Two guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

X-amining X-Men #137

"The Fate of the Phoenix!
September 1980

In a Nutshell 
It's all right there in the title.

Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Artist/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Jim Salicrup & Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
The X-Men suddenly find themselves on the cargo deck of a Shi'ar Imperial Dreadnought. Lilandra confronts them and explains that for her destruction of a Shi'ar warship and the planet D'bari, Phoenix must be destroyed. Cyclops insists that the power of Phoenix has been contained by Professor X, but Lilandra believes the risk too great. In response, Profess X issues an Arin'nn Haeler, a Shi'ar duel of honor, between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard for the life of Phoenix. Impressed with the knowledge of her culture he learned while living in Shi'ar space, Lilandra leaves to confer with her Kree and Skrull allies, and all agree that the X-Men will abide by the result of the duel, and to let it occur. That night, aboard the ship, each of the X-Men prepare for the coming battle in their own way, contemplating Jean's actions as Dark Phoenix. At dawn, Jean, dressed as Marvel Girl once more, approaches a brooding Cyclops. He insists that she is not evil, and that he loves her, and will stand by her, no matter what.


The X-Men are teleported down to the Blue Area of the moon, a place filled with the ruins of ancient civilizations, with an Earth-normal atmosphere. The X-Men break into two groups and split up, determined to use hit and run tactics against the numerically-superior Imperial Guard to keep them off balance. Each group quickly comes under fire, with Storm the first to be taken out of the fight. Nightcrawler, fighting alongside Angel, Cyclops and Marvel Girl, notes the X-Men are holding their own, but just barely. In the course of the fight, Wolverine is knocked into the home of the Watcher, a cosmic being tasked with observing events on Earth. Wolverine is transported through various periods of Earth history, a trip which leaves him disorientated, and he is taken out of the fight by the Kree and Skrull observers. One by one, the X-Men fall, as a heartbroken Xavier watches from aboard the Shi'ar ship, until only Cyclops and Marvel Girl remain. Hand in hand, they make their final stand, though they too are quickly overwhelmed. As Cyclops is cut down, the shock and grief of it shatters the psychic restraints Professor X placed in Jean's mind, and Phoenix emerges once more.


Realizing things have gone too far, Xavier telepathically awakens the unconscious X-Men and orders them to attack Phoenix now, while her power is still comparatively weak. The X-Men do their best to wear her down, and Wolverine, taking advantage of the lighter gravity, is able to hurl Colossus at Phoenix, but at the last second, Colossus, unable to kill Jean, pulls his punch. Explaining she has realized that as long as she lives the Phoenix will manifest through her, running the risk of transforming her into Dark Phoenix, Jean runs from the X-Men. Cyclops follows her but she freezes him in place. Raising a nearby energy weapon, she explains that she can't live her life constantly fighting to contain her power, knowing that if she slipped for even an instant, countless lives would be at risk. Unwilling to allow even one more person to die at her hands, Jean declares her love for Scott, and tells him a part of her will always be with him. Then she fires the weapon, obliterating herself. A heartbroken Cyclops realizes Jean had planned this outcome all along, should the Imperial Guard fail in destroying her, having read the minds of the Kree and Skrull observers and learned of the ancient weapons on hand, then fought the X-Men to weaken her power enough to make her vulnerable.

Nearby, the Watcher observes these events and muses on humanity's virtually unique ability to overcome great obstacles. He declares that though the X-Men may never realize or accept it, they have just won perhaps the greatest victory of their lives, and though Jean Grey could have become a god, it was more important to her to die a human.


Firsts and Other Notables
This issue is, of course, the death of Jean Grey, though later stories (orchestrated, in part, by John Byrne, independent of Claremont) have retroactively made it more particularly the death of Phoenix, the cosmic entity which copied Jean Grey's form and consciousness and was driven to kill itself by her innate humanity. Either way, it's the big climax to "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and is generally considered the "death of Jean Grey" issue.

The Imperial Guard make a return appearance, and have added a few members which make their first appearance here: Warstar, Hussar, Manta and Earthquake. I'm not sure if they continue the trend of being Legion of Superhero analogs, but they don't seem familiar to me (is there a goat-legged Legionnaire with a whip?).


Both the Kree and the Skrull, Marvel's two major alien races and longtime foes of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, are mentioned in X-Men for the first time, and are represented by two observers aboard the Shi'ar flagship as well as by their respective leaders, who make cameo appearances while conferring with Lilandra.


The Watcher, a cosmic being who lives on the moon, with a sworn duty to observe the events of Earth but to never interfere (though he often does), makes his first appearance in X-Men, as does the Blue Area of the moon, an ancient underground city with an Earth-normal atmosphere. Both made their first appearances back in Fantastic Four #13. The Watcher tends to pop up in stories as a signal that the events to follow will have great significance on the Marvel Universe. Here, he acts as a Greek Chorus (he's even wearing a toga!), opening and closing the issue while speaking on the fate of Jean Grey.


Similarly, in the final page, the Watcher is joined by the Recorder, a robot created by the Rigellians (another Marvel Universe alien species) with a function similar to the Watcher. He provides the Watcher a forum in which to speak highly on the innate traits of humanity.

As I'm sure you figured out from the extra long plot summary, this issue is double-sized, the first double-sized regular (non-Annual, non-Giant Size) issue of the comic.

Behind the scenes, Louise Jones (soon to be Simonson) shares editing credit with Jim Salicrup, making this her first issue of X-Men. She will become the full-fledged editor next issue, and remain significantly involved with the X-Men universe, as an editor and a writer, right alongside Claremont, until his departure in 1991.

