absorbed it into their diamond hearts at the cost of their ability to feel emotion.
Wolverine (James "Logan" Howlett)
Created by Len Wein, John Romita & Herb Trimpe (Incredible Hulk #180)
While on a time-travelling adventure, Spider-Man and Wolverine found themselves in an alternate timeline and faced with the threat of Doom The Living Planet, which is exactly what it sounds like. Spider-Man discovered a box with a weapon capable of defeating Doom, and opened it to discover a bullet which contained the Phoenix Force, and a gun with which to fire it.
Wolverine stole the gun and used it on Doom, and while the action killed him, Spider-Man brought him back to life with a Cosmic Cube. After discovering the time travelling secret of the Czar and returning to take on the villain, the Phoenix Force suddenly burst from Wolverine, turning him into Dark Phoenix.
As Dark Phoenix, Wolverine threatened to kill everyone and destroy all life in the universe, but he was stopped by Spider-Man who did what he did best. He talked. Spider-Man talked Wolverine down from the brink and the Phoenix Force dissipated, leaving the pair trapped in cowboy times to search for a way home.
Iron Fist (Fongji Wu)
Created by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato Jr (New Avengers #25)
Centuries ago, a group of residents from the mystical hidden city of K’un Lun travelled to Earth for what was to be the last time, and while there a woman from their party became pregnant by a man from the outside world. She returned to K’un Lun and gave birth to a daughter with bright red hair, an abnormality among children of the city.
At the same time, the leader of K’un Lun — Yu-Ti — had prophetic dreams of The Phoenix’s path to Earth, and of a girl green eyes and red hair. When he found Fongji Wu in his own city, he immediately began her training to be the next person to wield the Iron Fist. Fongji began her training and exhibited powers typically associated with the Phoenix, as Leonardo Da Vinci arrived in K’un Lun and built a telescope to track the arrival of the Phoenix Force.
Fongji completed her training and, after two days of battle, defeated the dragon Shao Lao The Undying. When The Phoenix arrived in K’un Lun, Fongji used the power of the Iron Fist to tame and control it, becoming the new host and — after deeming the Earth unready — left for the stars.
The Phoenix Five
Introduced by Matt Fraction & John Romita Jr. (Avengers vs X-Men #5)
When the Phoenix Force once again approached Earth, it led to a conflict between the Avengers and the X-Men over how to respond. The Avengers believed the Phoenix could only mean destruction and disaster, but Cyclops and The X-Men saw it as a symbol for the rebirth of the mutant race.
When the Phoenix Force did arrive, it was intercepted and meddled with by Iron Man, which resulted in it being split into five shards that each took root in a separate X-Man. Colossus, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Cyclops became The Phoenix Five and set about changing the world for the better with their new powers.
However, the group collapsed due to in-fighting, and as members of the Five were defeated, their power was absorbed by those remaining. Ultimately, it came down to Cyclops and Emma, in a conflict with the Avengers that saw Charles Xavier attempt to intervene and stop the chaos.
Cyclops lost his grip on the power, took Emma’s half of the Phoenix Force, and killed Charles Xavier, his final step to becoming Dark Phoenix. A battle that raged across the world ended when Scarlet Witch and Hope Summers worked together to expunge the Phoenix Force from Cyclops and into its new host...
Created by Mike Carey & Chris Bachalo (X-Men #205)
Hope Summers was the first mutant child born after the decimation of the mutant race, and as such there was a mad scramble by interested parties to get the hands on her. Ultimately, she was entrusted to Cable, who took her into the future and raised her as his own daughter while training her how to survive on her own should anything happen to her.
Some people believed that Hope was a messiah, and some people thought she would lead to the downfall of the mutant race. She returned to the present day as a teenager with all of Cable’s training, and developed the powers to replicate the abilities of other mutants nearby.
The Avengers took Hope into protective custody when it was determined the Phoenix Force was returning to Earth, fearful of the Phoenix’s destructive capabilities. However, when Hope did eventually bond with the force, she became The White Phoenix and — along with the Scarlet Witch — undid the damage of M-Day, and brought back the possibility for new mutants in the Marvel Universe.
In the aftermath, Hope went on the run again with her father as members of various incarnations of X-Force. Hope became comatose following a mission, but took the form of the mutant MeMe by replicating her powers and embarking on missions with the team in drone form. When Fantomex lost his mind due to his compulsion to be the best, it was Hope who defeated him, and Cable deferred leadership of X-Force to his daughter.