Friday, December 24, 2010

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

X-Men #129-137
By Chris Claremont (writer), John Byrne (penciler), Terry Austin (inker)

I didn't expect to be moved by the death of Jean Grey as much as I was. I've read this story before but it felt different this time, I don't recall shedding tears the previous time I read it. Not all of the visual storytelling was spot-on great but the significance and importance of the sacrifice that Jean makes come through loud and clear.

The final chapter is tragic on two levels. First it is the story of the young woman who wields god-like power and comes to realize that the power comes with a price. When she uses the power it transforms her into a being with extreme appetites that has no compassion for life and thinks nothing of killing billions to sate her hunger. Jean decides that sacrificing her own life is nothin compared to the safety of the universe. Her decision is heroic but it is also tragic because she did not choose to become the Phoenix.

Second it is the story of a young man, Scott Summers aka Cyclops, who has only recently been reunited with the woman he loves, Jean Grey. For a long time their story was one of unrequited love. Even after they finally opened their hearts fully to one another, being superheroes, their time together was constantly interrupted. Still reeling from Mastermind's attempt to cut Scott out of the picture and make Jean his lover, the two X-Men had yet to find the time to catch their breaths before Jean was faced with a horrific decision. While all of her teammates loved her and miss her it is Scott who is hit hardest by her decision to end her own life. It is tragic because he loses the love of his life, because she withheld her choice until the last moment, and because she killed herself in his presence.

Previously when I read this story I felt as though I was missing something, primarily because of the editor's notes which made references back to older issues that I had not read. Over the past couple years I have read all the prior issues of the X-Men (94-128, Giant Size #1) leading up to this storyline (129-137) and some even earlier issues (1-31) issues of the series. I had read some but not all of those issues before. It isn't essential to have read those issues prior to reading the Dark Phoenix Saga but it helps. Chris Claremont tends to foreshadow and return to characters and situations previously seen. Reading all the prior issues helped to enrich the experience of rereading this story. Even the first issues of the series made a difference as they depict the budding of Scott and Jean's relationship.

Finally, when I first started collected comics seriously in the early 1980s, roughly 30 years ago, this story was the story that everyone I knew was talking about. When I started buying back issues of the X-Men this story was bit beyond my budget. In the early 1980s Marvel had yet to start printing collected editions of hot stories like this one. It would be several years before I read it in its entirety and, really, not until now that I felt like I got the full picture.

For more in depth analysis and discussion of the Dark Phoenix Saga I recommend:

The Legion of Dudes: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Comic Geek Speak: The Dark Phoenix Saga

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