The Classic X-Men backup story following this issue continues to bridge the gap between this story and the then-contemporaneous "Inferno" storyline, and elaborates on the idea of the Phoenix as the embodiment of life, a force which manipulated various comings and goings within the X-Men in order to ensure the survival of existence, and the notion that sensitivity to the Phoenix force is something Jean Grey possess and can pass on to her descendants. This is also the last Classic X-Men to feature an original backup story (the reprint series continues for some time, but the backups end here, so you won't have to hear me blather on about them anymore). 

A Work in Progress
It has been alluded to in quotes from the creators in previous issues, but it was not Claremont and Byrne's original plan to kill Jean, but rather have her suffer a psychic lobotomy at the hands of the Shi'ar which would rob her of her powers. We'll discuss their original plans, both for this issue and the issues following it, in a couple weeks.  

In many ways, this issue is a mirror version of issue #107, with the X-Men battling the Imperial Guard for the fate of the universe; the two issues open with near-identical narration: "a moment ago, they had been on Earth..."

John Byrne, a self-professed fan of the original X-Men, strove throughout his run on the book to integrate as much of the original team as he could. He gets as close as he ever will with this issue; only Iceman, reportedly off limits due to a different project that never saw publication, is missing from this issue.

It is worth noting however, that in the closing moments of the issue, as Jean transforms back into Phoenix, it is only the new X-Men who confront her for the final time. 

Professor X's time in Shi'ar space further pays off, as his knowledge of their culture allows him to issue the challenge that grants the X-Men a temporary reprieve and sets up the duel for Jean's life. Subsequently, this is the first mention of the Arin'nn Haelar challenge. (and one of the highlights of the animated series adaptation of this story was hearing that phrase spoken aloud...).


Jean participates in the duel in her old Marvel Girl costume.


This issue marks the first appearance of Lilandra's "I mean business" armor, worn whenever she means business.


Storm is once again pulling X-Men out of the sky (this time, Angel and Wolverine) and even comments on the frequency of it.


Nightcrawler compares the tunnels of the Blue Area to Arcade's Murderworld, while Wolverine compares his experiences inside the Watcher's house to his encounter with Proteus, making the events of the issue feel even more like the culmination of Claremont and Byrne's entire run up to this point.


Wolverine and Colossus do a reverse fastball special, with Wolverine hurling Colossus at Dark Phoenix.


Colossus says that he's never killed anyone before, though technically, he killed Proteus in issue #128.


As she blasts herself, Jean cries out "Scott!", a deliberate echo of the end of issue #100, in which she cried out his name as the radiation from the solar flare pierced her shields, bringing the entire story full circle.


I Love the 80s
Earthquake is a member of the Imperial Guard who can cause earthquakes. Except, he's an alien, so shouldn't he be called "Whatever-the-name-of-his-planet-is quake?" Or should we just assume whatever mechanism (which goes unmentioned) that allows the X-Men to communicate with the Guard is translating his name to "Earthquake"?


Claremontisms
In the time before the battle, Claremont gives each member of the team a scene that explores their thoughts on the events at hand and deepens their character: Beast is frustrated by the absence of law in the Shi'ar's proceedings, Storm struggles with her love for Jean and the appalling acts she committed as Phoenix, Wolverine determines to stand by Jean, no matter what, etc.


Artistic Achievements
This issue features another iconic cover, with Scott and Jean, disheveled, their backs against the wall, making their last stand, desperately hoping to win that $2500.

This issue features the 500th page of X-Men drawn by John Byrne, noted by him in this panel.


The three panel sequence of Jean's death has become one of the most iconic and oft-reprinted sequences in X-Men history. 


Young Love
Secondary to the sorrow of the Scott/Jean romance, there are a number of sad moments between Xavier and Lilandra throughout the issue, as Lilandra senses his anguish over the fate of his students but is unable to comfort him.


Wolverine tells Colossus that he loved Jean, and as a result, knows he'd again hesitate to kill her.


Scott and Jean emerging to make their last stand against the Imperial Guard, hand in hand, is one of the series' romantic high points, and Claremont really sells it with some of his most effective narration yet.


Jim Shooter on the death of Phoenix
"The [original] plot indicated that Phoenix would somehow be mind-wiped and let go. Back to living at the Mansion, hanging around with Storm and company, sitting at the same table for lunch, etc. That, to me, would be like taking the German army away from Hitler and letting him go back to governing Germany. Did I have a 'moral' issue with that? Yes. More than that, it was a character issue. Would Storm sit comfortably at a dinner table with someone who had killed billions as if nothing had ever happened? Nah. I don't know if most people grok this idea but the editor-in-chief is charged with governing, managing, and protecting all of the characters. It was my job to make sure the characters were in character, and I was the final on what 'in character' was. Not Chris, not John, not any freelancer. The company relied on me to manage and protect the company's intellectual properties. I told Chris that the ending proposed in his plot didn't work. It wasn't workable with the characters, and in fact was a totally lame cop-out, story-wise. I demanded a different ending...The next morning, Chris stormed into my office and said that there was only one answer - they'd have to kill Phoenix. I said fine. I don't think he expected me to say that, since killing characters just wasn't done in those days. Chris waffled a bit, but then I became insistent! She's dying. That's it."

Nickerson, Al. "Claremont and Byrne: The Team that Made the X-Men Uncanny." Back Issue August 2008: p9.

