Posted by: Doc Comics | February 11, 2010

The Dark Phoenix Saga

With the appearance of the Fantastic Four in 1961 and Spider-Man in 1962, Marvel Comics quickly ushered in their own brand of superheroes who were flawed, conflicted, and ambivalent about superpowers that often seemed more of a curse than a blessing.  In The Amazing Spider-Man #121 (June 1973), “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” marked the end of the ‘Silver Age’ and punctuated a darker grittier ‘Bronze Age’ by shocking comics fans with the death of Spider-Man‘s popular girlfriend during a battle with The Green Goblin.  With the dramatic stakes raised by life-and-death possibilities, it was only a matter of time until a central superhero faced their comic book mortality.

As a founding member of the mutant X-Men, “Marvel Girl” Jean Grey was a timid telepath who began to experience powerful surges in her abilities during late 70s stories by Chris Clarmont and artist John Byrne, thus changing her code name to Phoenix.  In what would come to be known as “The Dark Phoenix Saga” (1979-80), Jean is brainwashed by The Hellfire Club and a split-personality emerges that drives her to the brink of insanity, killing billions on an inhabited planet with her god-like power when she consumes their solar system’s star.  Aside from offering a rare depiction of a frighteningly superpowerful superheroine, this series is also interesting because of an editorial controversy over punishing Jean‘s genocidal rampage that led to a forced re-write of the ending wherein Jean is self-martyred and thus pays the ultimate price for her crimes.   The  original ending was later published in a 1983 special edition “Phoenix: The Untold Story,” in which Jean lives but loses her mutant superpowers.  Obviously, the Dark Phoenix Saga inspired numerous plot points of the X-Men films, especially 2006’s X3 The Last Stand.

John Byrne recalls that “Jean was not intended to be such a major player in the new series” so the idea arose to have her corrupted by power into a villain, even prior to Editor Jim Shooter’s order to have her die rather than merely de-powered.  With a little 11th hour RetCon, however, Jean was possessed by the Phoenix Force rather than going mad with power.  (And yes, Jean has enjoyed numerous resurrections to prove that no character really has to stay dead in comics, and there are rumors of a new RetCon revision in the works)  For all these reasons, THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA remains one of the most famous X-Men storylines and a comic book classic.



  1. Indeed this is the pinnacle of the X-men’s own relationships between one another. In the 90’s X-men tv series, of which I can give copies as I do own the entire TAS (tv animated series); everyone of the xmen including villains and otherworld characters are vastly effected by this saga.

    For once, there are questions presented, such as a super hero playing both the villain and hero (with in the female position). much more is to be read from, spoilers are not what I enjoy, but this is academically effective in showing the many dynamics of human vulnerability in the

  2. Here’s how the Dark Phoenix was translated for the X-Men animated series.

    • okay im not that caught up with whats happened in the past x-men comics but i didnt get why Colossus was replaced by Rogue in the animated series…i guess having that extra female role model in there was appealing and conjoining with the kind of ‘disney’ happy ending, where Jean actually comes back…again that is. i have to say i preferred the comic book ending though…having Phoenix comit suicide was shocking but also necessary i suppose inorder to show that the good part of Jean that was human, would rather sacrifice herself than live as her bad part the dark Phoenix. cheesy as it may sound, the good will triumph over evil through any means possible–and in a way it has to, otherwise these characters wouldnt be heroes at all…

  3. Op-Ed: It is of mass opinion that this story arc also marked the creative end point to the X-Men animated series (of the 90s), which somehow could never recover consist and quality storytelling despite an archive of published stories to borrow from. Did the film franchise suffer the same distinct plague, following the teasing of Phoenix at the end of X2? What is it about this story line that paralyzes or stalls X-Men incarnations?


    1) Within the Dark Phoenix Saga, written during “Second Wave Feminism” of the 1960s & 70s striving for gender equality outside restrictive societal roles, do you notice any gender differences in the powers wielded by men and women? Are we less troubled by Prof. X or Wolverine wielding either superhuman power or life-taking violence? Why might women with superpowers engaging in physical aggression evoke more anxiety than their male counterparts?

    2) Are there any similarities in depictions of Black Canary in GL/GA from last week and Jean Grey in terms of ‘acceptable’ gender behaviors? Jean and Storm? What about the treatment of women and madness (esp. Jane vs. Jean and the issues of the X3 film) when characterizing female anger or rebellion as “crazy,” irrational, and out of control?

    3) What do you make of X-Men Editor Jim Shooter’s insistence that Jean Grey should be mortally punished for the consequences of her powers run amok? Is Jean a victim, a villain, or martyr? Do you think a male superhero finds forgiveness more easily than superheroines for superpowered transgressions or violent havok?

    4) Judging from the numerous alternate endings and RetCon attempts, there seems to be discord and dissatisfaction over Jean’s end. Which of these do you find most satisfying and why? Which is most dissatisfying?

    5) How disturbing can X-romances get? Don’t ask.

  5. okay so whoa suicide is the least satisfying ending to this saga, mainly because its like killing off a character through falling down an elevator shaft, easy boot for such a important character. I personally think roasting on an asteroid in oblivion would be an awesome comic ending, but that would make no flipp’n sense, i have to stick with the 90’s animated series adaption with the phoenix leaving Jean after she later be revived..again..? okay so female characters get more treatment on the resurrecting part than the males, usually males are in control-dominance- over the plot of female characters (esp. in this case) leaving males with less so called pampering. Another idea to relate- are the female dynamoi

  6. I think Claremont & Byrne thought the suicide angle was redemptive for their superheroine (and is it just me or does burning on an asteroid sound like a none-too-subtle damnation to Hell by Shooter?). But yeah, I’m angling toward reflection upon superhero sexism here and it isn’t a new critique on the comic book boy’s club. Much more on this as we go.

  7. Why HOP is the unofficial sequel to X-MEN 3” from io9.

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