The fiery flames of the Phoenix Force are flickering on the proverbial horizon, as Marvel has announced she’ll return this fall for a new Avengers storyline, ‘Enter the Phoenix.’ (opens in new tab)
Originally created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum in the pages of X-Men, the Star-Child (as she’s sometimes called) has grown to be a pervasive force for evil (and sometimes, rarely, good) against a variety of heroes including the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the fabled city of K’un Lun, Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce, and even DC’s Teen Titans.
And while Jean Grey is, without question, the most iconic host of the fiery force – she’s not the only one who has had this gift/curse.
From the Phoenix Five at the center of Avengers vs. X-Men (opens in new tab) to several second-generation superheroes/villains, the Phoenix Force has burned (get it?) an indelible mark on comic books.
But who wore the Phoenix Force best? Our countdown of the hosts with the most holds a few surprises.
10. Franklin Richards
Reed and Sue’s precocious son Franklin has gotten into some bad spots… but on more than one occasion he’s come into possession of the Phoenix Force.
In the 1990 storyline ‘Days of Future Present,’ the dream-self of an adult Franklin Richards came to the 616 (that’s comic book terminology for the main Marvel Universe) and borrowed his younger self’s powers along with tapping into Rachel Summers’ Phoenix Force to make it his own. He said they were lovers for a time, but is that really an excuse?
Franklin was once again associated with the Phoenix Force in Marvel’s Ultimate line, revealed to be destined to become its host when he grows into adulthood.
For all this trouble, you’d think the Richards would grounding him in the White Hot Room.
Remember when the Phoenix was a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy?
… just a few of you? Okay, let’s backtrack.
Jim Valentino introduced a new Phoenix in 1991’s Guardians of the Galaxy #9, one of many humans living under the thumb of mutant rule in the transposed dynamic of the world of New Haven. Starhawk assisted Giraud in taking on the Phoenix Force, and destroyed the planet but spirited its population to safety.
Giraud then joined the Guardians team – with some power inhibitors to help him from going all ‘Dark Phoenix’ on them – and fought alongside them for a time against a renewed Korvac, the Ubiquitor, as well as the Intimidators.
Giraud later came to possess Mjolnir, but we’ll save that story for another countdown…
8. Quentin Quire
Quentin Quire is the modern-day bad boy of mutantkind. Not a bad guy per se, but prone to some misdeeds.
Quire’s first signs of a Phoenix connection came in a future vision of cocreator Grant Morrison’s ‘Here Comes Tomorrow’ New X-Men arc (opens in new tab), a connection later picked up in the modern-day X-Men: Phoenix – Endsong (opens in new tab) as the Phoenix Force shows an interest in the mutant student.
Jason Aaron continued to tease the connection in his Wolverine & the X-Men (opens in new tab) run, and went whole-hog in Thor with Quire full-on Phoenix and fighting in the ‘Asgard/Shi’ar War (opens in new tab).’ After a passing chance to be a god of the Shi’ar, Quire returned to Earth – without the Phoenix Force (but with some unanswered questions from readers).
7. Rook’shir & Korvus
Why did the Shi’ar fear and hate the Phoenix Force so much in the seminal Uncanny X-Men story-arc ‘Dark Phoenix Saga’ (opens in new tab)? Well, it goes back a while.
Earlier on in the history of the Shi’ar Empire, the Phoenix Force took root in a citizen named Rook’shir – bonding with him and his sword. Phoenixes do as phoenixes do, and Rook’shir lost control and destroyed many Shi’ar worlds before an elite Sh’iar task force called Imperial Guard was instituted to subdue him. And subdue him they did – killing him and hunting down all his descendants for slaughter or sterilization.
Fast-forward to the present day, and one descendant survived (as they do in fiction, eh?) named Korvus. Korvus had Rook’shir’s blade, holding a “blue shadow” of the Phoenix Force, and fought alongside the X-Men against the Shi’ar Empire and its new ruler Vulcan.
Last time readers ran across Korvus, he was riding with the Starjammers – but his sword lost that piece of the Phoenix Force.
6. Prime & Amber Hunt
The Phoenix Force is framed as a key part of the Marvel Universe as we know it – but it’s not above jumping to another publisher to wreak havoc.
Shortly after Marvel’s purchase of Malibu Comics, the Phoenix Force was pulled into its superhero Ultraverse. Injured and grasping at straws in this strange world, the Phoenix Force sought shelter in a human host – and she found one in Ultraverse’s de facto lead superhero Prime.
