The Dark Phoenix Saga

Jean Grey, now possessing the power of the Phoenix, creation and life itself, is slowly manipulated by Mastermind of the Hellfire Club and corrupted by the sheer power. As she succumbs to the seduction of pleasure and emotion, Jean becomes The Dark Phoenix, the X-Men’s worst nightmare. The team must now fight a being of cosmic level power, while still trying to save a beloved member.

The Dark Phoenix Saga (1980)”

The X-Men #129 God Spare The Child…
The X-Men #130 The Dramatic Debut of the Dazzler!
The X-Men #131 Run For Your Life!
The X-Men #132 And Hellfire is Their Name!
The X-Men #133 Wolverine Alone!
The X-Men #134 Too Late, the Heroes
The X-Men #135 Dark Phoenix
The X-Men #136 Child of Light and Darkness!
The X-Men #137 The Fate of the Phoenix!
The X-Men #138 Elegy

Authors: Chris Claremont, John Byrne (Co-Plotter)
Penciler: John Byrne
Inkers: Terry Austin
Colors: Bob Sharen (#129, #134-135), Glynis Wein (#130-133, #136-138)
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What You Need to Know:

The X-Men have got some new faces in the form of Colossus, Storm, Wolverine and Nightcrawler. Original team members Beast, Ice Man and Angel have all left to pursue other ventures. Charles has been dreaming of a face that is reaching out and trying to connect with him. After piloting a shuttle re-entering earth’s atmosphere to save her teammates, Jean Grey goes through a transformation, becoming host to a cosmic entity as old as creation itself. It ends with them crashing into the water and Jean rising from the depths anew shouting “I am Phoenix” before collapsing.

The X-men, bar Scott and Jean (who remains in the hospital), travel to Scotland and encounter a number of villains, including Black Tom, Juggernaut, Magneto. Upon returning, the face from Xavier’s dreams makes contact and turns out to be the renegade Shi’ar Princess Lilandra. She is desperate for help to stop her mad brother Emperor D’ken from destroying the universe with the fabled M’Kraan Crystal. The X-Men travel to the Shi’ar homeworld to stop D’Ken, but once the crystal is activated, only the newfound powers of The Phoenix are enough to stop it. Professor Xavier remained with the Shi’ar Empress Lilandra, his soulmate.

After returning to earth and a few adventures, Jean becomes separated from the rest of the team and ends up on Muir Island. It is here her manipulations begin at the hands of Jason Wyngarde (AKA Mastermind) in the form of visions of an ancestor from the 18th century to slowly sway Jean for his own use. Jean puts these episodes down to their encounter with the reality-warping mutant Proteus.

What You’ll Find Out:

Professor Xavier returns home from Shi’ar space. After the discovery of two new mutants, the X-Men are split into two teams to go and find them and convince them to join Xavier’s cause. Here we meet Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) and Alison Blaire (Dazzler) for the first time. The Hellfire Club have infiltrated Cerebro and Emma Frost gets there first to visit Kitty at her home and tries to recruit her. At both points, the X-Men are attacked by soldiers of The Hellfire Club. The team that was with Kitty (including Xavier) is captured and taken prisoner by Emma Frost, Kitty stows away and helps alert the others. The team that goes after Dazzler is lucky enough to evade their attackers, though not before Jean has another encounter with Jason Wyngarde, furthering his hold on her.

When Kitty finds the other team, they forge a plan to infiltrate The Hellfire Club’s base and free their teammates. Dazzler agrees to help to repay them for helping her. The surprise attack on the base is successful as they proceed to free their friends. Jean encounters Emma Frost and a battle of the telepaths take place, Jean’s Phoenix powers easily overcoming the White Queen’s standard mutant abilities. The battle quite literally brings the house down, with the others escaping in time. Cyclops fretfully begins digging through the debris for a missing Storm and Phoenix, with the two emerging from the rubble, protected by Jeans Telekinetic powers. Back at the mansion, Scott and Ororo discuss a change and darkness in Jean, with Scott suspecting an outside power manipulating her towards this malice.