Claremont on redoing the ending of issue #137
"John and I both decide that at that point we're both thinking in terms of going to Jim's [Shooter] office and saying, 'Listen, you have someone write #137 and #138, we'll abide by whatever you do, we wash our hands of it.' Because at that point we were not at fault. I had cleared every plot. Every plot had been cleared by Salicrup. Every script had cleared by Salicrup, and I assumed by Shooter. I was sitting in Shooter's office saying, 'I told you this!' But he didn't remember. 'Didn't Jim [Salicrup] show you the plots?' No. 'Didn't Jim show you the scripts?' No. And Jim [Shooter]'s saying, well, he understands that it's not our fault, that we did everything we were supposed to do, but he feels that it is his responsibility as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics to see that nothing goes out of the office that reflects a moral position that he does not think Marvel should take, and he felt that this story made a moral statement, that Marvel should not stand behind.

...So I'm tossing a number of ideas around in my head. It's still Thursday afternoon. I try a couple out on Louise. She says they sound fine. I go to Jim [Shooter], I try them on him. He says 'Sounds good to me,' but evidently the only one he heard, or the only that stayed in his mind, is that Jean dies. So I told Louise I was going home, went home, watched Buck Rogers, I slid back some bourbon, and then Friday I came in...it was awkward because as soon as Jim [Shooter] heard 'Oh, she's going to die,' Jim spoke to John, John liked it, John thought that was fine, so I was really kind of left out on the edge of the limb. I could quit. The only option I had was not to the finish the story and quit, and I wasn't willing to do that. So we made the best of it. And if there's a lesson to be learned, it is that all facets of comic books are mutable."

Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p109, 112

Chris Claremont on the death of Phoenix
"Jean's death actually gave us credibility. We had been backed into the gift that separated X-Men significantly from every other book. Sure, Gwen Stacy died in Spider-Man, but it wasn't like killing Sue Storm or Ben Grimm. We killed off half of the second oldest romantic relationship on the Marvel Universe. We killed off a major franchise character and we said it was for real. The credibility gained from that event was just fantastic and then we topped it with 'Days of Future Past'. John and I were on such  a roll in those last six months. The stuff was just so good. It was powerful and it was fun. What we were cramming into two issues would take three years these days! And the proof of the pudding is here we are, twenty-five bloody years later, and Marvel is still evolving stories off of what we did. Whether it's 'Days of Future Past' or 'Dark Phoenix' or the relationship with Magneto - Marvel is still living off the seeds we planted."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p67 

Teebore's Take 
"Once upon a time, there was a woman named Jean Grey, a man named Scott Summers.
They were young. They were in love.
They were heroes.
Today, they will prove it -- beyond all shadow of a doubt."

"Jean Grey could have lived to become a god, but it was more important to her that she die...a human."

I've read this issue, both as the conclusion to "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and on its own, countless times, and every damned time those two passages still get me misty-eyed. This issue is, without a doubt, one of my favorite single issues of a comic book, and Claremont and Byrne's magnum opus. In it, they take everything they accomplished in the last issue, the flawless synthesis of plot, action and characterization, and add one final element that puts it over the top and into the realm of greatness: tragedy. "The Dark Phoenix Saga" is considered by most to be one of the best X-Men stories of all time, and by many to be the best, yet in the end of their landmark story, the X-Men don't win. They are defeated, soundly, and though the day is ultimately saved, it is not without a terrible cost. 

Death had been a part of superhero comics prior to this issue, of course, but for the most part, it was limited to supporting characters whose deaths motivated the hero (Spider-Man's Uncle Ben) or occurred off panel (Captain America's sidekick Bucky). Even Professor X's ultimately-retconned death in this title was devised as a means to shake-up the team (and hopefully increase sales), with little more than lip service paid to how it affected the characters in the book. Prior to Jean, the most significant character death at Marvel had been that of Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen Stacy, an event which many point to as marking the end of the Silver Age of comics. But what Claremont and Byrne do here goes even further: Jean Grey was an active member of the team, the romantic lead and female star of the book, and one of the few founding females of modern Marvel comics. A death of that magnitude was simply unheard of at the time, and it reverberated throughout the industry in ways that are still being felt today.  

This is simply revolutionary, groundbreaking stuff, and the impact of this issue and the entire story cannot be overstated. With "The Dark Phoenix Saga", Claremont and Byrne elevated the superhero comic book story to its highest level. It is a story which continues to hang over X-Men specifically and superhero comics in general to this day. For good and bad, it changed the way fans viewed the stories, the way creators approached them, the way companies marketed them. No other story (with the possible exception of the upcoming "Days of Future Past") has had a greater impact on the narrative of the X-Men, with so much of the next 30 plus years of stories being informed by these events. Though it wasn't their original intent (and though later stories would, arguably, undercut it), much of that resonance comes from the fact that, in the end, Claremont and Byrne ended the crowning achievement of their run by having Jean Grey make the ultimate sacrifice, to eschew godhood, to save the universe, by dying a human.

Next Issue
An elegy for Jean Grey.

And in two weeks, a look at Phoenix: The Untold Story.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read that issue, but I don't remember the part where a "brooding Cyclops dressed as Marvel Girl". Interesting. Lol.

Teebore said...

@Anonymous: I read that issue, but I don't remember the part where a "brooding Cyclops dressed as Marvel Girl". Interesting.

Ha! "Eats shoots and leaves", right? That's what I get for writing fast. I changed it. :)

Anne said...

now i can't get the image of Cyke dressed as Marvel Girl out of my head :-)

Teebore said...

@Anne: now i can't get the image of Cyke dressed as Marvel Girl out of my head

Everyone grieves in their own way...

Blam said...


