You’re probably aware that the first issue of Avengers vs. X-Men came out this week. Technically the second issue since they had an issue #0, but you know what I mean. And if you are aware of that, you’re also probably aware that the big deal is about the Phoenix Force and how it relates to one Hope Summers.
What bothered me about the first issue (which I will get to when I finish up my eXaminations) was when Captain America went to Wolverine asking about the Phoenix Force. Wolverine gave a description about how it used Jean Grey as a host and she ended up having to kill herself to stop it. Besides being pretty mistaken on the facts of the original Phoenix Saga (again, wait for eXclamations on that note), I thought about how the usage of the descriptions of the Phoenix Force around this point have been inconsistent with what we’ve learned about it in the three decades since Jean first rose from Jamaica Bay all fiery and whatnot.
But then I realized that I didn’t really have a handle on just what exactly the Phoenix Force was. And I’m not a dumb comic nerd. I can explain Psylocke. I know the deal with BOTH Xorns. Hell, I could even tell you about post-Crisis Hawkman. Yet still I struggle with just what the deal is with Phoenix.
So for my sake, as well as yours, I’m going to go over what I know about the Phoenix. Sure, I could look it all up, but this is where I am coming from in my thoughts on the matter, so you, fair reader, will understand my AvX thoughts.
Phoenix was originally established by Chris Claremont as a means to upgrade the notoriously Silver Age Marvel Girl. I first learned this on a DVD that was included with Casey‘s copy of X-Men: The Last Stand. I also learned that Claremont’s a bit of a pervert.
Anyway, when Jean rose from the ashes, there was no cosmic force at stake. No ancient force that numerous galaxies knew of. The Phoenix was meant to be the maxed potential of Jean Grey. It’s the only thing I can say that god-awful third X-Men movie did right. Well, that and Kelsey Grammar as Beast.
Anyway, the ridiculous power within Jean ended up getting too much for her (thanks to the perversion of her psyche courtesy of Mastermind and the Hellfire Club) so she went crazy bonkers and headed into deep space looking for stuffs to do. What ended up tickling her fancy was devouring a star.
As luck would have it, a Shi’ar vessel was in the destructive path and sent message to Lilandra, who took her recently acquired Imperial Guard and told the X-Men that Jean would have to die for doing that. After all, a lot of asparagus-like people died in that act. So, long story short, the X-Men fight for Jean’s life, fail, but then she goes all Dark Phoenix again and kills herself rather than letting the power go out of control. The end.
That’s the story that Avengers vs. X-Men is telling as the reason that Hope needs to be contained should the Phoenix Force possess her, as it did poor Jean. But what frustrates me about this whole thing is how much more to the story there is, and how because of that, I’m not sure exactly what to think of the matter. So let’s move on.
Several years later, Marvel had an idea to launch X-Factor, in which the original X-Men would reunite and do old-school stuff, since none of them were in the more cutting edge Uncanny X-Men. The problem was that Jean was still dead and Marvel wasn’t interested in the book being a sausage fest. I’ve heard that Dazzler was considered to fill the role, but let me say that anything with Dazzler it probably would have sucked anyway, because she sucks. Just saying.
There was a mandate that Jean could not be revived without clearing her of the mass murdering she did as Dark Phoenix, and thus an idea (created by a young Kurt Busiek, interestingly enough) was put into place that Jean herself had not actually been Phoenix, but rather a cosmic force had heard her cry for help while trying to save the X-Men and created a duplicate of her body and mind while placing the original in a healing cocoon of suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay. Thus, when Jean needed to be brought back, it was a simple matter of having the Avengers go down and find her.
So thus we find that Phoenix was NOT Jean Grey, but rather a copy of her created by a sentient cosmic force, and her fall into madness and destruction came from an inability to correctly deal with human emotion. Can’t really blame it – most humans can’t deal with human emotions.
But X-Factor wanted to get some mystery out of Jean’s return, and thus subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints were thrown in that Jean was manifesting the “Phoenix Effect” (the giant fire bird) in times of extreme danger. This, however, faded out when Louise Simonson took over the title and gave it its own much-needed identity.
Over in Uncanny, Claremont himself was dealing with a Phoenix-based entity in the form of Rachel Summers. Rachel was the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey from an alternate future, and thus the inheritor of the Phoenix power. The problem here is that Rachel was created before the idea of Jean’s revival was in place. The Phoenix was intended to be naturally Jean, and thus Rachel had it too.
Eventually, it kind of got passed on that the Phoenix had decided to give Rachel some of its power since she was the offspring of its former host…or model…or whatever. Once Rachel was shuffled off to Excalibur, no one really cared about her anyway.
