Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / The Dark Phoenix Saga

Go To
A 1980 X-Men story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, taking place from X-Men #129 to #137, and one of Marvel Comics' most iconic storylines.

Fresh off a battle with Proteus, the X-Men are plunged into a battle with the mysterious Hellfire Club, while Phoenix, just back from a vacation in Greece and Scotland, finds herself psychically shifting in time to a Revolutionary War-era ancestor, who's engaged to a mysterious, roguishly handsome man named Jason Wyngarde.

In between Jean's "timeslips," she helps the X-Men rescue new mutants Kitty Pryde and Dazzler from the Hellfire Club: White Queen Emma Frost, Black King Sebastian Shaw, White Bishop Donald Pierce, Black Rook Harry Leland, and probationary member Wyngarde. However, when the time comes for the final showdown with them, she mysteriously switches sides, fighting alongside Wyngarde and Hellfire against the team. As a result, the X-Men are soundly trounced, and Phoenix is named Hellfire's Black Queen.

Thanks to a psychic rapport he forged with her before the attack, Cyclops manages to get through to Jean and reveal the truth to her: that Jason Wyngarde is really the X-Men's old enemy Mastermind operating under his real name, and that he's just making her believe she's time-shifting, the better to gain control of her through her Dark Side.

Once Wyngarde's treachery is exposed, the X-Men get their second wind, defeating Hellfire and escaping into the night. But the damage to Jean's mind is done... even though she's free of Wyngarde's mind control, there's something inside her that's been broken.

The corruption takes her over swiftly, and she transforms from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix a thousand feet over Central Park, destroying the X-Men's aircraft for about the dozenth time. note  After a fight with those she loved, which can only be described as a Curb-Stomp Battle, Dark Phoenix leaves Earth altogether, triggering the Significance Sense of everyone from Doctor Strange to Spider-Man to the Silver Surfer. Zipping through the universe on a cosmic joyride, she finds herself getting hungry... and the nearest source of food is a star in the Shi'Ar Galaxy.

At that, even as the X-Men desperately attempts to stop her, Empress Lilandra of the Shi'Ar Empire, seeing the Phoenix has an interstellar menace greater than even The Dreaded Galactus, the consumer of worlds, leads a coalition to do the same, whatever the cost.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the most controversial X-Men stories of all time, though more due to the subsequent Retcons and rewrites than the story itself; originally it was actually one of the most beloved tales in the franchise's history. It catapulted the already-well-liked Claremont/Byrne creative team to superstardom, even as it also sowed the seeds for what would eventually be their breakup.

(It should be noted however that killing off Jean Grey wasn't their idea; editor Jim Shooter forced them to do it, feeling that allowing her to live after killing billions of people would not be fair. Claremont later admitted that it made for a better ending, and most fans agreed.note )

Since its original publication, this story has been extremely loosely adapted several times:

The Dark Phoenix Saga contain examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The issue that introduces Dazzler is titled "The Dramatic Debut of the Dazzler".
  • All According to Plan: After Jean blasts herself to death, Scott wonders if she'd planned everything, including the fight with the Imperial Guard, simply so she could figure out a way to kill herself.
  • And You Were There: As Jean's "timeslips" progress, she gradually begins imagining all of her teammates as 18th-century versions of themselves—imagining Ororo as a rebellious slave called "Beauty", Piotr as a farmhand on her plantation, and Scott as a dashing Colonial Minuteman.
  • Apocalypse How: Dark Phoenix eating the D'bari sun causes a Class X-2. It's suggested in issues of What If? that if she hadn't died, she would eventually have reached anything from a Class X-4 to a Class Z in time.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Dark Phoenix commits genocide on a galactic scale by consuming a sun. Once Jean's original personality resurfaces, she is overwhelmed by guilt.
  • Ascended Extra: The black-haired serving girl taking the robe off Shaw while he gloats over the Hellfire Club's victory turns out to be a quite important aide to him, Sage. (And even later, a spy for Professor Xavier.)
