I noted on Sunday that my pal Teebore’s methodical march through Marvel’s X-Men over at Gentlemen of Leisure has reached Oct. 1976’s X-Men #101 and the start of the Phoenix saga.
Front of cover to Phoenix #1 © 1984 Marvel Comics. Pencils: John
Byrne. Inks: Terry Austin. Letters: Jack Morelli. Colors: Unknown.
Well, I’ve been organizing material from throughout my career as a comics journalist for archiving at another website and I just happened to come across some items related to that epic.
Many of my early articles come from a weekly newsletter called Comicscrypt that I worked on for Fat Jack’s Comicrypt — a small group of superb shops in the Philadelphia area. They were often, due to the promotional nature of the publication, on the colorful side compared to my other writing. And no sooner had I re-read the aforementioned introduction of a bold new identity for Jean Grey, a.k.a. Marvel Girl — or so the story went at the time, but more on that in a bit — than I moved around a few things in need of filing away to uncover a copy of 1995’s X-Men: The Postcard Book, to which I contributed the introduction; that, in turn, reminded me of a Comicscrypt article that I’d recently typed up for this online archive, one responsible for bringing me to the attention of the editor at Running Press in charge of the book at hand.
Cover to X-Men #101 © 1976 Marvel Comics. Pencils, Inks:
Dave Cockrum. Letters: Danny Crespi. Colors: Unknown.
The article in question, about the imminent wedding of Scott Summers, alias Cyclops, and Jean Grey in Mar. 1994’s X-Men #30 (actually released mid-January... cover dating, folks), began...
“It’s that age-old story of romance: Boy meets Girl.
Boy and Girl fall in love. Girl is apparently killed in spaceflight but somehow resurrected thanks to her amazing telekinetic powers. Girl turns into Evil Cosmic Entity, Girl kills herself, Boy goes into mourning. Boy meets exact lookalike of Girl and marries her; they have a son. Son is kidnapped into the future. Lookalike turns out to be Evil Clone of Girl. Girl turns out not to be dead after all — in fact, she’d been in suspended animation since that spaceflight, and Cosmic Entity was separate being altogether — and returns to Boy’s life. Boy and Girl are united with a daughter they never had from an alternate future, although not necessarily the future that Boy’s son with Evil Clone is in. Boy marries Girl. It happens all the time.”
After I shared this with a friend, he directed me to a very funny potted history of that alternate-future daughter of Scott and Jean’s, Rachel Summers. Yes, Jean Grey and
her pseudo-progeny’s backstories really are that complicated.
Wraparound cover to X-Men #30 © 1994 Marvel Comics. Pencils: Andy
Kubert. Inks: Matthew Ryan. Letters: Comicraft. Colors: Unknown.
When the Phoenix identity first emerged from New York’s Jamaica Bay in X-Men
#101, writer Chris Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum had planned nothing less, but nothing more, than a serious upgrade in powers and persona for the somewhat dated, demure Marvel Girl — built around, as the Phoenix name suggests, her actual death
and instant rebirth from sheer force of will. For a time they had nothing planned for her, period, keeping her laid up in the hospital while they figured out just what she could do; before long, however, Phoenix was shown to have almost limitless abilities, with nearly absolute power corrupting its host nearly absolutely. Claremont and his new creative partner, co-plotter/penciler John Byrne, turned in a stretch of brilliant superhero soap opera even as they famously struggled in their collaboration. What
later became known as the Phoenix saga and for a more specific run of issues as The Dark Phoenix Saga came to a head in Sept. 1980’s X-Men #137 when Jean took her own life to keep the part of her that was Phoenix from causing further destruction.
Or, like I said above, so the story went at the time.
Covers to X-Men #125 and X-Men #135 © 1979, 1980 Marvel Comics. Pencils: Dave Cockrum;
John Byrne. Inks: Terry Austin. Letters: Gaspar Saladino; Jim Novak. Colors: Unknown.
