Comic book characters have lots of stories. Some characters have had a new issue published each month for decades. Not all of them are great literature, but every once in a while there comes a story that is the quintessential tale for a hero. Today, I’m going to talk about the story that truly defines the X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga.
Nine issues with an epilouge, which I am going to split up into three parts, but the strings go further back.
The Story So Far: Soon after the new X-Men were recruited to replace the original members, the team found themselves in space in a shuttle with damaged radiation shielding. Jean Grey uses her telepathic powers to pilot the ship, hoping her telekinetic powers will protect her from the radiation. The shuttle crashes in Jamaica bay, and Jean emerges from the water transformed. Calling herself the Phoenix, her powers have increased to a cosmic level. 1
Jean continues to have many adventures with the X-Men, including saving the universe from the M’Kraan Crystal, meeting the Empress of the Shi’ar Galaxy (who falls in love with Charles Xaiver). During a fight with Magneto in an underground volcano in Antarctica, the X-Men are separated. Jean takes Beast up to the frozen surface, 2 while the rest of the team (Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, and Wolverine) tunneled into the Savage Land. 3 Each group thinks the other is dead.
Jean travels, and finds herself mentally reviving the life of an ancestor, in love with a man named Jason Wyndgard. The rest of the team makes their slow way home, escaping the Savage Land, having an adventure in Japan, (where Banshee damages his vocal chords, burning out his mutant power), and facing Wolverine’s old teammates Alpha Flight in Canada before reuniting with Jean on Muir Island. There, the reunited team faces Proteus, a mutant who can shape reality, and Colossus is forced to kill him.
Uncanny X-Men #129: “God Spare the Child”
Synopsis: The X-Men are getting ready to return back to the United States and Banshee decides to stay behind as he no longer can use his powers. As they jet through the air, they are unaware that not far behind them is a private jet owned by the Hellfire Club. Jason Wyngard is once more using his powers to access the mind of Phoenix, making her believe that she is reliving the life of her ancestor aboard a ship headed to America and that Wyngarde’s ancestor is her lover. She snaps out of this supposed “time slip” when Scott asks her if she is okay.
Over the next few days, Scott and Jean spend a lot of time catching up. Cerebro detects two new mutants who’s powers have manifested, one in Chicago and the other in New York. As the Professor mobilizes the X-Men to investigate the two new mutants, they are unaware that they are being spied on by the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club. 4
In the suburb of Deerfield, young Katherine “Kitty” Pryde is returning home from her ballet practice, bothered by the series of headaches that she has been experiencing recently. When she arrives home she finds her parents discussing sending Kitty to a private school in Massachusetts with it’s headmistress Ms. Emma Frost, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club in her civilian guise. As she goes up into her room to rest, another headache hits her and when she opens her eyes after the pain subsides, she finds herself strangely on the floor of the living room. She rushes back up to her room as her parents are seeing Ms. Frost out, and welcomes their next visitor: Charles Xavier, who seeks to get Kitty to come to his School for Gifted Youngsters. Kitty spies Xavier and his students, Logan, Peter, and Ororo and finds that they are much more interesting.
Kitty is asked to take Xavier’s friends out, and she brings them to the local malt shop where Kitty makes instant friends with Ororo, who reveals to her that they are really the mutant heroes known as the X-Men. Just then, three men in armored suits jump through the storefront window and attack the three X-Men. As the X-Men battle the men, they find that they have been armed to combat their abilities. As the fight rages, Kitty is knocked aside and she is surprised when she phases right through the wall. The X-Men realize that they can defeat their enemies if they switch opponents and easily trounce their attackers.
Their victory is only brief as they are then struck by a massive mental attack by the White Queen. As the white Queen has the X-Men stripped down out of their uniforms she tells her surviving troops she intends to experiment on them. She is unaware is that Kitty, having gotten the hang of her powers, has smuggled herself aboard the Hellfire Club’s hovercraft, and wonders what she can do all by herself.
Analysis: I can’t stress enough the importance of Kitty Pryde to the X-Men. She becomes an audience surrogate and a source of lightness and humor after the Dark Phoenix tragedy. 5 It’s also the first appearance of Emma Frost, the White Queen, who will one day join the X-Men herself.
