Monday, October 4, 2010

VINTAGE - Phoenix Rising, The X-Men

STERN, Roger & Various Auth. X-Men: Phoenix Rising. 112p. MARVEL COMICS, May 1999. ISBN: 9780785107118

Jean Grey. She's a superhero who hasn't had a lot of luck with codenames. Originally, she was called "Marvel Girl." Pretty quickly she became a woman, so that name didn't stick. Then she got cosmic-powers in the eighties and started calling herself "Phoenix." Then she saved the universe. She was still cosmically powerful though, and an old enemy (Mastermind) with some new villains (The Hellfire Club) were able to warp her mind and turn her evil. The X-Men couldn't really stop her. The intergalactic Shi'Ar couldn't, either. While on the run with her main squeeze Cyclops, she watches helplessly as he gets shot with what she thinks is a mortal wound. She goes apeshit crazy, kicks everyone's ass, then sacrifices herself for the sake of the universe. It sounds corny, but it's still widely regarded as one of the great comic stories of... well, ever. Chris Claremont wrote the story. It was ballsy, because he essentially killed off one of the original X-Men forever.

In comic books, however, no character really dies. Which brings us to this collection. Despite Claremont's original intent for Jean Grey to stay dead, editors at Marvel Comics decided that it was time to bring her back. And bring her back they did. In a three part story, this collection covers an issue of The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and finally the debut issue of X-Factor. X-Factor, in it's original form, was the reunification of all the original X-Men who hadn't been together as a team unit since the days of the original X-Men. If you are a nerd, that is a really big deal. Anyway, let's get to the story. The Avengers are having issues. Namor's just joined the team. As a former enemy, he predictably isn't getting along with anyone especially Hercules. Captain Marvel, a character I had never even hear of before, is the one in charge. She's a black female who can transform into pure light and travel great distances in a short amount of time. She's actually pretty awesome. If she was in more Avengers stories, I'd probably actually read them. She was my favorite.

Anyway, the Avengers put aside their personal issues (mostly) to deal with a disturbance in Hudson Bay. The eventually find something that looks like an opaque egg. When they get close to, it immediately repels them away. Even Namor, who gets pretty mad about the situation pretty fast. Eventually, they are able to get the thing out of the bay but they still have no idea really what it is. So who do they take it to? Reed Richards. I feel bad for Reed. I feel like people are constantly dumping their problems on him in the Marvel Universe. Like, "Ah! My costume is alive! Help me, help me!" Poor Mr. Fantastic. The biggest brain on Earth reduced to identifying evil eggs and handling fashion emergencies. Anyway, he basically has no idea what the cocoon is, either. He can determine that it's alien, which explains why he can't figure out more. He also determines something is inside. At the end of the issue, we can see a foxy redhead revealed when no one is looking. If you guess it's Jean Grey, you would be right.

Jean Grey eventually busts on out. She does a pretty good job of using her telekineses to thrash everyone around. It's somehow stronger, but explanation as to why is pretty flimsy. She no longer has telepathy. That is later reversed by other writers, just like her "death." Reed determines that Jean didn't die at all, but the Phoenix assumed physical form and looked exactly like her. That's what died. It placed the real Jean in suspended animation. Jean doesn't take all this very well, especially the part about Phoenix going evil and killing a bunch of space creatures. She's even more devastated when she finds out Scott is married to some chick who coincidentally looks exactly like her. Reed calls Warren Worthington, who essentially puts the moves on her for a really long time in early issues of X-Factor. Jean decides to reunite the original team, with Scott even coming back from Alaska and essentially abandoning his wife. Warren funds the whole thing. It turns out to be a disaster but that's for another blog post.

I'm sure this was released in conjunction with X-Men 3 which heavily featured Jean Grey as the Phoenix. Sort of. They adapted the animated show story where she's kind of possessed, which is what Claremont was sort of originally going for. Actually, X-Men 3 just makes it sound like Jean was crazy the whole time. I'm glad that they put this out so you can read the real story of her return. It's a shame it's now out-of-print.

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