In honor of Jean Grey’s return to the Marvel Universe, ComicsVerse takes a trip down the memory lane by re-reading THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA — a favorite of many X-MEN fans. Almost forty years have passed, and yet X-MEN DARK PHOENIX SAGA is widely considered to be a timeless graphic novel. Jean Grey is reborn with the Phoenix force, stronger than the strongest X-men, and the sudden change in the hierarchy of power leads to severe complications that make the series so compelling.
The many layers of THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA provide room for interpretation. It can be seen as a response to second wave feminism, or as a tragic tale of how excessive power leads to corruption. Several themes of the series are explored more in-depth in this podcast, such as Jean Grey’s identity crisis, her love for Scott Summers, her relationship with her family, and her decision to kill herself from an ethical standpoint. Additionally, the staff of ComicsVerse discusses expectations from the upcoming movie — X-MEN DARK PHOENIX.
Jean Grey, the original, is back. PHOENIX RESURRECTION focuses on her rebirth into the Marvel Universe. In celebration of this, we discuss Jean and her role in the classic and controversial DARK PHOENIX SAGA (UNCANNY X-MEN #129 – 138).
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Transcription of the podcast can be found below:
Justin: So I’ve started the last maybe three podcasts by saying the same thing, that I can’t believe what episode number it is. But it is truly episode 101 of the ComicsVerse Podcast, and as always, I’m your host ComicsVerse CEO Justin Alba joined by one, two, three, four awesome people today.
We’re going to get to that in a second, but before we go there, just a reminder that you can find more podcasts like this, videos, interviews, et cetera, all over at ComicsVerse.com. So, please make sure to check us out. Today, in honor of Jean Grey’s return to Marvel, quote, unquote, the real Jean Grey, or adult Jean Grey, none time-displaced Jean Grey, whatever you want to call her, we have decided to go back and take a look at the DARK PHOENIX SAGA to celebrate. It is a favorite of many people here, especially mine. So I thought it only fitted that we do it for our 101st episode.
Joining me over here first is ComicsVerse writer Anika. Anika, how are you?
Anika: I’m good how are you?
Justin: I’m good. So tell me about your first experience with Jean Grey and the DARK PHOENIX SAGA.
Anika: So the first time I read about Jean Grey was the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. I wasn’t an X-Men fan before, and this was when we were all at Tidewater Comicon. We were supposed to be on this live podcast about X-Men, and it was at that moment when I had to read DARK PHOENIX SAGA. Everyone around me was such big X-Men fans. I remember everyone was talking about how much X-Men had an impact on them growing up on the How Comics Saved My Life Panel.
So I was like, first of all, I have to read this because I don’t want to sound dumb on the live podcast and I also wanted to see why X-Men mattered so much to everyone else. So when I was reading DARK PHOENIX SAGA, interestingly, I already knew what to expect because I already had all those spoilers that Jean’s going to kill herself.
But when I read it, it was still a fascinating read because it was just so complex. This is what true art is because it has so much room for interpretation, it’s not just like very simple—it can be interpreted in so many ways. It can be seen as a story of how power causes corruption; it can also be seen as a story of feminism. And that’s what I love about it—that it’s got so much room for interpretation.
Justin: Is that what resonated most with you that it was so complex and had so much room for interpretation?
Anika: Yeah definitely. And I think that when I was reading, I also read the piece that you wrote about DARK PHOENIX SAGA on ComicsVerse—which was really amazing. And it also gave me another different insight in seeing DARK PHOENIX SAGA more of as like a classic tale of feminism just like, Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE. It gave me a different perspective. I was like, wow I didn’t really see it as that way as a story of empowerment, but it really is like that.
Justin: Yeah I definitely thought about that and we’re gonna talk a little bit about that today with everybody. I’m super excited about that. Next up is Amna Pervez coming in all the way from San Fran, how are you Amna?
Amna: I am doing fantastic, thanks for having me back.
Justin: So are you excited to talk about DARK PHOENIX SAGA?
Amna: I am, I am. And going back to what we were discussing before we started recording, you and I just had a very casual conversation about Dark Phoenix and the relatability, I think, of this character. I think I was particularly having a rough day and you and I were chatting, and you were making me laugh as usual. I don’t remember how we began speaking on the topic of Dark Phoenix.
But yeah, she’s one of my favorite characters simply because, kinda echoing what Anika said, the complexity that is there. But I think in re-reading the DARK PHOENIX SAGA, there were so many elements about, not just her character, but more importantly everybody around her, that were really standing out to me. So I’m excited to discuss that a little bit more with the team today.
Justin: Me too I’m super excited to hear your perspective. So, Trent Seely, it’s his first time being on this podcast, you’ve been on several other podcasts before, what was your first contact with DARK PHOENIX SAGA in the X-Men, Trent?
Trent: Well, technically, I would say the 90s cartoon probably.
Justin: Ah, okay cool.
Trent: ‘Cause they have that abridged version I think that takes place over two episodes. When I started reading comics and started hunting down old back issues. I was having a horrible time until I was able to find an Omnibus that wasn’t even colored. But it had everything from issue 100 onwards of UNCANNY X-MEN. Which gives you kind of like a full scope of everything that happened to Jean, quote, if it is Jean, after becoming the Phoenix. And just seeing this gradual transformation with her character.
I like this for a lot of reasons; it’s very X-Men: there’s fighting on the astral plane; there’s a lot of teamwork and camaraderie; there’s a lot of catchphrases. But I think the thing I like most about the entire saga is just how much passion is there. You don’t realize it until you read it a few times. I think the DARK PHOENIX SAGA, in particular, has the highest highs and the lowest lows of Jean and Scott’s relationship.
Justin: You asked a great question, you asked if we were gonna read starting from X-MEN 100 to the beginning of DARK PHOENIX SAGA. I’ve read it in the past. I know Marius has read it. I’m not sure about Anika and Amna. But because we’re gonna focus specifically on DARK PHOENIX SAGA today, what do you think those issues or that time can inform us, and inform our audience who’s listening, about DARK PHOENIX SAGA today?
Trent: I think the biggest thing that it informs is just the transformation of Jean’s character over time. So from her introduction in, I believe, the second issue technically of UNCANNY X-MEN, Jean Grey has been a good person, she’s been a good hero, and she has strived to be very good presenting as well. So there’s a lot of elements of her personality that she has subdued. She’s not one to dress seductively and as soon as she kinda becomes one with the Phoenix we see the way that she dresses changes; the way that she interacts with other people changes.
In DARK PHOENIX for instance, she has this passionate kiss with Angel out of nowhere when Scott’s right there. She even reflects on the fact that there are instances where she’s really taking joy out of things that she knows is horrible. So even before DARK PHOENIX takes place, she’s kind of isolated at her most vulnerable time in her life. You have to remember that she’s in her early 20s as well. So while she has the power of a god, she has the emotional experience of a 24-year old.
And that’s when Jason Wyngarde really starts introducing himself. There is, it’s not said explicitly but, the subtext of one instance where he appears to be a man named Nikos. While she’s traveling on vacation, he well essentially raped her. That’s something that she doesn’t realize until this whole facade—the illusion is broken. So I asked if we were gonna be touching on what takes place before 127 because you do see these little peppering in of classic Claremontisms where he’s kind of leading you in the direction of the story before it really takes place. It really goes to show how much change Jean’s had to, unfortunately, experience over time.
Justin: So for those who have only just read the DARK PHOENIX SAGA and who are listening to this, what is one thing from those issues that you would like them to know to put them in the right perspective?
Trent: I think the thing that made her most vulnerable is there was an instance after everyone had returned to earth. You’ll remember that she was piloting a shuttle that landed in Jamaica Bay and then she leaped out of the water like Aphrodite. Not long after that, they were on a mission, and only her and Beast to her knowledge survived. So she was under the impression that the rest of the X-Men were dead. She went back to the X-Mansion, and she told Xavier that everyone else had died. And he had left earth with Lilandra.
So Beast starts working on inventions. Professor X is in space. All the other X-Men, to her, are assumed dead even though they’re in the Savage Land. And her, instead of taking this opportunity to deal with this trauma that she’s experienced, just chose a path of escapism. She went on vacation. She met strangers. Every single one of those strangers was Mastermind, and she had no idea.
So she was being manipulated specifically because she was so incredibly alone. It happened in comics over a year and a half, and that lead up, I think, had such an impact. Her not embracing the elements of her psyche that she might have considered to be darker led to being broken by Mastermind, and then her becoming that dark persona and eventually Dark Phoenix.
Justin: I love that you brought up two awesome points. I love thinking about her being reborn out of the water like Aphrodite. I never thought of that before, and I think that’s so smart. And also thinking about how alone she was and how susceptible she was to Wyngarde.
I have a woman who studies human rights. I think we all consider ourselves a feminist, but she is really into feminism and feminist theory. And she hated Jean in DARK PHOENIX SAGA because she felt like—it was Karen. Karen said that she hated Jean Grey because she felt like she didn’t stand for anything and that’s what made her so susceptible. But I also wonder if what makes her so susceptible—and this is a point that you brought up, Trent—who’s bringing your A game.
Another point that you also bring up that I really like is the sort of question is, is what is happening in DARK PHOENIX SAGA. Yes, Jason Wyngarde is bringing that out. Yes, Emma Frost is helping him. And yes, the DARK PHOENIX SAGA is helping. But what’s kind of going on is that Jean Grey has suppressed elements of who she is that doesn’t fit into her sense of self, and now they’re manifesting into these negative behaviors. Can it also be a metaphor for that?
Trent: Yeah I mean that’s my impression of this. I’ve taken a few classes in Jungian psychology. He had this idea of the shadow-self. So every element of our persona that we think is socially unacceptable and choose to repress just kinda concentrates over time. If your conscious-self shatters, all that’s left of you is that unconscious-self. And I think that’s what happened in this instance.
I think between realizing that she had been manipulated over a few years, that she’s had to see her friends die on more than one occasion, and in this instance, she just saw the love of her life die, that was the final crack. All that was left was this unbridled power. And I think another thing that’s worth consideration is the fact that she had all these psychic circuit breakers going on in her brain that had been opened over time. The floodgates of her god-like power which no human arguably would be able to control had just opened wide. So it’s just a cataclysm, it’s a perfect storm.
Justin: Yeah you brought up so many good points. Marius, talk to me about your first experience reading DARK PHOENIX SAGA—also welcome, we should say, Marius: podcast aficionado at ComicsVerse and X-MEN writer.
Marius: Oh yeah thank you, Justin, thanks for having me on. So yeah my first experience with DARK PHOENIX SAGA is pretty interesting because I’ve always been an X-MEN fan since I was a child. But since this is such a classic, I wanna say in X-MEN Comics literature, it’s almost funny that I only got to check that out pretty late. I think it was even in preparation for one of the podcasts we had, one of the first podcasts we had.