With the fear that their base of operations (the mansion) has been compromised after both teams being met with an attack, the team travels to Angel’s Aerie, the home of the ex-team member, Warren Worthington. As Scott takes a flight with Warren to privately discuss the security breach, Warren claims that they were offered membership to the exclusive club, but has nothing to do with them. Jean interrupts and steals Scott away for some alone time, even dampening his powers enough to remove his visor and see his eyes for the first time as they share a passionate kiss.

After a week in hiding, the X-Men decide it’s time to pay a visit to The Hellfire Club during an anniversary party. Scott, Jean, Ororo and Peter enter under the guise of guests, while Nightcrawler and Wolverine enter via the sewers. With rising storm waters in the drains, Wolverine slices the insulation on power cables running to the building. The leaders of The Hellfire Club, dubbing themselves the Inner Circle, instantly spot the X-Men entering the party. Mastermind whisks Jean away and as Scott tries to follow, has her incapacitate him. Ororo and Peter rush to the aid of their friend but are met by the head of the Inner Circle, Sebastian Shaw and also quickly dispatched. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Nightcrawler encounter the other two members of the Inner Circle, Harry Leland and Donald Pierce. Nightcrawler is knocked unconscious and Wolverine is smashed through the floor back down to the sewer, thought to have drowned. The Inner Circle toasts its new Black Queen (Jean) and Wolverine proclaims it’s his turn for an attack.

Wolverine hunts his way back up the levels of The Hellfire Club, cutting through anyone that gets in his way. Again, Jean is transported back in time by another of Mastermind’s visions. Now believing her teammates to be against her. Here we learn that during Jean and Scott’s alone time last week, she confided in him about her time slips and how she found them both scary and fascinating at the same time. She also created a psychic rapport with his mind, a link between them that will always keep them together. Scott tries to invade Wyngarde’s vision through the rapport and confront Mastermind but is defeated, his physical body appearing dead to the rest of the captive team.

The imprisoned X-Men are surprised to see their leader begin to move, as Wyngarde warns Cyclops that Jean now belongs to the Inner Circle. Wolverine has been fighting his way through The Hellfire Club security and has made it to the upper levels where his teammates remain subdued. As he bursts into the room, Phoenix holds him in place telekinetically. At the same time, the lock on Cyclops’ mask restraining his optic blast’s is broken. He instantly takes action, blasting the restraints holding his team and proceeds to deal with Pierce, Leland and Shaw. The rest of the X-Men go on the offensive and Mastermind gives the crowd the illusion that the X-Men are terrorizing them. A police alert goes out that the X-Men are attacking the club, the alert is picked up by Beast at Avengers Mansion on monitor duty and decides to rush to their aid rather than assemble the Avengers.

Suddenly the lights go out, the flood waters have reached the unprotected power cables, giving the team a chance to make their getaway. Jean finds Wyngarde, reveling in the chance to repay him for invading her mind and manipulating her. She leaves Mastermind a quivering mess. Scott gathers Jean and the rest of the team as they escape to Central Park and their waiting X-Jet. As they begin the flight home, Wolverine remarks on the police response and Jean, now transformed, proclaims herself as Phoenix, blowing up the jet.

The team survive the fall back into Central Park and attempt a brief skirmish with the now Dark Phoenix easily defeating them. She manifest’s a giant firebird and shoots off into space, catching the attention of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange and even The Silver Surfer. Beast find’s his old team battered and bruised, evacuating them on a Quinjet. Jean’s energy is detected by both Charles and Moira both, as well as the Starcore Space Station that the X-Men had saved at the beginning of all this. Dark Phoenix opens a Star-Gate and is galaxies away in a matter of seconds. Feeling drained from the effort, she plunges into a nearby star to feed off its energy, quickly turning it supernova and destroying the surrounding solar system, including a planet and its billions of inhabitants. She then encounters a Shi’ar Battlecruiser that retaliates for her destructive actions. Sheerly outmatched, the ship contacts the Empress Lilandra and just before the ship’s destruction, she sees the fiery manifestation of the Phoenix. Lilandra commands her war council summoned as their worst fears have come true. On earth, Cyclops picks up through his psychic rapport with Jean that she is coming back and she is hungry.