Claremont, Byrne, and their editors had initially planned for Jean to undergo a kind
of “psychic lobotomy” that would have removed her Phoenix powers forever — pending future twists, one assumes, given the cannibalistic nature of serialized comics, and rather belying Claremont’s original intentions for the character’s evolution. Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter, wasn’t satisfied that this was due punishment for the atrocities committed by Dark Phoenix and insisted that Jean Grey had to die. (Byrne’s pencils to the original ending of #137 were belatedly inked, colored, and published along with a roundtable discussion among the creative and editorial personnel in
1984’s Phoenix [The Untold Story] one-shot.)
Cover to X-Men #137 © 1980 Marvel Comics. Pencils: John Byrne.
Inks: Terry Austin. Letters: Jim Novak. Colors: Unknown.
Apart from an out-of-continuity appearance in a crossover teaming the X-Men with rival DC’s Teen Titans, Dark Phoenix really did seem to be gone, despite her apparent resurrection when the devastated Scott Summers met pilot Madelyne Pryor, who bore an eerie resemblance to Jean. The Phoenix name lived on, however, in Rachel, an incidental yet pivotal character introduced by Claremont and Byrne in Jan. 1981’s X-Men #141 (the start of the two-part “Days of Future Past” and the last issue of the series before its indicia title finally adopted the frequent cover adjective Uncanny) but not identified as the alternate-future progeny of Scott and Jean until after her appearance in the present day in Aug. 1984’s The Uncanny X-Men #184. Rachel had escaped a dystopia of mutant genocide only to find herself trapped in a reality where her mother was dead and Rachel herself had never been born, with Scott now married to Madelyne. In Nov. 1985’s Uncanny #199, Rachel absorbed a spark of Phoenix’s essence from a memento in the home of Jean Grey’s parents and, her powers boosted, adopted the Phoenix identity as her own.
Cover to X-Men #175 © 1983 Marvel Comics.
Pencils, Inks: Paul Smith. Colors: Unknown.
Byrne was writing and drawing Fantastic Four when his friend and former X-Men editor Roger Stern, then writing The Avengers, let him know that fan and future pro Kurt Busiek had an idea for bringing back Jean Grey — not as Phoenix; indeed, the idea hinged on the revelation that the erstwhile Marvel Girl hadn’t resurrected herself at the moment of death in X-Men #101. Jim Shooter gave the go-ahead to Byrne, Stern, and the creative team of X-Factor — a new series that reunited the long-since-dispersed original X-Men — to set up a storyline establishing that the Phoenix force, an entity that existed apart from Jean, had actually placed Jean in suspended animation and taken on not just her likeness but her memories, believing itself to be Jean Grey until its moment of sacrifice in X-Men #137.
Cover to Fantastic Four #286 © 1986 Marvel Comics. Pencils: John
Byrne. Inks: Terry Austin. Letters: Jim Novak. Colors: Unknown.
My first, most lasting period as an X-Men reader came to a close shortly after Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor’s infant son, Nathan, was introduced in Jan. 1986’s #201, a couple of issues after Rachel Summers became Phoenix. I gave up X-Factor within its first year and had long since dropped earlier spinoff The New Mutants,
which later introduced an adult version of Nathan known as Cable and morphed into
X-Force. Dipping back into the waters after a few years away served to confirm that I was right in leaving when I did, having become disenchanted with the artwork and increasingly fractured storylines; I couldn’t believe that the mystery of Madelyne’s origins were only then being addressed.
I picked up X-Men again while working on Comicscrypt, to stay on top on things, but there I had the advantage of simply reading the issues at the store. A new, adjectiveless X-Men series had been launched by that point, and it was there Scott and Jean finally wed. Since that time, Jean Grey has apparently merged with the Phoenix entity again and died again, but the latter does not seem to be a permanent condition. You can find out more than I know, or frankly care to know, about the Grey/Summers clan’s convoluted chronicles by poking around the Internet. Neverending stories have their place, but sometimes you have let them end for you if they’re to have any meaning.
Poster of wraparound cover to Phoenix #1 © 1984 Marvel Comics. Pencils:
John Byrne. Inks: Terry Austin. Letters: Jack Morelli. Colors: Unknown.
All images except last from Marvel Comics digital editions. Issue links to indexes
at the Grand Comics Database. Logos and characters TM/® Marvel Comics.
Related: Altered Jean • X Libris • Five-Panel Draw