So I went into the reading experience of the DARK PHOENIX SAGA already having read all of the modern X-MEN works that were inspired by what happened in DARK PHOENIX SAGA or that the DARK PHOENIX SAGA had had so many implications for. I want to say that my favorite X-MEN comic book is still to this day GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS. I think it’s the most well-written one. But regarding being the most iconic story the single most important X-MEN book, I would probably say it’s the DARK PHOENIX SAGA by a long shot. Yeah, I’m probably coming from this, with kind of a different perspective as compared to other X-MEN fans because I’m younger than a lot of other X-MEN fans and we’ve talked about that on many podcasts, and I’m sure some of this is gonna come up later.
Justin: Yeah so my question is for people who are also in your position, who grew up in the 90s and the aughts, who are fans of newer X-MEN comics—if you could speak for everyone in your position, did reading the DARK PHOENIX SAGA shed light for you on the goings on in current X-MEN comics?
I know the Phoenix is still around. We have Hope Summers. We have Rachel Grey. I mean how many other—Cable. We have a lot of people who are now from the Summers-Grey dynasty so to speak. So do you think that what happened in DARK PHOENIX SAGA informed you a little bit more about why things were happening decades later?
Marius: So for me, absolutely yes. I’m not sure if I could speak for everyone, but I think most people coming kind of from my position. Checking this book out later will have a similar experience. They’ll be able to take something away from it regarding getting a better understanding of current X-MEN comics. If we think of the current leader of the X-Men, which is Kitty Pryde, this is her first experience. This is where it all started. Also characters like Dazzler and Emma Frost of course. Their character arcs, but also their relationship to other characters, it all started here. And some character defining moments for so many of the most important characters in the franchise it’s all there.
For instance, the part where Jean takes off Cyclops’ glasses, I think this scene alone helps a lot understanding works like NEW X-MEN by Grant Morrison but also ASTONISHING X-MEN by Joss Whedon. Those were all the books that I grew up with. And now I understand them a lot better. Also X-MEN THE END, which is also by Chris Claremont. I could go on with this for the entire podcast. I think there’s a lot of examples.
Justin: I think there is too, people listening here episode 99 of our podcast, we’re talking about the last issue of Jean Grey, about the time-displaced Jean Grey. We’re talking about Dark Phoenix. What I love about DARK PHOENIX SAGA too is that, and something that you brought up, Marius, is the decades-long, or the half a century-long really, rivalry between Jean Grey and Emma Frost starts here. In the middle of it is Emma sleeping with her husband, with Jean’s husband, and then her ending up with him. This is a decades-long rivalry and I think that it starting here is kinda cool.
For me, I just want to say, only ’cause I think it’s like super important, the first comic I ever read was a classic X-MEN. It was number 37, and it had one of the issues from DARK PHOENIX SAGA; the one where Kitty Pryde is running away and Jean throws her hands up and stops the car with the Hell Fire Club goons together. It was so profound. I loved the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. It was the X-MEN story that then got me into it when I was six years old. I was so blown away, as Anika has told us, that this woman takes her own life at the end.
It started me reading X-MEN comics for decades. Finally, I was at Columbia University and they had just ingested all of Chris Claremont’s writings. He had donated everything to the comics library at Columbia in Butler Library. They had yet to fully ingest it all. The comics class I was taking was over the summer; it was called Comics and Graphic Novels as Literature. I met some amazing people there. One who now works for Marvel, who did many podcasts with us, Cathy.
And we go into the library, we go to look through the stuff, I was the last person in. I got the last seat at the table. I sit down, I look right down and it’s Chris Claremont’s script for the exact same issue that was the first comic I read. But like hand written notes written on his typewriter. And then, fast forward, we all know Chris Claremont well, I’ve been to his house, he’s done podcasts and panels with us and that’s kind of what started ComicsVerse. So I really wanna say like how profound this comic book is not only for me but for the company.
But really quick, for people who are listening we are about to have a very intellectual kind of academic discussion, a very personal discussion about this. But I also want to talk about, it is a little bit cheesy. This is written for kids. The ideas behind it are not for kids, but it is written for kids. This is pre-watchman. This came out right about the time as MAUS came out which is also kind of broke the mold.
So my question is, Amna, I know you have some trouble with this is, do you still get everything you need to get from this as an adult? Are you still moved as an adult, even though the story is maybe geared towards young teenagers?
Amna: Absolutely. Reading this as an adult, I’m seeing the deeper layers of the story and of the dynamics between the characters. I was reviewing some of these things last night trying to take notes—there is a lot going on here. Within the first few panels: the conversations between, not just Jean or Phoenix and Scott, but also what’s going on between Professor Xavier and Scott trying to find his place as a leader and being questioned. There’s just a lot of adult themes here that I think young adults even today can still relate to.
Justin: I’m gonna open that question to everybody else. Now if you had advice to someone who’s reading DARK PHOENIX SAGA for the first time, who’s like, “I don’t want to read something for kids.” What sort of advice should we give them to tell them to hopefully get through it, or maybe a light at the end of the tunnel?
I mean I’m making it sound worse than it is, it really is great, but it’s not the DARK ANGEL SAGA. It’s not something Rick Remender wrote, it’s not THE BLACK HALL, it’s not MY FRIEND DAHMER. It’s DARK PHOENIX SAGA, and it came out in 1979.
Marius: Yeah so I think an issue that I was running into is that the books you had just mentioned Justin, for instance, the DARK ANGEL SAGA from the UNCANNY X-FORCE run by Rick Remender—something I read actually before the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. The stories are pretty different in tone and not only in tone but, I would say obviously there are parallels not only in the name. I think that this is a good comparison because it shows that in terms of artistic choices, but also in terms of choices in writing, a lot has changed since.
So for someone who’s grown up with material like NEW X-MEN, ASTONISHING X-MEN, UNCANNY X-FORCE, going back to the 70s to read this classic, it seems kind of—it seems pretty childish which is not inherently a bad thing I mean. I think we have to keep in mind, we’re still talking about one of the best comic books ever written undoubtedly.
But I think what I would say to my past self is that they should just kind of get into it—kind of just try getting into it more and go along with just a few issues and then I think that the reading experience just changes along the way as we kind of start to accept things like the different coloring even and the pretty clumsy narration. I think that’s something that you can get used to or that you can kind of look past even though you’re kind of used to reading comic books that are produced in a very very different manner today.
Justin: Anika, what about for you? ‘Cause you’re a huge Ms. Marvel fan and MS. MARVEL is so aware of itself. I mean she writes fan fiction. She knows all the super heroes. This is way before that time. What were your kind of first impressions about the tone of DARK PHOENIX SAGA?
Anika: I mean now that you mention that DARK PHOENIX SAGA is more for, directed towards kids. It’s kind of surprising to me because I read DARK PHOENIX SAGA when I was 21 and 21 was last year for me. So I read it as a young adult and to me it seemed to be so complex. Also probably because I’ve read it along some of the academic papers that you shared and also the piece that you wrote. So maybe that’s why to me it just felt like, this is beyond the comprehension of a child.
But at the same time, I’m also really drawn towards comics and television shows that are more directed towards kids. Like for example, I’m a huge STEVEN UNIVERSE fan and for a lot of people, they think that it’s ridiculous that I’m so into this kids’ show. But I think that it has so many messages that even adults can enjoy. It’s because of the animation. There’s so many things that comics and cartoons can achieve that it just makes them much more meaningful to read. It just makes it a much more—I don’t know—like a satisfying experience to watch and to read and to see. Than as opposed to anything that’s more clearly directed towards adults.
I feel like anything that’s directed more towards children has an indirect message. It’s not like, really simple. It’s more like wrapped in complexity, which makes it enjoyable for both kids, because they don’t really understand all that complexity, and also for adults because they understand that what’s going on is much deeper than just like a children’s cartoon or comics.
Justin: And I have to say, it packages the story super well for children. As a kid reading this, this was the first time I ever experienced a suicide that was not what society would deem as super selfish and really terrible. I had never been confronted with that idea before. So it was super eye-opening for me as a six or seven-year-old reading this.
And so this was the first reading I had, not the one that we did today, but I read it earlier this week and it was the first time I read it and I was in the moment with it and I wasn’t so—I wasn’t judging it as a comic that came out before the medium exists as we know it now. What about you Trent, you’re a big X-MEN fan. Were you able to kind of dive into the tone of it as is?
Trent: I think there’s a historical context to it. A lot of comics of this time had a tendency of over-explaining themselves. They would kind of reintroduce every character and every scenario and everything that had happened every issue with the understanding that whoever was reading may not have read the previous issue. And that’s something that modern comics really don’t do too much.
Outside of that it’s a very Claremont book and that’s a double-edged sword. Claremont loves prose. He loves narration and there’s quite a bit of that throughout the saga. The nice thing as I kind of alluded to earlier was that Claremont has a tendency of sprinkling in future events everywhere and actually one of the nice little—I wouldn’t call it an Easter egg, ’cause that’s not what he would have intended—but Senator Robert Kelly who is an antagonist that’s well known from later on in the series. The reason why he hates mutants is because his wife died and mutants did nothing to save her. And her first introduction was during the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. S is the maid in the Hell Fire Club.
So the fact that he goes back and he picks these characters that have some sort of establishment and pulls them forward. There is even two Hell Fire guards, Harvey and Jan, who are well known because they’re like the friendly coworkers that aren’t killers. They show up in a number of his comics as well. So if you read a lot of his stuff and you kind of wrap your head around how dialogue heavy it is, you get your own kind of appreciation for the content itself. But if you’re used to newer comics, where there’s more of a refined idea of what X-MEN means, it can be a little bit dense to get into.
Justin: Who is Jean Grey?
Trent: Is that an open question or..? Well, I think if we’re believing the retcon, that would later come with X-Factor’s introduction, Jean Grey is still at the bottom of Jamaica Bay at the time of these events.
Justin: Okay that’s true. Who is Jean Grey in the DARK PHOENIX SAGA?
Trent: I think the Jean Grey of the Dark Phoenix Saga is someone is who has repeatedly tried to walk away from being an X-Man; who has seen a lot of the people that are close to her, who she loves, die. And she hasn’t really asked for anything that’s happened to her, but she had that one moment where she knew she was about to die and she called out for help and what answered her was the Phoenix.
I don’t think anyone her age or who has to deal with the sort of social stigma that a mutant of her age would have had to deal with, would have been prepared for. So I see her as this empathetic heart of the team who is trying to grasp with the fact that she has this amazing god-like power. And she’s finding it to be seductive and it scares her that it’s seductive to her . It scares other people like Storm who notice her personality change.
Marius: I also think this is a fascinating question because it puts into question not only who is Jean Grey but also who is Jean Grey as opposed to the Phoenix. And because this has been retconned a lot, I think in books like PHOENIX ENDSONG, PHOENIX RISING, it’s always been kind of changed as to whether we should be seeing Jean and the Phoenix as kind of the same entity or as different beings altogether. But just taking a look at this first material, yeah I think that the fact that Jean is her own entity and is a distinct human being with her own qualities distinct from the Phoenix is one of the big points being made in the book.
And one of the last sentences, it says that she died a human instead of living as a god, which is what she chose. So one of the big points. And this is also something that Scott points out in their relationship as they have their little dialogues. I think that one of the most important parts is that, with all the loss of control, there’s a very determined woman in there that has her own determination or choice.
