Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Readers' Turn: Arc of Triumph? The Dark Phoenix Saga



Karen: Hey folks. The Arc of Triumph is where we discuss a comic story arc (and it can be any length you like, whether just two issues or 12 issues, whatever you like). We've tried to avoid stories that we have already reviewed in-depth, but if that happens today, don't worry about. Please feel free to discuss favorite -or not so favorite! -story arcs.



20 comments:

Colin Jones said...

I could mention Thor #294-300 where it goes all 'Wagnerian Ring Cycle' which I loved but nobody else does so what about X-Men #132-137 - I know the Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix storyline is an obvious one but we're allowed to choose our favourite arc and I don't think it's actually been reviewed (or has it ?)...

Edo Bosnar said...

Actually Colin, a quick consult of the BAB Library of Reviews link at the top of the page shows that the Hellfire/Dark Phoenix Saga has not yet been reviewed here. So I think that one's open. Also, I think you're jumping to conclusions about that Thor story arc - I think Karen at least has mentioned previously that she liked it, and I'm sure there's others. Also, someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that story actually started somewhere in the 280s and even involved the Eternals and Celestials.

Anyway, I only read the Thor story in bits and pieces, while the X-men story still stands as one of my favorite comic book sagas ever. And I think the fact that Jean Grey was brought back was one of the poorest editorial decisions ever, because it really diminishes the impact of the original story.

Doug said...

I think this is a great storyline to discuss today. It is unlikely, at least in the next several months, that Karen and I will give this series the full BAB partner review treatment (sad to say, but that's life). So as it's one of those keys, by all means let's fawn over it/pick it apart.

The Thor series is also worthy, so don't anyone stray from that.

Good suggestions!

Doug

Humanbelly said...

Ooh-- I have a different Thor Arc that I'm a-gonna save for the next round!
(Controversial. Either loved or loathed by most fans at the time. . . )

HB

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I recently picked up the FF "In Search of Galactus" hardcover--I had no idea it had been out since 2010--but it has always been among my favorite super-hero stories. These issues from 1979 (#204-214) made a significant impact on young me and I believe time has been most kind to this largely-forgotten epic. It introduced Terrax the Terrible and featured the greatest knock-down fight between planet-destroying giants (Galactus and The Sphinx) ever witnessed on (quickly-yellowing) comic book paper...

Colin Jones said...

Edo, I'm sure Karen has said she didn't like that Thor story but apologies to her if I'm wrong about that....

Colin Jones said...

Anyway, as to the subject - it wasn't only that the X-Men story was gripping stuff, brilliantly written and drawn but April 1980 is where I started buying imported Marvel comics every month rather than just now and again when they were available - X-Men #132 and Thor #294 were both dated April 1980 (which for British readers meant they were actually on sale in April 1980 - Saturday April 5th 1980 to be exact). In other words I was able to read the X-Men and Thor stories as they happened rather than years behind in reprinted UK versions. Of course the big disappointment about the X-Men is the amazing ending was ret-conned later on so Jean's dramatic self-sacrifice wasn't really her.

Karen said...

Colin is partly right -I thought the Wagnerian part of that Thor story went on way too long. but I liked all the stuff with the Eternals and Celestials and the other pantheons that were brought in at the end. I know Kirby didn't originally want his Eternals to be a part of the Marvel mainstream universe, but I thought they were worked into it fairly well. Seeing the Destroyer go up against the Celestial host was amazing -and finally revealing (devising) Odin's plan for the Destroyer was brilliant. I guess I've always been a fan of stories that can tie together the disparate loose ends of Marvel history, and do it well. And we even got some real characterization with Thor here. Good stuff. But yeah, the Wagnerian thing seemed to go forever!

I am not going to say much about Dark Phoenix because I still have hopes that someday, perhaps after Doug and I have both retired, we will review these issues. But they hit me hard when I first read them. As Edo said, the impact has diminished now due to all the constant resurrections. One thing I wonder about: would the original ending, with Jean alive but left powerless and sort of dumbed down, have had anywhere near the impact of the published version? I think not.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, re: that alternate ending to the Phoenix saga. No, it wouldn't have had near the same impact. The way it originally ended, as published, was so well done and so powerful.

