Written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, Pencils by John Byrne, Inks by Terry Austin, Colors by Bob Sharen, Covers by various
The Dark Phoenix storyline has inspired the plots of two X-Men movies, with the latest about to be released June 7, 2019.
Without a doubt the greatest X-Men story ever, the saga of the Dark Phoenix is also arguably the greatest arc in comic book history. Leading up to this historic run, Uncanny X-Men had quickly become the highest-selling Marvel comic. A phenomenal turnaround for a title that was revived from years in reprint dormancy just two years earlier by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, to immediate fan and critical acclaim.
The success of Uncanny X-Men made Chris Claremont Marvel’s superstar writer, and John Byrne was Marvel’s hottest young artist. Together, they collaborated on the storyline, and with some editorial direction and polishing, created a timeless dramatic masterpiece.
Before Dark Phoenix, there was simply Phoenix, a new incarnation of Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men formerly known as Marvel Girl. Jean called herself Phoenix, after she rose from the ashes of her own apparent death from cosmic radiation in issue #100. Instead, she was re-born, creating a flashy new costume out of nothing, her mutant abilities of telepathy and telekinesis increasing to unknown levels.
Jean came to realize a being of pure energy known as the Phoenix had entered her body and protected her from death. The powers of the Phoenix continued to grow over the next several issues, enabling her to defeat a former herald of Galactus, power a stargate, and even reweave the fabric of reality itself to save the universe. Jean struggled with the Phoenix for control, and for a time she seemed to trip an “instinctive circuit breaker” and tamp down the Phoenix’s power and influence.
Unknown to Jean, she had also become under the increasing telepathic manipulation of Jason Wyngarde (Mastermind), a member of the evil mutant-run Hellfire Club, and was experiencing hallucinations more and more often. Starting in issue #129, Wyngarde sensed the darkness in her soul--the Phoenix--and intensified his efforts to free that immoral side of her and turn her into the Hellfire Club’s evil Black Queen. The toll on her already fractured and stressed mind was growing, and her Phoenix “firewall” was breaking down…she was a powder keg about to explode.
In issue #131, the X-Men take the fight to the Hellfire Club in a direct assault. Jean’s vicious showdown with Emma Frost, the club’s White Queen, disturbs the team…they see the growing influence of the Phoenix over Jean. Her actions there and after show Jean’s ethics and morals beginning to erode away.
An issue later, Wyngarde took complete control of Jean, and she transformed into the Black Queen. Scott (Cyclops) attempted to use the psychic bond he and Jean shared to break Wyngarde’s control, but Scott ended up in a mental duel that appeared to end in his death.
Issue #134 opens with Scott recovering, but his apparent death shocked Jean enough to sever Wyngarde’s control on her mind. Her retribution for Wyngarde’s abuse is swift and merciless. Jean feels a glorious symphonic flame rising within her…and she realizes she really isn’t in control of herself after all. Wyngarde has damaged her mind too much for her to hold back any longer. Just as explosively as her first appearance as the Phoenix, the Dark Phoenix rises as an elemental “angel of death”, and there’s nothing the X-Men can do to stop her.
The Dark Phoenix knows her destiny is in the stars, and leaves the earth, gleefully blazing across the galaxy. Even the Dark Phoenix needs to feed to replenish energy, and what does the Dark Phoenix eat when it’s hungry? Why, anything it wants. And in this case only an entire star would do. The consumption of the star and the resulting supernova destroys the entire solar system, including a planet of 5 billion inhabitants in Imperial Shi’ar space. Suddenly, the Phoenix has become a destroyer of worlds and the entire galaxy’s problem, and the Shi’ar Empire has made it their mission to destroy her.
It’s still unclear why the Phoenix then decided to return to earth, when she felt so at home among the stars. Perhaps Jean still influenced the Phoenix enough to convince it to visit her parents one last time. The X-Men were prepared and fought bravely, but it took an all-out mental effort from Professor Xavier, with an assist from a still-fighting-for-control Jean to subdue and seemingly exorcise the Dark Phoenix. No sooner than Scott holds Jean in his arms and proposes to her, they all vanish.
The X-Men had been instantly (Amazingly! Inexplicably!) transported to the Shi’ar Empire, where, after Xavier demanded trial by combat, Jean’s fate would be decided by a massive, winner-take-all contest between the X-Men and the Shi’ar Imperial Guard on the Blue Area of the moon, and crater filled with breathable air and the ruins and machinery of an ancient Kree outpost. The double-issue-length battle is epic, but the X-Men are losing, and in a Butch & Sundance moment, Scott and Jean rush out from cover for a last stand…and the Phoenix is reborn yet again.
Phoenix begs the X-Men to kill her, knowing it is the only way she will ever be free of the permanently symbiotic entity. Jean’s costume transforms again to its Dark Phoenix appearance, a further indicator of her losing battle. She runs and Scott follows. He again refuses to kill her. She knows she only has one choice left to her.
Paralyzing Scott, Jean uses the last of her control to revive a concealed Kree energy cannon…and after telling Scott one last time that she loves him…she uses the cannon to reduce herself to atoms.
The final issue of this arc is a touching retelling of Scott and Jean’s love story and their history together with the X-Men, and ends with a heartbroken and lost Scott leaving the team.
Now, wouldn’t that story make for a GREAT movie?