Anne: now i can't get the image of Cyke dressed as Marvel Girl out of my head :-)

Logan dressed as Marvel Girl.

You're welcome.

Byron said...

"He gets as close as he ever will with this issue; only Iceman, reportedly off limits due to a different project that never saw publication, is missing from this issue."

I wonder what project it was? Do you know?

Teebore said...

@Blam: Logan dressed as Marvel Girl.

"I'm there best there is at what I do, and what I do is rock this mini-dress!"

@Byron: I wonder what project it was? Do you know?

I don't, but I wish I did. All I've ever been able to find out about it is that whatever it was, it ultimately never got published (which is probably why it's hard to find any info on it).

Matt said...

Okay, take two... I had composed about half my usual lengthy reply when the electricity went out here at work and I lost it. Dejected, I turned my attention elsewhere for a couple of hours even after the power was restored, but now I'm back to try again.

Before I begin, I just wanted to note that you didn't mention that Warstar's component beings are named B'Nee and C'Cil (Beanie & Cecil). According to John Byrne, this was Claremont getting back at him for sneaking two characters named Modt and Jahf (Mutt & Jeff) into his very first issue, #108 (over two and a half years before this one)!

"...have her suffer a psychic lobotomy at the hands of the Shi'ar which would rob her of her powers."

It was also supposed to regress her mental state to that of a little girl. There is a splash panel by Byrne and Austin which would've been the first page of issue #138, showing "lobotomized" Jean kneeling by a stream while Scott stands behind her holding her shoes. It's reprinted in the Marvel Masterworks volume containing this issue, and I'm sure it's probably available elsewhere.

"We'll discuss their original plans, both for this issue and the issues following it, in a couple weeks."

I'm sure we can cover this in more depth when you review The Untold Story, but I'm going to go on record now as saying that, as much as I love "Dark Phoenix" and the tragic ending and all, there is part of me that would have really loved to have seen the "lobotomy" take place so issue #150 could go off as originally planned. Whenever I read about Claremont & Byrne's original idea for that issue, I really regret that it didn't happen.

"...it is only the new X-Men who confront her for the final time."

I've somehow never noticed that. I wonder if it was intentional or if it has anything to do with the quick turnaround on the redrawn pages?

"Wolverine and Colossus do a reverse fastball special..."

The hair! THE HAIR!

(I actually kind of wish the live action movie producers had made up Hugh Jackman to look like that.)

"Beast is frustrated by the absence of law in the Shi'ar's proceedings..."

Another thing to pay more attention to when you cover The Untold Story, but almost all the X-Men's internal monologues were changed between the original script and the revised one. I actually liked Beast's old lines better, where he wishes he could've stalled the Shi'ar long enough to call up the Avengers for help.

To Be Continued...

Matt said...

Part 2 of a 2-part post...

"This issue features the 500th page of X-Men drawn by John Byrne, noted by him in this panel."

Wow, another thing I never spotted! Not only that it was Byrne's 500th panel, but I never even noticed the number 500 there! Even after you pointed it out, I had to study the picture for several seconds before I finally saw it.

"Wolverine tells Colossus that he loved Jean..."

And note again the past tense for the word "loved"! Not to beat a dead horse, but the retroactive creation of the Wolverine-Phoenix-Cyclops triangle really bugs me for some reason. I liked that originally he loved her, but she wouldn't give him the time of day and was totally loyal to Cyclops.

"Scott and Jean emerging to make their last stand against the Imperial Guard, hand in hand, is one of the series' romantic high points, and Claremont really sells it with some of his most effective narration yet."

I could not agree with you more. Like you, I always get a little misty from the "Once upon a time..." bit, not to mention goose-bumpy to boot. The narration in that scene is quite probably my all-time favorite piece of comic book writing. Certainly it's my favorite piece from Chris Claremont!

In a weird way, it's so great that you almost feel a little... let down? ...when you realize that there are over three hundred more issues after this one, not to mention all the assorted spinoffs. I can't really explain what I mean by this, other than that it's such a perfect ending that it almost seems a shame to keep the story going!

(And I like a ton of the stuff that comes later!)

Jim Shooter on the death of Phoenix
and
Chris Claremont on the death of Phoenix

Interesting that neither of them mentions the bit where Shooter suggested that Jean should be imprisoned by the Shi'ar on an asteroid in deep space and tortured for the rest of her life. Shooter mentioned it more recently in his blog post on the death of Phoenix, and Byrne talks about it all the time.

Also, Claremont and Byrne have both taken credit (or blame) over the years for the idea to kill Phoenix. The funny thing is, their stories are basically identical. Each of them talks about how he spoke privately with Shooter and Shooter suggested the prison asteroid, and they then said, "screw it, I'd rather kill her." They both even use basically that same phrasing!

(Also, I love that Claremont went home and drowned his sorrows in bourbon while watching Buck Rogers. There's a funny little exchange about that in the "round table discussion" part of The Untold Story.)

"What we were cramming into two issues would take three years these days!"

I like the little swipe at modern comics during an interview that really has nothing to do with them. I take every chance I can to take such swipes, so it's nice to see Chris Claremont do it too!

Blam said...


Claremont and Byrne ... take everything they accomplished in the last issue, the flawless synthesis of plot, action and characterization, and add one final element that puts it over the top and into the realm of greatness: tragedy.

So they do.

