Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne
Collects: Uncanny X-Men #129 – 138
WHAT’s THE STORY?
The Dark Phoenix Saga is actually the second part of Jean Grey’s descent into becoming the all-powerful Dark Phoenix, the first part being her resurrection and transformation into the Phoenix in the original Phoenix Saga. But even these two stories are just a small (but important) part of the overall tapestry of the Phoenix Force.
A cosmic entity representing the forces of creation and destruction, the Phoenix Force is the collection of all psionic energy in the universe. Its purpose is to burn away the old to make way for the new.
Visually, it resembles a giant flaming bird and is worshipped as a God by the avian alien species, the Shi’ar, of whom Professor X’s girlfriend Lilandra is Empress.
While the Phoenix can function independently, it usually enacts its will after bonding with a host. It’s favoured host of course being…
Real Name: Jean Elaine Grey
Affiliation: The X-Men
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September 1963)
After experiencing a traumatic event in her youth, the deeply depressed young girl Jean Grey was recommended to a man named Charles Xavier. Xavier, secretly a mutant psychic, revealed to Jean that she too was a mutant – with the powers of telepathy and telekinesis.
In time, Jean was welcomed into Charles’ school for gifted youngsters, becoming the first of what would be many students. Alongside the likes of Scott Summers, Hank McCoy, Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington, Jean became a founding member of Charles’ X-Men; a team of mutants who would operate out of the school with the goal of protecting both the human and mutant races from danger.
Jean fell in love with Scott, and eventually, the two would be wed. However, their marriage would not be without its troubles, as Jean also fell for the mutant Wolverine, with whom Scott would fight for her affection. However, a greater threat to her and Scott’s relationship would prove to be her role as the host of the cosmic Phoenix Force, a fiery being of unknowable power that eventually pushed Jean to evil, and in turn, to her death.
However, with the Phoenix being a force of death and resurrection, Jean has since returned, fighting past her demons and now continues to fight for the good of mutant-kind.
Initially, prior to the revelations of the Phoenix Force’s backstory, the Phoenix was just believed to be the natural evolution of Jean’s immense psionic powers.
Of course, this approach meant that if any future writers wanted to utilise Jean again post-Dark Phoenix, they would have to come up with a way to absolve her of the crimes she committed while in her dark persona – thus necessitating that Jean and the Phoenix become two separate entities; the cosmic being and its mutant host.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
What starts as a routine recovery mission for the X-Men – locating two emerging mutants Kitty Pryde and Dazzler – becomes the fight of their lives when the strangest heroes of all become embroiled in a battle with the sinister Hellfire Club!
Outwardly, the Hellfire Club is a collection of the rich and famous, but it’s inner circle – consisting of Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, Jason Wyngarde, Donald Pierce and Harry Leland – are more dangerous than the X-Men could possibly imagine, and one of their number has secretly been manipulating Jean Grey for quite some time.
Now, Jean’s Phoenix powers have been fully awakened, meaning the X-Men have to contend not only with the Hellfire Club, but also the awesome powers of Jean Grey, and the super-team from across the stars – the Imperial Guard – who fear what the awesome powers of the Phoenix could do if left unchecked.
If all you knew of the ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga was the adaptations seen in X-Men: The Last Stand and later Dark Phoenix, you’d be forgiven for believing the story wasn’t that good.
Fortunately, the source material those two questionable films are based on is far superior.
A decent read at ten issues long, this story continually ups the stakes for the X-Men, while ensuring the book remains thoughtful and character-focused.
Whether the team is facing off against the goons of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw and his inner circle, Dark Phoenix herself, or the aliens whose ire she has wrought, the writers always take time to look in on each team member to see where they’re at.
The result is a much more balanced team book than you’re likely to see in the modern-day, where arcs will usually focus on a particular character, or simply just have them be a vehicle through which a story is told.
For the most part, the story is excellently paced, and the vastly different plot points are all carefully curated to be just as interesting as each other. The build-up to the Dark Phoenix, wherein the X-Men battle the Hellfire Club, never feels like build-up, so much as it does a story in and of itself.
The action is exciting and varied – much like the story, with space-battles, superhuman scraps, and even out of time sword fights!
It’s all wonderfully bizarre and entertaining and culminates in a beautifully emotional crescendo.
While the pacing does start to feel a tad off when entering the Dark Phoenix story proper, and the initial bout between the X-Men and the Dark Phoenix feels a bit too easily solved at the moment, everything comes together in the end, making this an excellent reading experience overall.
The throughline of Scott and Jean’s relationship is superbly written, and the climax to that particular subplot highlights just how well the writers are at penning perfectly human stories amidst the backdrop of a cosmic odyssey.
While, by today’s standards, some of the things Jean Grey goes through could be seen as in poor taste, telling a story about an all-powerful woman which at times is the opposite of empowering, the writers fortunately never stray too far, allowing Jean to give as good as she gets.
The art is also brilliant. While quaint by today’s standards, Byrne’s illustrations are beautifully emotive in a way that really elevates the whole book.
It makes you understand why producers are so keen to try and adapt this story and makes you yearn for a well-constructed take on the big screen (after the last attempt though I am willing to bide my time), and much like Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle, highlights the strength of the medium and why comics have endured for so long.
Honestly, it was just a thoroughly enjoyable read. So, all-in-all, I give Uncanny X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga a…
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Dark Phoenix? Would you watch another adaptation? Let me know in the comments below!
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