The idea of bringing back Jean Gray has been contentious. Even the first time they did it, there were those who hated the decision because it cheapened her heroic sacrifice. There are those who see her as the embodiment of the "death is broken" nature of comics (or just dislike the character) and want to see her stay dead, and there are her fans, who have long suffered under tease after tease of her return (e.g., Endsong, Warsong, Messiah Complex, Second Coming, Avengers vs. X-Men), but it hasn't happened for a good long while (seven years or so). So, how is she returning, how long will this last, and what can they do with her going forward? And, ultimately, is this a good thing?
How is she returning?
Time-travel. Along with the rest of the original X-Men, Jean is leaping forward and having a good look at the crap-sack world of the modern X-Men. I like the idea of a kind of "return to roots" for the X-Men after the upheaval of AvX—sort of what Logan's school was supposed to be—but I'm not sure I like the idea of Jean being, well, old Jean. That almost every story we've had with her is basically wiped out from the "returned" Jean's continuity. Can that really be considered the same Jean? Can we really call this a "return?" I don't see how this is any better from trying to make Ben Reilly the "real" Peter Parker and wiping out years of Spider-Man's memories. Plus, she'll have to constantly deal with the "man out of time" baggage as long as she stays, which is going to be a big change to the character. Then again, the problem with Jean has always been the rest of her baggage, so maybe that's okay by comparison. This Jean would be pre-Phoenix, pre-Logan/Scott triangle, pre-death-cycle, pre-a lotta crap that's been dogging the character for years, even after her death(s). But it does raise the question...
How long will this last?
We have to assume that the originals will go back in time at some point, will she go as well? If the originals don't go back in time, can they really be considered the "originals"? My understanding is that the Marvel Multiverse works where once a timeline branches off, it's considered its own universe. We don't need another "fake" Jean running around. We already have Rachel, Hope, the Goblin Queen, and a bunch of brand new clones by Sinister. And then there's all the other character's that have picked up Jean's roles and props over the years: Emma Frost, The Stepford Cuckoos, Cable, Nate Grey, Korvus, and now the Phoenix Five (and I guess an Iron Fist in there too). If they're going to call this a return, they'll need to figure out a way to explain:
- Why she's not going back with the team,
- Why she would want to stay in the modern era,
- How that won't shatter the timeline, and
- How she'll still count as "our" Jean instead of another alt-U Jean.
Personally, I think they'll just say "screw it" and effectively make her an alt-U Jean but won't call it that. Basically, that when the old team traveled forward, their timeline split into another universe—one without Jean in it. Depending on how well the new Jean is developed, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it still won't feel like getting the "real" Jean back.
What can they do with her going forward?
Well, for one thing they can ditch the whole Phoenix bit, once and for all. And thank Odin for that. Jean has stagnated for far too long as "the Phoenix chick" and as the bauble to be fought over in the Scott/Logan love triangle. Despite the loss of her continuity the time-travel aspect of her return entails, this will at least provide a good excuse to tear the character down to its bedrock and then build it up into something new. They could also take her powers in a new direction if they wished—considering that the X-Men and Avengers have newer challenges, training methods, and technology to present her with, I wouldn't be surprised at all if she developed new techniques or even a "secondary" ability that was so successful in updating characters like Beast and Emma Frost. And while I like seeing the old X-Men duds, I'd hope that if she decides to stick around permanently (which may not happen) then she'll update to a new costume. They just need to avoid retreading old ground. If they bring her back just to pair her with Scott or Logan or fill her with Phoneix energy then a lot of fans will be wondering what the point was.
So what can they do? She'll be appearing on the Uncanny Avengers team, which is interesting. It's not like Jean was totally cut off from the Avengers at that age considering her friendship with Wanda. I think that's a good idea, but I'd also want to see her interacting with younger characters since she's technically a peer for them now. She should be girl talking with Hope, Jubilee, and X-23. She should be showing up Quentin Quire. And if they don't have her attend a school named after a future-dead version of herself, run by a man who had a super-creepy crush on her for decades, and with a dystopian-future daughter of hers on the staff, they will seriously be missing an opportunity for fun storytelling.
Is this a good thing?
I would argue that it is. There's a clear downside, of course: those who dislike Jean have to deal with her again and fans of Jean aren't even getting "their" Jean back (and even this Jean might only be a temporary fixture). However, as someone who was mostly in the former group, I will be releived that her return will at least mean they can finally shut up about the Phoenix, and her death, and all that crap that they've been referencing for decades because they can't think of what to do with the character. I firmly believe that Jean has been just as annoying dead as she ever was alive. Now that she's back and being scalped down to the nub of what her character is, well, they can finally progress forward. And I hope that Jean's fans can recognize the potential in that, and that the writers can deliver a new, better Jean for fans and non-fans alike.