I only have one comment that isn't covered by or useful as a reply to your own insights. Like you, I've read this issue literally countless times — although not, I don't think, since I wrote that piece for Comicology in 2000. And while I don't remember noticing this before, there's now to me a sequence palpably lacking that Byrne should've drawn and/or inadequate scripting from Claremont as Jean becomes Phoenix again. We're awkwardly told what we should've been shown in a caption at the top of Pg. 42. (I also think that there was miscommunication, or just a brain burp on Byrne's part, with Nightcrawler as he goes after Angel and then meets up with Manta when next we see him, but it's much less big a deal — and unlike with that hiccup, the Byrne/Claremont tension alone doesn't satisfyingly explain how or why the reemergence of Phoenix isn't given the proper stage time.)

Warstar, Hussar, Manta and Earthquake. I'm not sure if they continue the trend of being Legion of Superhero analogs, but they don't seem familiar to me

At least with Warstar, there's another — far stranger — homage going on entirely. None of them are LSH analogs that I can figure out, no, although given his respect for Cockrum I'm a little surprised that Byrne didn't take a stab at it as a respectful to nod to him and the fans. Warstar seems to just be based on Byrne's love of drawing mecha-tech in that style, but — and I'd never noticed this before — the little one calls the big one C'Cll as he jumps off his back, which told me immediately to expect a reference to the little one as B'Nee. Beany and Cecil was a popular animated series, based on an earlier TV show in which the characters were puppets, created by Warner Bros. veteran Bob Clampett. It's Byrne's generation, not mine, but I certainly get the reference.

Both the Kree and the Skrull, Marvel's two major alien races and longtime foes of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four ... are represented by two observers aboard the Shi'ar flagship as well as by their respective leaders

I just want to take this opportunity to say that the Kree Supreme Intelligence, whom I discovered early on in my comic-book reading through Marvel's Captain Marvel, freaked the freak out of me when I was a kid.

The Watcher tends to pop up in stories as a signal that the events to follow will have great significance on the Marvel Universe.

Absolutely. You know a story's "important" when the Watcher shows up to narrate. (Or it's on the moon — or both... Unless it's just a mediocre issue of What If?...)

Doesn't the Phoenix retcon sort-of make the Watcher either a liar or just plain wrong about what he says on the first page of the issue, though? I mean, the omniscient caption narration we occasionally get is one thing, but The Watcher, he knows what's going down.

I'm compelled to share one of my all-time favorite lines in comicdom, by the way, written by Fred Hembeck for the all-humor issue of What If? [1st series]: "I am Uatu. Men call me the Watcher. Women call me 'Peeping Uatu'."

Blam said...


It is worth noting however, that in the closing moments of the issue, as Jean transforms back into Phoenix, it is only the new X-Men who confront her for the final time. 

On the other hand, Jean went into battle wearing her Marvel Girl costume, which really drove home that it was a founding member of the team (and the series), rather than a Thunderbird, who was getting dust-to-dusted. On the other other hand, she dies in her Phoenix outfit and not in that costume, which you could certainly take as symbolism if you wanted to.

This issue marks the first appearance of Lilandra's "I mean business" armor, worn whenever she means business.

And of course the most hilarious feature of that armor is the "Not the hair! Not the hair!" armored headdress. Screw the lack of a faceplate, but Sharra and K'ythri forbid that her feathers get ruffled.

Wolverine and Colossus do a reverse fastball special, with Wolverine hurling Colossus at Dark Phoenix.

I always love seeing that — it's just a great little touch.

In the time before the battle, Claremont gives each member of the team a scene that explores their thoughts on the events at hand and deepens their character

And that's really what makes the issue for me, the obvious emotion and import of the climax notwithstanding. Not only is it a calm-before-the-storm breather that gives us insight into the characters, but it drives home the, for lack of a better phrase, civilized barbarity of the fight that's about to occur: Enjoy a bubble bath, a massage, and a good night's sleep before you battle on the moon for your dear friend's life.

VW: natants — Mutants whose strange looks and abilities are manifested immediately at birth.

Blam said...


This issue features another iconic cover, with Scott and Jean, disheveled, their backs against the wall, making their last stand, desperately hoping to win that $2500.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!

I distinctly remember picking up this issue in the summer of 1980 off the spinner rack at a favorite candy / magazine / cigar shop and immediately wondering why the heck that banner ad had to be on such an obviously important comic book.

What's interesting but understandable is that this is an iconic cover that never really got copied the way that Giant-Size X-Men #1 or even the original X-Men #1 did. The lack of a team shot on the cover probably has a lot to do with that, as well as the facts that it's not inherently potentially silly like Fantastic Four #1 could be or inherently somber like the pieta-style scene on the cover of X-Men #136 and its descendant Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.

This issue features the 500th page of X-Men drawn by John Byrne, noted by him in this panel.

I never noticed or heard about that before. And it's so like Byrne to have kept track of that stuff. (Which I don't necessarily mean in a disparaging way, incidentally. For all the peculiarities and peccadillos on which we've called him out here — leaving aside some of the less flattering positions that I've heard he's taken on his website in recent years — I must say that in my brief encounters with him online and in person he had a healthy sense of humor about himself and genuinely cared about the work that he was doing in a fashion that was very protective of the characters and their legacy, even if he rather infamously often didn't consider much work done by creators other than himself or a feature's actual, original creators to be worth much consideration.)

"John and I were on such  a roll in those last six months. The stuff was just so good. It was powerful and it was fun. What we were cramming into two issues would take three years these days! And the proof of the pudding is here we are, twenty-five bloody years later, and Marvel is still evolving stories off of what we did. Whether it's 'Days of Future Past' or 'Dark Phoenix' or the relationship with Magneto - Marvel is still living off the seeds we planted." — Chris Claremont

When you're right, you're right. And regarding the previous quotes of Claremont's and Shooter's recollections, I think that they both present compelling perspectives. Shooter's right about his responsibility to the company, and if Salicrup — who's known as a really decent guy — was somehow responsible for a breakdown in communication between Shooter's office and the X-Men talent then Claremont also has every reason to be hacked off after thinking he'd jumped through all the proper hoops as stories progressed.