Uncanny X-Men #130: “Dazzler”
Synopsis: Cyclops, Phoenix, and Nightcrawler have come to a Manhattan dance club to seek out the mutant in the are detected by Cerebro. Cyclops orders Nightcrawler to stay outside and watch secretly from the shadows for trouble while he and Jean search the nightclub for the new mutant. 6
The head of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw checks in with the White Queen in Chicago. Emma reports back showing that she has captured Wolverine, Storm, Professor X, and Colossus, however the young mutant named Kitty Pryde has escaped. Kitty has managed to sneak herself into Emma’s industrial complex. Storm rips her costume and provide Kitty with a phone number to call. Kitty is soon spotted by one of Emma’s guards and manages to flee the scene with her phasing powers.
Jean is confronted by Jason Wyngarde, and she finds herself seemingly living the past of her ancestor once more. She is at a burned out church in the middle of a wedding ceremony between her and Jason, with Sebastian Shaw acting as priest. When they exchange vows, Jean is unveiled as the Black Queen and she lustfully kisses Jason. The seeming “time slip” ends and Jean finds herself kissing the modern day Wyngarde right in front of Scott.
Before Jean can begin to explain things, the musical act of the night appears on stage. She is a disco singer known as Dazzler who turns out to be the mutant they are seeking when they see her convert the sound around her into light displays. 7
The car phone begins to ring and Nightcrawler answers it. It is Kitty Pride calling for help, but before Nightcrawler can learn anymore he is attacked by one of the Hellfire Club soldiers in a specially made suit of armor to combat his powers.
Two more of these soldiers also smash through the skylight of the dance club and Jean uses her powers to change their street clothing into costumes, shocking Scott at her display of power. Dazzler enters the fight, distracting them with her light powers. This allows Jean to free Cyclops and the two switch opponents, easily defeating them.
The last soldier and Nightcrawler crash through the skylight and he is easily defeated by Phoenix. Nightcrawler explains to Cyclops and Phoenix that the X-Men in Chicago were ambushed. Cyclops briefly explains to Dazzler that she is a mutant and that they need her help in saving their friends. Dazzler is surprised by all this, but agrees to help. After the X-Men drive off, Wyngarde laughs over the progress he is making with Jean Grey.
I think the major thing to take away from this issue is Jean’s display of power. If she can rearrange the molecules in their clothing, then there really is no limit to her telekinetic powers. Also, she’s using her powers for everyday things. It also says that her mind scans the minds of the other patrons in the club and starts to find their base impulses attractive. We see the effectiveness of a mind scrambler on Jean, which will be relevant in the final third of the overall story.
Also, a disco singer in 1980, talk about striking when the iron is hot.
Uncanny X-Men #131: “Run For Your Life”
Synopsis: Kitty Pryde is being chased through the streets of Chicago by minions of the Hellfire Club. They are stopped telekinetically by Phoenix. Jean probes one of the soldiers sent to capture Kitty and learns about the Hellfire Club. This troubles Jean, as the Hellfire Club is the organization that the man in her “time slips” is affiliated with.
Soon, she, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Dazzler smuggle themselves onto the property owned by Frost Industries. Kitty phases into the room where the other X-Men are held captive and manages to free Wolverine by putting her hand through the lock in his cage. 8 As Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Dazzler go to help the others, Phoenix confronts the White Queen before she can use her mental powers to wipe out Storm’s mind.
Storm is horrified by Jean’s show of power when her Phoenix effect emerged and overpowers the White Queen. Outside the other X-Men are about to turn back for Jean and Ororo when the complex suddenly explodes. Their worst fears are allayed however when Phoenix and Storm emerge from the rubble unharmed. 9
The next day outside of the Pryde home, Charles offers Dazzler a place with the X-Men, but she refuses telling him that she was born to be a singer not a super hero and departs.10 Just then, Kitty’s parents emerge from their home. When Kitty’s father demands from Xavier, he suddenly changes his tone and the Scott is told by Jean that she used her powers to change his mind and make him agree to let Kitty study at Xavier’s school. Alone with Storm, Scott expresses his fears that Jean is abusing her powers, a feeling that Ororo believes as well.
So far Storm and Cyclops are wary not of Jean’s power, but how they are being used. During the battle with the White Queen, Storm is shocked by the level of power, but her changing of Carmen Pryde’s mind is more distrubing. Forcibly changing someone’s thoughts is a clear violation, and is essentially what Wyngard is doing to her. Jean does it to smooth things over with Kitty’s parents, but it’s taking the easy way over the right way. It’s the first step in her descent.
Next: The team takes the fight to The Hellfire Club