The Dark Phoenix Saga is the seminal X-Men story, and as such there have been many follow ups and sequels throughout the years. But how do they all measure up in comparison to the original classic? Before the movie hits theaters, we rate each of the Dark Phoenix continuations from the past four decades of comics.
What If? #27 “What if Phoenix Had Not Died?” (1981) 6/10
The very first follow-up to The Dark Phoenix Saga was a year later in 1981, in issue#27 of What If? Written by Jo Duffy, this story sees the Watcher visit the reality in which Jean Grey did not die. Instead of sacrificing herself, the alien Shi’ar lobotomize this alternate reality Jean, with all her powers taken away. This was actually the planned ending for the original story (but we’ll get to that later).
She returns home to the X-Men with no powers and is essentially their support staff. She just hangs around the X-Mansion as Cyclops’ girlfriend. But when Galactus threatens the Shi’ar homeworld, the X-Men offer their assistance. When Jean sees her beloved Cyclops injured in battle, the Phoenix force returns. She drives Galactus away, but it’s too late. She goes mad with power again, and this time she kills the X-Men. In fact, she starts by reducing teenager Kitty Pryde to a pile of ashes! Consumed by her power, Dark Phoenix then devours the entire world. It all ends a little to abruptly, which is why this one is not too memorable.
Uncanny X-Men/New Teen Titans #1 (1982) 9/10
Writer Chris Claremont’s first sequel to his Dark Phoenix story was actually the best one. And sadly, it was totally out of continuity. But it features the return of Jean Grey as the Dark Phoenix and the original’s writer wrote it, so I’m going to say that it counts. It took place in 1982’s Uncanny X-Men/ Teen Titans crossover, on a parallel Earth combining Marvel and DC continuities.
When a spectral Jean Grey haunts both the X-Men and the Titans, it turns out that DC’s supreme baddie Darkseid is attempting to recreate the Dark Phoenix from the memories of those who loved her the most. This is the only true sequel to The Dark Phoenix Saga that actually has her truly come back from the dead and fight the X-Men, even if it is ultimately just an alternate universe story.
Uncanny X-Men #175 “Phoenix!” (1983) 7/10
The first in-continuity sequel to The Dark Phoenix Saga came in 1983, in Uncanny X-Men #175. The story is simply titled “Phoenix,” and was later collected in Uncanny X-Men: From The Ashes. In this 20th anniversary X-Men tale, Cyclops returns to the X-Men pursued by what he believes is a resurrected Dark Phoenix. Professor Xavier is not convinced that what the X-Men are fighting is Jean Grey however, as he is certain he would have sensed her resurrection.
After a pitched battle, the X-Men discover that this Phoenix is an illusion created by Mastermind, the mutant Hellfire Club member who was responsible for helping turn Jean Grey into Dark Phoenix in the first place. Cyclops finally accepts Jean’s death at the end of this story, and marries his new love Madelyne Pyror. (who is actually Jean’s clone, but that’s a whole other story.) While this is a great X-Men story, it’s just an OK Dark Phoenix follow up.
Phoenix: The Untold Story #1 (1984) 5/10
The self-sacrifice of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men#137 is now the stuff of comics legend. But Jean’s death was not originally meant to end that issue at all. Originally, that story had the Shi’ar remove Jean’s powers and memories of her time as Dark Phoenix. Then she just goes home to live out her life. But Marvel’s editor-in-chief Jim Shooter said that Jean must die, because she had committed genocide against an entire alien race. The last five pages of the issue were redone by Claremont and Byrne, and the originals put away in a drawer.
In 1984, that original ending was restored in a special issue called Phoenix: The Untold Story. It reprinted issue #137, only this time with the original ending which sees Jean and Scott live happily ever after. Although essentially taking place in an alternate reality, the effects of this alternate version of events did ultimately have an effect on the main X-Men continuity. When Rachel Summers appears in Days of Future Past, she is the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from this timeline. This story is 90% of the original, but without the memorable ending. So it only works half as well.
Phoenix: Endsong #1-5 (2005) 6/10
Jean Grey returned to life in 1985, and for the next two decades Marvel went out of their way to separate Jean Grey from the Phoenix as characters. But in the early 2000s, writer Grant Morrison did away with such distinctions; he had the Phoenix Force return to Earth and merge with Jean for real. But Jean’s ascension to the Phoenix is short-lived, and she dies at the hands of the mutant Xorn.
But the Phoenix Force was not done with Jean, and resurrected her once more in the mini-series Phoenix: Endsong. This mini-series has the Phoenix escape to Earth where it resurrects Jean and bonds with her again. Jean then tries to encase herself in ice, but the Phoenix possesses Emma Frost who had become Cyclops’ romantic partner. Emma can’t control the Phoenix, and when it returns to Jean, she is overtaken by jealous feelings and the Dark Phoenix begins to re-emerge. Cyclops is able to get Jean to exert control long enough for them to transcend this reality all together, and she makes her tearful goodbyes and becomes the White Phoenix.
Images: Marvel Comics