The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of those untouchable, seminal moments in X-Men lore and comic book fandom as a whole. It has been adopted into television and film, and goes down as the first great threat to face the all-new, all-different Uncanny X-Men… and as soon as it was over, people wanted more. Such is the nature of sequential, serialized storytelling: people will want more.
But master-scribe Chris Claremont has always been aware that what people say they want is different from what they want, and was reluctant to water-down the story with a Dark Phoenix 2. Also, there were editorial mandates in place. Jean Grey was dead not by written edict but by choice of Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, as he felt that Jean should pay for the wrongs she had committed as Phoenix. So there was a bind. And from that hardship came the amazing story of Dark Phoenix Returns and the smart, innovative character of Madelyn Pryor.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and from the contrasting push-and-pull of fan demand and editorial mandate, Claremont created this.
But rather than a straight sequel involving a duplicate of Jean and Phoenix-villain Mastermind, Claremont adds a dose of emotional turmoil and makes this a story of grief and getting over the death of a loved one. See, science-fiction works best when it takes an element of the human condition that shapes us all and adds a sci-fi twist, turning it into a parable that an teach us a lesson about how we live our lives. Star Trek the Next Generation did this very well. In this instance, Claremont plays with the idea of moving on. After the death of a loved one, many people see them everywhere. This is caused by thinking about the person, by not moving past their departure or passing. If you start dating someone new before this stage of the mourning process is over, it can lead to seeing aspects of the old love in this new love… can even lead to feelings for the old love being moved to the new.
This is called transference.
Taken to its sci-fi extreme, Claremont tells the story of Scott, still woeful after the passing of Jean, meeting Madelyn: a woman who may as well have been Jean’s twin and who has multiple conspiracy-laden connections to her, wherein major events in Jean’s life correspond to major events in Madelyn’s.
What follows is a psychological minefield for Scott, complicated by an assault by classic X-Men villain Mastermind, who uses his illusions to make it seem as though Maddie is Phoenix, and that she’s killed Captain America and the Avengers. In the end, Scott must overcome his grief and personal demons in a poignant moment that translates into us needing to overcome our own illusions. A wonderful, emotionally-charged epic chapter of the X-Men franchise by Claremont.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“A well-deserved 5/5 stars”