Reviews From The Batcave: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Brett Israel (’10)/Eastside Comics Columnist

When you think comics, big names such as Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. come to mind. However, in the Marvel universe, the group of heroes with the most series has to be the X-men. Ever since their start in 1963 they have been one of Marvel’s greatest super teams (with the only real competition coming from the avengers). However, it was in the formation of the new team in 1975 (after being cancelled in 1970), did the X-men truly begin to shine. And, it was in 1980 that the greatest X-men story was written in the issues of the Uncanny X-Men #129-137: The Dark Phoenix Saga.

This story of the X-Men is told by one of the greatest comic writers of our time in Chris Claremont and is beautifully penciled by the great John Byrne. Chris Claremont can also be credited with another great X-Men story following this one in The Days of Future Past Saga. Many consider Claremont’s work on the X-Men to be some of, if not the best, X-Men work in history. In my opinion, Claremont is the hands down best, surpassing even Stan Lee. Claremont’s dialogue is incomparable in detail, and the story created is something that can never be put on screen; this master of the art can only accomplish it in this medium.

The Dark Phoenix Saga starts with the X-Men returning from a previous mission, and in returning Jean Grey has a vision. In this vision she is supposedly in a “past-life” in which she is in love with a man named Jason Wyngarde; this will become more important later on. In returning to the mansion, they X-Men only have a brief stay, for they go off to try and bring two new students to Professor Xavier’s school.

First, on the trip to Chicago, the team finds the mutant in teenager Katherine Pryde. While Professor X talks to her parents, the rest of the team takes Katherine to a malt shop. While there, members of the Hellfire club ambush the team, lead by the White Queen Emma Frost. The team is captured; however, Katherine escapes with her ability to walk through walls. Meanwhile, back in New York, Jean, Scott and Nightcrawler are lead to a club in which the undiscovered mutant is currently residing.

At this time, in the club, Jean suddenly kisses Jason Wyngarde in front of Scott. However, before a reaction, the new mutant is discovered in The Dazzler. Outside the club, Nightcrawler gets a call from Katherine informing that the X-Men have been captured. When Nightcrawler tries to make sense of the call, he is attacked and must fight. In throwing the enemies through the roof, Scott and Jean are brought into the fight. After beating the enemy, Scott, Jean, Nightcrawler, and The Dazzler retreat and go to Chicago to save the others. When the team arrives at the hideout, they save their team and beat their enemy. In the battle of Jean Grey and Emma Frost, the true Phoenix is released. This scares the rest of the team for the power is too great. However, Jean easily beats Emma and the X-Men take their leave.

The X-Men now go to the home of former member Warren Worthington III a.k.a Angel. And, following the preparation, the X-Men are off to the Hellfire club in New York. Once inside, Wyngarde approaches Jean. Scott discovers that Jason is actually the villain Mastermind and when they return Jean has become the Hellfire club’s Black Witch. This causes the X-Men to commence a huge battle with the Hellfire club. The X-Men end up getting defeated and captured by the club and the leader Sebastian Shaw reveals the plan of the club. One member though was not captured. Wolverine comes to save the rest of the team and in turn a battle between the club and the X-Men breaks out again. However, this time, Mastermind loses control over Jean and she proceeds to drive him insane, and while escaping from the club, Jean loses control over her powers and becomes the most powerful entity in the Dark Phoenix. In her madness she attacks the X-Men and after defeating them the Dark Phoenix goes to consume the only thing that can satisfy her, stars. In doing so, she destroys a Shi’ar ship. In this, the Shi’ar empress calls a meeting of the Galactic Empire to destroy Phoenix. At this time, they are teleported to the Shi’ar world and the Galactic Empire calls for the destruction of Phoenix, now in Jean Grey. Professor calls the Empress to a duel of honor in an attempt to save Jean. However, in this battle, the X-Men can clearly not win.

This story is in my opinion the greatest X-Men story ever told. This is a perfect example of a book that you simply cannot put down. Not only does the story contain great action, it also has a love story. The love story between Jean and Scott is a reoccurring theme throughout the history of the X-Men, and can only be compared to that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  You will constantly be surprised as you turn the page, as each does not disappoint.

The X-Men story didn’t gain much appreciation until the 1980’s. This is, in fact, the start of greatest comics in the series (disregarding the fact that in the 1990’s Marvel went downhill and attempted too many poorly developed X-Men tales). However, what Chris Claremont does here is remarkable.  Suffice to say, The Dark Phoenix Saga is perfect. This is to comics as The Stand is to modern fiction, and is one of the greatest stories ever told.

The Dark Phoenix Saga can be purchased by issues or by Trade paper back for $24.99