X-Men (Volume 1), #131 - 140 (Dec '79 - Sep '80). Classic X-Men 7, 8, 34, 43
It's here. The Dark Phoenix Saga!
I feel intimidated writing about the Dark Phoenix story. This is so special, I don't want to mess it up. Claremont and Byrne spent years building towards the Dark Phoenix story and now we are finally here. This is the story that put the X-Men on the map, forever. Word started traveling about how great this comic was and how ballsy it was. Claremont had already pushed the boundaries with killing Thunderbird, but Jean was something entirely different. An original member, dating the head of the team, a central point of the comics for years. This was big.
It wasn't always going to be this way. According to Comics Creators on X-Men,
"Originally Jean wasn’t going to die, she was only going to be lobotomized, have her powers removed, and be de-aged to a young girl. 'Shooter said that wasn’t enough. She had to be put in Hell for eternity or killed.'”
So let's back up, why did Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter demand that Jean needed to die? Well Claremont longtime editor and future New Mutants, Power Pack and X-Men writer Louis Simonson tells us:
“Chris wrote something like ‘and billions of Asparagus people screamed as they fried,’ or something equally dramatic. And I said ‘Chris, you can’t do that. If Phoenix destroys an entire race of beings, she becomes a mass murderer. They won’t let you do it.’”
So this did end up staying, and it was unlike anything that had ever been done in a comic. Jim Shooter allowed it, but he demanded that Jean be killed for it. Claremont tells us:
“The truth is John (Byrne) and I weaseled out of our own rationale. We loved her too much. Dark Phoenix was just supposed to be a middle chapter of a story.”
So the original intention was for the Phoenix story was going to go on much longer and this was only going to be a first act before Shooter pushed them to kill her off and end the arc. Claremont further says:
“Jean’s death actually gave us credibility. We had been backed into the gift that separated X-Men significantly from every other book. "
My Rating - 10/10
The most iconic X-Men story of all time lives up to the hype.
CXM # 8 - Introduction to the Phoenix Force
This one is a pretty special issue. Chronologically it doesn't belong here, but as we are about to fully explore the Phoenix force, I think this is a good time to cover it. This issue goes all the way back to the space shuttle where it all started (In Issue # 101).
As Jean gets closer to the atmosphere, she realizes that she bit off more than she can chew and cries out for help. She asked for help from God or Scott, but it was something else that heard her plea.
We actually see Jean wasting away as the intense radiation makes her hair fall out and she wastes away.
Suddenly, a cosmic being shows up and begins talking to her.
She could maybe let herself die, but to save the ones she loves, she would give up anything, including her soul.
The Phoenix takes over her life force, they become one, and in this issue (which was printed more than a decade after the original comic) they show the Phoenix preserving the original body of Jean. I have a sneaking suspicion this retcon was added for a reason, but I'll keep that to myself for now.
UXM 131 - 134, Classic X-Men # 7, 34: It's all the Hellfire Club's fault!
CXM # 7, 34 - Hellfire Club Origins
This classic goes back and gives us a short origin story for the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club. We learn that the Hellfire Club was originally run by humans and Sebastian Shaw was hiding that he was a mutant. The human leaders send the sentinels to kill the mutants. Shaw, Emma Frost (The White Queen), and a few others survive but most are killed in the attack. Shaw then shows up and kills all the humans running the Hellfire Club, installing himself as it's leader with Emma as his White Queen.
We also get a little backstory into Emma Frost. We see how she purposely uses her sexuality to gain power and that while she is a powerful telepath, she is very smart herself (this is displayed by seeing her beat Jason Wyngard at chess).
UXM 131 - Taking on the Hellfire Club
As a reminder, Kitty was trying to free Professor X, Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine until she was spotted and began running for her life. Eventually the other half of the X-Men show up and, with the aid of Phoenix, protect her.
Jean mindscans one of the Hellfire goons and learns their plans and location. The X-Men, along with Dazzler, send Kitty in to free the other X-Men while they sneak in and fight head on.
Phoenix gets in a nasty fight with the White Queen, which she eventually wins. The X-Men deliver Kitty back to her parents, Dazzler again declines joining the X-Men (She's more interested in her singing career than being a superhero), and it seems as though everything will be fine...
UXM 132: Enter the Black Queen
The X-Men meet back up with their good buddy Angel so they could leverage his rich boy connections and get access to the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle.
It turns out that Prof. X wanted the X-Men to go back to their mansion to re-group, but Cyclops was the one who took them to Angel's place instead. To further disobey Charles, he has Angel take him to a secluded plateau where they can talk in peace.