Anika: I think if I had to say who Jean Grey is in one word, I would say paradoxical because I think she is, Jean Grey is obviously separate from the Phoenix. They are both separate entities. But then again Phoenix—we can’t deny that Phoenix was a part of her—and she realized that, and that’s one of the reasons why she—I mean she has this sort of like an identity crisis where she feels so empowered to be the Phoenix but at the same time she was traumatized by what she had done. She had destroyed an entire universe and that’s not what Jean would do.
So it’s sort of like how I felt when I was severely depressed. I felt like depression and me were separate but it almost became like so intertwined that we just became the same. It was just like how Jean Grey couldn’t be Phoenix. I mean Jean Grey was, she became Phoenix. It was almost like even though they’re two separate identities. So and I think that’s what she struggled the most with, throughout the comic and that’s when she just decided that she didn’t want to live like that anymore. It was almost sort of like a depression where she said that she had to like just end her life because there was no way—like she tried to be Marvel Girl for a while but she knew it wasn’t gonna work. I am a part of Phoenix now and I either live with this or I just kill myself.
Amna: This actually reminds me a lot—I’m gonna jump into a different universe for a second. I don’t know if there are any Star Trek fans here. But Jadzia Dax who is a trill and tiolls are hosts to these symbionts, these creatures. And once you are joined with a symbiont, you become one and you rely on one another to survive. If you are separated once you’ve been joined, neither creature can live.
And what is so reminiscent, what made me think of that specifically is if you go to the ending of the series that we just read, just before Jean kills herself, she in her own words—and I know this has been a debate, are they the same person? or are they two separate entities? And I think the answer is actually here in the text. She specifically says, “Two beings, Jean Grey and Phoenix, separate, unique, bound together, a symbiote Peter, neither can exist without the other.” Like it literally says that.
To kind of piggy back off of what Anika and others have mentioned just about, what it is is a conflict in identity and trying to understand who it is that you are. This idea of being tantalized by quote, unquote dark things, bad things, suppressing it—those are still very real concepts that people of all ages still struggle with. I mean I am a full grown adult and there are times where I sometimes question or have to rethink who I am and what I stand for. And when you have these two separate identities that you’re trying to filter through, it begins to get very cloudy.
And kind of what Anika is saying is with Phoenix: there’s this struggle, trying to separate who I am or not I, who Jean or who Phoenix is from this Dark Phoenix. It gets very confusing and sometimes you need a common voice that can help you get centered and no one around her is really providing that until Mastermind came in. How is it that he was able to control the Phoenix. How is that he was able to come in and get the Phoenix to do exactly what it is that he wanted to do? And the Phoenix did so with purpose and with focus. Outside of that, it was complete chaos because Mastermind—though working for the bad guys— allowed her to just accept who she is and be herself.
I think going back to what I think Trent said earlier about suppressing aspects of your identity and who you are—when you suppress, that’s when things become very complicated because it still remains an alien idea that you’re dealing with, an alien part of yourself. The only way to really truly grasp, and really get control over these things is really to embrace the good and the bad and understand where they sit. Put them in the boxes. This is where this sits, this is where this sits. I have tapped into both. I have control over both and I can use either at my own will.
What I see here is a young woman who is really struggling and has no guidance and no support. But this is a trope in a lot of American literature, especially where the hero must go through the struggle and must endure it alone. It’s a very American mentality. That is really what I see embodied in the DARK PHOENIX SAGA.
Justin: And to piggy back a little bit off of what you said and also what Trent said: here’s a 24-year old woman, not even 25. At six years old, her power manifests when her friend dies and she telepathically connects with her. A part of her dies, a part of Jean dies. She is in a mental hospital for much of her childhood. She has very loving parents and she has a loving sister.
Xavier puts some psychic blocks in her. She gets out of the mental hospital, she joins the X-Men. She’s now the weakest member and she suddenly has a near-death experience, comes into all of this power. And she is now the powerhouse of the team. That’s kind of where the story is starting.
When you think about how alone she must feel, and how humble she is to try to be a person who is experiencing life as a goddess—I mean, can you imagine sitting here and being able to imagine what everyone or instantly know what is going on in everyone’s mind here or to be able to turn that dresser into like a stone or something? When you think about what that does to a person and where she is at the beginning of the story, I think that that’s quite profound.
Amna: A lot to take in at such a young age.
Anika: Yeah I think I used to be really fascinated about this power of reading people’s minds and moving objects with your mind. But after reading about Jean Grey I just realized how, I mean it’s not really cool. It can be. Sometimes you just don’t want to know what people are thinking and a lot of times probably Jean—I don’t know if she—you guys would know better since you’re X-MEN experts—but I don’t know if she does it purposely or it’s something that she can’t control. But if it’s the later, then I wouldn’t say it’s something—it would definitely be something terrible to have because you’re dealing with the burden of all these other people.
For example, when I was reading the issue where I think that was the BIZARRE ADVENTURE comic where Jean for the first time experiences her power when her best friend Annie dies. So, in that instance it was almost like, being empathetic. But also in a different level because you can feel exactly what the person is feeling, which is very traumatic. So I would say that at a very young age, also it’s a very challenging thing to have.
Trent: Yeah, I think in some respects Jean Grey is a victim of her power. There was a period of time where Professor X had to shut off her telepathic ability. She still had her telekinetic ability. It’s because she couldn’t handle everyone’s thoughts just being everywhere. One of the really defining moments within the DARK PHOENIX SAGA is when she has gone Dark Phoenix. She’s come back from space and the place that she chooses to visit is her family home. She’s able to dig so deep to see so clearly through her family members that she senses this terror that they have of her, of her abilities.
This concern that her sister has, that her children will someday be mutants and to just process how devastating it would be to have family who are so terrified of you. None of us could really do that because we don’t know what other people are thinking but she can see through everyone around her. And she’s not in a mental state where she is able to process it in a way that’s healthy.
Marius: I also think it’s interesting to see the difference between how her powers and of her control of her telepathic abilities were portrayed here versus how it is portrayed in comics nowadays. Because in comics nowadays, we’re mostly talking about the teenage version of Jean Grey, the time-displaced version. And I know this is not the subject of this podcast. We already have one on that.
I just think it’s interesting to see how in this iteration of the character she’s very willing, once she has regained some of the control over her telepathic abilities to just go around poking in people’s heads. As opposed to this version of the character who is, as the others have mentioned very much, suffering from the fact that there are a lot of thoughts that she can’t really purposefully get out of her own head in terms of what other people are thinking about her. It’s interesting to see both sides of the character and the potential that’s there in terms of storytelling for the character.
Justin: Can we talk a little bit about the men in the series and their influence over Jean. Because I had a similar experience myself in that when you ascend to a certain place or ascend to get a certain title, you don’t change. But suddenly, the way people around you treat you differently. Although Jean has the power of the Phoenix, Jean is still Jean in a lot of ways, in every way that counts I feel.
That could definitely be argued throughout the series but I can’t help but to think about all these men who tried to exert their influence on her and how they just can’t deal with a woman who has this much power. I mean you’ve got Wyngarde in there loosing his shit; he’s gotta control her. Cyclops doesn’t know which end is up. I mean he, he feels emasculated throughout this entire thing frankly if I do say so myself . Which is what later throws him in the arms of Emma Frost.
Then next thing you know you’ve got this girlfriend, your fiancé. You’re probably being like hey Jean, tonight should be the night. Let’s try something kinda sexually a little bit different. She’s like no, Scott. I’m not that kind of girl. Yeah, here he’s watching her with Wyngarde, and she’s doing everything that he wants because he’s controlling her. You also have Xavier who put those blocks in her head, which yes—the psychic barriers were for a good cause because she couldn’t handle her telepathy. But there are all these men exerting what they want on Jean Grey. And I can’t help but to think that that’s slightly problematic within the diagenesis of the story.
Amna: Yeah, there’s patriarchy like all over the place here. And I know there are some listeners who are probably cringing at that word. But this is a prime example, a classic example of what patriarchy looks like. Especially, you look at every aspect of her life: the people closest to her, her teacher, her mentor, her guardian, her father, Charles Xavier. You look at the relationship with Cyclops.
But even her colleagues, like Storm for example—and I know we’re stepping away a little bit from the theme on examining the men. The constant reaction to her is fear. Fear. Everybody fears her. And the only person who really doesn’t—just because their own arrogance is probably overshadowed by any common sense or fear the person should have had—was Mastermind. And that’s because he didn’t really understand what it was that he was dealing with.
Trent: Right. Isn’t that somewhat human though? Everyone does absolutely approach her with fear. But we fear what we don’t understand. And this is someone who can go from wearing a dress to her costume by manipulating the molecules of her clothing within two seconds. She is able to crunch a car into a ball and then have it function as a normal car five minutes later. Her command over the physical world, with her telepathic abilities, is not just far in a way bigger than any other telepath or telekinetic on earth. It is very much god-like.
And I wold absolutely say that there is patriarchal themes around Jason Wyngarde and Professor X. I think the challenge of examining Scott within the confines of the PHOENIX SAGA as opposed to everything that’s happened since Phoenix has been introduced is essentially—since she came out of the waters at Jamaica Bay, he didn’t feel like he loved her the same way. Something was off. He knew something was off and since that time. He’s seen her die. He’s dated Colleen Wing for a period of time, he’s had this roller coaster romance with her, and he sees her kind of getting out of control in these instances where they’re fighting with people and lives are on the line.
I hesitate to put him in the same box as Mastermind or Professor X because really when you look at Scott, he never knows which way is up. That’s just part of his character. But with respect to this, I think he just doesn’t understand what’s going on with the only person he’s ever really loved in his entire life.
Amna: Right. Those are all valid points, and I do not disagree with anything. What I challenge folks who perhaps might be so easy to dismiss Scott—and this is not me being overly critical I mean, I still think that he’s a fantastic character, he’s a good partner for Jean. But just as fearing something that you don’t quite understand is quote-unquote human—and I use air quotes because I don’t believe everybody has a natural reaction to that.
For example, when I first saw that Jean can change her clothing by manipulating molecules, my first reaction was that is so cool. If my best friend could do something like that, oh my god the fun that we can have. And I’m saying this as an adult. I think that you are right, many folks have a natural reaction to fear the things that they do not know. Quite frankly, I really think it comes down to what you learn socially. If your reaction is to naturally fear something that you don’t understand, you’ve been taught to do that because there are some folks who naturally are not like that. So I think that’s debatable but that’s another podcast.
Going back to Scott, I think that as the person probably closest to her, most intimately involved with her, it would have been nice to see him step up as a partner instead of closing himself off. Even if sensing something is wrong, I would take it as my personal duty to figure out. Something’s different. I should figure out what it is, rather than shunning this person. And even though I might feel fear, it wouldn’t necessarily prevent me from behaving the way that he does. Like I would put my fear aside and I would expect, I guess, somebody of this caliber, a hero of this caliber to be a little bit more emotionally selfless than I think he was represented in this particular saga. That’s all.
