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X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga s/c

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga s/c back

Chris Claremont & John Byrne

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18.98

Page 45 Review by Stephen

Corruption and seduction and genocide. Keep your enemies close and your friends even closer: this one will gut you for good.

Jean Grey was a kind, gentle soul, and one of the five original students at the countryside School For Gifted Youngsters. It was a quiet and secluded safe haven for those feared and persecuted just because they were different. They grew up together as a loving family under the paternal gaze of Professor Charles Xavier, an extraordinary, optimistic man whose vision for a future free from the anger and anguish of bigotry was indomitable. Each student was gifted or cursed at birth with a special power that lay dormant until puberty. And, truth be told, Jean Grey's was the weakest: regardless of her sex, she was a telekinetic who struggled to move more than a chair.

Scott Summers was another of the school's five original mutants. A blast of pure energy out of his eyes left unchecked could literally level a building. And so it was that he held himself back, and hid behind ruby-quartz glasses. He suppressed himself. In spite of all that, as they battled alongside, Jean Grey and Scott Summers gradually and naturally fell in love. They were the happy ending which Charles Xavier originally envisioned.

But in MARVEL MASTERWORKS: UNCANNY X-MEN vol two Jean Grey almost died and rose again as The Phoenix, transfigured into a woman of now limitless telekinetic and telepathic power. It worried her. It worried the new generation of mutants too: Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and even Professor Xavier who helped install psychic circuit-breakers, effectively suppressing Jean's mutant abilities to manageable limits until she'd grow able to handle them. But for months now she's had a mental intruder, a dashing aristocrat called Jason Wyngarde who's been seducing her slowly in Cyclops' absence, seemingly spiriting her away to an ancestral past which they shared. The truth is that they've been too distracted, and this is where everyone pays…

Claremont managed the mechanics of the subplot there (and so too here, with a shadow and a smile) to perfection, keeping Scott and Jean apart for far too long while Wyngarde made his move. It spanned nearly forty issues, but - with the above introduction - you'll find everything here that you need. It's overburdened with captions just as this review is overburdened by background, but the dialogue is still pretty haunting, and John Byrne was approaching the top of his game as the halfway house between Neal Adams, George Perez and Jim Lee. Even the speech balloons had their role to play, Jean's chillingly distanced from the others' in an otherworldly, far darker ripple as she grows increasingly remote in her own, angry world, punctuated by tantalisingly brief but poignantly intimate moments. And if you're wondering why I'm expending so many words, it's because this is a superhero classic: the defining X-Men saga for thirty-odd years before Morrison, Whedon and Ellis came along.

"What have you done?! I told you to stop that car, not turn it into instant junk!"
"You didn't feel the girl's start terror, Scott, or the thoughts of the killers chasing her. I'm a telepath. I did. These… animals got no more than they deserved."

And that's early on.

The X-Men have just been reunited in time for Cerebro to register two new mutants: Kitty Pryde and Dazzler. They try to make contact but so does the elite and nefarious Hellfire Club in the form of cold Emma Frost, The White Queen. Licking their wounds, the X-Men regroup then set about infiltrating the Hellfire Club. It's a good plan and it might have worked. Except that amongst their members lies Jason Wyngarde, and he has an ace - or a Black Queen - up his sleeve. And the cards, they come tumbling down.

So many key moments here which I refuse to ruin, but the best thing about this? That's just the beginning. It just grows bigger and bigger and bigger. Each victory proves pyrrhic and just when you think they are winning it all grows disastrously worse. Then worse. And then, I swear to God, heartbreakingly worse. It really wouldn't matter if they didn't all love each other.
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