The X-Men prepare to do battle with their now possessed teammate, Beast believing he can make a mnemonic scrambler that will interrupt Jean’s ability to think. Jean arrives at her home in the middle of the night, surprising and somewhat frightening her family. With her powers out of control, Jean can’t block out their thoughts, their fear and after threatening them leaves in anger. Outside, she is ambushed by the X-Men, Nightcrawler teleports the scrambler onto her and the rest of the team attack with their best efforts. As Jean regains control for a moment, she begs Wolverine to kill her and end it, he tries but can’t go through with it. Dark Phoenix regains control and easily dispatches him and the rest of the team. Cyclops appears and makes a last stand, an appeal to Jean that she is still in there and if not then she should just kill him. She resist’s his pleas, saying that she doesn’t care and won’t listen. Xavier uses this distraction to attack Jean’s mind and a psychic battle ensues. While it looks like he is on the losing end, Charles is able to establish multiple circuit breakers in her mind and seal the Dark Phoenix away. Jean Collapses and her friends and family rush all around her. As Charles states that he can explain everything to her confused family, the X-Men all disappear.

The X-men find themselves transported aboard Lilandra’s ship. She has assembled a galactic council to deal with the potential threat of Dark Phoenix after her genocide of a whole solar system. She is calling for the termination of Jean Grey, even though the Phoenix has been sealed away. Charles intervenes and calls for Arin’nn Haelar, a traditional Shi’ar duel of honor to the death, irrefutable once called for. The Empress must first consult the other races, including the Kree and Skrull leaders, who agree to the challenge providing the X-Men are not permitted to win. The challenge is set for the next day and all the X-Men take some time alone to consider what they are fighting for, their love of team member Jean Grey, possibly giving their own lives for hers. Cyclops is alone, dwelling on the battles possibilities when he is joined by Jean in her original Marvel Girl costume, claiming that’s how she started and how she will finish.

The team is teleported to what’s known as the Blue Area of the Moon, containing ruins of a lost civilization with an earth-like atmosphere contained around them. Soon after, the enemy team hits the ground, the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. The X-Men split into two teams and intend on hit and run tactics to whittle down the enemy. One by one, the team begin to fall to the Imperial Guard. Wolverine stumbles into The Watcher’s abode and is promptly thrown out. Colossus and Gladiator go toe to toe with the Shi’ar warrior proving victorious, leaving Scott and Jean as the only ones left. When Cyclops is struck down, the Phoenix resurfaces in Jean, the emotion of losing her love proving too strong. Lilandra is willing to scorch the whole solar system to defeat the Phoenix, to prevent this, Professor Xavier contacts his X-Men, pleading with them to get up and attack Phoenix while she is still weak. Injured and weary, they answer the call but can’t deliver the final blow to their beloved teammate. As Dark Phoenix begins to take over, Jean runs into one of the ruins, activating an ancient weapon and killing herself in front of Scott. He determines that she must have planned this from the start, to take herself out before she regained too much power. The Watcher concludes that Jean Grey could have lived to be a god, but it was more important that she die a human.

The X-Men hold a funeral service for their departed team member and Scott recounts their adventures from the beginning. The battles against Magneto and countless other enemies as the original five members, their first kiss, the apparent death of Professor Xavier, finding his brother Alex, the battle of Krakoa that forced the professor to create a new team and eventually the possession of Jean by the Phoenix Force that lead to her downfall. After remembering their journey that got them to where they are, Scott tells the professor goodbye and that he is leaving the X-Men.

What Just Happened?

