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Back Issues: ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga rises again

Landmark X-Men story gets new theatrical treatment

AP Photo Sophie Turner and Jessica Chastain, left, in a scene from “Dark Phoenix.”

“Dark Phoenix” lands in theaters tonight, offering Fox a Mulligan on the story that appeared as a subplot in 2003’s “X2: X-Men United” and played out in 2006’s “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.”

The comic book story of Phoenix was a slow-burn that started in 1976’s “X-Men” #101, when Jean Grey, then known as Marvel Girl, was attempting to return the team to Earth aboard a damaged space shuttle through a field of lethal solar flare radiation. Crash-landing in Long Island’s Jamaica Bay, she emerges from the water in a new costume and calling herself Phoenix.

When the X-Men become embroiled in an intergalactic conspiracy, it is Phoenix who transports them across the universe to the Shi’ar Empire with her newly enhanced powers — including off-the-charts telepathy, telekinesis and the ability to alter matter on a molecular level. Those abilities allow her to prevent the destruction of all existence by the out-of-control M’Kraan Crystal.

Despite her immense power, Jean begins to fall prey to psychic manipulation by a group of villains who form the inner circle of the elite Hellfire Club. When the X-Men confront them, they are initially betrayed by Jean, who later turns on the club. But the dark emotions and desires awakened in her by their manipulation turn her into the Dark Phoenix.

A being ruled totally by desire and sensation, Dark Phoenix consumes a star to gain energy, destroying the nearby inhabited planets in the process. She returns to Earth to face the X-Men, who are conflicted about battling their teammate. Founder Professor X manages to telepathically seal off the dark side of Jean’s personality and her cosmic powers, but before they’re able to celebrate, the Shi’ar transport the team into space and pronounce that in order to save the universe, Phoenix must die.

Naturally, the X-Men disagree, leading to a trial by combat. When the Phoenix starts to re-emerge, Jean implores her friends to stop her, once and for all, before using a nearby weapon to end her own life.

Considered by many to be the greatest X-Men story and one of the best in Marvel, and comic book, history, the Dark Phoenix Saga still holds up — despite losing a little bit of its luster six years later when the Avengers discovered a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay with Jean Grey inside.

Turns out, the Phoenix Force replaced Jean and lived her life until it lost control under the influence of human emotions. The returned Jean adopted her Marvel Girl identity once again and joined with the other four original X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel) to form the team X-Factor.

Despite not actually being Phoenix, Jean remain linked with the cosmic entity over the years. During the “Planet X” story, she reconnected with it, only to be killed in the finale by Magneto, or someone pretending to be him.

Rachel Summers, Jean’s daughter with Cyclops from an alternate future, was a Phoenix host who joined the X-Men and spinoff team Excalibur. In “End of Greys,” one of the most depressing X-stories you’ll ever read (or better yet, avoid), the Shi’ar wiped out the entire Grey family in order to cut off future potential hosts, though a Phoenix-free Rachel survived.

The Phoenix Force was the trigger for the “Avengers vs. X-Men” event, when it started making its way back to Earth. Cyclops saw it as a chance to restore the mutant species, which had nearly been wiped out thanks to a mental/magical breakdown by the Scarlet Witch (long story). The Avengers, along with Wolverine, viewed it as a threat.

Cyclops eventually shared the power of the Phoenix with Colossus, his sister Magik, reformed villain Emma Frost and Namor the Sub-Mariner (technically a mutant), but it drove him mad and he actually killed Professor X. The force was used to jumpstart the mutant species, then later reappeared, apparently on a collision course with a time-traveling younger Jean Grey.

In the recent series “Phoenix Resurrection,” the original Jean finally severed her connection to the force, at least until the next time someone wants to use it in a story. The most recent host I know of is a time-traveling and/or back-from-the-dead Wolverine.

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Recommended Reading

* “The Dark Phoenix Saga” — The original story ran from “X-Men” #129-137 and is available in numerous collected editions. It tells the story of a cosmically powered Jean Grey being manipulated by the Hellfire Club until she loses control and transforms into a malevolent force of destruction.

* “Avengers vs. X-Men” — With the Phoenix Force heading toward Earth one more, the Avengers and X-Men face off over whether it’s a blessing or a curse and how to respond in this watershed story.

* “Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey” — The final (for now, anyway) chapter between Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force.

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