  • Author Appeal: Several tropes in this storyline (the brainwashing, the ladies in skimpy underthings, the "enjoys feeling evil" moments) are all personal favourites of Chris Claremont, and this is their big introduction to the world of X-Men.
  • Author Catchphrase: Mastermind continually refers to how he has ensnared Jean "body and soul", a common phrase in Claremont works.
  • Bad Boss: Emma Frost's introductory issue has her blowing up some goons for failing to beat the X-Men. She justifies her actions by remarking that the Hellfire Club pays good money on their goons, thus they expect results.
  • Berserk Button: During the fight on the Moon, the Kree observer Bel-Dann saves the Skrull observer Raksor from the X-Men, which just results in the Skrull attacking him. Admittedly, Kree and Skrull despise one another even on a good day.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Even before her final Freak Out, Jean shows Emma Frost why it's not a good idea to make a mutant with cosmic powers mad at you. Mastermind learns a similar lesson, though by then Jean isn't so 'nice' anymore.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jean sacrifices herself and a saddened Cyclops leaves the team as a result, but Storm becomes the new leader of the X-Men and Kitty officially joins the team after Jean's funeral.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: The Prydes are initially furious at the thought of Kitty going to the Xavier Institute after the Hellfire Club's attack. Then Phoenix gives them a "little nudge" and they become a lot more agreeable. It serves as a sign of Jean's encroaching corruption.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Imperial Guard fight the X-Men in a trial by combat, leaving Jean the last X-Man standing. When Cyclops is knocked out before her eyes, she snaps and becomes Dark Phoenix again, taking them all out in the space of seconds.
  • The Bus Came Back: Beast and Angel, who had been serving on other teams (The Avengers and the Champions, respectively), returned for the latter half of the story.
  • Call-Back:
    • Jean exclaiming that she is fire and life incarnate upon transforming into Dark Phoenix is the same quote she gave upon first transforming into the Phoenix.
    • For the final fight on the Moon, Jean dons her old Marvel Girl outfit, symbolizing her rejection of everything relating to the Phoenix.
  • The Cameo: Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer pop up in Uncanny #135 as the Dark Phoenix awakens.
  • Ceiling Cling: In issue #133, Wolverine clings to the underbasement's ceiling when facing the Hellfire Club.
  • Chess Motifs: Hellfire ranks its members like this, with White Queen Emma Frost replaced by Black Queen Jean Grey after the former's apparent demise. Sebastian Shaw is the Black King, but the other members' ranks aren't revealed until later.
  • Cliffhanger Copout:
    Nightcrawler (in the last panel of #133): Cyclops is dead!
    Nightcrawler (in the first panel of #134): Cyclops is alive!
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: John Byrne based the original designs for all the Hellfire Club characters on famous actors (most of whom they're partly named after), and Kitty Pryde on an adolescent Sigourney Weaver.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover of #136 shows a crying Cyclops cradling Dark Phoenix's lifeless body in his arms while Jean's parents and the rest of the X-Men are shown mourning. Jean's death wouldn't occur until the following issue.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Phoenix's psychic duel against Emma Frost. Emma's able to hold out for a while, but it's quickly made clear that she has no chance of winning against Phoenix, who was only testing her to learn her strengths and weaknesses - it's over almost immediately once she really begins to attack.
    • The Hellfire Club's ambush of the X-Men, and in turn, the X-Men's retaliatory strike against Hellfire. Of particular note is the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown Wolverine delivers to the entire Hellfire Club after having been smashed through several stories and into the sewers.
    • Dark Phoenix's first fight against the X-Men ends with her effortlessly countering all of their attacks and laying waste to all of them.
    • The X-Men's beatdown at the hands of the Imperial Guard. They were badly outnumbered, but when Colossus finally falls in a one-on-one fight with Gladiator, it becomes clear to Professor X that they have no hope of victory.
    • A few pages later, the Imperial Guard itself at the hands of Dark Phoenix. It happens so quickly that it's not shown on the page and we only see their unconscious bodies.
