The Dark Phoenix Saga

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A 1980 X-Men story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, taking place from Uncanny X-Men #129 to #137, and one of Marvel Comics' most iconic storylines.

Fresh off a battle with Proteus, the X-Men are plunged into a battle with the mysterious Hellfire Club, while Phoenix, just back from a vacation in Greece and Scotland, finds herself psychically shifting in time to a Revolutionary War-era ancestor, who's engaged to a mysterious, roguishly handsome man named Jason Wyngarde.

In between Jean's "timeslips," she helps the X-Men rescue new mutants Kitty Pryde and Dazzler from the Hellfire Club: White Queen Emma Frost, Black King Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Harry Leland, and probationary member Wyngarde. However, when the time comes for the final showdown with them, she mysteriously switches sides, fighting alongside Wyngarde and Hellfire against the team. As a result, the X-Men are soundly trounced, and Phoenix is named Hellfire's Black Queen.

Thanks to a psychic rapport he forged with her before the attack, Cyclops manages to get through to Jean and reveal the truth to her: that "Jason Wyngarde" is really the X-Men's old enemy Mastermind, and that he's just making her believe she's time-shifting, the better to gain control of her through her Dark Side.

Once Wyngarde's treachery is exposed, the X-Men get their second wind, defeating Hellfire and escaping into the night. But the damage to Jean's mind is done...even though she's free of Wyngarde's mind control, there's something inside her that's been broken.

The corruption takes her over swiftly, and she transforms from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix a thousand feet over Central Park, destroying the X-Men's aircraft for about the dozenth time.[1] After a fight with those she loved, which can only be described as a Curb Stomp Battle, Dark Phoenix leaves Earth altogether, triggering the Significance Sense of everyone from Doctor Strange to Spider-Man to the Silver Surfer. Zipping through the universe on a cosmic joyride, she finds herself getting hungry...and the nearest source of food is a star in the Shi'Ar Galaxy.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most controversial X-Men stories of all time, more due to the RetCons and rewrites than the story itself, which was actually one of the most beloved tales in the franchise's history, and catapulted the already-well-liked Claremont/Byrne creative team to superstardom even as it sowed the seeds for what would eventually be their breakup.(It should be noted however that killing off Jean Grey wasn't their idea; editor Jim Shooter forced them to do it, feeling that allowing her to live after killing billions of people would not be fair. Claremont later admitted that it made for a better ending, and most fans agreed.)

Tropes used in The Dark Phoenix Saga include:
  • A God Am I: "I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever! I! Am! PHOENIX!!"
  • Apocalypse How: Dark Phoenix eating the D'bari sun causes a Class X-2. It's suggested in issues of What If? that if she hadn't died, she would eventually have reached anything from a Class X-4 to a Class Z in time.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Phoenix / Dark Phoenix.
  • Ascended Extra: You notice the black-haired serving girl? The one taking the robe off Shaw while he gloats over the Hellfire Club's victory? She'll be important later.
    • To be specific, she turns out to be a spy for Professor Xavier (as well as something of a Canon Sue.)
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Even before her final Freak-Out, Jean shows Emma Frost why it's not a good idea to make a mutant with cosmic powers mad at you. Mastermind learns a similar lesson, though by then Jean isn't so 'nice' anymore. See also Start of Darkness.
  • Brought Down to Normal: The original, planned ending for the story had this happen to Phoenix. However, the higher-ups felt that committing genocide wasn't the kind of thing a character should be forgiven for.
    • Years later, Claremont admitted that this made the story truly unique (for its time.)
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Imperial Guard fight the X-Men in a trial by combat, leaving Jean the last X-Man standing. When Cyclops is knocked out before her eyes, she snaps and becomes Phoenix again, taking them all out in the space of seconds.
  • The Bus Came Back: Beast and Angel, who had been serving on other teams, returned for the latter half of the story.
  • Cliffhanger Copout:

Nightcrawler (in the last panel of #133): Cyclops is dead!
Nightcrawler (in the first panel of #134): Cyclops is alive!