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

The Dark Phoenix Saga
*Spoilers* (because one never knows)

For me, the death of Jean Grey was devastating. I was pretty young when i read it and in comparing it to that "other" Major Death Event of the time, Elektra, well, I felt nothing for Elektra or the alleged emotional weight of that storyline even if it is good reading (and I think the world of Miller's run on that title, though not because he made me feel sorrow over Elektra's demise)

As for Jean Grey's death, we as X-Men readers had a years-long bond with Jean in her various incarnations and to see her slowly overwhelmed by forces beyond her and any human control month after month was devastating, so when it came to issue #137, it was a crushing blow to see someone who was essentially a member of the surrogate family die. The X-Men were a family by choice and that alone makes them a more intimate grouping than the people I was randomly thrown into by fate and biological circumstances. But that's just my experience. Mileage may vary for yous guys and gals.

Thankfully, I never read any subsequent ret-conned stories so it is the Claremont-Byrne-Austin arc that I acknowledge as gospel.

J.A. Morris said...

I agree about Jean vs. Elektra. Her relationship with Matt Murdock was based on a retcon and she had been around a grand total of 13 issues when she was "killed."

Humanbelly said...

Although I knew about it, of course, via a surge of back-issue buying that started a year or two later, I didn't actually read the arc itself until around that same time- via that first trade paperback collection of the saga. And even knowing what was coming, it still left me in tears at the end. ('Course, I'm a pretty soft touch. . . ) A deeply moving, difficult, mature, legitimate LITERATE comic-book reading experience. It was soooooo flippin' good-- and sometimes recognizing early on what the final outcome has to be is what adds weight and meaning to the story along the way. Jean, in the unknowing thrall of her powers, killed an entire planet of folks for the fun of it. Insane or not, there's simply no coming back from that-- no half-measures or easy-outs-- and Claremont was surely a savvy enough writer to realize that. Embracing the circumstances and the inevitable direction the story had taken itself in, the editors and creators did the brave thing and followed through with Jean's heartbreaking self-sacrifice.
Truly, a high-point in combining comic-book entertainment with compelling story-telling.

And I swear, to this day, Marvel (and perhaps the industry in general) doesn't get why fans would feel betrayed when all of that was nullified by the HORRIBLE X-Factor retcon several years later. It's truly a lack of respect for both the fans and for the medium itself-- a full betrayal, actually-- when stories and events are being presented as "true" within their own universe, only to be told years later that those stories were in fact a bald-faced lie, because "what we're telling you NOW is true--". That was truly the beginning of a long, long, (decades long!) slow arc of increasing disenchantment for me. Gnrgh. And the awful kicker is that it was such a failure of a gimmick. X-FACTOR was just awful pretty much right out of the gate, and stayed that way for-- well, for years & years, actually. Big hype to resurrect Jean-- then plop her down into a thin, contrived, directionless disappointment of a title. Oh my god. . .

HB

Garett said...

I read this arc a year or two after it came out. My cousin lent me X-Men 120-140, and I gorged myself on the art and story! I really liked it then. But even though I have the TPBs now, I don't look at them as much as other comics of that era. Byrne's art doesn't appeal to me as much as when I was a kid, and I prefer the characters and writing in the New Teen Titans. But still a significant arc, and who knows, it may become one of my favorites again in the future.

Dr. Oyola said...

I have not read the original issues in probably 30 years. Never owned them. They were already history when I started collecting X-Men comics on the regular. I just got the trade collecting #129-#137 - but have not broken into it yet.

I frequently use this as an example of why the idea of "spoilers" is overrated. I never DIDN'T knew that Jean dies, but that did not spoil anything. . . It was about seeing how her transformation/corruption/relation to the others played out - not about the specific events themselves.

I also use this an my example of the importance of what I call "macro-closure." I know it has been retconned, she has been brought back to life again (and recently again) and while I guess it would be easy to make the argument that for a character named "Phoenix" to expect anything but would be silly at best and ignorant at worst - but when it comes to collecting comics, the reader is the one who chooses what really happens/happened - maybe Jean will return one day, but to me at least that "one day" is in a distant never to be written future - anything else is just a dream.

Lastly, for those of you who are no following the EXCELLENT podcast, "Rachel & Miles X-Plain the X-Men" check out Episode #12: "Inner Circle Jerk" and Episode #13: "Last Stand on the Moon" which cover the Dark Phoenix Saga in detail.

pfgavigan said...

