“…Jean Grey could have lived to become a God. But it was more important to her that she die…a human…” – The Watcher
One of the most influential and powerful stories ever told in comics would have to be the Phoenix Saga and specifically, the Dark Phoenix Saga. The brainchild of Chris Claremont, who also was the imagination behind Days of Future Past and practically any X-Men story line that has any value, the Dark Phoenix Saga tells the death and sacrifice of the X-Men known as Marvel Girl, Jean Grey, The Phoenix. Written by Claremont and John Byrne and penciled by Byrne and John Romita Jr, the Dark Phoenix saga is considered a classic today.
The story begins in X-Men #101-108 in 1976 to 1977, where Jean gains the power of the entity that would be known later as the Phoenix. The Phoenix is able to amplify Jean’s as a telepath and a telekinetic. She came into this power by being exposed to the radiation of a solar flare during a mission in space. She recovers and returns to Earth with a new costume and identity as well as the power of the Phoenix. Jean is able to control this power for a time and is even able to use it to repair the fractures in the M’Kraan Crystal.
In 1980, with the release of X-Men #132, the tale of the Dark Phoenix begins. The villain Mastermind, who is looking to become part of the Hellfire Club seduces Jean and with the help of the Club’s White Queen, Emma Frost, convince Jean that she is living in the memories of her ancestor, Lady Grey. The Phoenix takes the identity of Lady Grey who was at the time the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, a personage that allows her to take her emotions to the extreme. As the Black Queen, Jean helps the Hellfire capture the X-Men, in the ensuing battles Jean loses control of the Phoenix and it takes over, re-naming itself the Dark Phoenix.
Enraged at having been tricked, the Dark Phoenix destroys Mastermind and in an effort to do away with any semblance of her human self; Jean Grey, she beats down the X-Mean and leaves for a very distant galaxy. The trip weakens her and to re-charge herself, the Dark Phoenix devours the energy of a nearby star. This causes a supernova and murders the entire population of the only living planet orbiting the star. Jean Grey as the Dark Phoenix has just committed mass genocide, murdering billions of living souls. She is attacked by a Shi’ar vessel that witnessed the act but she easily destroys them. But before they die they alert the Shi’ar Empress Lilandra of what has happened. A galactic counsel is called and they conclude that the Dark Phoenix is a greater threat to the peace and safety of the galaxy than even the planet eater known as Galactus. They issue a proclamation that the Dark Phoenix must be destroyed at all cost.
The Dark Phoenix returns to Earth and is conflicted with her omnipotent power and the memories of the human Jean Grey that live within her. The X-Men attempt to capture her but are easily defeated and it is up to Professor Charles Xavier to take on the power of the Phoenix in a great mental battle. Xavier is able to set up safeguards against the power of the Dark Phoenix that allow Jean Grey to once again take control. But as that happens, the Shi’ar capture and kidnap the X-Men, including Jean Grey and hold her for the crime of genocide. Their verdict is death.
Professor Xavier challenges the Empress Lilandra to a honor duel for Jean’s life which cannot be refused. The Shi’ar Imperial Guard defeat most of the X-Men, only Cyclops and the Phoenix are left. Jean using her telekinetic powers, fires a weapon into herself and disentigrates her body, rather than let any of the other X-Men come to harm. Scott, Cyclops, realizes that this had been her plan all along. Jean had decided it was better for everyone if she was to die and take the Phoenix with her. Her ultimate sacrifice; to save the planet, the galaxy, and the people she loved.
While this synopsis is very brief, the actual storyline taking place over books #132-138, the scope and depth of the Dark Phoenix Saga is impressive. It also catapulted the X-Men into the Marvel Universes as a force to be reckoned with on galactic terms and not just held to Earthbound adventures. This was something that was previously only the stomping ground of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. But the central figure in the tale is that of Jean Grey. While I adore the work actress Famke Jansen has done with the character, the X-Men movies have done little justice to the complexity of the character.
Jean Grey was the first and only woman of the original X-Men. This was back in 1963, over fifty years ago. Storm, Ororo Munroe, did not come into being until 1975, twelve years later. Popular culture, the X-Men and Wolverine movies, would have you believe that Jean Grey, while powerful was little more than a love interest for the Wolverine and Cyclops. But for 12 years in comic book history, she was the only female member of the X-Men and she held her own besides the likes of Cyclops, Beast, Iceman and Angel. Her power rivaling that of even Professor Xavier. Her death in the Dark Phoenix saga, is different than that death most of casual X-Men fans know from the final and pathetic X-Men movie. She does not die by being stabbed to death by Wolverine as her power destroys all around her. She dies by killing herself, in the arms of Cyclops, sacrificing herself lest those she loves also die.
Of course, this being comics, she returns in other forms, in other books, in other ways…but that is a blog for another day.
Today, we also have young Rachel Grey Summers, the transplant from an alternate future carrying on the mantle of the Phoenix and trying to live up to the legacy left behind by the original Phoenix.
So for a moment, let’s appreciate the original one. The Dark Phoenix, The Phoenix, Marvel Girl, X-Men…Jean Grey.