X-Men #105 (June 1977) "Phoenix Unleashed!" writer: Chris Claremont Artist: Dave Cockrum Inker: Bob Layton
Karen: Buckle your seat belts tight kids, because this one starts off with a bang! The X-Men arrive at their private airfield to find the villainous Eric the Red waiting for them. They attack him and are suddenly met with -the fury of Firelord! In less than two pages, the former herald of Galactus makes quick work of the X-Men, knocking them all out. It turns out that Eric has conned the fiery one into thinking that the X-Men are out to rule the world. Apparently it's not that hard to put one over on Firelord.
Doug: Yeah, he did seem a bit dense. Is it just me, or have I missed the "Watch out 'cause Eric the Red is a MAJOR player" announcement? I've read his first appearances back when Steranko was doing the X-Men (c. the early #50's), and he didn't strike me as that big and bad then, either. But I guess he's fitting into a much larger, more cosmic picture this time around. I loved that opening 2-page spread!
Karen: My understanding is they're different characters. I thought the original Eric the Red was Cyclops in disguise. But Claremont loves bringing back obscure characters! Now we move to the bridge of the starship Enterpr - I mean, a Shi'ar starship. Cockrum does a fun homage to the original Star Trek here. The Shi'ar are pursuing Princess Lilandra to Earth. They're ready to take her ship out, when they discover that Earth has successfully driven off Galactus four times! This news so rattles them that they veer off; but their photon torpedoes eventually hit Lilandra's ship. Luckily, she stepped into her transporter in the nick of time, and beams down -right into Jean Grey's apartment, where Jean, her room-mate Misty Knight, Jean's parents, and Prof. Xavier are enjoying some coffee!
Doug: I thought that scene where the Shi'ar hightail it out of attack-mode was funny. I guess they are smarter than the Badoon! Has it ever been explained why the Shi'ar use a bug motif for their space travel, yet the race itself is more aviary?
Karen: I've wondered that myself! As Prof. X and Jean help Lilandra, who should show up and blow a hole in the wall but that crazy Firelord? What he doesn't know is that Jean has some tricks of her own. She turns into Phoenix and telekinetically blasts the erstwhile herald out of the apartment. "Incredible! In all my days on this misbegotten world, only Thor has struck me with such power!", he says, startled. We get to see some of Jean's new power displayed, and it's a quantum leap past her Marvel Girl days.
Doug: As we've jumped around a bit in our reviews of the X-Men, I'd forgotten that this was the first real appearance of Phoenix in action. Realizing that, the excitement I'd had way back when was rekindled. I guess I always like a scene where an underdog just rocks a bully -- that shock, anger, etc. on the part of the bully is always a treat. What did you think of Claremont and Cockrum writing themselves into that scene? Shades of Lee and Kirby...
Karen: While Firelord keeps Phoenix occupied, Eric the Red goes after Lilandra and Xavier. The X-Men come flying to their rescue in a hovercraft, only to -once again -have a vehicle blown out from under them. As Nightcrawler says, "Oh no! Not again!"
Doug: What's the "body count" on ships now? Gotta be up to at least four...
Karen: Back with the two fiery foes, Phoenix decides she's had enough and blasts Firelord 12 miles away! We get some foreshadowing here, as Jean thinks she should go "finish him off" -that doesn't sound like our dear Marvel Girl! She realizes that her power is like a drug.
Doug: Yes, that is foreshadowing -- and talk about slow-cooking it! With the bi-monthly publishing schedule, it was about three years before the Dark Phoenix storyline. Claremont was a master (in this case) with the slow reveal.
Karen: The other X-Men manage to survive their craft's explosion, but Eric is able to assemble a stargate and escape with Lilandra. Just as Nightcralwer is about to go through the gate it is shut off. Xavier is frantic, thinking they'll never get to Lilandra. But amazingly, Jean is able to power up the gate, and the X-Men head off after Lilandra. Unfortunately, Firelord has recovered and comes seeking vengeance. But eventually the Prof and the ex-herald would come to an understanding and everything would be peachy. But we wouldn't find that out until issue #108. Doug: Aren't comics great? Think of all the ways that things go cosmic -- Boom Tubes, stargates, Immortus, Thor's hammer, Superboy's speed, Dr. Doom's time machine... All means to a spectacular end. And another thing -- the definition of "hero"? Nightcrawler's jumping blindly after Eric the Red -- not having a clue what was going on, where he was going, etc. For the weakest team member, that just took guts.
Karen: Now that we've covered the story, how about that team of Cockrum and Layton? I thought this issue looked great! I've always liked Layton's inks. I know, some people say his stuff looks too slick, but I like his linework and detail.
Doug: As we've seen the inks of Sam Grainger lately, I could tell in certain places the influence Layton had, particularly in some of the facial expressions. It was a winning combination. And as we know, Layton's no slouch as a penciller, either.
Karen: This was just the start of Jean's transformation from, as Cyclops put it ,"the weakest X-Man," to someone with godlike power. It was also very unusual for a female character to be depicted as so powerful. In fact, when I think of the first really powerful Marvel heroines, they're all basically Claremont girls: Phoenix, Storm, and Ms. Marvel! I recall when I read this issue, I was incredulous over Firelord's line about Phoenix hitting like Thor -that just seemed ridiculous to me! How times have changed.
Doug: Yeah, just a closing thought -- how in the world could Cyke say Jean had been the weakest X-Man when the Angel was there all along? Bro-therrrr... again, shades of Stan Lee!
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In June we're going to hang out with the mad Titan, Thanos! Avengers 125 (6/17) Captain Marvel 33 (6/24) Archie Comics 64 (6/28)
July is, by tradition, "Giant-Size July": Avengers Annual 7 (7/1) Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2 (7/8) Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes 208 (7/15) Bizarre Adventures 27 (Iceman story) (7/19) Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes 233 (7/22) Iron Man Annual 3 (7/29)
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