The X-Men battle one of their own in the Dark Phoenix Saga

The Uncanny X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga – Chris Claremont & John Byrne (1980)

I cannot remember a time I did not read comic books.  Around 1985 or so, at 12 years of age, I got my hands on this first trade paperback printing of The Uncanny X-Men issues 129-138.  At that time, nearly 4 decades ago, it was rare to find bound re-prints of classic story lines.  I was very fortunate.  I have read this book countless times in the intervening years, always finding it to be deep and very entertaining.  

        My wife, Elizabeth, loves reading but it took until our relationship for her to read many of the great comics I love, such as From Hell, The Watchmen, and especially the full Sandman series.  We enjoy reading them together, although my baritone voice will end up lulling her to sleep mid-page!  As she had never read any X-Men comics, and because I have subjected her to too many superhero movies that rip-off these classic tales, we decided to read this together.

        One of the reasons the classic X-Men comic books are so prized is that the stories told within those pages, while every bit the exciting smash-‘em-ups expected in superhero comics, explored the internal lives and personal relationships of the X-Men superhero team.  Their interpersonal conflicts, emotions, and persecutions were all part of the tale and served to ground these heroes.  Reading a book like the Avengers was much different.  Although they too consist of a team of super-powered beings, the Avengers remained cold archetypes.  Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, and the rest, may have had some personal quirks, but the stories never let us into their inner minds.  It took the X-Men to bring personal stories into the superhero genre.

        The story by comics legend Chris Claremont, and the kinetic artwork of John Byrne, was so ahead-of-it’s-time that it has been endlessly copied.  (I could go an at length about the amazing Bill Sienkewicz cover art.  I stared at that for HOURS)  The tale begins with the X-Men exploration of a secret cabal seeking to take over the world while remaining hidden by an outside show of opulence and beneficent work.  These enemies are dealt with in turn, but not before they manage to bring about the return of Dark Phoenix, a being of power and greed who seeks to consume all of existence.  The X-Men’s dilemma is that the Dark Phoenix has manifested herself in the body of Jean Grey, a powerful telepath and one of the original X-Men.  What they do to try and save both her and us from Dark Phoenix is the climax of this story.

        As with any works of fiction, I do not like to give away plot points or anything that may detract from your enjoyment of the story.  If you have seen some of the X-Men films of the past 15 years you will see where the writers of those films cribbed many details from this Dark Phoenix Saga, even while completely ignoring the actual human tale within.  This book has been re-printed many time since.  If you are able to find a copy, you will experience one of the greatest stories ever told in the world of mainstream superhero comic books.  I cannot wait to read it again in a few years.

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