Trent: Does that include in the events that took place with the Shi’ar Empire though? Where he and the other X-Men are fighting for her life because of the dynamic between her and the X-Men? It shifts when suddenly Professor X is able to re-engage those psychic circuit breakers with Jean. She is essentially in some respects Marvel Girl again, at least from a power level perspective. It’s her life on the line, and it’s her friends and companions that are saying, yeah we’re probably going to die if we fight these people but we’re going to do it because it’s Jean.
That’s my only hesitation there. I will absolutely agree, like Scott, I think because he just never knows what’s going on. He isn’t really presented the best way throughout the saga but, I don’t think he’s trying to control Jean like the other men within this book are. I think he’s just trying to understand, and I don’t think it’s something that he can understand.
Justin: I really think your perspective depends on who you identify with in the comic. I bet you, Amna, identify with Jean. So I get very pissed off when they’re like, oh what’s wrong with her? Why is she acting so different? It’s like, she’s in a bad mood, asshole. Let her do whatever the **** she wants. Why don’t you just take a chill pill and just stop judging her, Storm.
If you don’t identify with Jean, you’re like oh my god, my best friend who’s normally so nice is controlling people’s minds and eating planets. It’s making me a little nervous for them. If you identify with Jean, you’re like, hold on I’ve been nice all the time. I’m a human being with a range of emotions and right now I’m a little pissed off. So I’m gonna kill the people in this car.
Amna: Plus the emotions of this new thing that is now inhabiting me.
Trent: Right and I think you actually highlight something important though, Justin. The dynamic of the book does change based on the fact that she consumes a sun and essentially murders billions of innocent lives. I’ve heard that that was something that the artist chose and that Claremont didn’t chose. They had to change the events narratively afterwards because when you have such a large loss of life, there has to be some sort of universal punishment, some sort of vindication there. And that amounted to the death of Jean Grey.
But to that point like, she is god-like in a number of respects throughout the early part of this saga. She chooses to eat a sun ’cause she’s hungry for a snack after coming out of a time gate and it kills billions of people. I don’t think you can look at someone the same way after they do that sort of thing. It’s too impactful and by her own admission, she enjoyed it, she liked it. I think she fears herself for that exact reason.
Justin: Oh god, I so identify with that.
Marius: I don’t disagree with much of what has been said up until this point. I think that I’ve always seen Scott as a pretty good partner up until this point at least for Jean. To some extent, I think that they are both characters that have problems with control; longing for control over their powers, over their lives. And I think this way Scott will inevitably feel emasculated or kind of out of control by realizing that Jean is in a way above his head. He’s in no way a flawless character.
It should be pointed out how patriarchy plays a role in here for sure. Overall, I think that these are characters that kind of manage to bring out the best in one another. The scene I was mentioning earlier with her taking off the glasses for him, I think there’s this kind of parallel side effect that when she goes back into being Dark Phoenix in the very end of the book. He manages to bring out her human side more, so she can commit suicide to potentially save billions of lives. He’s not even hesitant to do so after learning that, well she’s essentially killed billions of sentient beings but he still manages to bring out the human side in her.
I think there’s the quality in their relationship that should not be underestimated. But I also think that in a lot of ways the story of Jean in DARK PHOENIX SAGA. That kind of a critical feminist framework can be read in multiple ways. I think some of the secondary literature that we were getting into was mentioning how this is a common trope. Women that are presented with having a lot of power are usually presented as being too moody, or as not being in control enough to handle it.
On the one hand, it’s not to be taken for granted in the 70s that a woman would be presented with the power level of Jean at all. I think there’s some truth to that and it’s complicated with other women in X-Men history at that point. It’s a whole other story. We already got into that in a whole other podcast and it’s really complicated.
Anika: Yeah I think Marius brought a really good point. I understand both perspectives. I think Scott really tried his best to be a supportive partner. And I really love those moments when they were able to connect through their psychic rapport.
Trent: Psychic rapport.
Anika: Yeah psychic rapport. I really loved those moments. I thought they were really romantic. But also to piggy back what Amna said earlier, that instance where Jean changed her clothes by manipulating molecules, we saw that Scott was—I mean I was also fascinated by that—but Scott was scared and that sort of reminded me of my dad. I love my dad but there are certain things I don’t agree with him. For example he says that when a woman gets in power, things always go wrong. It’s almost as if like he’s scared of a powerful woman.vI don’t know if it’s a South Asian thin., I think Amna would know also.
Amna: Yes, it is 100%. I don’t care who that pisses off. Yes, it is 100% South Asian.
Anika: Definitely. And I also think this is possibly one of the reasons why we still don’t have a female president today is because many people think that a woman with power is intimidating. It can lead to destruction. To go to a different point, to the influence of Mastermind on Jean Grey. From my perspective, Jean was pretty much in control of the power of Phoenix until Mastermind came in and manipulated her and brought out Dark Phoenix. I don’t know if like everyone agrees with me. I would like to open that question to everyone else.
Amna: Yeah I mean that was what he was trying to do. She was vulnerable, and my understanding was that he was waiting for an emotional, vulnerable point in which to strike and release the Dark Phoenix. Here is this woman kind of going back again, who is basically misunderstood and is being feared, is feeling alone, isolated, even from her lover. And here comes, I would think by modern day terms, it’s called the snake in the grass, he comes in and swoops in and basically just completely takes the rug out not just from underneath her but everybody else around her too.
Which sets in motion these events that lead us to what we know as the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. It was a very calculated move. But no I completely agree. I think she had it somewhat under control, it was balanced I guess, but his ability to do what he did—Mastermind really showed that the balance was extremely delicate. Perhaps with some more support on the other end of the spectrum, maybe she wouldn’t have tipped as easily.
Trent: Yeah the narrative reasoning in the text is that she had blocks in her brain that were being released by Mastermind. That’s what the Phoenix wanted, and that’s what Jean wanted. But I do think that that’s a much more interesting question. If Jean had maybe made peace with the parts of herself that she thought were unsightly, if she had a more healthy understanding of herself and didn’t try to reserve or conserve herself, would she have had more complete control of the Phoenix? I think that’s absolutely possible. She may have been able to.
The fact that that event where so many lives were taken, that’s when that narrative shift takes place. There has to be some sort of message with that event. And I think the message that they went with: absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I absolutely think that’s a really interesting question. I think if her perspective was different. If she wasn’t as vulnerable, she would have maintained this absolute control. But then even looking at the team dynamics, is it really interesting to read a serialized book where every enemy is easily handled by this god-like force? Is this something that could continue in perpetuity when she is twenty, forty, sixty, a hundred times more powerful than any other X-Men?
Amna: I mean possibly. That’s a really difficult question to speculate on because like you said, it can really just go in any which direction. The thing that sticks out in my mind is: there’s a part of her that is human. The Phoenix binding with that human is really what’s causing this instability because humans are, though very strong creatures and capable of a lot especially mentally and emotionally, there is this equal amount of vulnerability and fragility. The fact that they chose a woman I think to even take on something like that in the series is pretty spectacular.
But would it have probably gotten out of control? Yeah, I think it absolutely would have—could have. But just as much as you can practice destroying something, tapping into the dark aspects of a power or a person’s ability—and I’m speaking very generally here. I’m speaking as a human because I do not know what it is to be a god-like creature—
Trent: You don’t?
Amna: As much as I like to pretend sometimes, definitely just make belief. You go back to the training that the X-Men go through. Professor Xavier focuses on really helping people control their powers. And though the Phoenix power is something that is clearly beyond anyone’s understanding, I did not see evidence of effort being put into understanding what this thing was. I saw more effort being put into suppressing it and hiding it and not dealing with it directly. So I think that question that you’re asking, it’s hard to answer because nobody tried.
Trent: Right. What’s interesting is that every instance where the Phoenix has returned since the death of Jean Grey in the DARK PHOENIX SAGA the response has been of fear. AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN, the whole crux of that is, the Phoenix is returning to earth. One side wants to embrace it because their population is dwindling. The other side is fearful because every time the Phoenix has come, people have died.
Justin: In PHOENIX ENDSONG they were having a heart attack when Jean came back.
Amna: And the thing is with these types of things we keep talking about the emotional complexity. Yet we’re speaking about it in such binary terms. If you either embrace it or you fear it, those are not the only options. I would love to see something in between get explored.
Trent: What I think is interesting—’cause I know that we’ve talked a lot about the human element of this—the fact that Jean Grey is this young woman who’s dealing with this god-like power. What about the modus operandi of the Phoenix as a being. The reason why it wanted to bond with Jean, outside of noticing that there was this mutant on earth that had connected with a young girl before her death, I think it wanted to experience the human condition. It wanted to know what it was to enjoy life.
Jean reflects on that in the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. She makes a point of talking about how the more she experiences, the more she wants to experience. It doesn’t matter if that’s a dark thing. It doesn’t matter if that’s a bad thing or a good thing. She has this zest for life that is insatiable.
Justin: Does anyone have that experience when they turned 18 or something or maybe in early 20s or 30s for some of us—It’s like okay cool, I’m gonna go from smoking pot and I’m gonna try coke a couple of times. Or I’m gonna sleep with this guy on the first date just because. Or I’m gonna stick up to my parents for this time and maybe be in a bitchy mood or something. It was reminiscent for me to that a little bit. But maybe that’s just me.
Amna: I see what you mean, I don’t disagree. I’m thinking about my own personal experiences, and I think by today’s standards I would be considered what is known as the prude.
Justin: Same, same.
Amna: But yeah.
Justin: I’m working on it.
Amna: In some ways, yeah. It’s part of—oh my god, this is gonna sound so cliché—a coming of age story in some ways. You begin exploring different aspects of yourself. Everybody has aspects that are quote-unquote good, aspects that are quote-unquote bad, depending on what time frame you’re living in. Those things can be on one side or the other. But I think really the biggest lesson at least for me in reading this is you have to just—maybe not like every aspect of who you are, but you have to just acknowledge it. You have to embrace it in someway. If for anything, just for your sanity, so that nobody else can come in and use those things against you.
Justin: What if Jean had an experience more similar to what happened in Rick Remender’s UNCANNY X-FORCE? What if she was like, you know what, I have these dark impulses. I’m gonna try to sublimate them somehow. Would the DARK PHOENIX SAGA have turned out differently? Is the DARK PHOENIX SAGA a story about a woman who has tried to suppress aspects of herself, for fear of how it will hurt other people around her? Because she tried so hard to suppress them. They manifested in Dark Phoenix and took over her. It’s kind of like what you said, Trent, before about the Jungian psychology.
Anika: I think I kind of experienced something like that when I was entering my 20s when I suddenly had this realization that I am an adult. I think even though legally you’re an adult when you’re 18 technically, I feel you’re actually an adult when you turn 20. It was a whole different experience for me because I was living with my family in a whole different country.
Then I moved here, and suddenly I was like this adult with all this power. I almost felt like the Phoenix because I didn’t know what to do with all this power. It was almost like this identity crisis because I was this new person versus the person that I was as a teenager. I had to just come to terms with who I am and so in that sense I guess, I can relate to Phoenix. Anyone reaching a milestone age like their 20s or 30s, they can also relate to that aspect as well.