  • Decadent Court: The Hellfire Club's Inner Circle was based on a Real Life 18th century secret club for decadent rich people.
  • Death Is Cheap: Originally meant to be explicitly averted by all involved — Jean Grey was to stay dead. Madelyne Pryor was intended to be just what she presented herself as — a normal human who just happened to have an uncanny resemblance to Jean. Unfortunately, it was decided about six years later that the original five X-Men should have their own book, and there had to be a way to bring Jean back. This led to the continuity trainwreck that was Inferno (1988), and opened the door for the "Jean Grey Memorial Revolving Pearly Gates" jokes.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Leland has the ability to manipulate gravity. In his rematch with Wolverine, he uses it again on instinct as Wolverine is lunging towards him from above.
    • The fight with the Shi'ar takes place in the Blue Area of the Moon, a city built by the ancient Kree millions of years ago, so the X-Men can breath, but the gravity's still much lower. Angel takes off for a test flight and nearly kills himself.
  • Dirty Mind-Reading: One of the early signs of Jean's corruption occurs when she reads the repulsive thoughts of the attendees at Dazzler's concert…and finds that part of herself finds these thoughts attractive. Though it's a fairly subtle one, since bits like this are one of the recurring elements in Claremont's writing.
  • Dressed Like a Dominatrix: Jean's Black Queen outfit, which is her in a corset, underwear, gloves and a spiked collar, while carrying a whip (which goes unused for whipping, but she does slap Storm in the face with it)
  • Dying as Yourself: Jean chooses to commit suicide rather than become Dark Phoenix again.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Jean Grey's Black Queen and Dark Phoenix outfits are worn while she is acting against the X-Men. The former manifests while she is under Mastermind's control, while the latter is formed after she has succumbed to the Phoenix's influence.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Mastermind finds himself face to face with a very angry and now cosmically powered Jean Grey, her face entirely blacked out, except for her eyes, which are glowing.
  • Face–Heel Turn: One of the most famous in comics history. Jean Grey, one of the founding members of the heroic X-Men, loses her sanity due to Mastermind's machinations and becomes the murderous Dark Phoenix.
  • Fad Super: Dazzler is introduced in this arc, in all her disco-riffic glory.
  • Fanservice:
    • Emma has Storm, Wolverine and Colossus stripped to their underwear to confiscate anything they could have used to escape their prison. Many panels are dedicated to showcasing the three heroes' well-toned bodies.
    • Jean briefly winds up naked in issue #136 after her clothes are destroyed during Professor Xavier's battle with the Dark Phoenix.
  • Fastball Special: Reversed from the norm — in the lighter gravity of the Moon, Wolverine does this with Colossus.
  • Foreshadowing: Senator Robert Kelly makes his first appearance in this arc as a Club guest who witnesses the X-Men's escape from the Hellfire Club, which cements his fear of mutants. Sebastian Shaw gets him to fund a new Sentinels program, setting up both the Days of Future Past storyline several issues later and the creation of Nimrod.
  • For the Evulz: Dark Phoenix attacks the X-Men as they're fleeing the mess of the Hellfire Club for no reason other than she just wants to.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Mastermind wanted Jean to embrace her dark impulses. He succeeds, but fails to assert control over her mind and is driven insane when she turns against him and overwhelms his subconscious.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The story reaches its climax with Jean committing suicide to prevent the Dark Phoenix from emerging again.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Mastermind's powers and the general respectability of the Hellfire Club make the X-Men look like menaces during their battle there.
  • Hope Spot: Charles Xavier uses his powers to seal the Phoenix away inside Jean's mind, and Scott proposes marriage to her. They share a relieved kiss...and then get beamed onto a Shi'Ar Imperial cruiser, where they find out Jean is to be executed for the actions she committed as the Dark Phoenix.
  • Homage: The Logo Joke seen in the page image was based on the cover to the first issue of the Roy Thomas / Neal Adams run.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Kitty Pryde's powers are just emerging when she first appears, and she's no idea how they work. The first time she tries using them, it leaves her exhausted — although that quickly fades as she uses them more and more.