So after a while, there came a point where all the Jean Grey/Phoenix nonsense needed to be explained and thus Inferno gave us a crossover-flavored story to settle things once and for all. When Phoenix killed herself on the Moon, the Phoenix Force did not actually die, but rather returned to its “cosmic force” state. It then went to Earth to return what it had taken from Jean Grey in order to duplicate her (we’ll call it a chunk of soul for simplicity sake). But Jean, having seen the horrors caused by Dark Phoenix in her guise, denied the Force, making it dejectedly seek out someone else to take the goods. And wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Sinister had JUST created a clone of Jean and named her Madelyne Pryor.
With Maddie’s death, Jean accepted the part of the Phoenix she had originally denied, and thus inherited the memories of Phoenix and Madelyne. The idea was that bringing the entities all together would attempt to restore the original story’s depth that had been lost with the revelation that Phoenix wasn’t actually Jean. They were all her – Jean and Cyclops were together. Shut up.
But then some weird stuff started to flicker up here and there. Over in Excalibur, Rachel Summers was still using the Phoenix Force all over the place, until finally she got shot out of a plot point into the future to become Cable’s godmother or something and then die, but not die, and come back thanks to Cable and show back up possessed or something. Rachel Summers really is a headache. And we’ll unfortunately have to get back to her.
Writers seemed intrigued by the concept of “what would happen if Jean lost control of the Phoenix power again?” seemingly forgetting that the original story had been changed to have it not be Jean at all, but rather the big cosmic force floating around. The first big flare of it was in what I refer to as the Dark Ages of the X-Men, post Operation Zero Tolerance when Steven Seagle was writing Uncanny X-Men.
The story saw Cyclops calling in the original X-Men because Jean had been manifesting Phoenix abilities and even started wearing the costume again. Unfortunately, none of this went anywhere and the whole thing was quickly forgotten when the reset button was hit and Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Colossus were shuffled back to the team to kick sales up.
The next Phoenix hit came in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men in which Jean had become the host of the Phoenix Force once again, seemingly off-panel. Perhaps it had always been there. Anyway, Jean got the full cosmic deal during Planet X when Wolverine killed her to save her the pain of burning up in the sun. She rose from the ashes (get it?) and saved the day, only to be killed (for reals, I guess) by Magneto, who was actually Xorn, who had been pretending to be Magneto, pretending to be Xorn.
The follow up to this whole mess was Morrison’s last New X-Men story “Here Comes Tomorrow” and hell if I know what he was trying to get at with it. It was a lot of Morrison-style nonsense that had a bunch of Phoenix hosts, including Kid Omega, and future battles, and none of it really made any sense. But from there, Jean pushed Cyclops to hook up with Emma Frost and reopen the X-Mansion as a school.
Shortly thereafter, Greg Pak and Greg Land put out a mini-series called Phoenix Endsong in which the Phoenix Force was shown to be healing itself from its most recent death, only to be forced into a state of life by the Shi’ar in order to destroy it once and for all. This time the Phoenix Force was a hunger for power, and Jean Grey’s corpse, Emma Frost, Cyclops and Quentin Quire all showed up to serve as hosts.
The series ended with more questions than answers to the matter, so a follow up series called Phoenix: Warsong was put out in which the Stepford Cuckoos were revealed to be clones of Emma Frost and the three remaining girls each possessed a piece of the Phoenix in their hearts, which they turned to diamond, which left them without emotions. It was a truly horrible story that made absolutely no sense and nearly ruined several characters. The whole thing was quietly forgotten.
So with allthat going on, you then have Rachel Summers connecting with her (Jean Grey’s) family until the Shi’ar show up and kill pretty much every single one of them. The logic is that Jean Grey was the host for the Phoenix, so thus if all the Greys are dead, no human host can exist. Uh huh. Rachel ended up with a Phoenix tattoo on her back as a means of tracking her through her connection to the Force. During a mission in space, she was drawn to a mercenary named Korvus who carried a giant sword containing the essence of the Phoenix Force. And they did the horizontal mambo.
So that’s where the Phoenix thing was when this whole thing started getting planned out. Rachel Summers had a connection to it, Korvus had it in his sword, and the Stepford Cuckoos literally hardened their hearts to keep it in. And what did they do? They yanked the Phoenix Force from all of that and said its going somewhere else.
So what is the final point of all of this? Whatever happens with Hope and the Phoenix Force during Avengers vs. X-Men, it can’t be any worse than the crap they’ve done with it since the original story.