Eventually Jean joins and Angel takes off, leaving them alone. They decide to use this time to catch up on lost time and spend some romantic time together. As a testament to her love, Jean creates a permanent psychic rapport between the two of them so that they can always be connected.
Meanwhile, buddy cop detectives Wolverine and Nightcrawler (I love their bromance!) begin sneaking through the sewers looking to break into the Hellfire Club. The rest of the X-men come as guests.
Jason Wyngard shows up and Jean is instantly swept away into one of her episodes, clearly blurring reality with her vision of them being together in the 1800's. It's at this time that Jason shows us who really is! It's Mastermind, one of the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the master of illusions. Now I know that I never talked about him in these blogs so far, but he was introduced in the VERY early run and we believed him to be dead so this is a semi-big reveal, however I did make out his ugly mug in the silhouettes my first time through.
At this point all of Mastermind's machinations come to fruition as jean is fully brainwashed and becomes his servant as the Black Queen.
The high class affair turns into an all out brawl as the X-Men fight the various Mutant members of the Inner Circle. Sebastian Shaw is able to absorb any energy or attack and funnel it back. Donald Pierce is a cyborg with inhuman strength. Fat man Harry Leland can manipulate gravity and he attacks Wolverine by making his mass so heavy that he falls back into the sewer, where he is believed to be dead.
The issue ends with the X-Men beat down and captured...all but one short guy with a chip on his shoulder!
UXM 133: Why would you make Wolverine angry!?
Wolverine has a good time tearing up the Hellfire Goons. There is actually some long term implications as we see these same goons in the future and they talk about how they are still scared of Wolverine and have had some limbs repaired with cyborg parts.
We also cut to Muir Island where Moira explains to Banshee the results of her tests on Jean. Apparently the Phoenix gave Jean Godlike powers, but Jean knew she couldn't handle them so she put on mental circuit breakers to keep her from losing control. This info is important as we're about to see that it's all the Hellfire Club's fault!
The X-Men are tied up right in front of Jean, but in her illusions she only sees them as criminals in her illusion world.
Jason decide to gloat by inviting Cyclops into the illusion world and letting him challenge him to a swordfight. Scott fights hard but eventually loses...hard.
Chaos reigns supreme as Wolverine crashes through the door where the team is held captive.
Jean immediately captures Wolverine, but at the same time Cyclops' faceplate is unlocked. You see, it turns out that Jean and Cyclops had a psychic rapport and were connected through love, so when Jason brought Cylcops into the illusion, it actually woke her up.
Leland is permanently removed from the chess board as the accidentally increases Wolverine's weight while he's on top of him, crushing himself. Jean then turns her attention to Jason and exacts her revenge. Jason was interested in power and was using Jean to help usurp Shaw's place at the top of the Hellfire Club. It turns out that he was using a machine to funnel his illusions directly into Jean's head using Emma's psychic powers. Jean turns this lust for power against him and expands his mind towards the Cosmos, leaving his feeble mind destroyed as it can't comprehend the unimaginable power.
Scott has a bad feeling so he tries to quickly get the whole team in the Blackbird and back home, but his bad feeling manifests as Jean goes nuts, attacks the plane and declares herself Dark Phoenix!
UXM #135 - 137, CXM # 43
UXM #135: Uh oh
Jean completely loses her mind and soon after attacking the Blackbird, she begins striking the X-Men. Each of the X-Men try halfheartedly to stop her, but Phoenix shows off her awesome power in new and more frightening ways. For instance, when Colossus picks up a tree to swing at her, she transmutes that tree to solid gold in his hands. She decides not to waste her time fighting the X-Men and soars off into space.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw is trying to encourage Senator Kelly to start up the Sentinel program again. I'm about 40 issues ahead in my journey at the moment and I still don't quite understand what his plan is. Is he trying to get the Sentinels started so that he could take over their programming and use them against humans? Does he just want to use them as part of a ploy to take over the world? Is he ok with mutants being exterminated, as long as he isn't one of them? Really not sure. Let's read and find out!
As Jean soars into space, we see that the most powerful superheroes on earth recognize the urgency of what is happening:
Jean is soaring around through space, having a good time and reveling in her power, but eventually she gets hungry for more power and sets her eye on a nearby sun.
She dives into the sun to replenish her energy needs, but that is not without a cost.
You see, there was a habitable planet nearby that was reliant on that sun. When the sun exploded, so did the nearby planet, resulting in Jean killing billions of innocent people.
This didn't go unnoticed as a nearby Shi'ar cruiser saw this happen and engaged her. After a quick battle, Jean blows up the Shi'ar ship as well.