  • Interrupted Cooldown Hug: Near the climax, Scott is talking Dark Phoenix down, trying to appeal to Jean's better nature with The Power of Love, with her face getting noticeably less inhuman and softer...until Professor Xavier mind-blasts her from behind, and she returns to full-fledged psychosis.
  • Jerkass Ball: The Professor puts the X-Men through harsh training and treats them like children, even though by this point they have proven to be a formidable team. Scott tries pointing out to the Professor that what he's doing just won't work, but Xavier retorts that this is Scott's fault, and he'll need to "correct" it. Later issues explore this behaviour when Charles admits that he's fully aware the X-Men have grown without him, and Scott's become the leader he's always wanted him to be, but this left the older man unsure of where his place in the team is, and his lashing out is just an expression of his frustration and uncertainty.
  • Light 'em Up: This story arc introduces Dazzler, a mutant with the power to convert sound waves into luminous energy. Though she mainly uses her power to create special effects for her concerts, she can also generate intense bursts of light to either blind her enemies or overwhelm their senses, plunging them into a coma.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Phoenix Force is the embodiment of life, light, and fire, but also a rampaging, chaotic force with the potential to destroy entire planets if its power gets out of control.
  • Logo Joke: As seen in the page image: the cover of issue #135 memorably features the Dark Phoenix grabbing the X-Men logo and crushing it in her hands. More subtly: in the cover of the very next issue, the letters in the logo are still cracked and broken.
  • Male Gaze: The panel in which Phoenix shows up to confront Emma Frost prominently displays the former's buttocks. In conjunction with the following panel, which depicts the protagonist's wicked expression, this highlights how Jean is no longer the reserved and modest superheroine she used to be.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The X-Men stare horrified when Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix for the first time.
  • Mindlink Mates: This is the story that establishes Cyclops and Jean Grey's psychic rapport.
  • Mood-Swinger: Another problem with Dark Phoenix is she can go from calm to psychotically violent on a dime. Even Jean's family nearly get fried when she makes a brief return home.
  • More than Mind Control: On her way down the slippery slope, Jean furiously tells Mastermind that he made her trust and perhaps even love him, even though he was just trying to take control of her.
  • Mind Rape:
    • After Storm succeeds in calling the other X-Men for help, the White Queen uses her telepathic powers to torture the heroine into submission.
    • Jean punishes Mastermind by granting him omniscience to drive him insane.
  • Mundane Utility: Phoenix uses her Reality-Warping powers for simple things like changing her costume into civvies or creating a picnic spread. Briefly, Cyclops wonders why this bothers him. "Why shouldn't Jean use her powers to make her life easier?"
  • Myth Arc: Part of what makes this story so remarkable. It was the climax of a massive Myth Arc that Claremont had been building up to since issue #97 in 1975, when Professor X got his first look at the Shi'ar. Over the course of 41 issues (almost five years), Jean Grey died, was resurrected, took on an alien empire, saved the galaxy from imploding, turned to the dark side, took on an alien empire (again), and died.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Scott comes to realize Jean's Heroic Sacrifice/Suicide was done out of her unable to live with the fact that as the Phoenix she was responsible for genocide on a galactic scale, killing billions of sentient aliens when she feasted on its sun.
  • Naïve Newcomer: This storyline introduces Intangible Girl Kitty Pryde this way, and still lets her help save the day.
  • Narrating the Obvious: The narrator frequently and meticulously describes the characters' actions, regardless of how obvious they may be to the reader. For example, one panel shows Dark Phoenix laughing maniacally while extending her arms upwards to conjure a lightning bolt, and is accompanied by the narrator explaining that "she reaches for the sky, summoning lightning, laughing as the awesome bolts of energy caress her body like a lover".
  • No One Could Survive That!: After Wolverine's sent plummeting through the floors of the Hellfire Club, they send a few henchmen to find him. As they're exploring, one guard remarks that he must certainly have drowned. Then he notices the drips falling off the ceiling...
