X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX SAGA
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciller & Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Colorist: Glynis Wein & Bob Sharen
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Rating: 7.5/10 Dazzled
Dark Phoenix. Do you remember that movie? This isn’t it. Whenever I think back at what is supposed to be some of the greatest X-Men stories of all time, the Dark Phoenix Saga tends to be one that makes that list. Having enjoyed my first read of Claremont’s monumental story for Jean Grey the first time I picked up, I could see why it was so popular. Time has passed though, and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, this read has returned to get a second look thanks to the community’s votes. To me my spoilers!
The story follows the X-Men as they are reunited with Professor X. While Cyclops and the professor work on bending and flexing to each other’s leadership styles, the team is summoned away to track down two new mutants who have just popped up on their radars. Recruiting two debut X-Men into the fold doesn’t go so smoothly as the mutants are being hunted down by a wealthy organization known as the Hellfire Club. Rich, powerful, and fashion sense from the 1800s, this group has been watching the X-Men for a while now, waiting to strike.
Taking down the X-Men is no easy task as many have learned, and no amount of fancy tech is gonna be enough on its own. Luckily, the Hellfire Club has a woman on the inside as a member know as Mastermind has been slowly brainwashing Jean Grey into believing she is a member of the Hellfire Club as the Black Queen. With the X-Men captured due to Jean’s uncharacteristic heel turn, it’s up to Wolverine, who managed to escape the first time, to go on a rampage through the club to save his bubs. Meanwhile, Scott goes into a mindscape where he battles it out with Mastermind for Jean’s freedom to which he loses. Seeing her lover die in the psychic plane is enough to snap Jean out of it and she psychically destroys Mastermind’s well, mind.
With the Hellfire Club beaten for now and Jean back on the winning team, things seem like they are at a good wrapping point. Except, all that continuous brainwashing Mastermind had done on Jean for months had been eroding the mental barriers she had been keeping on her powers. With the barriers gone, Jean’s full power as the Phoenix is released, driving Jean insane in the process and almost killing the X-Men before blasting off into space where she eats a star and kills an entire nearby populated planet. Even when the team is eventually able to get Jean’s powers under control again, the X-Men are whisked off to space to defend their dear friend in a fight for her life against an alien race who seeks justice for the cosmic genocide committed. The X-Men lose the battle very badly and in one last act, Jean blows herself up because Scott wouldn’t do it for her.
I found it very interesting how every issue in this series could have essentially been a jumping-on point to a new reader when they were originally being released. Claremont’s style of beginning almost every issue with some form of a recap, either through text box narration, or a very out of character X-Men would explain what had happened leading up to the current issue. This is something you don’t see with current comics being released so while it was a little silly at times when the characters would recap you in a complete collection read, I can appreciate how inclusive that was set up to be for someone back in the day picking a random issue off the rack.
I was already a Jean Grey fan since the animated show. When I first started collecting my comics, if there was any Jean related reading to be done, I needed to go back a decade or so. While I wasn’t on board with the rapey themes going on with the Mastermind portion of this read, I was really excited to see how powerful Jean was when displaying her powers throughout the read as well as in ways I didn’t even know she could use them. My first read-through, I didn’t pick up on the psychic barriers that she had put up to prevent going full power so catching that this time and seeing the effects of those breaking was very interesting. Top that all off with a very beautiful and heartbreaking sacrifice made by Jean in choosing her humanity over becoming a god and you got yourself an awesome character.
So, does Dark Phoenix Saga live up to the reputation it has received over the years as one of X-Men’s most popular stories? I would say yes. This read is packed full story within these eight issues. First appearances, fun character interactions between the X-Men, lots of twists and loads of action that span from the Windy City to streets of New York and even among the stars themselves. Claremont and Byrne bring the Dark Phoenix Saga to the top of storytelling done at this series’s release that maintains how amazing these characters are for me. When looking for some essential X-Men reads, make sure this one makes it among the collection.