On the return home from Muir Island, Wyngarde continues his manipulation of Jean, transporting her back in time, stating to a servant that he is merely playing to her inner desire and lust for passion. This link is made possible by a contraption of Emma Frost’s design, creating a mind-tap and projecting his illusions directly into Jean’s mind. Scott tries to console Jean after her episode, but still uncertain of the cause, she rejects his help. The X-Men have a surprise guest in the mansion and it turns out to be the professor returned from space. Running the team through some exercises in the danger room causes some friction, with Xavier expecting things to be like they used to, him instructing his students. Scott and the professor butt heads over the running of the team, with Summers trying to explain that they are all individuals and Xavier puts that down to poor leadership. This is one of the earliest moments I’ve seen that begins the divide between the two, Charles is doing what he thinks is best and Scott is doing what he has been trained to do to be a leader.

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Now we are introduced first to Sebastian Shaw and Emma Frost the White Queen of The Hellfire Club, Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) and then in the next issue Alison Blaire (Dazzler). These four characters go on to become a great part of the X-Universes history, another point that makes this arc such a memorable one. With Emma having hacked Cerebro, she knows the X-Men’s every move along with their strengths and weaknesses. Teams of soldiers modified to counter the team’s powers are sent to capture each group and new mutant to recruit to The Hellfire Club in their conquest for power.

The first team consisting of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Professor Xavier are all subdued and captured, taken back to a secret base. Kitty stow’s away, showing from an early age that she was born to be a hero and an eventual place in the X-Men’s ranks. As the second team of Scott, Jean an Kurt go to investigate Dazzler, Jean encounters Wyngarde again. This time in his vision of the past they get married and share a kiss to the shock of both Scott and Jean herself unsure of why it even happened. Kurt is contacted by a frightened Kitty to inform him of the teams capture just as the enemy attacks. Dazzler catches one of the attackers off guard with her powers and from there Phoenix and Cyclops fend off the rest. As they make their getaway, Scott vaguely registers the silhouette of Wyngarde but doesn’t catch on to his true identity, Mastermind. They then find an on the run Kitty being chased by Hellfire Club security. Scott tells Jean to stop the car but instead, she demolishes it, the first hint we see in the arc of her pushing her abilities to a more destructive level.

After calming Kitty down and mind scanning the security, Jean learns of their affiliation to The Hellfire Club and recalls her visions featuring a member of the same club. The group forms a ruse to gain access to the base where their friends are held captive and mount a rescue mission. While Kitty sneaks in and free’s Logan, the others reveal their intentions and go on the offensive, making their way into the base. With the rest free, Storm witnesses the battle between Phoenix and Frost with Jean once more showing a brutality in the use of her powers that brings down the whole building. Once they are all safe back at the mansion, Ororo and Scott discuss the continued change in Jean’s personality with something seeming off about her.

Realizing they are being watched or spied upon, Scott moves the team to visit ex X-Man Angel at his home in New Mexico, the Aerie against the professor’s wishes. After he asks Warren for a private chat and flies off into the desert, Charles becomes more frustrated at his erratic behavior. Scott explains to Warren that someone is gunning for the X-Men and The Hellfire Club seem to be the culprits. Warren is surprised to hear that the swanky, exclusive club would be involved in such affairs, having been offered membership but not liking what the rich and pompous crowd. Jean steals Scott away, wanting some private time, perhaps feeling guilty over her visions and impromptu kiss with a stranger. She demonstrates the extent of her power by subduing Scott’s to look into his eyes for the first time.

After a week of waiting, the X-Men decide to pay The Hellfire Club, thinking they can sneak into a party unnoticed while sending Nightcrawler and Wolverine in through the sewers. Thinking ahead, Wolverine sets up a little trap, with rising floodwaters flooding the tunnel, he slices the insulation off the power cables on the roof so when the water reaches the cables, the power shorts out. I really liked this move as it starts to build on the lore of Logan’s character having tactical/black ops training. When the team enters the party, they are identified immediately and the Inner Circle of The Hellfire Club move on their targets with Wyngarde using his influence over Jean to separate her and lead her away. As he does he drops the illusion of his identity revealing to Scott that it is Mastermind behind the manipulation. It is too late for Scott though as Phoenix is the one to blast him. Alerted to their friend’s screams Storm and Colossus spring into action and confront the Inner Circle but are quickly taken down by Sebastian Shaw’s mutant ability to absorb kinetic energy and increase his own strength.