  • Comic Book Fantasy Casting: John Byrne based the original designs for all the Hellfire Club characters on famous actors, and Kitty Pryde on an adolescent Sigourney Weaver.
    • Fittingly, a story four issues later featured Kitty alone in the X-mansion battling a demon that looked suspiciously like a Xenomorph.
  • Chess Motifs: Hellfire ranks its members like this, with White Queen Emma Frost replaced by Black Queen Jean Grey after the former's apparent demise. Sebastian Shaw is the Black King, but the other members' ranks aren't revealed until later.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Loads of them:
    • Phoenix's psychic duel against Emma Frost. Emma's able to hold out for a while, but it's quickly made clear that she has no chance of winning against Phoenix.
    • The Hellfire Club's ambush of the X-Men, and in turn, the X-Men's retaliatory strike against Hellfire.
    • Dark Phoenix's first fight against the X-Men.
    • And finally, the X-Men's beatdown at the hands of the Imperial Guard.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: The Hellfire Club's Inner Circle, again.
    • The club itself was based on a Real Life 18th century secret club for decadent rich people.
  • Dying As Herself: Jean chooses to commit suicide rather than become Dark Phoenix again.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Jean Grey's Black Queen and Dark Phoenix outfits represent this.
  • Executive Meddling: One of the better-received examples.
  • Expy: In the 1990s cartoon, Rogue is this for Colossus.
  • Face Heel Turn: One of the most famous in comics history.
  • Fad Super: Dazzler is introduced in this arc, in all her disco-riffic glory.
  • Fastball Special: Reversed from the norm -- in the lighter gravity of the Moon, Wolverine does this with Colossus.
  • Fate Worse Than Death / Go Mad from the Revelation: Jason Wyngarde is left mindless and catatonic after Jean breaks free from his control. "Enjoy your trip, Jason... you won't be coming back."
  • Gone Horribly Right: Mastermind wanted to turn Jean to the dark side...and boy, did he.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Alas, poor Jean.
  • Hope Spot: Charles Xavier uses his powers to seal the Phoenix away inside Jean's mind, and Scott proposes marriage to her. They share a relieved kiss...and then get beamed onto a Shi'Ar Imperial cruiser.
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug: Near the climax, Scott is talking Dark Phoenix down, trying to appeal to Jean's better nature with The Power of Love, with her face getting noticeably less inhuman and softer...until Professor Xavier mind-blasts her from behind, and she returns to full-fledged psychosis.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Phoenix Force is the embodiment of life, light, and fire, but also a rampaging, chaotic force with the potential to destroy entire planets if its power gets out of control.
  • Lost Aesop: The X-Men's usual "protect a world that fears and hates them" schtick was pretty much forgotten about for this story, as their antagonists were either mutants, former teammates, or aliens. However, the Aesop of the story itself, that power corrupts, was firmly held onto.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, and especially Mastermind.
  • Mindlink Mates: This is the story that establishes Cyclops and Jean Grey's psychic rapport.
  • More Than Mind Control: Mastermind again. On her way down the slippery slope, Jean even calls him on it.

"You made me trust you...perhaps even love you...and all the while, you were using me!"

  • Mind Rape: The White Queen does this to Storm while she's holding her hostage.
  • Mundane Utility: Phoenix uses her Reality-Warping powers for simple things like changing her costume into civvies or creating a picnic spread. Briefly, Cyclops wonders why this bothers him. "Why shouldn't Jean use her powers to make her life easier?"
  • Myth Arc: Part of what makes this story so remarkable. It was the climax of a massive Myth Arc that Claremont had been building up to since issue #97 in 1975, when Professor X got his first look at the Shi'ar. Over the course of 41 issues (almost five years), Jean Grey died, was resurrected, took on an alien empire, saved the galaxy from imploding, turned to the dark side, took on an alien empire (again), and died.
  • Naive Newcomer: This storyline introduces Intangible Girl Kitty Pryde this way, and still lets her help save the day.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: Every female member of Hellfire, natch.
    • Justified, given the club's origins.
  • Restraining Bolt: Xavier creates a series of mental "circuit breakers" to permanently suppress the power of Phoenix, returning Jean to her "Marvel Girl" stats. But when she sees Cyclops wounded in battle, the Bolt breaks.
  • Say My Name: As Jean dies, she and Scott call each other's names.
  • Start of Darkness: To stop a carload of mutant-hunters from running down Kitty Pryde, Phoenix erects a psychic brick wall in front of it, killing the occupants. When Cyclops goes What the Hell, Hero?, she basically slaps him down.

Phoenix: You didn't sense the girl's terror, nor the thoughts of the men chasing her. These... animals got no more than they deserved!
Cyclops: Wow. I thought I'd seen Jean in every conceivable mood, but this is new.

  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Subtly lampshaded, as Marvel heroes from all over the universe pick up on Dark Phoenix's manifestation, but the whole story happens too quickly for anyone to respond to it.
    • And just before that, the Beast deliberately invokes the trope. Hank was an Avenger at the time, and happened to be on monitor duty when the NYPD alert about the X-Men fighting at the Hellfire Club came through. Instead of alerting his current teammates, he took a Quinjet out by himself to come to his former team's aid.
  • Super-Powered Evil Side: The original intent of this story was that Dark Phoenix was Jean Grey, corrupted by her power and Wyngarde's machinations. Later interpretations of the story are...a mixed bag. The Phoenix was retconned as a Cosmic Being of its own who had replaced Jean (and forgot about it) so the real Jean could turn up alive later.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When the Dark Phoenix suddenly reemerges at the climax of the saga, Empress Lilandra desperately invokes Plan Omega: destroy the entire solar system and pray they can kill Dark Phoenix in the process. At that point, Xavier has no choice but to order his X-Men to kill Jean themselves to preempt this measure.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sure, the Imperial Guard was pretty tough when they first appeared. In that fight the X-Men were gradually losing, least until Corsair and his team dived in. But the second battle....OW! Cyclops was off on his strategy and this was before Wolverine was a Canon Sue. And more importantly Mastermind goes from being a guy who goes 'boo' with fake monsters to almost destroying the X-Men all by himself.
  • What Have I Done: When Jean is restored to herself for the final chapter, she's consumed with guilt at the atrocities Dark Phoenix has committed.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Dark Phoenix is the poster child for this trope.
  1. Technically, it wasn't even really their jet, but an Avengers Quinjet that then-Avenger Beast had "borrowed" in an attempt to come aid his old team, but Quinjets get blown up even more often than the Blackbird anyway.