In a Nutshell
Jean Grey transforms into Phoenix.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: John Constanza
Colorist: Bonnie Wilford
Editor: Archie Goodwin
The Starcore shuttle breaches the atmosphere and heads for New York, crashing onto the tarmac of JFK airport before bouncing out into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men and Dr. Corbeau escape the wreckage, but there's no sign of Jean. Suddenly, from out of the water where the shuttle sank, Jean flies out of the water, declaring herself to be Phoenix. She then collapses, and as the X-Men drag themselves out of the bay en route to a hospital, Professor X covers their escape telepathically.
The X-Men gather at the hospital, awaiting word on Jean. After the doctors declare that, with rest and good care, she'll be fine, Professor X sends the X-Men off on a vacation while he and Cyclops remain with Jean. Banshee suggests his old ancestral home in Ireland as a destination. After spending a week sightseeing in Dublin, the X-Men arrive at the castle, much to the pleasure of Banshee's evil cousin Black Tom, who watches them arrive. Later that evening, as the X-Men gather for dinner, the floor suddenly gives way. They find themselves deep in the bowels of the castle, face to face with Black Tom and his partner, Juggernaut. Realizing how deep underground they are, Storm's claustrophobia overwhelms her, and she collapses, screaming in fear...
Firsts and Other Notables
Phoenix appears for the first time. Though the intent at the time (as will shortly become clear) was that while piloting the shuttle through the solar storm a dying Jean Grey's powers were supercharged to cosmic levels such that she was able to save her teammates and be reborn as Phoenix, later stories retconned that explanation, establishing instead the idea of the Phoenix Force as a primal, universal being which was drawn to a dying Jean Grey and offered to save her life and the life of her friends in exchange for the opportunity to experience human sensations. The Phoenix Force placed Jean Grey in a cocoon intended to heal her injuries, then copied Jean's physical form and transferred her psyche into it. It is the Phoenix Force, then, in the form of Jean Grey (acting as and fully believing herself to be Jean Grey), which emerges from the shuttle crash in this issue while the real Jean lies unconscious and healing on the bottom of Jamaica Bay, at least according to Marvel's current official history.
Chris Claremont, despite being initially upset by the Phoenix Force retcon and all that it entailed, nevertheless did his best to make the retcon fit within established stories, and to that end, used the backup story in the Classic X-Men reprint of issue #100 (which was published in 1987, shortly after the retcon was first established) to elaborate upon the details of the Phoenix Force/Jean Grey agreement, establishing that Jean was motivated by her love for Scott, showing the duplication of Jean's consciousness in a new body, and underlining the fact that the original Jean's healing body still contained a spark of her soul.
However, this series of posts has always been more concerned with the publication of X-Men from a chronological perspective rather than a perspective more concerned with strict continuity, and as such, future "X-aminations" will continue to refer to and regard Jean Grey/Phoenix (a few chronology-busting notations such as these aside) as would the readers of the time (that is, as simply a more powerful version of the character) until such a time that this retrospective reaches the publication of the issues which officially establish the Phoenix Force retcon.
The panel in which Jean emerges as Phoenix will become one of the more iconic X-Men images.
In non-Pheonix related notables, Black Tom Cassidy also appears in full for the first time (after his brief, shadowed appearance in issue #99), and brings with him the return of Juggernaut to these pages.
To a much, much lesser extent, this issue also marks the first appearance of Cassidy Keep, Banshee's ancestral home.
After publishing a couple issues with two different prices on the covers ($.25 and $.30), the price of the comic "officially" rises to thirty cents with this issue.
A Work in Progress
Storm transforms her costume into street clothes by "re-polarizing" the unstable molecules of her costume.
Similarly, Cyclops notes that Jean created her new Phoenix costume out of nothing. Added pages in the Classic X-Men reprint of this issue elaborate further, saying that Jean is now so powerful she can telekinetically re-arrange molecules, transforming her costume to street clothes and back again.
Professor X tells Moira that when he uses his powers lately, he can't help but be overwhelmed by the recurring dreams of aliens and space battles.
The letter Banshee's lawyer sent him back in issue #99 reaches him in this issue, prompting the X-Men to visit Banshee's castle. As he watches them arrive, Black Tom forces Eamon O'Donnell, the seneschal of the castle, to help him by reminding him that Tom is holding "the families" hostage. Later, Banshee senses something amiss with Eamon after asking Eamon about the families, but decides to wait until after dinner to call him on it. We'll shortly learn to what "the families" refer.
That 70s Comic
Wolverine buys a bouquet of flowers for a buck.
Dr. Corbeau, a scientist/astronaut, is assisting the medical doctor in treating Jean, for some reason.
After Professor X announces the X-Men must go on vacation, Banshee suddenly manifests a letter saying he's inherited his ancestral home. Apparently the post office delivered it to him at the hospital.
Wolverine's idea of formal wear: a cowboy hat and a denim suit.
Black Tom attacks the X-Men with the oldest trick in the super-villain book: the old hidden trap door routine. Still unclear: if Black Tom installed that feature, or if it came with the castle. As they fall, Banshee orders everyone into their costumes, and proceeds to somehow just slip out of his clothes.