Blam said...


Matt: According to John Byrne, this was Claremont getting back at him for sneaking two characters named Modt and Jahf (Mutt & Jeff) into his very first issue, #108

Huh. I never got Modt and Jahf.

Matt: There is a splash panel by Byrne and Austin which would've been the first page of issue #138, showing "lobotomized" Jean kneeling by a stream while Scott stands behind her holding her shoes. It's reprinted in the Marvel Masterworks volume containing this issue, and I'm sure it's probably available elsewhere.

I think that I first saw it in Sal Q Productions' The Art of John Byrne, but without having the issue in hand I feel pretty sure that it also showed up in the Phoenix: The Untold Story one -shot. I remember really being taken by the silent, somber mood of the pages, and I was impressed that Byrne filled in his solid black areas with pencil. 8^)

Matt: Also, I love that Claremont went home and drowned his sorrows in bourbon while watching Buck Rogers.

Totally.

Teebore said...

@Matt: I just wanted to note that you didn't mention that Warstar's component beings are named B'Nee and C'Cil (Beanie & Cecil). According to John Byrne, this was Claremont getting back at him for sneaking two characters named Modt and Jahf (Mutt & Jeff)

Well, you get full credit for this one, as I didn't mention it as I never noticed that before (even the Modt and Jahf from #107 went unnoticed). I love bits like that.

It was also supposed to regress her mental state to that of a little girl.

We'll probably cover it in more detail during the Untold Story post, but I've always heard conflicting things about that. It seems like Byrne mentions the "childlike state" plan whereas Claremont doesn't, suggesting it was a detail they dickered over and/or hadn't settled on when the change had to be made.

Whenever I read about Claremont & Byrne's original idea for that issue, I really regret that it didn't happen.

While we definitely gained something in #137, it did come at at cost of #150, which isn't nearly as good/significant as the original plan suggests it might have been.

Did the payoff work in our favor? It's tough to say, without #150 unfolding as planned, but I'd like to think we gained more with #137 than we lost.

I wonder if it was intentional or if it has anything to do with the quick turnaround on the redrawn pages?

Yeah, I could see it as Claremont or Byrne (probably Claremont) making a statement about how, in the end, this is the new X-Men's fight, or it could just be Byrne not having the time to work Beast and Angel into the action after the rewrite was ordered.

Even after you pointed it out, I had to study the picture for several seconds before I finally saw it.

I first had it pointed out to me thanks to a Comic Book Easter Eggs post on Comics Should Be Good, but even then, I still had to go look it backup because I couldn't find the hidden 500. But once you see it, it's like, "How did I miss that?!?"

And note again the past tense for the word "loved"!

I thought of you when I noted that. Not that I disagree with you on the matter, of course. That past tense has always been a big example for me of how at this point, Wolverine is already over her as a romantic interest.

I can't really explain what I mean by this, other than that it's such a perfect ending that it almost seems a shame to keep the story going!

Not that I can explain it any better, but I think I know what you mean. Heck, some of my favorite X-Men stories are still to come, but there's a definite sense of this being the high water mark.

I don't know how much of that is because the story is just that good, and how much is because I've always read X-Men being told it's the high water mark (it's probably some combo of the two), but there it is.

Interesting that neither of them mentions the bit where Shooter suggested that Jean should be imprisoned by the Shi'ar on an asteroid in deep space and tortured for the rest of her life.

In the interview I lifted Shooter's remarks from for this post, he does mention it. I just skipped over it as it already seemed like I was just retyping the entire interview verbatim...

Also, I love that Claremont went home and drowned his sorrows in bourbon while watching Buck Rogers.

Yeah, me too. Once I read that I thought, "there's no way I'm not working that into a post!" :)

Chris said...

"I distinctly remember picking up this issue in the summer of 1980 off the spinner rack at a favorite candy / magazine / cigar shop and immediately wondering why the heck that banner ad had to be on such an obviously important comic book."

The memory of my X-Men crazed summer/fall of 1980 is a bit hazy but certain things stick out, it seems that copies of #137 stayed on the spinner rack for a while, I know I perused it a couple of times before buying it, and I’m almost sure I bought #138 before buying that last copy of #137 before it wound up on the unbought magazine shredder. So X-men at that time wasn’t the seller it became.
One thing that always struck me as funny is the Smasher, whose style of administering a whooping is “famed throughout the Empire”, and what’s his style? Tossing opponents down a hole.

Teebore said...

@Blam: there's now to me a sequence palpably lacking that Byrne should've drawn and/or inadequate scripting from Claremont as Jean becomes Phoenix again. We're awkwardly told what we should've been shown in a caption at the top of Pg. 42.

I definitely think that can be chalked up to the rewrite; that's pretty much the moment where the new ending takes over for the old, and it seems like Phoenix's actual re-emergence got lost in the shuffle.

but The Watcher, he knows what's going down.

Technically, yeah, though there's probably ways to generously read it. Or maybe the Phoenix is an entity whose power supersedes even the Watcher's, and thus, can hide info/trick him? How's that for a shot at a no-prize? :)

"I am Uatu. Men call me the Watcher. Women call me 'Peeping Uatu'."

Love it!