Justin: What does it say about me, you and Amna that we are like in favor of Dark Phoenix and that Marius and Trent are the only ethical people here?
Amna: I don’t know if they’re necessarily more ethical.
Justin: No I know. I’m just teasing. I’m just teasing. I need to read this and not be on the side of Dark Phoenix, that is what needs to happen.
Amna: I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am on the side of Dark Phoenix. The reason why I say that is because regardless of where my dark urges are and how upset I might get, I have no desire to commit genocide. I don’t think that. Even if I did it accidentally, I would not feel good about it.
So there is this conflict that I have with her having to do that. In my mind, I’m like well, maybe it wasn’t Jean at all. Maybe it was completely the Dark Phoenix. But I’m also trying to stop myself from thinking that the Dark Phoenix is necessarily this evil thing, even though it’s being described in terms like that. I feel like I’m still in the process of processing.
Justin: Yeah, you’re still processing it.
Amna: Yeah, exactly what that means.
Justin: Can I ask you something about that?
Justin: What if you think of it like when Jean Grey destroyed that planet she was hungry right? If you and I are sitting at like a restaurant or something, and a fly lands on our brioche bun you would just swat it away, you wouldn’t think anything of it. If it was a family of flies, you would just stump on that shit. And that’s kind of what she did, because she’s so powerful, those people were just like nothing to her.
Amna: I have gone over this in my mind in this exact scenario. How is this different than walking into a chicken farm and grabbing a dozen chickens and being like, alright guys I’m gonna host a dinner party?
Justin: This is more like grabbing a billion chickens, I guess.
Amna: A really big dinner party.
Trent: Maybe her perspective is that they’re nothing compared to her. But maybe they a. We only really get to see a panel of these people and they look like giant broccolis, but it seems like they have a semblance of civilization.
Justin: Oh, of course yes. I’m just saying that while she was Dark Phoenix, perhaps that was her perspective. She didn’t even notice them and I’m just trying to make sense of that. I don’t think, I’m in no way condoning genocide, as I said before.
Amna: I’m with you, I hear you. They were beings that were alive, they were sentients.
Amna: Not okay, that is unequivocally troubling and an unforgivable thing. I really think that the ending of this series was appropriate given that there was this fact. Let there be no confusion about—regardless of where I stand or what I might stick up for with Jean and with the Dark Phoenix and this struggle. That is not okay at all, ever.
Justin: I feel bad. I just want to go on the record and say I would feel—even though if I didn’t meet—she didn’t meet them—If I killed an entire race of broccoli people after I came to I’ll be like, oh my god. I’m so sorry. I would be horrified. Why do I have to say this? Of course I’d be horrified. I don’t condone genocide.
Amna: You feel alone.
Justin: I do. I don’t condone genocide and that’s all I wanna say. Well, let me press on to something else before I get on broccoli people and how much I like broccoli. And if they had cheese on the top, how much I would have maybe eaten them. I’m just saying. But anyway, real question, when you hear people say that DARK PHOENIX SAGA and Jean becoming Phoenix is a response to second wave feminism, how do you react to that? I’d like to start with Marius if that’s possible.
Marius: Okay, so I think that for me personally this is kind of relatable right now because well my 20th birthday is gonna be in three days.
Justin: Oh, happy birthday.
Anika: Happy birthday.
Amna: Happy birthday.
Marius: Over the course of the last few years a lot of things have happened that I was reminded during this conversation in terms of having a conflict within yourself or trying to find your own identity in terms of well—I’m kind of an adult now. I’ve been in the context of my teacher trainee program: I’ve been teaching my very first class for the first time this year, I’ve moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve started working at university as well on top of my studies.
So yeah, I think it can be a last year, was it 2017? I think it can be a lot to take in. A lot of stuff that kinda forms an identity but also gives you the power and the responsibility that so many super hero comic books are about basically. What you were saying was really resonating with me. I hadn’t really previously considered the analogy that with the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. Which is probably because I always perceived Jean to already be a quote unquote adult character. So this kind of a perspective that adds a new layer of meaning to the text for me. I want to say so it was interesting. But Justin you had another question about second wave feminism.
Justin: Yeah, there are people like myself who have talked about DARK PHOENIX SAGA as a response to second wave feminism because, here you have Jean. She has grown into so much power and we had a whole conversation about the patriarchy.
Can we talk about Jean and her ascension to the Phoenix in terms of 1979? You have the Bionic Woman on TV. You’ve got Wonder Woman on TV. Women are going to work. I remember, I grew up in the 80s. I don’t know how it was for you, Amna, but my mother was the only one who worked, I was the only one who didn’t get picked up at school, I was one of like three people on the bus in the whole kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth grade.
And things are different now. I don’t know anyone whose mother stays home. I know a lot of moms who wish they could stay home. But that two income thing is important so it sometimes becomes challenging for me to remind myself and to remind others what life was like even in the 90s for women. Then this is the 70s. So looking at DARK PHOENIX SAGA through that lens what does that bring up for you and how do you respond to that?
Trent: I think it’s telling that the weakest mutant on the X-Men, Marvel Girl who at one point only could really telekinetically carry small wooden blocks, ascends to not only one of the most iconic visages of any super hero male or female. This power is truly awesome in the traditional sense of the word, not the common colloquial “oh that’s cool sense,” like full of awe.
Jean absolutely is empowered by the PHOENIX SAGA. But I think that the danger of putting her within the lens of that specifically is that she does a number of troubling things. She manipulates people’s memories, she controls things, she endangers lives. If she is seen through the lens of second wave feminism, I could see it through a lens of empowerment. But I wouldn’t say she’s a hero of second wave feminism because she does a number of really villainous things throughout the saga. I guess that’s the only danger to that analogy.
Justin: Maybe she’s not a hero, maybe she’s a response. Her anger, her rage.
Anika: Yeah, like Justin on your piece you made a parallel with MADEA and A DOLLS HOUSE and in those stories—classic tales, I’ve read A DOLLS HOUSE in my theater class and my theater professor just loved it. He said it’s like this is the reason why you’re all in college today and you’re not at home. So in A DOLLS HOUSE, when Nora she leaves her husband and her children at the end, after enduring all that abuse from her husband, at the time it seemed controversial. It seemed like Nora was this evil character, but now it’s almost empowering for us to read. It’s seen as a tale of feminism, seeing a woman making a choice for herself instead of seeing it as an evil act that left her children and her husband, like she doesn’t care for them.
DARK PHOENIX SAGA is very similar to that because here, Marvel Girl started off as one of the only females in a group of men. She was considered to be weaker than her colleagues and then suddenly she has all this power as the Phoenix. She’s almost like a god. She can take over the universe. And again she definitely did some problematic things that’s way more, that cannot be really said. I mean genocide can never be empowering but I can definitely still say it is a story of feminism in the way that here this woman who’s endured all these years of sort of like indirect abuse from her colleagues in regards to having less power. And now she’s suddenly so much powerful. I think that is itself empowering.
Amna: But what does that say about the fact that, there is this power but in the end it was her undoing? And that power yielded great danger to existence. In the end, there was, I guess a type of failure, you can say for lack of a better word right now. She couldn’t handle it. So what does that say about feminism?
Justin: But doesn’t she handle it? It isn’t her undoing because she could have been the goddess. The undoing of the Phoenix was Jean Grey to me?
Trent: From my perspective, it’s unfortunate that throughout this story. Jean is either manipulated or she is activated through blind rage. Pure passion, intense feeling. And then when she gains her sense of consciousness towards the end of the DARK PHOENIX SAGA, she bemoans these actions. Not in a way that they were her own choices, in the way that they were impulses that she couldn’t control. She absolutely controlled her own death. And it was self-sacrificial as is traditional for X-Men. But in spite of the fact that she ended her own life for the betterment of the galaxy and the whole cosmic universe, all of the things that were done, I don’t think were Jean’s choices. I don’t think it can really be empowering unless they are a choice.
Justin: My question is, does it have to be empowering? Because I guess, I want to get us away from thinking about what’s empowering and understanding her rage. Here you have this woman, who is pushed into this position of being the least powerful person. She is now the most powerful person. Her man has lost his shit over it. He doesn’t know which end is up. This guy from the Hell Fire Club is trying to rape her essentially. Xavier, her father figure, has inhibited her from becoming who she is. Yes, he thought it was the right thing as parents often do. But maybe there was a better way to go about that, isn’t her rage understandable.
I think of how I have been manipulated in the past and there was rage finding out that none of these things were true. You were just forcing me. You were creating a circumstance where that was the only thing I could think of and the reality is so much more different. I am full of rage over that and for me, I don’t necessarily—the point in this story that we’re talking about, the point where she’s Dark Phoenix, where she’s full of rage, I don’t think that that’s the healthiest way to deal with it. But I do see a parallel to the rage women must have felt at the time from these constant barriers put on them, just like those psychic barriers were put on Jean. I understand it. Again don’t condone it.
Amna: Yeah, no disagreement there. The way that you’re framing it, the rage is completely understandable. I myself have felt that rage in my life as a woman and as whatever other labels. What gives me pause and is just forcing me to reflect more before really choosing a side on this—it’s just a consideration—when you’re operating from a place of passion, like Trent was saying—and if you wanna frame it in terms of feminism—it bothers me to view the feminist movement as something that is purely being fueled by emotions that the women can’t control.
I feel like that’s feeding into whatever stereotype that is in place on women anyway; that they’re emotional creatures, they cannot control them. And if you put a woman in power, she’s just gonna be run by her emotions, and the world is gonna blow up. That’s why we can’t have a female president. Whatever people have said in the past, I mean the list goes on and on. And so I pause just to give it more consideration because there is a problem here. There is a representation of feminism in some respects. But I also don’t like how it’s being depicted because at the end of it, the only agency this woman has is to end her own life. She has an inability to control this rage. What does that say about women in general and about these criticisms that have been placed on them for this exact thing?
Justin: I think it says good stuff to me because I think she chose not to have the rage. She chose to save the very people who instilled this rage in her. And I think of it more as not her being a woman, but a human being would react with that kind of rage. I think we need to accept that but that rage is also the Phoenix. It’s fueled by this other being’s obsession to experience life through Jean’s eyes, through her sense of touch, through her senses.
The ending bookmarks the rage in a way that makes it seem empowering to women—for me as a gay man, homo man, queer man. She’s right. I hate the word “gay” because I’m not that happy. I just like dudes but whatever that makes me, yeah. That. Anyway, I don’t want to make this about me. So I don’t want to speak for all women, but I guess to me, it makes them seem like that. But that’s again just my opinion and how I see it.
Amna: Sure, it makes sense. I guess I’m looking at this in terms of if I had a daughter who was perhaps experiencing some sort of conflict with her identity. And she looks at this character as a role model, someone that she can relate to. Then her story ends in such a way. Does that mean that my daughter will think that the only way for her to possibly deal with her rage is just by ending it all because she just is not capable of dealing with it? That’s where I see the small problem. I hear you, I hear what you’re saying. This is my criticism towards how this had to end.
