Ah, the 1990s. What a weird and unique time to be alive. The nineties gave birth to some of animation’s best cartoons on the small screen. With iconic cartoons like Batman: the Animated Series¸ Batman Beyond, Rugrats, Hey Arnold! – the list literally goes on and on. While cartoons like Batman TAS or Superman TAS told more original stories or shortened versions of their comic counterparts; Marvel had a different vision for their properties. They were taking some of their most iconic stories in the comic book medium and bringing them to life over the course of two to four episodes. Truly giving each one of their iconic stories room to breathe and the justice they so badly needed. It was during this time that I first was introduced to the famous Dark Phoenix Saga thanks to the X-Men cartoon.
When it comes to the X-Men canon in the comics, no story is more iconic than Jean Grey’s turn to the dark side in The Dark Phoenix Saga. The saga ran from January to October of 1980 and specifically issues 129 to 138 of the Uncanny X-Men title. The series was written by Chris Claramont & John Bryne. The saga also featured art from Bryne as well. The arc told the story of Jean Grey, post Phoenix, coming back to the X-Men. Grey is wooed by X-villain, Mastermind and the Hellfire Club, until the Phoenix force eventually turns dark and shows her true colors. Eventually leaving the X-Men to fight one of their most trusted allies.
I think it’s safe to say that when most people think of a saga – their mind tends to go to this large scale event. The word saga literally means a long, involved story, account of series of incidents. Don’t get me wrong, Dark Phoenix is every bit a saga – it’s just a bit more personal. One of the enduring things about this arc of the X-Men is the heart that Clarmont & Bryne bring to these characters. It’s very personal, yet Shakespearean in its’ delivery. Brilliantly crafting a story which pits heroes and allies against one another. Not just that but the tragic ending of not only the Jean Grey character but also the downfall of her and Scott Summers, aka Cyclops, relationship makes this story all the more heartbreaking.
There is a level of heart and depth that this story presents beautifully along side the action aspects of this. Bryne, as the artist, manages to truly craft and elevate some of the best action sequences within the X-Men comic franchise. Look no further than the issue marked, “Wolverine Alone”, where the climatic battle between the X-Men and The Hellfire Club comes to fruition with Wolverine leading the charge. The issue is backed with awesome, action-packed moments brought to life wonderfully by Bryne’s art. Not to mention also “Dark Phoenix” and the climatic conclusion in issue 138. Issues that explore just how tragic and powerful the Phoenix force truly is.
The storytelling paces itself marvelously. Yes, pun intended. Slowly crafting an episodic journey from the psi-connections of Jean Grey, Mastermind and the Black Queen to the cosmic exploration of the saga’s climatic ending. Over the course of ten issues, Claramont beautifully tells the tragic story of redemption, struggle and family. Masterfully told from start to finish. There are a couple of narrative choices though, in the long run that don’t really make sense from a storytelling point of view. Within the context of the larger series it may work but not necessarily in context with this particular arc. The rivalry between Professor Xavier and Cyclops, Angel and really Xavier as a character offer little to nothing to the overall narrative of the story.
Overall, The Uncanny X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga is a well-paced, action-packed, tragic story of Shakespearean proportions. The comic saga is told tremendously through the talent of Chris Claramont and John Bryne. Bryne pulls double duty in crafting the art for the story. His art is just as heartfelt as the storytelling. Exceptionally told, Phoenix Saga is a wonder of the medium. Extraordinarily well-done.
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