  • Now It's My Turn: Wolverine says this after everyone's gotten their asses kicked by the Hellfire Club, and he's been launched straight into their basement sewer.
    Wolverine: Okay, suckers -- you've taken yer best shot! Now it's my turn!
  • Oh, Crap!: The Dark Phoenix's awakening triggers a lot of warnings within the other heroes of the Marvel Universe - Reed Richards' devices detect her appearance and notes it can rival Galactus, it sets off Spider-Man's Spider-Sense, frightens Dr. Strange and forces the Silver Surfer to try to race to the Phoenix's aid, hoping that he can curb her power.
  • Parents as People: When Jean/Phoenix makes a visit to her parents' house, she is able to sense that while they do love her completely, they also are afraid of her and her destructive powers.
  • Platonic Kissing: Played with. Jean greets her former teammate Angel with a friendly kiss on the lips, though by this point Mastermind's influence has corrupted her mind to the point she feels the urge to prolong the kiss, making him feel uncomfortable.
    Jean: You're looking good, blondie.
    Angel: We keep this up, Jean, and we are liable to make Scott jealous.
  • Power Incontinence: By the time she's Dark Phoenix, Jean's psychic powers are so strong she can't turn them off at all, and is therefore picking up the deepest thoughts of everyone around her.
  • Power Limiter: The X-Men try to make one of these to contain Jean. It doesn't work; even when it's on and working, it just slows her down from "Reality Warper" to "Physical God". And then it melts.
  • Put on a Bus: Banshee elects to stay in Scotland when the team returns home at the beginning of the story, due to injuries he received several issues prior from overexerting his mutant scream, leaving him powerless.
  • Restraining Bolt: Xavier creates a series of mental "circuit breakers" to permanently suppress the power of Phoenix, returning Jean to her "Marvel Girl" stats. But when she sees Cyclops wounded in battle, the Bolt breaks.
  • The Reveal: Throughout the preceding Proteus storyline, Jean had been suffering flashes where she thought she was living in the 18th century, which was put down to Proteus's reality warping powers... except Proteus is killed, and the flashes keep coming. As it turns out, it's because of Jason Wynguarde messing with her mind.
  • Rigged Spectacle Fight: Professor X and Lilandra agree to settle Jean Grey's fate through a formal duel between their respective teams, which they watch aboard the Empire's space ship. As the battle progresses, it becomes clear that it was blatantly rigged against the X-Men:
    • Cyclops points out at the beginning of the duel that they have no idea what their opponents are capable of. However, the aliens outright state that they know exactly what the heroes' powers are and how to counter them.
    • The chosen arena is the Blue Area of the Moon, whose low gravity and lack of atmosphere severely disrupt Angel and Storm's powers, respectively.
    • One of the Imperial Guards is revealed to actually be two separate aliens who can combine and disassemble at will, thus turning the 8v8 match into a 9v8.
    • The Imperial Guard's knowledge of the battlefield enables them to trick a Watcher into assisting them, as the enraged entity psychically assaults Wolverine when the latter is hurled into its home.
    • The two "impartial observers" who are sent to supervise the duel turn out to be fully supportive of Lilandra's cause and attack Wolverine. The galactic powers who sent them gave their support to Lilandra of the duel only if it was not permitted for the X-Men to win.
  • Running Gag: Even in the midst of the heavy stuff, the gag of various vehicles being trashed when the X-Men go near them still happens, a fact Nightcrawler even calls out as it happens.
  • Say My Name: As Jean dies, she and Scott call each other's names.
  • Screw Your Ultimatum!: In the fight on the Moon, some of the team meet Warstar, who offers them a choice between honorable surrender or honorable death. Wolverine speaks for the team when he tells them to stuff their offer.
  • Series Continuity Error: In the final issue, when performing their reverse Fastball Special mentioned above, Wolverine basically tells Colossus to kill Phoenix, which Colossus thinks is "something I have never done." This despite the climax of the arc immediately preceding this one having Piotr being forced to be the one to put down Moira MacTaggert's son Proteusnote .
