Why The Dark Phoenix Saga is Freakin’ Awesome

“Power corrupts even the best of us”

There’s a reason The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most revered, most well-known and most referenced comic stories of all time: it’s amazing. It’s a perfectly sculpted work of fiction; one that can be read by newcomers and comic veterans alike and they’ll no doubt have an appreciation of it. Absolutely entertaining and heart-breaking, it’s a story that has become something of required reading in comics. Really, I don’t think I can do it justice here – but I’ll damn well try.

First things first: this is a comic and one of the biggest factors of a comic is the art. John Byrne does an amazing job here and thoroughly conveys each character’s emotions in each panel. Each hit, both physical and emotional, can be seen and almost felt because of his art. This is classic X-Men art, and though it can be argued it’s a little dated now, that claim doesn’t hold much water as the art is perfect for the story and really couldn’t be improved if redone today.

A nice touch is that the X-MEN title actually stays cracked for the remainder of this arc

Legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont is the mastermind behind this tale, and his reputation as a storytelling genius is well deserved. The script is fantastic, with each character sounding exactly as you’d expect them to. If anything, this era defined how each character sounds even to this day. The story, however, is one of the best you’ll probably ever find in comics: a story of deception, love, anger, power, destruction, sacrifice and redemption. A story chronicling one woman’s struggle against the power within her, power enough for her to make the universe her play thing, and of the people that love her and want to save her, even if it means giving their own lives for hers. But while Jean Grey battles her inner demons, she is also seduced by them and comes to wield the power of a god. The X-Men must unite in order to save her from herself, even as there are others that hunt her. A well-known phrase, which Professor X himself says in this story, sums it up perfectly: power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even for the greatest mankind has to offer, having access to unlimited power is too much for one person to retain their humanity for long. Wolverine is the first to understand this and, before the end of the story, even Jean Grey herself understands.

And what an ending it is. Truly heart-wrenching, pure emotion is written in each characters speech and thoughts. None of the X-Men were ever the same after this storyline and they never will be again. This story defines the X-Men, specifically Jean Grey and Cyclops, and shows that, even when they’re villains, the X-Men will always become the heroes they were destined to be. The Watcher’s final speech perfectly sums up Jean Grey and what the power of the Phoenix means to her. I won’t spoil it here, as it is really something you have to read for yourself at the end of the story, but it is the perfect close to an amazing story.

When the Phoenix rises, worlds will fall

To say the story is revered would be just about the biggest understatement I could give it. Not only is it heavily referenced in popular culture, and is well-known by so many people, but it was also partially adapted into the film X-Men: The Last Stand. The quality of that film aside, the story has clearly stood the test of time, what with it being reprinted multiple times, including a 30th anniversary edition a few years ago. In fact, this story is still being referenced in the X-Men comics today – 30 years after it was published (the current arc of All-New X-Men involves a young Jean Grey being put on trial for her actions as Phoenix). I can’t think of a story that has so defined not only characters but the whole series and is still a major part of plotlines decades after it was first in print.

There are perhaps two small things I’d want to bring up now before I finish. The first is that this book can get overhyped, as I’m probably now guilty of. It’s held in such high esteem by so many people that it’s natural for that to happen. The second is that the first half can seem a little slow to get going. While this isn’t a big issue, it does seem to take a while for things to come to fruition. However, once everything starts really going, the seeds planted in the first half really blossom and everything suddenly makes a lot of sense for why it has to happen as it does. While neither of these are true detriments to the book, I just wanted to bring them up as a small warning.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, not only to X-Men fans but also to fans of comics and in fact fans of great stories about a rise to, and fall from, power – with all the sacrifice that comes with the territory.

‘Til next time, this has been Jubby writing for The Awesome Update, bub.

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