Justin: Totally. If this was my daughter asking me about it, I would say, if you experience rage, it’s okay. You are the one who is able to choose your thoughts. You are the one who is able to deal with your emotions. And I wouldn’t say you have to take your own life over them, but I think that the lesson is that you have agency over them. This is an extreme example to nth degree of the metaphor that you are going through in your life, which is to maybe accept that you’re feeling rage. And then you can have agency to do whatever you want with it.
Amna: Yeah, this goes back to what we were saying earlier about embracing every aspect of who you are so that you can better understand it. Through understanding, you’re able to process and deal in a healthy way. My thing is, there were no real options available. She had agency over the choice that to end her life. But it was a false choice. There was no other option that was even a possibility in this scenario. Again, that’s where I’m like, uhmm. If your only choice is to kill yourself and then you choose to kill yourself, is that really a choice?
Justin: Well, I think that’s very valid. But when you said that last sentence, then I started to disagree with you because to me the choice isn’t.
Anika: To live like a god? I mean she did have the choice to live as Phoenix and to live the life of a god.
Amna: Well but that’s what I mean, one choice is clearly the wrong choice because that means that you’re going to destroy the universe.
Trent: Well, I guess technically in panel there are three options. There is the self sacrifice that Jean went with, there is her having to control every aspect of herself every single second forever and ever as Scott suggested which I don’t think is tenable, and then there is this other option of just embracing this cosmic being of death and rebirth that’s a little bit more towards the dark side at this point in time. So I don’t think, to Amna’s point, I don’t think it would be true to Jean’s character to have that other option even be an option. I think the choice that she made, if you can call it a choice, is the only one that she could have made being true to herself.
Justin: Marius, when you look at Amna and I’s discussion, what is the ethical standpoint on this?
Marius: Oh yeah, in terms of the choice and its implications, I think mostly any emphasis would come to the conclusion that there is only one correct choice here. Although you can instill the ontological rule that would prevent you from killing anyone including yourself—so suicide is not an option.
Usually what happens is that, with any consequentialist or kind of utilitarian considerations, it reaches the point where, now that we have reached billions of specimen, billions of people’s lives who are on the line, there usually comes a point where we give in and accept the ontological rule that we were trying to hold up is no longer acceptable. Which of course, to reason at what point this is legitimate or not would probably lead into a meta-ethical discussion which is too much for this podcast. But I’m pretty confident in saying that the consensus would be that, yes, suicide is the only ethical choice here.
Justin: I think that that shed light onto the debate Amna and I were having. In that, I’m just simply less ethical so. And I’m cool with that.
Amna: How? You don’t mean that.
Justin: I mean that, I think so because.
Amna: I’m trying to stand up for you right now. No, it does not mean that.
Justin: Well yeah, but I would have been like, shit I could be a god? ‘Cause it’s like at this point, what does anyone else’s life matter? I’ve just killed billions of people. At this point, you know what? Maybe the other billion will have a great life. Maybe I’ll be a good god.
Anika: I mean, that’s also what, in the end, the Watcher pointed out. That’s the life that she chose. She could have lived like a god. Since the Watcher’s job is to just observe and then not interfere, then whatever he must have observed is ethical. So Justin, I don’t agree that you are unethical.
Justin: I came to the same conclusion as Uatu. I never thought anyone would ever say that sentence.
Trent: Uatu is kind of an analog for the reader though too. We’re all The Watcher. And we can all derive our own conclusion, all he does is view and record events realistically.
Justin: He’s the observer. Oh, you know what I want to talk about, that moment where she goes home. Between Trent bringing it up and me reading it a couple of days ago, I had a very different experience reading it. I always thought of it like, the Jean part of the Phoenix, after she just consumed a star and killed billions of people that she didn’t even give a shit about, goes home to be a little girl again. There is that part of her that does feel guilty, I think. And where does she go to feel like a girl? She goes back to her house, she picks up her friend—when I say her friend, the little stuffed animal—and she starts dancing with it. She wants to feel like a girl again, she wants to feel cocooned.
Anika: That innocence.
Justin: —Yeah, she wants to get that back. This time, my focus wasn’t so much on that, it was more on the parents. They’re like, you’re no daughter of mine, look how much you’ve changed. And I thought shit, is that a metaphor for me personally? Hey I’m not straight, you’re not. You’ve seen me this way your whole life but I’m not this way. You’re seeing me as who I am now and it’s terrifying you. I got that out of this, fifty-****ing-first reading as well as what I got from it this time. So what did that scene mean for you all and what did it conjure up for you?
Marius: I didn’t initially think of it like, the way you’ve just described but now it’s pretty relatable.
Trent: Yeah, I’d have to agree. When I read it, I being an adult who occasionally visits his parents. I find the dynamic has definitely changed with my parents. They talk to me as someone who isn’t necessarily making the choices that they would make in my position and that’s annoying. I think Jean’s annoyed by the fact that her parents are so curt with her and that their expectations of her are out of line with reality. I absolutely think it’s a metaphor.
Anika: Yeah, I totally agree, I mean I can see both perspectives that you had reading it. She probably did go back home to feel home again, to be around people. She’s done this horrible thing and she wants to be around people who unconditionally love her.
But then again, it’s challenging because it’s really challenging for parents to deal with their children becoming adults because when they’re children, they’re kind of like puppets. The children are blindly—I was blindly believing my mom. Oh my god, my mom’s an angel. Whatever she does is perfect. And then suddenly, when I disagree with her, it’s kind of shocking for her. I raised this woman and her views are so different from mine. Jean went for this comfort, but at the same time her parents don’t really necessarily feel the same level of comfort because they feel like they don’t know this person anymore.
Justin: I kind of got, love me, love me, I just did this horrible thing. Love me, love me, you always love me. I just did this horrible thing. Love me, love me—Okay you’re not gonna love me. I’m gonna change this planet into a crystal and you’re lucky I’m not doing that to you ’cause I wanted you to love me. I totally get that. That’s basically the story and that’s why every single one of my relationships have failed. I’m not kidding, that’s literally why. I’m like, you don’t love me. Fine, **** you. Get the **** out. And you’re lucky I don’t turn you into a crystal. And I’m like why don’t any of my exes still talk to me? I’m just a victim.
Marius: I feel like this resonates with me a lot because, yeah, as I’ve said I just moved out of my parents’ place. Just a few months ago really, just a half a year ago. It’s a very particular situation going back to your parents’ house. It’s the place where you grew up and getting this kind of—I wanna say feeling of being home or feeling like a kid again in a strange way but not in a holistic way.
And I love my parents more than anything else probably, more than most things else in the world. I love my parents so much but I’m not gonna lie. In terms of, especially things like gender identity, I don’t think it’s always as easy to navigate some situations with them nowadays.
Amna: I’m gonna remain silent on this one. I mean it’s no secret. I don’t have a good relationship with my family, never have. And I feel like it’s just getting worse as I get older. For me, this is hard to relate to because, even as a kid, those are not the people that I ran to for comfort. Like my family was not the place that I went to seeking this type of thing. It was always either friends or other people.
Justin: You were the type of X-Man who couldn’t go home. Your X-Men were your family.
Amna: Oh yeah. I was probably the X-Man that was like, oh my god put it in the cage and electrocute it.
Trent: You were Wolfsbane. Rahne Sinclair is great, so that’s not a bad thing.
Amna: I did not take it as a bad thing at all, no. I read that scene and I can intellectualize what is happening and can understand. But it’s hard for me to empathize because it’s not something that I have experienced personally. But it makes sense to me. If these are the people that she’s close to, these are the people that she felt loved by and she’s done this awful thing. She’s trying to go back to a place that reminds her of a time when she was innocent. She had that child-like innocence which is like the complete polar opposite of the feeling that she had doing this incredibly terrible thing. It makes complete sense to me. The way that you framed it Justin, my mind didn’t quite go there but I liked what you had to say. I totally get it, see it.
Justin: She went back there ’cause she didn’t love herself, because of what she’s doing. And she wanted them to love her so that she could—
Amna: To remind her that she was worth loving.
Justin: Yeah. Because I think as much as we talked about in that moment, she doesn’t even realize those billions of people she killed. A part of her did and a part of her lost herself there. And now that we’re kind of in this deep kind of place, what did reading the story bring up for you guys personally?
Amna: That when people misunderstand you, it can get ugly. That sense of dread and depression and hopelessness can really consume you. I’m not making any sense. What it told me was it’s so important to have a healthy relationship with yourself and who you are. I think that was my biggest takeaway from the story.
Anika: Yeah, I can totally agree with Amna. For me it was also accepting yourself when no one else really can. Jean was in this position where she couldn’t really relate to anyone and no one could relate to her either. She was in this position where it was only herself. She was stuck with herself. It was more, in a way, complex because she was not herself either. So yeah I think the message that I got very similar to what Amna said. You need to have your back because there is not always going to be people who can relate to you even if it’s the person you love the most. Like even Scott couldn’t relate to Jean in this case.
Trent: The thing that I found reading this again is that, obviously it’s a story of what’s happening to Jean. But in the background, there is kind of this extremely passionate but also tragic love affair between her and Scott and every time I read it, it becomes a little bit more prevalent to me.
The moments where the visor is removed or they develop this psychic rapport which is, from a realistic perspective, incredibly unhealthy. Even him fighting for her life on the blue side of the moon and her having to convince him, or even just taking his agency away like she did before she got the Phoenix powers in the shuttle, this needs to happen. And you can’t control this situation. This is just how it’s gonna be. Going back and looking at it, it’s really interesting from a relational perspective between the X-Men characters. There’s layers to this story.
Amna: For sure.
Marius: I think that I shared that experience in terms of having kind of a new understanding for the relationship between Scott and Jean through the experience of reading the DARK PHOENIX SAGA. But I think there’s also more to it—I’m not sure I can put into words yet because I think while the concept of the Phoenix and Jean can be described in just one sentence. It’s also a very layered and a very complex dynamic story to tell. And this is what we were saying earlier; even though this seems like a comic book made for kids, here we are talking hours and hours about the many layers that it has to offer from various academic approaches. I think it’s just incredibly hard to put into words what can be taken away from this book. That’s just where I’m at.
Justin: I think for me there is no surprise if you look at the kind of the things I was sticking up for before. I grew up with rage all around me and hurled towards me, almost, what felt like constantly. And I developed my own rage back at those people for putting me in an environment where I had to receive it at all times. For every aspect of who I was.
And now that I’m an adult and in quote unquote a position of power—even though I don’t feel that way—the rage that I would have as a kid when I would just be like, stop doing this, stop. It comes out now, and I see people around me are scared and I’m like, oh I didn’t even mean anything bad, I was just reliving this thing and I was tapping into that and it scares me that people see that side of me.
I don’t think people would describe me as an angry person, even though I would describe myself as that way. But I empathize with the rage of the Phoenix or Jean, emanating from the fact that all of these people tried exerting their will on her and were trying to prevent her from being who she is. And I understand that. I think it’s why, at the end, it makes the decision a little bit murky for me because I see what she’s doing, sacrificing herself for the very people who oppressed her. And people are similar.
