Every Friday, I will review a classic comic from my personal collection.
For my classic comic feature this week, I’ve decided on a personal-favourite of mine, Uncanny X-Men #134 from June of 1980. It was written by the man who arguably made the X-Men who they are today, Chris Claremont. It was also co-written by artist John Byrne, the legend who drew the X-Men for their re-conception in the 70’s and 80’s. Needless to say, this was the X-Men’s A-Team. This is also the issue which gives readers the first appearance to Dark Phoenix!
What’s fantastic about this issue – or at least, what stands out for me – are two things. First is the excitement from panel-to-panel with the ensuing battle between the X-Men and the Hellfire Club. And second is the building up of Dark Phoenix.
The story actually trails issues before this one, where Jean Grey has been getting random dreams and flashes of being a queen with a man named Jason Wyngarde. After so many issues, Grey is fully tricked into being a queen and is brought to the Hellfire Club, where, along with Sebastian Shaw, Donald Pierce, Jason Wyngarde, and Harry Leland, she becomes the Black Queen.
The X-Men in a few issues prior, go to save Jean, but are all captured. Luckily, Wolverine had eluded capture earlier and breaks in to save the day – only to be stopped by Jean under Wyngarde’s control. All seems lost, but Jean removes a helmet Cyclops was forced to wear to withhold his powers, and he blasts the X-Men free. It seems as if Jean was able to beat Wyngarde’s control. . .
With the X-Men free, they begin battle against the Hellfire Club with awesome panels drawn by Byrne. Colossus takes on Pierce and rips off one of his robot arms, while Leland takes on Wolverine and loses, of course.
Cyclops and Shaw battle it out. Although Shaw could absorb Cyclops’ blasts, Summers plays it smart and blows out the floor beneath Shaw, forcing him to fall.
Storm and Nightcrawler take on Shaw from the lower level, where Storm tries freezing the Black King. Shaw grabs Nightcrawler and throws him at Storm preventing a full-freeze. Defeated, Shaw escapes with Pierce and Leland into a secret passage within the club.
As the story winds down, we see that Wyngarde was not who he was – but instead Mastermind, generating queen illusion to Jean, as well as making the fake image of Jason Wyngarde. Mastermind tries to figure out how he lost, and the readers discover that it was not Jean Grey at all. In fact, Mastermind was playing mind-games with the Phoenix force itself!
Angry for being tricked for so long by Mastermind, Phoenix decides to destroy him for what he has done. In result, the fake-Jean opened his mind into all the feelings and sensations the Phoenix felt around the universe. Unable to handle such immense power in his mind, Mastermind fell into a coma.
Escaping the club, the X-Men regroup to the Blackbird and begin to leave. Cyclops tries to figure out what was wrong with Jean as she also seemed to be short with him on their way to the jet. After a few moments of gathering themselves, the X-Men turn around to see Jean floating in a red costume proclaiming, “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever, I am Phoenix!”
And then the Blackbird blew up.
What a way to end a story, eh?
Claremont’s build up to such a dramatic story could not have been any better. No one, whether in the X-Men or the Hellfire Club could have known this was coming. Not even the readers knew, or were hinted at, that Jean Grey was not who she was. It came as a complete shock to all players for the comic.
Afterward, the Dark Phoenix Saga begins for a few issues, followed by the inevitable death of Jean Grey in issue #137, entitled “Phoenix Must Die!” I’m sure you’ve all seen the awesome cover. It’s also my profile picture on WordPress here.
One thing to definitely discuss is Bryne’s brilliant art throughout the comic. Panel-to-panel, the X-Men have to battle the Hellfire Club, and we have to see how each individual’s power affects the story. Wolverine versus Leland’s power to increase gravity to the people around him ended in failure as Wolverine jumped on Leland. Given his only was to generate weight, they both crashed through the floor, Leland obviously defeated.
Pierce’s battle with Colossus shows how Pierce just relies on brute strength rather than technique. The snapping of Pierce’s arm by Colossus’s technique brings one of those, “hell yes” moments to the page. Byrne’s great for that.
As for how X-men comics go, this was definitely one of the strongest X-Men comics I’ve ever read. X-Men, I’d argue, is my forté, so when I say this, I do mean it. Overall, this story – filled with plenty of surprises and great action – make obvious to why Claremont and Byrne’s run on the X-Men was so successful.
Keep on Space Truckin’.