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Phoenix and Scott get hot and heavy atop a mesa just as the scene cuts away to the other X-Men.
  • The Shadow Knows: After escaping from the nightclub in a stolen car, the X-Men drive past Jason Wyngarde, who casts a shadow on the wall that was not his own. Cyclops half-noticed it, but had too many things on his mind to pay it much heed.
  • Shout-Out: Gladiator has always been a Captain Ersatz of Superboy, just as the rest of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard have been of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the fact's given a not-even-remotely subtle nod when the narration calls him "a man of steel".
  • Staking the Loved One: The cold choice; kill Dark Phoenix before she kills everyone else. Wolverine tries early on, but can't bring himself to do it, and during the showdown on the Moon admits he still can't. None of the other X-Men can either, but Jean solves the problem herself.
  • Start of Darkness: To stop a carload of Hellfire Club goons from running down Kitty Pryde, Phoenix erects a psychic brick wall in front of it, killing or at least badly hurting the occupants. When Cyclops goes What the Hell, Hero?, she basically slaps him down.
    Phoenix: You didn't sense the girl's terror, nor the thoughts of the men chasing her. These... animals got no more than they deserved!
    Cyclops: Wow. I thought I'd seen Jean in every conceivable mood, but this is new.
  • Stripperiffic: One of the more subtle displays of Jean's growing corruption is her tendency to wear progressively more revealing clothes as the story goes on. By the time she adopts the Black Queen persona, her outfit is reduced to what can only be described as rather elaborate lingerie.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham:
    • Subtly lampshaded, as Marvel heroes from all over the universe pick up on Dark Phoenix's manifestation, but the whole story happens too quickly for anyone to respond to it.
    • Beast was an Avenger at the time and happened to be on monitor duty when the NYPD alert about the X-Men fighting at the Hellfire Club came through. Instead of alerting his current teammates, he took a Quinjet out by himself to come to his former team's aid.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: The original intent of this story was that Dark Phoenix was Jean Grey, corrupted by her power and Wyngarde's machinations. The Phoenix was retconned as a Cosmic Being of its own who had replaced Jean (and forgot about it) so the real Jean could turn up alive later.
  • Take a Third Option: Tragically averted at the conclusion of the story.
    Professor X: Cyclops, attack Phoenix now, while she is still relatively weak!
    Cyclops: Professor, there has to be some other way! Please!
    Professor X: If there was, lad, don't you think I'd be using it?
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When the Dark Phoenix suddenly reemerges at the climax of the saga, Empress Lilandra desperately invokes Plan Omega: destroy the entire solar system and pray they can kill Dark Phoenix in the process. At that point, Xavier has no choice but to order his X-Men to kill Jean themselves to preempt this measure.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Mastermind, previously a guy who could merely scare his opponents with fake monsters, almost destroys the X-Men all by himself. His powers are now boosted by a device made by Emma Frost, allowing him to project his illusions directly into Jean's mind and corrupt her over a period of months.
  • Unstable Powered Woman: Jean unlocks massive superpowers in this arc, and quickly gets corrupted into the insane Dark Phoenix.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: All the members of the Hellfire Club are a band of evil mutants (and one cyborg) who "pass" as influential, wealthy humans.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: During the X-Men's battle against the Imperial Guard, Wolverine indirectly instigates a battle between a Skrull named Raksor and a Kree warrior named Bel-Dann. In the original ending, the narrator would say they killed themselves off-panel, but in the released issue, their fate is unaddressed. The 1984 Fantastic Four annual would later pick up their story where it left off.
  • What Have I Done: When Jean is restored to herself for the final chapter, she's consumed with guilt at the atrocities Dark Phoenix has committed.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Jean's Dark Phoenix persona is a result of her becoming consumed by her limitless powers. She tearfully admits that, although she is aware that she committed countless atrocities while under her Superpowered Evil Side's influence, a part of her enjoyed it.
    Xavier: The simple explanation Warren, is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Phoenix is the ultimate expression of Jean's potential as a PSI.