After some recovery time, it jumped bodies to a new host – a woman named Amber Hunt. Phoenix stayed there for a while, even after most of it returned to the 616. Hunter eventually lost the powers of the Phoenix when it was pulled out by Maxis and ended up being able to – in a rare move – create its own host body.
Thane was introduced in 2013’s Infinity (opens in new tab) event as the unknowing son of Thanos. Thane became aware of his lineage – and was subjected to a second Terrigenesis which slaughtered his home or Orollan. But his bad days weren’t over yet…
Years later while a prisoner of Corvus Glaive, Thane came in contact with a Phoenix Egg and became the entity’s latest host. Playing out Jeff Lemire’s run on the recent Thanos title, Thane was re-acquainted with his father – this time with Death choosing Thane over Thanos as a partner. Even with those uneven odds, Thanos defeated his son and Thane was left marooned and bereft of the Phoenix Force at the end of a black hole in a place called the God Quarry.
4. Feron (both)
Unless you were an Excalibur reader in the ’90s, you might not remember Feron – either of them. (You’re forgiven)
The original Feron came from an alternate universe with plans to unite the multiverse using the powers of the Phoenix Force. He became its host, but was ultimately robbed of its power by his teacher, Necrom. This caused Feron to feel guilty for ‘injuring’ the Phoenix Force, and to hatch an eons-long plan to seek forgiveness through his life and those of his children.
Fast-forward to modern times, and a descendent – also named Feron – was a pious but spunky monk of an order awaiting the return of Necrom with the Anti-Phoenix – and a legend of himself becoming a host to the Phoenix when that happens. Necrom returned – but Feron didn’t become a host, leading to some jealousy with then-host Rachel Summers which ultimately was settled, leading Feron to become a regular part of Excalibur.
3. The Phoenix Five
Like the type of pop music group their name resembles, the Phoenix Five were short-lived but made a big impact. Their greatest hit, as it were, was serving as the final antagonists of Avengers vs. X-Men with a list of homicides including Charles Xavier… but how did it all begin?
In a war between Avengers and the X-men, the Phoenix Force returned to Earth, but was staved off by Iron Man. But in that act, Tony Stark unknowingly split the Phoenix Force into five parts which landed in the laps of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Magik, Colossus, and Namor. With their newfound power, the quintet built a grand floating fortress and essentially took over the Earth. But infighting ate the group up and membership whittled down to one.
Cyclops, as the last surviving Phoenix Five member, kills Xavier and has a meltdown which results in him becoming the Dark Phoenix. The Avengers eventually toppled Cyclops-as-Dark-Phoenix by way of a unique Hope Summers/Scarlet Witch team-up which redistributes the Phoenix Force into Earth’s population, instantly creating new mutants across the globe.
2. Rachel Grey/Summers
Rachel Summers has had more codenames than almost anyone in the Marvel U (except maybe her teammate Kitty Pryde), but the one she’s most known for is as the second Phoenix.
Rachel was the first alt-reality love child of Cyclops and Jean Grey (or Jean’s clone) – beating Cable, X-Man, and a few others we’re probably missing to the punch. Coming back in time from the ‘Days of Future Past (opens in new tab)‘ future, she crossed paths with the Phoenix Force and became its new host.
Rachel didn’t wreck things in a major way and served as the Phoenix host for a good while, working alongside the X-Men and later becoming a founding member of Excalibur.
After some time travel hijinx and a team-up with her pseudo-step-brother Cable, Rachel lost the Phoenix Force in a still-unexplained event some 20 years ago.
In ensuing storylines, Rachel has used her Phoenix expertise in situations but hasn’t become the Phoenix again – yet.
1. Jean Grey
To many, Jean Grey and the Phoenix are one and the same. Two peas in a pod, whether they like it or not.
Grey first met the Phoenix Force during an X-Men space mission when her telepathic distress signal was noticed by the cosmic force. The Phoenix Force came to her, saving her, and taking on her form – and name, and identity – to join the X-Men in her stead. This identity died in ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga,’ with the switcheroo revealed years later in a tidy bit of retconning by Chris Claremont and Marvel Comics which brought the ‘real’ Jean back to life.
But the Phoenix wasn’t done with Jean, as they reunited in small ways over the years until in 2002’s New X-Men, when she firmly tapped back into the cosmic force. That fiery bond began burning away the remnants of Jean’s marriage to Scott, but Jean ultimately came to peace with the Phoenix Force – only to be killed by Magneto-as-Xorn in a poignant final confrontation – and rare romantic moment shared with Wolverine.
Jean returned in 2017, and with the advent of Jonathan Hickman’s ‘Dawn of X’ era has resumed her rightful place as one of the X-Men’s core characters.