I like to think I would make this same decision. I’m not really sure but I hope I would. But I very much empathize with it, because part of me is like, okay cool. You guys all had your turn to be gods in my life, now it’s my turn. But I hope, like I said, I hope I would make the right decision. But the rage really speaks to me and that scene where she goes home really speaks to me.
Just like those romantic, beautiful moments when she’s on the beaut with Cyclops and she takes off the visor, where they’re on the moon and they hold each other’s hand and they say I love you, and all this stuff. Those parts are beautiful and I want those parts too. But I can’t get over, for me, that, here is this woman being judged for being angry and who wouldn’t be?
To lighten the mood, I’ll just say, I would not want a psychic rapport with someone I was in love with because what if I was like, oh shit, I have to poop. And they’re like, what did you just think? And I’m like oh, I said I have to get new shoes. What if I was like, oh that person’s really hot. And they’re like what? And I’m like, I said that my back is really hot in this shirt. You know what I’m saying? It’s like I don’t want them to know that stuff. What if I’m like, you’re not fresh down there. There’s a lot of things that could happen, that I don’t want to know and I don’t want them to know about me.
Trent: It’s awful, but it’s also so passionate when you think about it.
Justin: The good part is passionate. But then you go to the after it, like oh I have to pee. The good part.
Trent: But the thing about the Phoenix and the thing about that choice is that passion doesn’t require love or thought. Passion is just the heat and that’s what I love about it,. It’s so hot and it’s so unhealthy.
Justin: But that heat wouldn’t get turned down for you if Jean Grey is like man I have a wicked shit to take. Like I feel like oh you know what, I’m not in the mood as much anymore.
Trent: Everybody poops, Justin. Everybody poops.
Amna: There’s a book. I’ll get it for you if you would like, it’s called Everybody Poops.
Justin: I know. I just don’t wanna know. I just don’t wanna.
Amna: I hear you, I hear you. Those are normal insecurities to have. Piggy backing off of what Trent just said, if I had to imagine what a psychic rapport would feel like the way it’s being depicted in this series, it’s not—and I know she can read people’s minds—but the psychic rapport is about two souls connecting. Meaning no words, just a feeling.
Have there ever been times when you’re feeling something and just no amount of words can accurately articulate what it is that you’re trying to convey? But if you can join someone in a way in which they can just feel how you’re feeling, no words needed, that is so powerful and the ultimate form of intimacy. That is what I envision a psychic rapport to be. Pooping and all these other things are so human and insignificant in comparison. So, I think I’m with Trent on this one.
Justin: You made it sound so beautiful because isn’t that a metaphor for love like when you’re both laying in bed together and you’re the only two people alive and it’s like your minds are connected?
Amna: Yeah, we’re limited because we’re human beings. But yeah.
Justin: But this is the exaggerated superhero version of that.
Amna: Or this is what it’s supposed to be and we’re just incapable of attaining it.
Anika: I think you appreciated those moments more because they weren’t constant. Scott kept loosing that psychic rapport and when he was finding it again it was like, oh my god— oh my god they’re connecting again. That’s so cute. Because it wasn’t that constant. You didn’t really see it as listening to your partner wanting to poop or anything. It was more of something like they were loosing and then they were catching again. That’s what made it more romantic.
Amna: Yeah, and those moments occurred when he himself was not worried about his fear of her or her abilities or not concerned with being a good leader to the X-Men. It came when all of those inhibitions were melted away and it was just them as two souls, that’s it.
Justin: What do you hope people who are going to go out and read DARK PHOENIX SAGA after hearing this podcast gain from reading the comic? What do you hope they walk away with, what kind of feelings?
Anika: I hope they would sort of appreciate the complexity of the story. Because there’s so much room for interpretation, we all had different opinions. We had so many debates in this one podcast. I think it’s great for the listener to hear through all those perspectives and just understand how many perspectives this can have because that is what true art is. True art has a lot of room for interpretation and that’s what makes it complex in a really beautiful way.
Marius: I completely agree. What can be taken away from giving the book a thorough read or even more thorough reads than before is that, well as we said, it’s a very layered book. It’s not as simple as I think a lot of people would make it out to be. Which is why it’s such a milestone.
But also get an understanding of the pop cultural relevance and influence that the comic has, not only for the comic book industry but also outside of it. If there’s going to be a movie made out of this comic book for the second time soon—which is not something that a lot of comic book writers can say about their material so this goes far beyond just being a comic book—as a comic book, it does everything that we would expect it to do and more, which is something that I think people should be appreciating.
Amna: I’m excited to see how the film that is coming out this year is going to capture these elements of the series. What will they amplify? What will they focus on?
Marius: I think, and this is just me making kind of an educated guess, is that what’s gonna be carrying over the best from the source material is probably the role that Scott has to play within it. I’ve heard some statements of the creators that they want to focus on Scott’s role more than they did in the previous installments. Which is a good sign because I think the movie can only work if they get the relationship between those two right, which is where kind of the emotional states come from a lot of the time. Maybe for the audience to identify with even.
They got some of that right in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE where what’s his name, Tye Sheridan and Sophie Turner first met on screen. I think they have the potential if they want to focus on that. Even if they are going to have to leave out certain aspects of the comic book—obviously I’m not sure how much of the Shi’ar stuff’s going to be carrying over—but I think that, while it may not be a truthful adaptation, some of the core ideas could prevail in the film as opposed to X-MEN: THE LAST STAND.
Justin: Sophie Turner said X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX will redefine the superhero genre. So my question is, what is our advise to Sophie Turner as X-MEN fans in terms of playing the role? And what are some things that you hope the movie accomplishes that the comic accomplished?
Marius: I think that Sophie Turner has an understanding of the character. Some parts of what has been tried in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE are a step in the right direction. I initially was a very big fan of Sophie Turner as Jean Grey and I know that some were not. But, I think for me it’s mostly, and I’ve told this story several times, the first time I saw the movie was actually with the German Audio version. I didn’t actually get to hear her voice. That British accent wasn’t really a problem for me. The only point of criticism thus far that I really have about her Jean, because I know that she grew up reading the character and that it’s always been the dream of hers to play it, what she says is true.
I think I believe her because from her acting. I get the sense of some of the most important features about Jean Grey that kind of really make her who she is. If they focus on that—also in regards to some of the themes from the DARK PHOENIX SAGA comic book—if they then get the ending right in combination with the kind of a strong relationship to Scott. That’s where the emotional investment should come from. And maybe something that I’m not sure they should focus on too much this time, because it’s already been done, is what role Charles is going to play in it. I know this is probably gonna come up. I don’t think that it has to be the main focus as was in THE LAST STAND.
Anika: I wouldn’t really say that I’m a—I only became a fan of X-MEN comics recently. I haven’t really watched the movies. But I did read one of the academic papers which was a comparison between DARK PHOENIX SAGA and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, the movie. What they were trying to say is that the movie focused more on the Dark Phoenix turning out the way she is is, solely because of her inability to control her powers. Whereas, in the comic, there is more context about that. We have Mastermind and everything. But we don’t really have that. We don’t really see that in the movie. So in the movie, it’s more focusing on the fact that these women, like Rogue and Jean, they are the way they are just because they just can’t control their powers ,which we don’t see in the male characters.
That’s obviously not the fault of Sophie Turner. She’s not the one writing the script for the movie. But I would definitely want to see something that’s not so demeaning to women. I’m always a book person. I hate when books are turned into movies ’cause they always take certain aspects and add certain aspects and then it just becomes really different from the book,. But that’s just the way it is. There’s nothing to do about that. Like what I said earlier, definitely hoping that, instead of demeaning the female characters, I hope that they can show more strong characters. I believe this is one of the reasons why I like Chris, Chris Claremont. His writing became so famous because of the strong female characters. I definitely wanna see that in the movie as well.
Trent: For me, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE was a catastrophe. I have a myriad of issues with that movie in part because I cherish X-MEN. It’s so important to who I am as a person. So to not have the reverence I think certain Marvel movies would, for the characters or even the spirit of the characters, it was really frustrating. The most frustrating thing towards the end of APOCALYPSE was to see a Phoenix raptor appear behind Sophie Turner as though she was just manifesting this inner ability that she had always had. She was unleashing the full breath of her powers and that’s not what the Phoenix is.
The Phoenix is certainly a metaphor in some respects for her empowerment. But in more literal terms, it is a cosmic entity of death and rebirth and that is an amazing awesome story. To hear that Simon Kinberg is interested in grounding the movie in reality, it makes me think that they don’t really have an understanding of the place the X-Men have in the cosmic Marvel universe. I think it’s a huge opportunity lost. If that’s the approach that they’re taking, I think that they’re going to make the same character pitfalls that they did in X-Three, THE LAST STAND, which most people would totally agree is one of the worst X-Men movies.
I think the only saving grace that I can point to of Apocalypse is the fact that Sophie Turner did have the warmth and the openness that Jean Grey embodies. I very much appreciate that. But for me, the PHOENIX SAGA and the DARK PHOENIX SAGA are also a relational piece not just with the other X-Men team members but between Scott and Jean. I don’t think the Scott that was on screen in APOCALYPSE is anything like Scott Summers. The relationship between him and Jean really didn’t get anywhere by the end of the film with the exception of her holding his head while he shot concussive—they weren’t even concussive blasts, they were fire-based lasers for some reason.
I don’t want to be the fan that nitpicks these things but I just feel like the setup isn’t what it needs to be to adapt such a cherished piece of fiction, such an important piece of artwork. It’s not just about a movie being adapted and some moving parts having to be changed because it’s a different medium. I don’t think that the people producing this upcoming film have a strong understanding of the spirit of the characters or the overall themes of this story. And it’s really distressing for me, personally.
Amna: That was a very passionate… You know, funny thing is I hear you and can appreciate where you’re coming from, Trent. There’s a part of me that is hoping that they do stray a little bit simply for the purpose of making Jean and Phoenix a more empowering character than I perceive her to be in the comics. If I was just asked for any change or deviation, I think it would be in that respect. And I think in someways, they have to to make it relevant to modern day audiences. This is supposed to be a modern take on the story. So I’m interested to see exactly what strings they pull at within the narrative to make that happen.
Justin: I feel similarly to Trent. I was curious as to why they did X-MEN: APOCALYPSE so soon in the reboot. I also felt like, man, you have to build up to Dark Phoenix Saga because the whole point is that Jean Grey is the mother of the team. She’s the heart of the team at this point, though Nightcrawler also gets called that. Storm is also referred to as the mother of the X-Men.
But it would be like what would happen if Anika went crazy? She’s like the sweetest, nicest person ever. But all of a sudden you know, she has become a prostitute and starts smoking crack. I’d be a little bit worried. It will be sad. And then she’s like, I’m gonna stab you, Justin. I’m like no I have to stab you because I wanna live. You’ve become a crack whore, Anika. And then it’s super sad. I just stabbed my crack whore friend who was once Anika. I forgot why I’m talking about that but um, anyway.
Amna: You really went down the hole with that one.
