Archive for December 2013
I’ve owned this trade paperback edition of The Dark Phoenix Saga for some time, but it struck me as appropriate to review it now. What better time is there than now, a season of devotion to the contemplation of messiah figures and the year’s end, to take another look at the story of a godling brought to a premature end?
I was concerned that this story wouldn’t have aged well. I was drawn towards Marvel through the current continuity, a metanarrative that had evolved some three decades after this story’s publication. Since then, many of the elements that gave the Dark Phoenix Saga its power have transformed. The Phoenix Force was not merely the culmination of Jean Grey‘s potential as a psi, but was a separate cosmic force that was drawn towards the young psychic. Jean Grey herself never did die during this saga, instead lying cocooned on the floor of Jamaica Bay while the Phoenix Force impersonated her perfectly for 37 issues of Uncanny X-Men. The mythologies of both the Phoenix Force and Jean Grey have since been expanded and complicated significantly, most recently by last year’s Avengers vs. X-Men event and the ongoing All-New X-Men series. In light of all this, is it a period piece of note to completists? Or is this classic X-Men story still worthy of its elevated reputation?
Happily, the answer is that yes, the Dark Phoenix Saga is still a powerful story. I suggest that is because the core of the story hasn’t changed; the Phoenix Force’s cloning of Jean Grey has not made the story less powerful. The Dark Phoenix Saga still tells the tragic story of a heroine who, without wishing to and despite her conscious efforts to prevent it, becomes such a threat to the universe and the people that she loves that she kills herself. It tells the story well: both established characters (the X-Men, Professor Xavier) and new ones (Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club) feel like real people, making mistakes as they try to achieve their goals. In the end, they fail; everyone loses something. This, I think, makes this space operatic superhero story feel authentic.
Elsewhere, the style of The Dark Phoenix Saga is three decades old, but it still stands up well as a high point of the state of the art. Certain frames have a pop-art energy that makes me want to expand them into wall posters. One area that hasn’t dated so well is the Claremont/Byrne narrative’s heavy dependence on the third-person narrative. This puts it at odds with the current style in graphic novels, which uses the art and the characters’ dialogue to frame the narrative, to show, not tell.
My biggest problem with the story is that I to wonder how the Hellfire Club could ever have approved the terribly risky plans of Mastermind to dominate the Phoenix. “I have a great plan! I’ll use my powers of illusion to derange the mind of Jean Grey, the frighteningly powerful telepath/telekinetic who just broke the mind of the White Queen, and make her into my corset-wearing S&M consort. Who’ll give me funding?” The story does not become more plausible if we know that the Phoenix was actually the favoured avatar of the cosmic force that burns away what doesn’t work. I suspect that these sorts of catastrophically risky plans may have been de rigeur for comic books of the era, but this convention certainly does not aid the plausibility of the plot within its conventions.
This is a great book, one still worth reading. It deserves its fame.
I took a few photos as I walked to Christmas dinner about 5:30. Snow was still falling, and was rather quite pleasant. It had been a while since I’d experienced a white Christmas, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.
Walking east on Dupont towards the intersection with Dovercourt Avenue early Christmas evening, all was calm and white. Even the traffic seemed cheery.
Looking south onto Dovercourt at the interection of Dupont and Dovercourt, the scene was quiet.
Walking south on Dovercourt towards Hallam was quietly pleasant.
A taxi parked while, in the far distance, the few cars about on Hallam approached Dovercourt.