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Book Reviews by Gabe Gregoire

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga
Chris Claremont and John Byrne
200 pages

Review by Gabe Gregoire

In the real world, where prejudice and racism can be found on any street corner in any city, it's not often that an individual or group stands up to bigotry and really makes a difference. We often have to turn to fiction to find respite, and if you collected comic books in the early 80s, chances are you turned to Marvel Comics' Uncanny X-Men.

This band of costumed characters, whose roster during the time the Dark Phoenix saga was written included Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler, always rose above the baser instincts and fought for what was right. They were mutants, different by birth, but sworn to follow the dream of a unified humanity that was put forth by their mentor, Professor X (Charles Xavier).

Xavier's dream was especially apropos in 1980 (when the issues of The Uncanny X-Men collected in this volume were originally published).

The Cold War was on. That meant the prevalence of an "us against them" mentality where communism was the epitome of close-mindedness. At any time, either side could launch nukes and begin a war that would mean Armageddon for the entire planet. With all this hanging over our heads, it's no wonder that Chris Claremont, the X-Men's erstwhile writer, penned a tale of an entity that threatened the cosmos as we knew it: The Dark Phoenix.

Longtime Marvel fans know that Jean Grey, a.k.a. Marvel Girl, once saved the X-Men, and the world, by absorbing the power of a godlike force known as The Phoenix, thereby becoming one of the universe's most powerful beings. In this volume, however, Jean loses control of this awesome might. Her very humanity is threatened when she finds herself destroying an alien planet inhabited by billions of souls, and enjoying it. As a result, she is put on trial by another alien empire, and the X-Men, her teammates, are drawn into an all-out duel to save her life. The finale can only be described as unmitigated Marvel mayhem.

Artist John Byrne fleshes out Jean and the X-Men with appropriate anatomy, expressive facial features and moody settings. He, like Claremont, was at the top of his form when the two collaborated here.

Since 1980, the Cold War has ended and the human race can be said to have become more tolerant when it comes to cultural differences. But we're not out of the woods yet. It never hurts to be reminded of what it means to be a hero. As Claremont and Byrne illustrate, a hero looks to how we make the right decisions as human beings. It takes faith and persistence.

As Colossus says, "So long as we stand, we fight. And so long as we fight--no matter what the odds--we will prevail!"

On a side note, the final movie in the X-Men movie series, X-Men: The Last Stand which starred Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey/Phoenix, Halle Berry as Storm, and James Marsden as Cyclops, had a bit of the "Dark Phoenix" story - with Jean Grey going berserk and Wolverine doing what he had to do... it's too bad they didn't actually make the movie The Dark Phoenix instead of just borrowing bits and pieces of it for this story! [ed.]

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