I know that the movie, X-Men: First Class has been out for a while now, but The Beloved Husband and I only got around to seeing it yesterday. It’s actually pretty good – you know, with actual character development, and actors who act, and general cohesiveness of story-line – all things you expect and desire in a movie.

So, in honor of a good X-Men movie, I’m going to use Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga for our Book of the Week.

With the help of evil telepath, Emma Frost, the  villainous Mastermind implants his illusions directly into Jean Grey’s mind, slowly breaking down her control over her powers (augmented by the Phoenix Force), and bringing out a darker personality. When she finally slips completely under his control and adopts the persona of the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen, Mastermind uses her to capture her teammates.

In a desperate attempt to get through to her, Cyclops (her lover) projects himself into her mind where Mastermind promptly kills his psychic image. Seeing her love “die” breaks Mastermind’s hold on her, but it also snaps the remaining shreds of control that Jean has over her Phoenix powers.

Within a few pages, Jean Grey transforms into Dark Phoenix, attacks her newly freed teammates, and flies off into the galaxy where she devours a star, causing it to go super-nova. It’s explosion wipes out an entire planet filled with innocent people. Completely without care, Dark Phoenix returns to earth where the X-Men battle her again and manage to subdue her and bring Jean Grey’s personality back to the forefront of her mind.

Unfortunately, an interstellar empire witnessed Dark Phoenix’s crime and, after teleporting her and the X-Men to their main warship, demand that she face justice for her genocide. She and the X-Men fight for their right to live, but, in a moment of panic during the battle, Jean once again loses control over her powers and begins the slide into Dark Phoenix. Unable to bear the thought of becoming that dark entity again, she chooses death and stands in front of an alien weapon, which detonates and kills her.

What I love about this graphic novel is that it contains so may good themes. The whole “absolute power corrupts absolutely” thing, the struggle between free will and “destiny”, the power of choices, and moral responsibility are all really interesting and play out so perfectly in the story.

Two interesting things I discovered about this story are that, first, Jean Grey was not supposed to die, but rather be stripped of her powers. The editor-in-chief felt that this was too light a punishment for genocide and ordered the original ending to be scrapped and a new one with a heavier punishment be written. Second, the same editor-in-chief decreed that Jean Grey could not be revived unless it was done in a way that rendered her guiltless of the Dark Phoenix crimes. I thought that this was pretty cool – not only did it pose a creative challenge, but it showed (I think) how serious a crime genocide was and how precious life is.

Anyways, there we are, the Dark Phoenix Saga. I included a Wikipedia link for your  convenience – the plot is far too complex for me to summarize properly.