The Shi'ar leadership is called into council (including Lilandra) and they decide that this cannot stand.
UXM# 136: Trying to saddle a bucking bronco
Jean decides that flying around in space isn't enough, so she comes back to earth and goes to her childhood home. Her family is woken up and quickly realizes this is not their Jean. She ends up getting angry (which happens a lot in this form), gets in a fight with them, luckily doesn't kill any of them and lies off.
The X-Men realize she is back on earth and they are waiting to ambush her.
Wolverine recognizes the danger and even though he secretly loves her, he is ready to deal the killing blow. Unfortunately, a peace of Jean shines through and he hesitates at the last minute.
Where fists failed, words are tried next and unsurprisingly Scott is the only one able to get through to her. She lets down her guard down momentarily and this is when Professor X makes his move.
An epic telepathic fight ensues...
And surprisingly, it works. The Jean they all know and love is back and the Phoenix is contained...for now.
All is well and good and the Dark Phoenix saga is now over. Just kidding. The Shi'ar haven't forgotten what she's done...
UXM # 137: Consequences
We get a brief intro from the watcher to help set the scene of how important the next event will be in the scope of the larger Marvel Universe.
The X-Men are deposited in front of the Shi'ar ruling council and the Imperial Guard where they are told that Phoenix must be held accountable and will be sentenced to death!
Charles contests this decision and after spending so much time with Lilandra, he learns that he can essentially request trial by combat. This puts Lilandra in a bind and her allies, the Kree and Skrull need to meet with their leadership to make sure this is ok. For some reason, they all agree and it will now be up to each individual X-Men to decide whether or not they defend Jean.
This precipitates one of my favorite scenes that I have ever read in a comic book. The X-Men learn all of the terrible things that Jean did while in space and NONE of them are certain that they should be sticking by her. The comic gives us some introspective thoughts from each of them.
We begin with Nightcrawler's thoughts. He talks about how he would assume that he would fight to the death for any member of the X-Men, including Jean, but now he's not so sure. When in the circus, he knew people who had survived the Nazi Holocaust and he recalls thinking that those murderer's should never be forgiven. Ultimately, he doesn't know what to do.
Then we get Beast. He is also very conflicted, but ultimately ends up decided that everyone deserves a chance for their case to be tried in a fair manner. So in his view, Jean gets a chance to defend herself.
Colossus is also conflicted. He knows Dark Phoenix is eveil, but that Jean is good. Ultimately he decides that they have been fighting her out of love and he wants to give them a chance to cure her and exercise the Phoenix for good.
Storm is also conflicted, but the least out of the lot. She knows she loves Jean and will defend her, full stop.
Logan is also deeply torn. Keep in mind, he was the only X-man willing to kill her earlier that day when he concluded that she couldn't be thought. He recognizes that there is a split personality and ultimately decides to stand by Jean regardless.
And finally we get Scott. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was one of the most conflicted people. With his time as a leader, he truly understands Lilandra's perspective and admits that he would probably make the same choice, yet he loves Jean and isn't sure. Like many men in society, sex ends up swaying his thoughts in one direction...
Jean shows up in her Marvel girl outfit, which is quite symbolic. She was pure of heart as Marvel Girl and that is how she is presented at this moment. Jean and Scott have a long talk where even Jean isn't sure what should be done, however they end up having one more night together and decide both to fight in the morning. As do everyone else...(no idea why Angel is speaking for the rest of the team. Who cares about Angel).
Now it's time for MORTAL KOMBAT!!!!
One of the things I love about the X-Men is the large cast of colorful superheroes. So naturally, I love the Imperial Guard. (I just did a quick search to see if they ever got their own series, but looks like they didn't. Too bad, I would have read the shit out of that). The X-Men put up a good fight, but they are just outmatched and fall 1 by 1 until Jean and Scott are the only two left.
All of the strain is too much and Jean accidentally awakens you know who (shocker).
The X-Men know they have no choice left and must join the Imperial Guard to stop her. The barrage is at least successful at giving Jean a chance to speak and beg them to kill her.
After an emotional final conversation, Jean realizes she has no choice but to end things herself. She runs into some sort of ultimate weapon, vaporizing her and thus ending the Dark Phoenix Saga.
CXM # 43: Death
Jean Grey truly died here. While I still don't know how she comes back, I can tell you that she truly stayed dead for years of publication, which I think is pretty cool. Classic X-Men includes a story here that shows us what happened to Jean shortly after dying...in the afterlife?
Jean wakes up on some celestial platform in the middle of space. She's accompanied by some hunky guy who is building a structure.