Not only is it a calm-before-the-storm breather that gives us insight into the characters, but it drives home the, for lack of a better phrase, civilized barbarity of the fight that's about to occur: Enjoy a bubble bath, a massage, and a good night's sleep before you battle on the moon for your dear friend's life.

In a way, it really adds to the mounting tension of the situation. These are people with whom, under ordinary circumstances, the X-Men would be friends, but the threat here is so great that even friends become enemies, and people who don't doubt the inevitability of their triumph.

"Enjoy your massage, cuz come tomorrow we are whupping you, no matter what."

I distinctly remember picking up this issue in the summer of 1980 off the spinner rack at a favorite candy / magazine / cigar shop and immediately wondering why the heck that banner ad had to be on such an obviously important comic book.

I've long thought the same thing, though of course, the Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine knows nothing of narrative importance.

Also, I wish they still had candy/magazine/cigar shops.

What's interesting but understandable is that this is an iconic cover that never really got copied the way that Giant-Size X-Men #1 or even the original X-Men #1 did.

Interesting thoughts on that. This is definitely a cover that's become iconic more because of the contents of the issue it covers than the image itself.

Shooter's right about his responsibility to the company, and if Salicrup — who's known as a really decent guy — was somehow responsible for a breakdown in communication between Shooter's office and the X-Men talent then Claremont also has every reason to be hacked off after thinking he'd jumped through all the proper hoops as stories progressed.

It is an interesting situation in that both parties are essentially right and neither fundamentally wrong, but at the same time, they are in opposition to another.

I feel pretty sure that it also showed up in the Phoenix: The Untold Story one -shot.

It did. I'll likely post it as part of the post for that issue in two weeks.

@Chris: So X-men at that time wasn’t the seller it became.

One of the quotes I came across while looking through interviews for this post was Byrne commenting on how, for all the acclaim this run gets, sales on the book went up after he left (he jokes that he must have been holding Claremont back).

One thing that always struck me as funny is the Smasher, whose style of administering a whooping is “famed throughout the Empire”, and what’s his style? Tossing opponents down a hole.

Haha! That's classic. Apparently tossing stuff down a hole is a bigger deal in Shi'ar space than on Earth. The Watcher's right; we are special. :)

Ugus said...

This was mindblowing stuff back in the day. I was so very disappointed when they resurrected Jean, in fact I think I never felt quite the same way about Marvel after that. The fact that they would destroy the impact of a brilliant story like this just for the sake of business was really disheartening for a young reader. I still haven't forgiven them.

The Finnish version of this issue had a different cover, a really cool wraparound by Byrne & Austin, that seems to be taken (as Google revealed) from some special issue called "Phoenix - The Untold Story". By the way, I must warn you never to use the words "X-men Phoenix" in Google image search. The search result is so full of fire and flames you'll burn your eyes!

Teebore said...

@Ugus: The fact that they would destroy the impact of a brilliant story like this just for the sake of business was really disheartening for a young reader.

I've always read comics in a world where Jean Grey died and came back to life, which helps take the edge off the whole situation a bit. Having never experienced the death without knowing what followed it, I've always been able to view the arguments for it and against a bit more clinically.

That said, while I don't hate the idea of bringing of her back (and, all things considered, they did it in a pretty good way that did its best to respect the integrity of this issue as much as possible), if given the choice, I'd have kept her dead.

a really cool wraparound by Byrne & Austin, that seems to be taken (as Google revealed) from some special issue called "Phoenix - The Untold Story".

That is a neat cover (we'll see if in full in two weeks when we discuss that issue); it's cool they used it for this issue.

I must warn you never to use the words "X-men Phoenix" in Google image search. The search result is so full of fire and flames you'll burn your eyes!

Ha! Unfortunately, your warning comes far too late for me. :)

Michael said...

The original Claremont / Byrne plan to end the storyline in 150 has always intrigued me, but we gained much more than we lost with the ending we saw in print. The tragic finale of the story is what makes it a true saga.

Also, can you imagine the Phoenix saga ending with Cockrum's pencils? I love Cockrum, but this was a dark, powerful story and Byrne / Austen were the two best people for the job.

Chris said...

Also, can you imagine the Phoenix saga ending with Cockrum's pencils?

No doubt had Cockrum stayed we would've got some very different stories. With only Claremont in control of the writing maybe Phoenix/Jean would've turned out something similar to Ms. Marvel/Binary?

Something else comes to mind with this issue; it's not only the end of the Phoenix saga and the peak of the Byrne/Claremont run but also provides a great introduction for new readers.

Teebore said...

@Michael: I love Cockrum, but this was a dark, powerful story and Byrne / Austen were the two best people for the job.

Agreed. A Cockrum-drawn Phoenix saga would have been a much different thing. Much of the impact of "Dark Phoenix" is that it's the right story at the right time with the right creators. Take any of that away, and it loses something.

@Chris: it's not only the end of the Phoenix saga and the peak of the Byrne/Claremont run but also provides a great introduction for new readers.

Those mid-issue vignettes of each character before the big battle are basically X-Men 101.

Blam said...


Michael: Also, can you imagine the Phoenix saga ending with Cockrum's pencils?

Chris: No doubt had Cockrum stayed we would've got some very different stories.

We're kinda talking about two different things there, though. Had Byrne never succeeded Cockrum, of course things would've been different after, in, and even before #137.

On the other hand, had the original Claremont/Byrne ending to #137 and the first planned version of #138 been published, with Byrne still leaving after #143 and Cockrum still returning a couple of issues after that, and the much-talked-about alternate #150 come to pass with Magneto offering the Phoenix power back to Jean (by the way, never quite seen how that would've worked*), then it might've felt natural for Cockrum to have drawn the potentially last Phoenix(ish) story, given how he co-created the character in #101 and in both "realities" had been drawing X-Men again since #145.

