Friday, July 6, 2012
YEAR 1976: PHOENIX
In my entry for MARVEL GIRL, I asserted that as originally conceived in 1963, she probably deserved most of the canards hurled at the Invisible Girl and other Silver Age heroines.
In 1976, having written the new X-MEN feature for under a year, writer Chris Claremont and penciller Dave Cockrum formulated a new direction for the character of Jean Grey, to take shape in X-MEN #101. Though in an earlier issue the creators had written Jean's character out of the narrative, they brought her back posthaste in time for the return of the supergroup's old foes the Sentinels. The robotic villains were defeated by the end of issue #100, but the team had to make a speedy exit from a space-station and attempt a landing back on Earth. Jean-- who had not been noteworthy for a lot of gutsy moments in her earlier appearances-- took the job of piloting the craft back to Earth without any shielding from the cosmic rays surrounding the planet, while the rest of her companions were shielded in another compartment. When Cyclops objected to Jean's self-sacrifice, he got the sort of treatment usually given to the hysterial film-female by the tough lead male: she knocked him out, albeit with a mental blast. As seen in the illo above, the superheroes survived the crash, but Jean Grey both died and came back to life as "Phoenix."
Going by the example of the Fantastic Four, one might have expected her to simply become a bigger, badder superhero. Instead, she became a cosmic force, unable to control her desires to do whatever she pleased, despite the peril to sentient races everywhere in the universe. Her tragic fate became the series' primary running plotline for the next couple of years, culminating in X-MEN #137, the end of the so-called "Dark Phoenix Saga."
Death being less than permanent in the Marvel Universe, Jean Grey returned to life later on, and even took on the Phoenix identity in later stories from Grant Morrison, diverging somewhat from official continuity. That said, in effect the original Phoenix as conceived by Claremont and Cockrum never precisely returned, though by a complicated series of incidents she managed to spawn a daughter in an alternate timeline, also called Phoenix, whose most frequent appearances were in the title EXCALIBUR.
Some critics took it amiss that, after Marvel Girl had been a non-starter for many years, she should have ascended to a godlike level of power, only to be summarily destroyed rather than controlling her power and becoming a regular member of the superhero team. However, it should be kept in mind that Marvel Comics had been playing with the concept of "divinization" ever since Lee and Kirby had created Galactus, who was a science-fiction version of omnipotence. Most Marvel characters who didn't begin as gods, but became invested with godlike power at some point, tended to self-destruct in short order, irrespective of their gender. Phoenix should be probably be seen in this tradition.