Comic Review: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

Published: 1980
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: John Byrne

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

Does it make me a terrible X-Men fan that I have never actually read The Dark Phoenix Saga?

I’ve tried to round up all the single issues over the years but some of them are pricey and there’s nine issues that make up this arc. But in my defense, I know the story very well, as it has been referenced a million times over throughout X-Men history. I’ve also seen various interpretations and adaptations of the plot. Granted, none of them are really accurate in regards to this, the source material.

This is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers though, so I thought that delving into it was long overdue and that I really didn’t have an excuse anymore.

I expected this to be enjoyable but it still took me by surprise, as it was better than what I anticipated and all the years of hype I’ve experienced, didn’t diminish it in anyway.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is quintessential Chris Claremont. I can’t say that this is where he peaked but this is certainly a very elevated highpoint in his long run writing X-Men related stories.

This also came out in a time when Marvel wasn’t addicted to big crossover mega-events. This was a mega-event for its time but it wasn’t marketed or structured in the way that these things are now. It was just a good, lengthy story, limited to one already existing comic that found a way to utilize a lot of characters but in a way that balanced them all out and made them all useful to the plot.

One cool thing about this arc, is it also features the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, the Hellfire Club and Dazzler. There’s a bunch of stuff going on within this story but it doesn’t off track and still builds towards the big battle between Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix and her X-Men family. It’s, at times, heartbreaking and tragic but it also makes you love all these people all over again in an organic, natural and emotional way. This hits emotional notes in the reader in ways that comic books never seem to come close to in 2019.

I can’t just give credit to Chris Claremont and his stupendous writing though. The art by John Byrne is absolutely superb and it is just as rich, colorful and meticulously crafted as the story its telling.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the greatest Marvel stories ever told. It’s classic Marvel and truly represents what I loved about the era and how I fell in love with this creative medium in the first place.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other early Chris Claremont X-Men comics.

Comic Review: X-Men: Second Coming

Published: June 22nd, 2011
Written by: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Matt Fraction, Zeb Wells, Mike Carey
Art by: David Finch, Terry Dodson, Ibraim Roberson, Greg Land, Mike Choi, Rachel Dodson, Sonia Oback

Marvel Comics, 360 Pages

Review:

I went into this thinking that I would like it for the most part. The events that precede it were pretty good reads. What I didn’t expect was to be blown away. But in the end, I have to say, this was one of the absolute best X-Men crossover events that I have ever experienced. Seriously, this was nothing short of superb.

More than anything, this story made me love Cable more than ever and it got me to love Hope Summers, who I would say is one of the best characters to come out of the last decade, even though she previously appeared as a baby before this in Messiah Complex.

This had a lot going on in the story but there was room for it all. Plus, all the key players were well balanced throughout and it gave most of the top characters a real purpose and mission.

There are real consequences in this story, as some key X-Men figures die. Granted, one could argue that those consequences are never real because no one truly dies in comics and the two biggest victims of this story are already alive and well, once again. But despite that, it felt like a real blow within this narrative. It didn’t lose its impact knowing that they’d eventually be back.

Second Coming carries all the doom and gloom of Messiah Complex over and it brings more doom and gloom but it ends in a way that finally sees a glimmer of “hope” appear in the darkest time of the X-Men franchise. I don’t want to spoil too much because I’d rather people give this a read.

Being that this is a crossover event, there is a mix of art styles. All of it works for me though, even if there are noticeable style shifts from chapter to chapter. Ultimately, the tone stays about the same from beginning to end.

This is a fairly long read but none of it is boring or filler. It moves at a brisk pace, keeps you engaged and makes you cheer for these heroes in a way that you haven’t since the early ’90s.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the stories that precede it: Avengers Disassembled, House of M and X-Men: The Messiah Complex, as well as the one this leads up to: Avengers Vs. X-Men.

Comic Review: X-Men/Alpha Flight (1998 Series)

Published: 1998
Written by: John Cassaday, Ben Raab
Art by: John Cassaday, Liquid! (cover)

Marvel Comics, 64 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t expecting much from this two-issue story arc but I was pleasantly surprised by how fun this was.

I love the X-Men and I love Alpha Flight. I especially love when they come together.

In this story we see the X-Men get captured by Baron Strucker and Hydra. Alpha Flight then goes in to save them.

I didn’t realize that this was a 1998 story when I first read it, as the version on Comixology listed it as 2016. So at first I thought it was a cool throwback because it had a very ’90s art style.

This is also the second X-Men/Alpha Flight team up mini-miniseries. I have read and owned the first one for years now. I don’t remember how good that one was but if it’s on par with this, that’d be great.

For a short story that didn’t have much room to breathe, this was a good, fun comic that reminded me why I loved these two teams back in the ’80s and ’90s.

Alpha Flight needs more love, people.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s X-Men and Alpha Flight stories.

Comic Review: X-Men: Inferno

Published: 1988-1989
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, various
Art by: Marc Silvestri, Walter Simonson, various

Marvel Comics, 600 Pages

Review:

This was actually the first big X-Men crossover event that I ever read. Unfortunately for me back in 1988 and 1989, I wasn’t able to get every single issue in this massive event. But I do own them all now, so I wanted to revisit this huge story in its entirety.

It is really good but it also has some problems.

In regards to the positives, the writing is pretty solid. The bulk of this event is written by Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson with other writers contributing to some of the tie-ins. The art is also great, most of which is done by Marc Silvestri and Walter Simonson.

The story sees Mr. Sinister unleash literal Hell on Earth with many weapons at his disposal: Madelyne Prior, S’ym, the evil version of Polaris, the Marauders and the big bad demon, N’Astirh.

Sinister also finds ways to trick the X-Men and X-Factor into fighting amongst themselves and manipulates the stage to pit brothers Cyclops and Havok against each other.