Elsewhere, on the lower levels, Wolverine and Nightcrawler engage the other members of the Inner Circle, Donald Pierce, a cyborg and Harry Leland, a mutant that can increase the mass of object/others. Pierce begins to strangle Nightcrawler and Wolverine slices off his arm. Leland then uses his power on Wolverine, increasing his mass to the point that he crashes through the floors and into the flood waters below, presumably drowned. As the Inner Circle reconvene and claim their victory over the X-Men, they toast to their new Black Queen. Underneath the club, Wolverine emerges from the waters ready for some payback.

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The next issue “Wolverine Alone” is possibly one of the characters most memorable issues and fan favorites. He makes his way back up the levels of the club, taking out their security with vicious intent. During his assault comes one of the stand out panels with some trademark dialogue from the Canadian Terminator.

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Things don’t end well for this poor fellow, even though he drops the gun, he still ends up skewered like a shish kabob. Like he says “I’m the best at what I do and what I do isn’t very nice”. Wolverine continues to make his way up to the upper levels. Back upstairs and Mastermind is again playing mind games with Jean, convincing her that her teammates are her disobedient slaves and hired help. Cyclops is incapacitated by a ruby quartz mask, remembers back to his and Jean’s alone time back in New Mexico. Jean establishes a psychic rapport with Scott, a constant link between their minds. This is another important part of X-Men history, as the link goes on to serve them well into the future. Cyclops uses this to invade Mastermind’s illusion and challenge Wyngarde to a sword duel. Scott is easily outmatched and is slain in the illusion. His body goes limp in the real-world, his teammates believing him dead.

Cyclops stirs to the amazement of his friends, still alive. Wolverine busts in on the gathering but is stopped by the Black Queen, at the same time the lock on Cyclops’ mask is opened, allowing him to free the others. The slaying of her true love inside the illusion was enough to free Jean of the mind control. Cyclops quickly blast’s Leyland, Pierce and Shaw, catching them off guard and the rest of the team begin their attack. As the battle breaks out into the more public parts of the club it gives the appearance that the X-Men are assaulting the members. This is when the authorities are called and Beast is alerted, coming to their aid rather than call his new team the Avengers. Wolverine’s preplanning comes into play and the lights go out. Cyclops takes the opportunity to order a team evac. Jean finds Mastermind and boy is she angry! The Phoenix within her is fueled by this primal rage/emotion and she shows him what real power is like. Expanding his mind with the entirety of the universe and the infinite nature of reality. It will be a long time before he will recover his sanity after witnessing the true measure of the Phoenix.

This is where I would like to sidetrack a little and give an example of the impact this story has made as one of the most important in X-Men history. I am sure many of you are fans of Stranger Things from Netflix and if you were paying very close attention, this story and moment are referenced during season 1 of the show. If you haven’t watched the show, be advised of spoilers ahead. During the first episode of the show, Dustin and Will compete in a race home with the winner getting a comic, “I’ll take your X-Men #134” claims Will (this issue). In episode 2, Eleven admires a statue with what could be seen as fiery wings. Then at the end of the season when Eleven faces the Demogorgon, the scene has been compared to Jean’s assault on Mastermind.

There will be another comparison later on, but for now back to the comic. The X-Men make their way to Central Park where their jet is hidden. As they get airborne we finally witness the transformation of Jean into the Dark Phoenix, uttering those famous words “I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever… I am Phoenix!” The jet blows up and ends the issue with a suspenseful cliffhanger.

