Note: this was a post originally written in May of 2016 on my since-deleted Tumblr account. This was obviously before the release of 2019’s “Dark Phoenix” film.
I’ve gone back in and corrected a few typos and made a few other minor tweaks for clarification, and added some updates at the end.
12 days before the release of X-Men: Apocalypse in US theatres.
In response to the rumor of Phoenix appearing in the X-Men: Apocalypse film, a customer at work (I’m currently employed at a comic store) asked if I was excited at the prospect of seeing Phoenix in the movies.
Nope. I am not. And not just because of the mess of X3: The Last Stand. I’m just tired of seeing the Phoenix Force, and wish Marvel would retire it for at least a decade.
Ever since the original Phoenix storyline (Uncanny X-Men #101-137, 1976-1980), we’ve seen the Phoenix appear every few years, beginning with Uncanny X-Men #142, when we meet Rachel Summers in the Days of Future Past storyline. Rachel is the daughter of Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force, raised by Jean and Scott Summers/Cyclops (according to writer/creator Chris Claremont, on episode 200 of the podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men).
In Uncanny X-Men #168, we meet Madelyne Pryor, who is eventually revealed to be a clone of Jean Grey. But before that, in Uncanny X-Men #174, Scott asks if Madelyne is Jean. Maddy responds by punching him, and turning into the Dark Phoenix. #175 reveals that it’s all been a manipulation by Mastermind, but we’re not even three years out of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and already we’re getting reminders.
Rachel eventually makes her way to modern-day time in 1984′s Uncanny X-Men #184. Just 15 months later, 1985′s Uncanny X-Men #199 shows Rachel becoming the host for the Phoenix Force, which she remained until 1994, mostly throughout the pages of X-Men spin-off title, Excalibur, a comic that covered the adventures of a handful of heroic mutants in England.
Meanwhile, throughout the pages of another X-Men spin-off title, X-Factor (1986), a comic that saw the original 5 X-Men splinter off and have their own adventures, the original Jean Grey returned, but since that series dealt with the relationship and love triangle of Jean, Scott, and Madelyne, there were PLENTY of reminders of the Phoenix Saga, there were plenty of reminders of the whole ordeal, until the team’s lineup change in 1991′s X-Factor #71.
In 1994, Fox Kids aired episodes of the X-Men animated series adapting The Phoenix Saga and The Dark Phoenix Saga storylines.
In 1995, the Phoenix Force invaded Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse (Marvel had recently acquired Malibu comics, and for a while sought to cross over the two worlds) in a story called Phoenix Resurrection.
In 1998′s Uncnany X-Men #354, Jean Grey adopted the codename “Phoenix,” and went back to wearing the green-and-gold Phoenix outfit from Uncanny X-Men #101. In issue #301, she adopted a new red-and-gold outfit reminiscent of the Dark Phoenix outfit, and kept the “Phoenix” codename, until Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men (the secondary X-Men monthly comic) beginning in 2001′s issue #114. In issue #128, we learn that the Phoenix Force has once again taken residence inside of Jean Grey, and until she’s again killed in #150. The next issue begins the “Here Comes Tomorrow” story, which lasts for 4 issues, and part of that story deals with facing the Dark Phoenix 150 years in the future. That story was published in 2004.
But in 2003, the film X2: X-Men United was released, teasing that Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey had adopted the Phoenix Force.
In 2005, Marvel published X-Men: Phoenix: Endsong, a 6-issue miniseries dealing with the Phoenix Force resurrecting Jean Grey’s body yet again, and the core team of X-Men trying to defeat it once again.
Also in 2005, the Age of Apocalypse Xth Anniversary story focused on that reality’s Jean Grey being resurrected and saving North America from destruction thanks to the Phoenix Force.
In early 2006 (Uncanny X-Men #466-471), the Shi’ar Death Commandos descended upon Earth to destroy all traces of the Grey family, hoping the Phoenix Force would not be resurrected ever again.
Also in 2006, X-Men: The Last Stand was released, a film that told a…”modified” version of the Dark Phoenix Saga.
Throughout late 2006 and early 2007, X-Men: Phoenix: Warsong was released, a sequel to the Endsong series from the year before, which ends with Emma Frost’s protégé’s, the Stepford Cuckoos, keeping the Phoenix Force within a portion of themselves, encased in diamond.
In 2010, the Phoenix Force finally left the girls. But in that same year, during the Second Coming crossover event, Hope Summers’ powers manifested in the shape of a phoenix-like firebird, teasing that she would become the next host of the Phoenix Force.
And in 2012, Avengers vs X-Men was a story that pitted Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes against the Merry Mutants, all focused around what to do about a returning Phoenix Force. THAT story ended with the seeming destruction of the Phoenix Force, but if you’ve read this entire post, you can see that we’ve barely had a break from the Phoenix since it was first introduced FORTY YEARS AGO. And these are just quick bullet-point highlights!
So, no. I am not interested in seeing the movies tell stories about the Phoenix Force. The concept of the character is cool, and it’s interesting that so much has been done with it, but leave the Phoenix alone for a while, and tell some new stories. It’ll rise from the ashes, but give us at least a decade off.
(Written May 2016, edited in 2021.)
In the five years since I wrote this post, the Phoenix force has already appeared a handful of other times:
During the last week of 2017 and released weekly through January of 2018, Marvel released a comic titled Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Astute readers will remember that “Phoenix Resurrection” is a recycled title from the Phoenix Force’s appearance in the Malibu/Marvel crossover in 1995.
Introduced in Marvel Legacy #1 in September of 2017 and continuing in the first issue of the eighth volume of The Avengers the following May, writer Jason Aaron has included flashback stories showcasing the events of a team of heroes assembled in 1,000,000 BC. They include the demon that possesses the Ghost Rider, the first Black Panther from Wakanda, Odin the Allfather, the first Iron Fist, Agamatto the being whose eye modern-day Doctor Strange wears around his neck, the original Starbrand, and “Lady Phoenix,” the (apparent) first Earth-host of the Phoenix Force.
In 2019, the sequel to the X-Men: Apocalypse film that inspired this original post was released, titled simply, Dark Phoenix. It was a more accurate adaptation than X3: The Last Stand, but still not as good as the X-Men animated series adaptation from the 1990s.
And, most recently, in a story taking place in issues 38-44 of that same Avengers title, there has been a storyline called “Enter: The Phoenix,” where the Phoenix Force is holding a tournament of heroes to determine who will be its next host, since it was rejected by Jean Grey. That story just finished in April 2021.
And this doesn’t even include all the What If…? issues, the mentions of the Phoenix during Brian Michael Bendis’ All-New X-Men story from 2012-2015, or the Jean Grey solo series from 2016-2017 about a time-displaced teenage Jean Grey living in the modern day, learning about what the future will hold for her, including her relationship with the Phoenix.
Look, The Dark Phoenix Saga was one of the most important stories of the X-Men’s history. But after the concept has been re-visited SO MANY TIMES SINCE, I just don’t even care anymore.
Just put the damn firebird away for a while.
Incidentally, I never saw the X-Men: Apocalypse movie. But I did see Dark Phoenix, and I didn’t care for it.