Today’s Nerd Journal is about the Dark Phoenix Saga. Since the current Marvel event, Avengers vs. X-Men, is about the phoenix force, it’s about time to talk about it. The Dark Phoenix Saga is often considered the greatest X-Men story ever told, and for good reason.
I felt that this post was appropriate for several reasons. One, the phoenix force is what the plot of Avengers vs. X-Men revolves around. Two, this is my 100th post, so why not use it to talk about this excellent story arc. Three, I can’t properly discuss how hard X-men 3: The Last Stand failed without talking about this first.
(Despite only just aquiring her mutant power, Kitty Pryde showcases her resourcefulness and helps the X-Men escape the Hellfire Club.)
The original story was released in the mid 80’s during Chris Claremont’s legendary first X-Men run. It took place sometime after Jean Grey was possessed by the phoenix force, a cosmic entity in the Marvel Universe that acts as force of destruction and rebirth. The storyline introduces the Hellfire Club (the villain team in X-Men: First Class, although half of the members are different). It also introduces Kitty Pryde (the girl who can walk through walls) and Dazzler to the X-Men.
(Probably Wolverine’s most famous comic panel ever)
The storyline also has Wolverine’s first great fight scene, showing us how awesome he could be. After the rest of the X-men are humiliated by the Hellfire Club, Wolverine goes on a one-man rampage against an army of mercenaries and rescues the others.
(Wolverine’s most famous intimidation speech)
The Dark Phoenix saga is a story about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The phoenix force is excited by the full range of emotions that a human being can experience, and overwhelms Jean Grey’s personality with that excitement.
(That star’s not bad, but it needs more ketchup.)
When the dark side of the phoenix takes over, she ends up eating a star in deep space, which wipes out an entire race of peaceful beings. Yet, despite how overwhelming the phoenix force’s power is, Jean Grey resists destroying the X-Men and earth because she still has an incredible mind and cares for her teammates so deeply – especially Cyclops. It’s a story about love and self-sacrifice.
The final confrontation on the moon with the X-Men vs. the Shi’ar imperial guard might be the true highlight of the saga. The Shi’ar fully understand the threat of the phoenix force and believe that it must be destroyed, yet the X-Men care far too much about Jean Grey to allow her execution. As the other X-Men fall in battle to the Shi’ar’s most powerful warriors, Jean loses control of the phoenix force again and sacrifices herself to save everyone.
This takes place after Jean Grey learns to control the phoenix force, with Xavier’s help. The X-Men fight a battle that they will inevitably lose, much to the personal anguish of Charles Xavier and Lilandra, the empress. Fun fact: Lilandra was married to Xavier for a while – comics are weird sometimes.
(This picture is from the 90’s X-Men animated series’ retelling of the Dark Phoenix Saga.)
I’ve said enough about this storyline. The only true way to experience it is to read it yourself. The paperback collection for this storyline recently reprinted and can be found here if you’re interested. If you’d rather not read it, the 90’s X-Men show re-told it fairly well in a four-part episode. Part 1 can be viewed here, and the other three parts are also on Marvel.com.
There have been other retellings and sequels over the years. The phoenix force has a long history with Jean Grey, and a few other X-Men characters as well. Both X-Men Evolutions and Wolverine and the X-Men make references to this storyline. X-Men 3: The Last Stand loosely bases one of its plotlines on the Dark Phoenix Saga, however very poorly. Eventually I’ll talk about X-Men 3’s failure, but there is more to talk about first.
(Destroying a house is totally equal to eating a star. I know the movies are on a smaller scale, but still.)
For my next nerd Journal, I’ll be trying to come up with ways to improve Star Wars Episode 1 with one simple yet challenging rule – no removing any characters or significant plotlines.