Hiya,

As I understand it, and it's entirely possible I'm wrong, the decision to bring back Jean Grey was not an editorial but rather a upper level management decision. Sales wanted another X book on the schedule and had the idea of using the originals as the team. The Artistic Peons were given the relatively minor tasks of trying to make this make some sense.

And in the end, at least with the creation of this book, they did manage to bring Jean back.

By the way, see if you can find what was originally intended to be the conclusion of the Dark Phoenix saga. All I can say about it is if it had seen print I would have dropped the book immediately.

regards

pfgavigan

Comicsfan said...

It's awfully tempting--and a little daunting--to tackle a Dark Phoenix storyline review. The question becomes, where does one start? At the point Jean actually becomes DP? Or when she assumes the role of the Black Queen? Or when she first begins to be manipulated by Mastermind? Or during Moira's worrisome examination of her? There's a lot of context to her gradual transformation, all under the assumption at the time that it's indeed Jean who is the Phoenix, and Jean who becomes corrupted by Jason Wyngarde. That's more easy to buy in hindsight than it was during the actual 1980 story, when we were being asked to boil it all down to "power corrupts...". If Doug and Karen indeed tackle it, I'm fastening my seatbelt and enjoying every bit of the ride. :)

William Preston said...

Gahhhhhhdssss innnnnn spaaaaaaaaace!!!

I started collecting Thor right before he went on the "Odinquest" (I think they called it) in ish 255. What with the Recorder along for the ride on a Norse wooden ship/interstellar vessel, it recalled the sequence from the Kirby days in which Thor went off to battle the Rigelian invaders, a sequence I got around the same time via a friend of my mother's (who had stacks of '60s-era Thor, Iron Man, and Spidey for me to snatch up for cheap). I loved both of those sequences.

From the Spidey stack, I liked the arc in which Spidey was carrying around that stone tablet that the Kingpin wanted. This was among my earliest exposures to the long-form storytelling Marvel was so good at.

And I came on board Marvel Team-Up right as they launched that time-travel/Cotton Mather/Scarlet Witch/Salem/dystopia arc. Whoo! I thought that was a blast (from the past! AND future!). That was followed by the three(?)-issue arc with the Wraith. Likewise, I started collecting FF as they were embarking on the exoskeleton/High Evolutionary arc. (I loved stuff in outer space.) Good times for one and all.

Karen said...

For those who may not know what PFGavigan is referring to, the story published in X-Men 137 (with Jean dying) was not the original story written and drawn for the book. An excellent resource for exactly what was changed and why is Peter Sanderson's X-Men Companion Volume 1. The original story has also been printed by Marvel as a special issue. As Claremont told it to Sanderson, in the original ending to 137, Jean is captured by Lilandra and her people and they remove her psychic abilities "down to the molecular level." She would be turned into a normal human being. The analogy is made that without her telepathy and so forth, she will feel helpless -"deaf, dumb, and blind." But editor-in-chief Jim Shooter said that because Phoenix had committed genocide, wiping out an entire planet of people (and a starship full of folks too), she had to be punished. Claremont felt that Jean was not responsible, and he was writing a story about forgiveness. I have to say, I'm not a big Jim Shooter fan, but in this case, I think he was absolutely right.

Dr. Oyola said...

And speaking of the ret-con and return of Jean: We kind of have Jurt Busiek to blame for that - at least for the version we got.

He explains it in another episode of Rachel & Miles X-Plain the X-Men in which he is a special guest, Episode #21 – Kurt Busiek at the Coffee-a-Go-Go

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

Karen, your rundown of Dark Phoenix-related publications reminds em that it's an arc with its own cottage industry!

In 1984 I got the Dark Phoenix trade paperback--I remember abandoning some Teen Titans back issues upon seeing the TPB display at the counter. There was also the Untold Story special issue, which also included interviews ith the editorial and creative team of UXM, I remember stumbling upon Vol. 2 of the Sanderson interviews in 1985 in the used bin of my LCS---it became my UXM "bible"--but I wouldn't find Vol. 1 until 1997. Then of course everything is reprinted (sans the Sanderson stuff) in Vol. 5 of the Marvel Masterworks of UXM.

I have spent most of my life obsessing over the Dark Phoenix story arc!

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