[*Yeah, I know: "Ta-dah... Magnetism!"]

VW: prediaayer? noche?

Blam said...


Teebore: Also, I wish they still had candy/magazine/cigar shops.

You an' me both, buddy. Hell, I date from the days when penny candy really was a penny (or sometimes a nickel, depending) and comic books were "Still Only 25¢!" The five-dollar bill that I got each week during the summer for bagging and doing light stock work (not yet 10 years old) of my grandparents' store went straight to the spinner rack, skee-ball on the boardwalk, and Star Wars bubblegum cards.

And if I sound like a dinosaur, I'll have you know that I spent the afternoon with my 95-year-old grandmother; she has stories.

Blam said...


Teebore: Or maybe the Phoenix is an entity whose power supersedes even the Watcher's, and thus, can hide info/trick him? How's that for a shot at a no-prize? :)

Works for me! Speaking of the Watcher: Had you thought of covering the What If? issue (#27, June 1981) that revisited this issue, kinda taking the tack that Claremont & Byrne were going to, when you deal with Untold Story? I don't think the box where I have it is accessible, but I still wouldn't mind hearing your analysis of it. (You could also just point to you pal Siskoid's post on it, which is one of the first things that came up when I hit Google to nail down the issue number.)

Super Lad Kid said...

This was the first time I read this. I knew what was going to happen going in, but I still found it to be a very good story that has aged well. Some random thoughts and questions:

-I found it fascinating that there is no real villain in this story. Jean Grey was not used to go out in a blaze of glory, saving the universe from some all-powerful threat. That way would have been to easy. Jean's death was truly a self-sacrifice.

-I was disappointed that none of the new Imperial Guardians were analogues to any existing Legionnaires, though I suppose that was a Cockrum thing. It also may have distracted from the story, but I love my Legion, darn it.

-At one point, I thought for sure that Jean was going to use Cyclops eyebeams to finish herself off. It would have been a nice bookend moment mirroring her control of Scott's powers on top of the butte. It would also have led to insufferable angst on Scott's part later on, so maybe it was a good thing that she just used some random gun.

-What does a Kree look like exactly? The one that fought the Skrull doesn't look like the thing in the monitor.

Great story! Great review! Can't believe I'm enjoying 30 year old stories as much as I have been.

Teebore said...

@Blam: We're kinda talking about two different things there, though.

Yeah, there's definitely a difference between Cockrum not stepping down and Byrne never coming aboard, and Cockrum taking over for a departing Byrne but drawing the original "act three" of the Phoenix story instead of what follows in the wake of Phoenix's death.

by the way, never quite seen how that would've worked

Yeah, I've often wondered about that too. I'd hope that if the story had actually come to fruition, Claremont would have devised a decent explanation, but since it never came to pass, it's just existed as a vague notion of "giving her back her powers...magnetically".

Had you thought of covering the What If? issue (#27, June 1981) that revisited this issue, kinda taking the tack that Claremont & Byrne were going to, when you deal with Untold Story?

Hmm, I hadn't thought of covering it, but now I am. At the very least, I will link to Siskoid's post on it.

@Super Lad Kid: I found it fascinating that there is no real villain in this story.

That is fascinating, especially when you consider that, if anyone is to be considered the villain of this issue, a case could be made for the X-Men. I mean, as far as the Imperial Guard are concerned, the X-Men are fighting in defense of a mass murderer. I also like that in the Marvel Index of this issue, the Imperial Guard is listed under the guest stars, and there are no villains listed.

I was disappointed that none of the new Imperial Guardians were analogues to any existing Legionnaires, though I suppose that was a Cockrum thing.

Me too. As Blam mentioned, even though it was a Cockrum thing, it would have been nice if Byrne had done it as a nod to Cockrum.

At one point, I thought for sure that Jean was going to use Cyclops eyebeams to finish herself off.

Wow. I can honestly say that for all the times I've read this issue, that idea never occurred to me, but now that you mention it, it's rather brilliant. I've always been slightly bothered by the randomness of that gun, though Claremont does make a point to set it up, both in the discussion of the Blue Area and Cyclops' post-Jean's death realization that she must have learned of its existence from the alien observers, and having her use Cyclops' optic blast would have been more elegant and, as you said, been a nice bookend moment.

And yes, it would have led to insufferable angst on the part of Scott, but we're going to get that anyway, so...

What does a Kree look like exactly? The one that fought the Skrull doesn't look like the thing in the monitor.

The one that fought the Skrull is what most Kree look like (sometimes blue skinned but otherwise like a regular human; Marvel's Captain Marvel is actually Kree, though you wouldn't know it from looking at him).

The thing in the monitor is the Kree Supreme Intelligence, the leader of their empire, which is an organic computer comprised of the greatest minds (political, philosophical, military, etc.) of the Kree Empire throughout the ages, who after death had their brains removed and added to the Intelligence so that it could add their knowledge and experience to its own.

It physically exists as a vast computer with circuitry incorporating the cryogenically frozen brains of past Kree thinkers, which creates a single collective intelligence that appears on monitors and such as a big green head with tentacles.

Can't believe I'm enjoying 30 year old stories as much as I have been.

Ha! Good to hear.

Matt said...

I should've clarified in my original statement -- my regret over not seeing issue #150 occur as originally plotted is based on an assumption that Byrne might have stuck around for that issue, rather than departing after #143.