Uncanny X-Men 129-137
Written by Chris Claremont
Drawn by John Byrne
Published by Marvel Comics
Fire, life incarnate, etc.
If there is one X-Men story you should read to try and understand anything that came afterwards, The Dark Phoenix Saga is it.  There is a lot of hype in superhero comics.  But in an industry where the status quo is king, this is a story whose repercussions have lasted for almost thirty-five years.  It’s important.  This is the story that introduced Kitty Pride.  It introduced Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, a central antagonist.  This was the story where Wolverine finally came into his own as a character, shifting in one issue from whiny creep to the premier mysterious badass anti-hero of the Marvel Universe.  This is the story where the X-Men stop being just another team of super-heroes and became something greater.  Fortunately, it’s also one of the best stories Marvel has ever produced.
The story is actually a good jumping-on point, too.  It opens with the X-Men reunited for the first time after a fight with Magneto left them separated, and assuming that each other were dead.  Jean Grey has been having strange visions, which she assumes come from her semi-possession by The Phoenix, an energy being of incredible psychic power.  She is in fact being manipulated by Jason Windgarde, a mutant and member of the Hellfire Club, who wants to manipulate her for his own ends.  The Hellfire Club is a society of the elite, but their Inner Circle are a secret society of rich and powerful mutants seeking more.  And they attempt to control the Phoenix to do it.  I won’t spoil any further, except to say that the saga ends with a epic battle on the mood between the X-Men and three space empires for the fate of Jean Grey, and the Universe itself.
Claremont and Byrne are at the top of their game here, and their work here echoes through the Marvel Universe to this day.  In reading through this collection, I was surprised at how familiar some of the art and story seemed, because it has been referenced so heavily.  And not without good reason.  From the point he came onto the series as writer, Claremont built to something more for these characters than ‘Teenagers sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them!’ from the original run.  This is what he builds to.  The Dark Phoenix Saga is an examination of the uses of privilege and power.  The Hellfire Club use their power against others, especially other mutants, because they expect that they are above repercussions.  Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, actually builds Sentinel robots, never even thinking he’d ever be hunted by one.  At the end of the series, the X-Men, and specifically Jean are left with a choice between the embrace of god-like power and their humanity.  The choice they make is subtle and intriguing.  And while the impact of that decision has been undone many times since, (most recently in the mega-crossover Avengers vs. X-Men) The Dark Phoenix Saga is still required reading for long-time and new comics readers alike.

In addition to the graphic novel, the podcast Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-Men was an invaluable resource for this review.  Check out their excellent weekly show HERE!