She can't really make heads or tails of what's happening so she just decides to bust her tools out and make herself useful.
While she's there, she is able to empathize with the people that she killed. Starting with the beings on the planet she destroyed.
And then as a member of the Shi'ar ship she destroyed.
After going through these experiences, she comes to the conclusion that the hunky man is death.
They engage in a really confusing conversation that I wish I was smart enough to understand. Since this classic was published years after her death, my guess is that they are referring to things I have not yet read, and that later in my journey I can look back and understand this.
One of the concepts they discuss is that before she goes too far berating herself for the lives she took, she should think of all the lives she saved when, as Phoenix, she saved the entire universe from Lilandra's brother D'Ken. He also explains that the Phoenix power is a force and that it is hers by right, which will be passed on to her children. (This is a clue to me that they are referencing something I just don't know about yet, but hopefully will soon. Can't wait! I recall reading an issue of Excalibur once with a character named Rachel Summers who had Phoenix like powers...I wonder if this is it!) She eventually feels more content and flies off.
Death reflects on how Jean has more life to live, but that it won't be very easy. I see Mr. Sinister who I know from the cartoon (and countless other things) but I have yet to see in the comics (even being 40 issues ahead), so this is definitely referencing things that haven't happened yet, but will eventually get published.
UXM 138 - 140
UXM # 138: Closure
This issue begins with Jean Grey being laid to rest, mourned by everyone who loves her. This entire issue takes place in Scott's head, re-counting everything that happened in the first 137 issues. My guess is that Marvel broke sales records with the Dark Phoenix saga so they decided to bring everyone up to speed in this issue to help those readers from this point forward. In fact, if you are someone reading my blog because you are interested in learning what happened to the X-Men, but don't feel like reading all the issues for yourself, I would recommend buying this issue and reading this summary.
At the conclusion of this trip down memory lane, Scott announces that he is leaving the X-Men. He doesn't know if it's permanent or temporary, but he knows he needs time to himself.
As a reader (and probably as a member of the X-Men), you probably find yourself wondering how anything could live up to this. Well, as the last member of the original X-Men says goodbye, we say hello to 13.5 year old Kitty Pryde, showing up at the mansion to become an X-man.
I didn't really have strong feelings towards Kitty one or the other before starting my journey, but after this next group of issue I am a lifetime member of the Kitty Pryde fan club. (Also, is she wearing a shirt that says "Bitch"?)
UXM # 139: - 140 Kitty Pryde & Alpha Flight
When you need a good way to transition to a new storyline, practice in the danger room! Let's check in on the rule of 6. The "New" X-Men started out with Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and Banshee. Jean was around but never a formal member. We lost Banshee when he needed to put a bandaid on his throat, Scott is on leave, and Jean is dead as a doornail. So to help us round out 6 Angel is sticking around and Kitty is joining the team.
Kitty is really creeped out by Nightcrawler. I really like this point because no one seems to talk much about Nightcrawler's appearance. On one hand, mutants are symbolic for those persecuted by race, so it's cool that this is not addressed. On the other hand, he looks like a demon so it makes sense that a 13 year old girl would be creeped out.
That awesome relationship between Storm and Kitty continues. Also, they decide her Superhero name is going to be Shadowcat. No, no it's not Shadowcat. It's Sprite. What the hell is Sprite!? What's happening? Her name is Shadowcat? Oh well, I guess her name was Sprite. That's weird to me, but a huge reason why this journey is so fun. So much I don't know!
Kitty's mother (Storm) takes her to dance class where she meets Stevie Hunter. A human dance teacher who ends up playing a pretty big role for a while with the X-Men. Storm gets jealous that Kitty is bonding with Stevie.
Wolverine decides to tie up some loose ends, so he takes his best buddy with him to Canada to meet with Vindicator and Alpha Flight. It turns out that Wendigo is on the loose so they partner with Alpha Flight to take him down. Wolverine and Nightcrawler work with 3 members of Alpha Flight: Vindicator, Shaman, and Snowbird.
We get a flashback here and learn that Vindicator (James Hudson) and his wife Heather took Wolverine in and befriended him years ago, which is how Wolverine ended up as part of Canadian Special Forces.
The X-Men are successful in defeating Wendigo. This also helps Alpha Flight realize that they should let Wolverine live his life and they promise never to come after him again.
At the very end of the issue, the next arc is set up. We see the Blob being broken out of prison and being asked to join a woman, who now leads the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Issues 39 - 40 probably shouldn't have been included in this blog because they essentially start a new storyline, however I included them for one important reason. After this short break to some normalcy, we move headfirst into another big storyline: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Can't wait!!!!
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