There is a lot at stake here and it changes many of the characters going forward. One of my favorite characters, Magik, dies here. Granted, we all know she comes back because she’s basically a demon queen of the underworld but the weight of it is very heavy and at the time, we didn’t know if the young heroine could return.

This crossover also includes the New Mutants and the X-Terminators. The story serves to merge those two teen teams into one. This set the groundwork for what was to come once Rob Liefeld came into The New Mutants and gave us Cable, Deadpool and eventually, the hugely successful X-Force.

What I love about this story is that it merges superhero Marvel with fantasy Marvel. Like the Magik miniseries a few years earlier, this takes Marvel’s mutant heroes and makes them deal with fantastical and occult evil but on a much grander scale. Also, Mr. Sinister was damn cool in this period of X-history.

Looking at the negatives, my only real issue is that the story drags out in places. That could be due to me also reading all of the tie-ins apart from the main body of the central story. Some of it felt really unnecessary and it also felt poorly organized. The New Mutants issues were on the orbit of the main story but with the death of Magik and how that effected her brother Colossus, I feel like that should have happened within the framework of the stories actual main chapters.

Shaky narrative flow aside, this is still a better crossover event than what the Big Two comic book publishers give us in modern times.

Inferno was my first big crossover event. It’s not the best but it’s still a lot of fun and it came out in a time where the X-titles were at their absolute creative peak.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other big X-Men crossover events of the late ’80s and early ’90s like X-Tinction Agenda and X-Ecutioner’s Song.

Comic Review: X-Men: Messiah Complex

Published: March 29th, 2008
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 344 Pages

Review:

This follows the major event in X-Men and Avengers lore that was House of M, which itself followed Avengers: Disassembled. While the Scarlet Witch is no longer the focal point here, the effects of what she did in the two previous stories is still felt and the central focus of this large crossover event’s plot. This is also an X-Men-centric story as it doesn’t crossover with Avengers characters or titles this time.

In a way this does a good job of closing out what some call the House of M trilogy but it also sets up an event that is a direct sequel to this called Second Coming.

The story is pretty good but it may be hard to follow for someone who just jumps in or for an old school X-Men fan that will be bombarded with a bunch of newer characters, as this came out when The New X-Men was going strong.

Overall, this is pretty good but the story jumps around a lot and if you don’t binge through it fairly quickly, you’ll probably forget some details. Also, some threads within the larger plot aren’t as great as others.

I didn’t care so much for the New X-Men Team and was more intrigued by what was going on with the main X-Men and the Marauders. Although, I had hoped that Mister Sinister would really get his moment to shine brightly and he’s just sort of there, leading the Marauders, and then he’s out of the story. Although, the twist that sees him taken out of the plot was pretty neat and it’s not something that I saw coming.

If you like classic X-Men, this more modern event will still probably resonate with you. It feels more like a ’90s X-Men event than something made within the last decade or so.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with:  Avengers: Disassembled and House of M.

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.

Comic Review: X-Infernus

Published: December 3rd, 2008 – March 25th, 2009
Written by: C.B. Cebulski
Art by: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Jesse Delperdang

Marvel Comics, 96 Pages

Review:

I have always loved Magik and this series has one of my two favorite covers that she’s ever been on. Just ten years ago, heroines could still look super sexy and display the ideal form. Nowadays, the ideal female form is being pushed out of comic books, even though it’s been a very important staple in art throughout history, as well as escapism entertainment. Nowadays, we aren’t supposed to look at things that attract us because that’s implied rape or something. Also, I’m going to excuse the Papyrus typeface on the cover because the art distract from it. But c’mon, Marvel… fucking Papyrus, really?!

This is one of the better stories centered around Magik and her association with Limbo. Although, it isn’t as good as the original Magik miniseries from the early ’80s, it really brought me back to that special place. C.B. Cebulski weaves a good story here but on the flipside of that, his dialogue can induce a bit of cringe sometimes. For instance, here’s an actual quote from Pixie, immediately after she thinks she stabbed Nightcrawler to death:

“Oh my god Dr. McCoy I don’t know what happened Mr. Wagner asked to see my soul dagger so I pulled it out and then it was like it had a mind of its own and the next thing I know I’m all evil and like GRRRR and then it all goes black and Mr. Wagner’s on the ground with my soul dagger plunged into his–“

Yeah, wow… is that bad or am I just crazy? It’s the world’s longest unpunctuated string of dialogue ever but I guess you’re supposed to interpret that as her being scared, nervous and in shock. But really, did she need to say “GRRRR”? Who talks like this?

Apart from that, I don’t have any gripes with this story, except that it felt a bit too short. But the original Magik miniseries was the same length. That one just felt like it had more in it though.

When this starts, Magik is a demon ruling over Limbo. She discovers that Belasco, the demon warlock that made her what she is, has a daughter named Witchfire. While this isn’t Witchfire’s first appearance, it’s the first time that she and Magik have crossed paths.

The X-Men intervene to bring Magik back to the light and to help stop Withfire, who has grown extremely powerful in her quest to rule Limbo and to be more powerful than her underworld peers: Hela, Dormammu, Mephisto, Blackheart and Satannish.

I love Magik and the world of Limbo because these tales bring something really cool to the Marvel universe. They feel like ’80s Dungeons & Dragons stories.

Now this isn’t as good as the Magik miniseries but it’s a great continuation of the things that were established by it.

I also can’t end this without giving props to the art. I loved the look of this book, the character design and the atmosphere of Limbo. Overall, this was a fun, dark read.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Magik-centric stories: the Magik miniseries, the classic New Mutants stuff and the more recent New Mutants: Dead Souls but that one was pretty weak.