The team try and defend themselves from her attacks, but are easily defeated. Jean shoots off for space to her self-proclaimed destiny. Her departure attracting the attention of multiple characters from the Marvel universe. After traveling to another galaxy and weakened, she feeds off a star, making it go supernova and killing billions on a nearby planet. This is witnessed by a Shi’ar battle-cruiser that engages Jean ending in their demise. But not before contacting empress Lilandra who realizes the worst is upon them and the Phoenix must be destroyed. Back on earth, Scott senses Jean returning through their psychic link.

The X-Men ready themselves for another battle with their possessed teammate. Jean returns to her family home on some base instinct, feeling out of place and agitated. After threatening her family she goes to leave only to be ambushed by her friends with a mnemonic scrambler. Cyclops tries to appeal to her love of him and the others and Professor Xavier engages in a psychic battle, eventually sealing the Phoenix away. While consoling the frightened family, the team vanish into thin air.

Uatu the Watcher introduces the issue, setting the stakes. The X-Men have been transported to Lilandra’s ship with her calling for Jean’s death to protect the rest of the universe. Charles calls for a duel of honor for the life of his student, irrefutable by Shi’ar law. The empress agrees with no intention of letting the X-Men win. Though on opposing sides, Charles and Lilandra wish they could simply console one another, but responsibility and duty come first. The duel takes place on earth’s moon in the Blue area, ruins of a previous civilization that support an earth-like atmosphere. It is the X-Men against the Shi’ar Imperial Guard with a few new members unknown to the team. The Shi’ar quickly pick the X-Men off one by one till Scott and Jean are the only two left. When Cyclops goes down, the shock is too much for Jean and the Phoenix is re-awoken.

The professor contacts his X-Men to get up and fight the Phoenix before she reaches full power, but as before they are outmatched and unwilling to do what must be done. They still share a love for their teammate Jean Grey and cannot kill their friend. With a final explanation that her shift to Phoenix then Dark Phoenix is inevitable, Jean musters what control she has left into an ancient weapon and sacrifices herself. Scott is naturally devastated, just witnessing the death of the woman he loved. Uatu states that “she could have lived as a god, but preferred to die a human.” This sentiment shows that while Jean was not in control of her actions, she was still witnessed to them and could not live with herself after what she had done and what she might do. She sacrificed herself for the love of her friends and the safety of the entire universe. In stranger things, Eleven made a similar sacrifice, she could have gone on to be an omnipotent being but discovered friendship was more meaningful and she used that power to protect her friends at the cost of her own life. But the story of the Phoenix is that of rebirth and neither character was truly gone for good.

The final issue in the saga features a funeral service for Jean and then Scott going over their journey together as X-Men from the beginning. It is a good summary of their early adventures, but if you want to know about all that, I suggest reading the books. After remembering all they have been through, Scott announces he is leaving the X-Men. Wanting to leave what would be a constant reminder of the woman he loved is a natural human reaction, many people would follow the same path. There are probably a lot of fans out there who think that this was just Scott being his whiny schoolboy self. He could be walking out on the very thing that Jean sacrificed herself for so that they could continue fighting for a better world. But if you’ve ever lost a loved one, you may know that time and space can be what is necessary to deal with that loss.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you, it was such an epic saga that it was hard not to leave anything out. Claremont’s writing was so dialogue/description heavy too that there was a mammoth amount of information to take in and is thus reflected in this review. Comic’s then still hadn’t evolved into the expressive, dynamic art pieces that we sometimes get today. The constant grid of blocky panels can get a little boring by modern standards, but the art that is packed into some of those small boxes is iconic and super detailed. To know that the inking, coloring and lettering was all hand done makes it all the more memorable as one of the most famous stories told in X-Men history.

Rating: 10/10.

Final Thoughts: As Charles says during the story about Jean, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Emotion can be an overwhelming sensation and make us act in ways that we normally wouldn’t. It also highlights the fact that everyone has desires and wants deep down that we know we should never give in to. We all have a dark side that many take action against for the simple fact that if we were to give in to, what harm would we do to those we love and those around us? Self-satisfaction is a wonderful thing, but not at the cost of others.

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