One of the things Claremont is known for nowadays is his writing of strong, well rounded female characters who stand equal to or even, in some cases, superior to, their male teammates. We get an early glimpse of that in this issue, which nips the small Colossus/Storm romantic subplot in the bud along the way. As Nightcrawler and Colossus playfully argue over who gets to escort Storm to dinner, Storm declares she is no one's date, and that the three of them will go to dinner as equals. It's a fairly revolutionary statement on Claremont's part, as he's essentially declaring that, unlike the traditional portrayal of females in comics, this female isn't concerned about getting paired off with one of the male members of the cast.
Also, Nightcrawler exclaims, "unglaublich!" for the first time.
Cockrum turns out a gorgeous full page spread of Cassidy Keep as the X-Men arrive.
Needless to say, Scott is drowning in angst over the fate of Jean and realizes that it is her, not the X-Men, which give his life meaning.
Later, he breaks down after learning she'll be alright.
Wolverine's feelings for Jean are made explicit (after being hinted at in the last issue), and he picks up some flowers before visiting her at the hospital, hoping to surprise her. This is also the first time he's referred to a woman as a "frail".
There's actually a rather sad moment when, after getting cold feet once he sees all the other X-Men at the hospital already, Wolverine drops the flowers in a trash can in the background of a panel.
The past romantic relationship between Professor X and Moira MacTaggert is revealed for the for the first time, in the same panel which references Xavier's creepy feelings for Jean for the first time since X-Men #3 (thankfully, it'll be even longer before they're brought up again).
|Seriously, Chuck, keep this stuff to yourself...|
"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!"
Professor X is back to his old mind-wiping tricks, facilitating the X-Men's departure from the crash of the shuttle with minimum attention.
Spidey web shooters!
It's in the Mail
This guy hates the new X-Men, and has some funny ideas about improving the book.
Dave Cockrum on Phoenix
"Cockrum noted in The X-Men Companion that he'd planned for the Phoenix' outfit to be white, rather than the printed green, with gold trim, but was overruled by Archie Goodwin, then the latest, and perhaps most respected, masochist to assume the position of editor-in-chief at Marvel; Goodwin preferred to keep the classic Marvel Girl colors, in part, Cockrum said, out of concern that the other side of of the comic-book page would be visible through the white parts of the uniform. And figuring out such cosmetic details was the easy part, Cockrum said. 'We agonized for a long time over the color, and once we figured out the color we agonized over what the hell she did...I don't know if we made it all that clear to the readers, but we knew that she died up there and recreated herself.' While wanting to bump up her power level, though -- something that Cockrum had earlier discussed with Wein -- he and Claremont didn't know exactly what that power level should be able to accomplish, 'so we left her in the hospital for several issues while we thought about it.'"
Lamken, Brian Saner. "The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men." Comicology Fall 2000: 29.
"Early on Phoenix was just Jean with additional power. She wasn't a separate entity. But even then, Chris was thinking that Jean wouldn't be able to cope with her power and would become almost like a drug addict. She would become hooked on the Phoenix power and eventually have to be cured of it."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p91.
Chris Claremont on Phoenix
"Dave and I had been kicking around the idea. We wanted to take a normal person and kick him or her up to the level of a Thor or a Silver Surfer without going through the Stations of the Cross you need to evolve to the point where you could handle the power. With great power comes great responsibility, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. How do you shuffle those two concepts together? What happens if you don't? We also wanted to put a major character at serious risk. We wanted to take the audience right to the edge, have them worry about what's going to happen. We didn't want to the readers to ever take the book or the characters for granted. We wanted to establish a sense that even the franchise characters in X-Men were not safe. If we could establish that, then I'd figured we'd done something that no series had ever done before."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p66-67.
In many ways, this issue is the most retro issue featuring the new X-Men yet, hearkening back to the original X-Men's Silver Age tales. We've got Professor X mindwiping crowds, Scott drowning in angst and the other X-Men shuffled off on a vacation that gets interrupted by a super-villain, complete with trap door. Yet at the same time, it is a decidedly modern comic, the most non-Silver Age issue yet, and the first X-Men issue of its kind: the story here is built entirely around the characters and their interactions with each other. While there is action aplenty (the sequence in which the shuttle crash lands and Phoenix emerges is as exciting as anything that's come before), this is the first time X-Men does not feature, in some capacity, a super-hero/super-villain battle. Yes, the X-Men come face-to-face with Black Tom and Juggernaut, but their actual confrontation is saved for the next issue. In the interim, Claremont and Cockrum spend their time establishing the mystery of Phoenix, deepening our understanding of the characters, and setting up the next storyline, all without a single punch thrown.
It is the first issue of its kind, but it's certainly not the last, and in many ways, X-Men #101 is a template for the kind of comic book into which Chris Claremont and his artistic collaborators will eventually transform the series, a comic unlike any other at the time, where the beginnings and endings of stories flow together to form a truly ongoing narrative tapestry, where bold and exciting action walks hand-in-hand with quieter moments between characters, and where the development of those characters is just as important as the super-hero slugfests.