Justin: Yeah! Because first we have to understand that we love Anika. You know what I’m saying? You know how beautiful Anika is and she came with us to TideWater. She’s so adorable and says all these nice things. But if we just met crack whore version of Anika, we don’t know who—we haven’t loved her before so it’s just another crack whore. No offense. This is hypothetical so it’s like no offense.
I don’t know that the audience has gotten to love Scott and Jean and gets see Jean in this way. And that way, I am also extremely nervous. However, I would ask you what about ULTIMATE X-MEN and how they dealt with the Phoenix there? Do you think that they’re stuff—I kinda liked that, you didn’t like that? Good to know.
Trent: I don’t like goatee Scott or ULTIMATE X-MEN personally.
Justin: Wait, goatee Scott. He had a goatee in ULTIMATE X-MEN?
Justin: Oh wow, I didn’t even. I forgot. No I just remembered the whole—
Trent: He had a soul patch. Sorry.
Justin: Oh, a soul patch. Oh…
Justin: I like a guy with a soul patch. I’m not gonna lie.
Amna: You’ve just dated yourself, Justin.
Justin: Have I? Aren’t they these things that were here?
Amna: Yeah, but those were only hot during a certain time.
Justin: Yeah, like 1998. I don’t know, I still think it’s hot. Yeah I don’t know. I think you should bring back the soul. Okay, it’s getting hot in here. Are we still talking about X-MEN? No, I’m just kidding.
Amna: No, we’re talking about soul patches.
Justin: Yeah, woof, I love a good soul patch.
Amna: Oh my god.
Justin: I mean anyway, Trent, you’re right. It’s ’cause I suck—no I’m just kidding. Sophie Turner is an incredible actor. Like Marius said, she’s been reading X-MEN. But man, I hope that everyone who’s making this film understands what this comic means not only for us, not only for X-MEN fans, but for the world.
For X-Men fans reading it in 1979, 1980, we’re seeing this woman so powerful. What must that have been like for them? And can we have that now, as Amna said, modernized. That would be something I would like to get. Like I said, I want to re-iterate that, I hope that they understand like what this comic means to us, to the world, and to the medium of comics.
So the last thing I wanted to do before we end is a little bit of a word association, like what comes to your mind with this person. Is that cool? So we’ll each go a round.
Justin: Alright and if you don’t know the person—if you don’t have a thing to say, don’t worry about it. Alright, Kitty Pryde: Adorable—I’ll go first.
Trent: I see her as like a nerdy muppet.
Justin: Alright yeah I go with muppet.
Justin: Oh Marius. Oh Amna.
Amna: The girl has no idea what is going on with her. She meets these strangers and feels an immediate duty to save their lives. That’s pretty incredible for a 13 1/2 year old.
Justin: And remember when she first meets Emma Frost in ASTONISHING X-MEN, when she finds out Emma’s now on the team of X-Men she goes—
Trent: Not pleased, yeah.
Justin: —when I think of evil, I think of you. ’Cause I think of the first day I met the X-Men. The first day I met them, they were kidnapped and locked into cages. And they were put in there by you.
Trent: Yeah, and it’s probably important to point out that right after the DARK PHOENIX SAGA we have DAYS OF FUTURE PAST which not only stars Kitty Pryde, but it stars two time-displaced versions of Kitty Pryde. So it’s pretty spectacular.
Justin: This is true. Alright so we’re all Kitty fans and it’s really awesome that she’s leading the X-Men now. How about Dazzler?
Justin: Rad, I like that.
Marius: I’m not sure about Dazzler, that’s a hard one I think.
Justin: I’m just gonna go with Dazzle. A fun fact that we should state—Chris Claremont has told us all this many times is that he intended her to be African American. Then they said no. And as Trent and I were talking about the other day, ’cause they were trying to have a movie and a record come out that was made by Dazzler, they were gonna do a comic movie thing and the whole thing fell through.
Amna: I envision whenever she does the light blast, that glitter, it transforms into a glitter bomb instead. That’s her super power.
Justin: Very awesome, how about Colossus?
Trent: Heart of gold.
Anika: I just feel like I don’t know him enough to associate him with a word.
Amna: Kitty seems to think so.
Justin: Yeah, we’re both on that page, it depends on who’s drawing. Uhm, okay Beast. How about Beast? Futile.
Justin: That mind thing didn’t work. He worked so hard on it and she took that thing off in like five seconds.
Amna: This is a hard one for me. There’s so much that comes to mind.
Justin: What’s the first thing?
Amna: Gentle giant.
Justin: Oh that’s cute. But I think of hairy is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him.
Amna: That yeah.
Trent: I think of the word fascinating.
Justin: He says that all the time. It’s true.
Trent:- He says that all the time, yeah.
Marius: I’ll go with hairy as well. I’m not sure there’s anything else I have to say about it.
Anika: Would beast-y work, is that a word?
Justin: Yeah, beast-y. I love it. It doesn’t need to be a real word. Storm.
Marius: Goddess was a good one.
Justin: A quick interjection to that—That comic changed my life. At the end, you see Cyclops and Storm walking together hand in hand. And I was like, boys and girls can be friends! It really had a profound impact. In fact, if there was one panel that had a profound impact on me in my whole life, I would say that one because it created a way for me to think my whole life that worked. Anyway Storm.
Amna: That’s awesome.
Justin: Yeah, right?
Amna: Sorry, I was quiet for a minute. I was thinking about all the times in my life that people kept insisting that men and women cannot be friends. There’s a criticism that I have a lot of male friends. And I’m like well, just because you can’t have mature relationships, it’s not my problem.
Justin: Yeah, that’s like just because you can’t control your penis doesn’t mean every other man is like a ****ing alpha male running around trying to impregnate everybody.
Trent: Oh my.
Justin: Yeah, you know what I’m saying. Put it in your pants, dude.
Amna: That was beautiful, Justin. Thank you.
Justin: Note to all men. Angel: rich.
Amna: I just think of those wealthy New York—
Trent: Like a wasp.
Amna: —playboys that just live life to the fullest.
Justin: I’m also gonna go with attractive.
Trent: He is attractive.
Justin: I’d go there. Pre-archangel Warren, yes.
Trent: Post-archangel Warren.
Justin: I don’t know what he leaves inside you after. So I don’t know what that does to a person. I would say no. ‘Cause I don’t want Apocalypse’s heebie-gibies in my DNA.
Trent: You don’t want a death seed?
Justin: Yeah, I don’t want a death seed. I don’t like where this is going, but you know what I mean.
Justin: Okay, we got next person: Lilandra.
Amna: Hard for me. It’s difficult for me to come up with a word.
Amna: Birdy. Yeah, I just think of feathers. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind.
Justin: Right, yeah. That counts.
Amna: Birdy. Keep laughing at that.
Anika: I don’t know. Does she always try to do the right thing? Then I would say goodie two-shoes.
Justin: She was kinda like goodie two-shoes.
Justin: She also seems like a little bit entitled to me. It’s like, look bitch. I don’t know what’s going on with Shi’ar Empire, but I live on Earth so you do you. I’ll do me. So leave, you know? I am not involved in that. Okay, cool. Xavier, Charles.
Trent: Professor Xavier is a jerk. To quote Kiddy.
Justin: Great. One of the best quotes of all time.
Amna: In this one he is depicted as the ultimate patriarchal figure. He’s very critical of Scott without—
Trent: Put that on his tombstone. Geez.
Amna: And I don’t necessarily mean that as a pejorative. He’s a very critical father figure to everybody. I specifically think about his relationship with Scott and thinking about that panel where after escaping Emma Frost. He takes the X-Men to where Angel is, to hide out rather than taking them back to the mansion. And Charles Xavier is sitting there and questioning his judgement. Like he disobeyed me. How dare he? Why did he bring us here?
Versus, you know, you could just talk to each other and figure out what the heck is going on. I think that’s a very classic depiction of a father figure who is in conflict with his male son. There is this power dynamic—this struggle between the two where the boy has to prove himself but the father is not really allowing him to do that because he’s still trying to maintain some semblance of control under the guise of “Prove yourself to me.” So I think, in this one, he’s very much a classical patriarchal figure in that regard. And I think mostly in terms of the dynamic between him and Scott, more so than anything else.
Trent: One thing that was mentioned early on that really bothered me was Nightcrawler mentioned that Professor X was upset that he wasn’t using this device to make him appear human.
Trent: Because Nightcrawler doesn’t have passing privilege. He sticks out like a sour thumb. And he reached a point in his personal development where he was like, this is who I am, this is who I’m gonna be. and that made Professor X the champion of peaceful co-existence angry. It speaks to his character.
Amna: I noticed that too actually.
Justin: I was on team Magneto, team Emma Frost. So, you don’t have to convince.
Trent: Magneto made some valid points.
Justin: Yeah, and for nothing. If you’re gonna sleep with one of them, I would definitely go with Magneto. If prostitution was legal, I would buy him a coupon. He looks like he needs—like what are you so angry about, dude? Everyone’s in their mid-twenties. Get laid. Go do something.
Amna: Sex is the cure-all for these.
Justin: For him. He’s just an animal. Like stop being such a fuzzy-duddy.
Trent: I think to be honest, during this, I think he was having an inferiority complex. Not just with Scott, but the fact that he was essentially Lilandra’s pet. No one in the Shi’ar took him seriously, right?
Justin: My point exactly. Go out, have fun, go dominatrix somebody, Xavier.
Trent: Go to the Hell Fire Club.
Justin: Yeah, go to the Hell Fire Club. Go paddle Tessa. You know what I’m saying? Go do what you need to do. Leave me out of it. Alright anyway Xavier, not a fan. Okay, Jason Wyngarde.
Amna: Yeah, rape-y.
Justin: I’m gonna go with creep as well. Emma Frost.
Amna: I want to hate her, but I kind of don’t.
Justin: I’m gonna steal what Claremont said about her in this very same game, he said wicked. Jean Grey.
Amna: Tortured soul.
Trent: One thing. Dense.
Amna: That’s a good one.
Justin: But dense in a good way right, not.
Trent: Dense in a good way, not as a pejorative.
Justin: The positively dense. Complicated. No, just dense. I’m trying to come up with a more positive word for dense, Trent.
Amna: Dense is pretty neutral.
Justin: Is it?
Amna: I think so.
Trent: It’s used as an insult though. Right?
Justin: So many people in my life have called me dense so I think of it as an insult but maybe not. Okay, anyway, I digress. But yeah. Any final thoughts? ’Cause that’s gonna do it for this episode.
Amna: It’s a fantastic series, definitely worth a re-read.
Justin: Yeah, go out and read it and get ready for that movie. I’m super excited for this year. I hope that it accomplishes everything we want it to accomplish. And I hope it gets across what this amazing comic did for all of us.
Thank you, guys, for taking all these hours out of your day to talk with each other and talk with me about DARK PHOENIX SAGA.
Amna: Happy to be on the panel. Thank you for inviting me.
Anika: Yeah, thank you for having us.
Marius: Thanks for having me on, Justin.
Trent: Thank you.
Justin: Aww, thank you guys all for being here. Just a reminder to everybody listening: you can find more podcasts like this, videos, interviews, original articles over at ComicsVerse.com. And thank you so much for listening.
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