When it comes to stories about Marvel Comics’ Phoenix Force, the first one that usually comes to mind is the classic 1980s Dark Phoenix saga (Uncanny X-Men (vol.1) #129-#137) by (arguably) the finest X-Men creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin. Epic, cataclysmic or brilliance personified – however you choose to describe it, Phoenix’s raison d’être will forever be summed up by this storyline, which also makes it a reference point for any X-Men movie.
Next month’s Dark Phoenix movie will mark the second attempt to adapt that classic storyline, the first one was with 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand.
Judging by the trailers, the upcoming movie looks more promising that Brett Ratner’s disastrous The Last Stand. While I am not expecting a 100% faithful adaptation, one thing is for sure – Wolverine won’t be in it.
However, the Phoenix Force’s influence is not just confined to the Dark Phoenix saga or even X-Men. Here are 10 fiery facts about the Phoenix Force and its role in the Marvel Universe!
The Phoenix’s first comic book appearance (or mention) happened in Uncanny X-Men (vol.1) #101 (October 1976) in the guise of Jean Grey. Co-created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum, what was initially a “step up” for Marvel Girl’s squeaky clean image, unleashed an omnipotent psionic being instead.
Returning from a space mission, the X-Men ran the risk of becoming toast when reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Fortunately, Jean stepped up to save and shield the team from the deadly radiation of a solar flare, and was transformed into Phoenix in the process.
Subsequent events and retcons revealed that Jean and the Phoenix entity did a switcheroo during those Earth-bound moments, with the Phoenix entity assuming Jean’s role on the team for a few years (until its “death” in X-Men #137) – while the real Jean was kept in a comatose cocoon state.
What is the Phoenix Force?
In demystifying the Phoenix Force, there are many Marvel tales that fortified its mythos by singling it as one of the Universe’s oldest cosmic entities.
It was even mentioned alongside the Big Bang event, where the Phoenix is described as representing life that has not yet been born, as well as the forces of creation and destruction.
To further pump up the credentials, the Phoenix Force is a child of the universe, nexus of all psionic energy, the Guardian of Creation, and de-facto guardian of the M’Kraan Crystal!
Amidst these myriad roles, the Phoenix is also a destructive force and among the most feared beings in the entire universe. It has the power to cut and regrow any part of the universe, as well as destroy it entirely - the ‘Judgement of the Phoenix’ burns away anything that doesn’t work!
First trip to Earth
Jean Grey isn’t the first Earth host of the Phoenix, as that ‘honour’ falls to a magician named Feron, aeons ago. Unlike Jean’s tempestuous relationship with the Phoenix, Feron worshiped the entity and even inspired it to adopt its firebird form.
One of their legacies include the creation of a lighthouse-esque stone pillar, across the Multiverse – which eventually became the Base for the Excalibur superteam.
During the Stone Age, the Phoenix was a pretty active force – even joining that era’s equivalent of the Avengers, alongside Odin, as well as that era’s Ghost Rider, Sorcerer Supreme, Black Panther and Iron Fist.
Under the guise of Lady Phoenix, she even had an intimate relationship with Odin, and he has been known to consider the relationship as the one time in his life when he truly felt alive!
Dark Phoenix is basically the destructive persona of the Phoenix Force and is synonymous with the universal trail of destruction wreaked during its Jean Grey years. However, the Dark aspect of the Phoenix actually made its first appearance thousands of years earlier via a Shi’ar Empire citizen named Rook’shir.
Initially, the Phoenix’s powers were used for good, however Rook’shir was ultimately overwhelmed by the power and went on a destructive rampage through the Empire, destroying many planets in the process. He was eventually defeated and killed by the Imperial Guard.
Shades of Grey
Jean’s first encounter with the Phoenix Force took place when she was a kid, as she tried to prevent her friend (Annie) from dying. That psychic act caught the Phoenix Force’s attention, putting Jean on its long-term radar.
Even after Jean’s “death”, the Force went for the next best option in Madelyne Pryor – Jean’s clone, created by Mr Sinister.
The One True Phoenix
The award for the longest Earth-bound Phoenix goes out to Rachel Summers, whose blood ties to Scott Summers and Jean make her an ideal candidate.
Acclaimed as “The One True Phoenix”, Rachel has not succumbed to the dark side of the Force (pun intended) and has achieved positive successes such as defeating Galactus!
Apart from the Greys and the other names mentioned earlier, the Phoenix has a host of colourful hosts.
In 2012’s Avengers Vs X-Men, the Phoenix Force was hosted by Cyclops, Namor, Colossus, Magik and Emma Frost, who used its powers to changed the world for the better, but also pitted them against the Avengers. Scott even went full Dark Phoenix in the finale of the story!
Other hosts include big names like Professor X, Captain Marvel, Hope Summers and Thane (son of Thanos), to lesser known beings like Necrom, Fongji aka Iron Fist, Diamandra Nero, Prime, Amber Hunt, Foxfire, Quentin Quire, the Stepford Cuckoos and Korvus!
The untold story
The ending to the Dark Phoenix saga has inspired many creative talents to shine and also to write alternative endings.
While the Jean/Phoenix entity “died” in Uncanny X-Men #137, the “original” ending had her lobotomised instead as a form of atoning for her sins, albeit under the Phoenix-influence.
As presented in the 1984 one-shot Phoenix: The Untold Story, the same creative team of Claremont-Byrne-Austin rewrote Uncanny X-Men #137 with a different ending.
Although this version provides fans with a glimmer of hope of Jean’s survival, I found the outcome less impactful.
However, my disappointment here is less compared to the 1986 resurrection of Jean via Fantastic Four #286, which sparked off the whole Phoenix-entity hullabaloo, opening a gateway to the Phoenix-conundrum we have today.
Versus The Infinity Gauntlet
With the Infinity Gauntlet now considered the ultimate benchmark of power in the Marvel (Cinematic) Universe, where does the Phoenix Force stand?
On paper, the mythos behind the Phoenix Force makes it arguably stronger and more powerful than the Infinity Stones, but one story arc tears up the rulebooks: 2016’s Thanos #6-#12, in which a Phoenix-empowered Thane takes on his Gauntlet-less father, but is no match for him!