Dark Phoenix

April 06, 2013

Too often, the worst villains are the best-known characters. The Dark Phoenix, main antagonist of one of the most seminal stories ever told anywhere, anyhow, is a pop culture icon, spawning copycat plots in film and television.

Her evilness is off the scales. Marvel Comics editor Jim Shooter even likened her to Hitler. The comparison is not inaccurate; in a cosmic fit, the Dark Phoenix ravaged an entire solar system, decimating innocents by the billions. Shooter refused to put Jean Grey—the Dark Phoenix's mutant human alter-ego—back on Marvel's pages for this act.    

Jean Grey first made contact with God the Phoenix Force, the alien entity representing life in the universe, as she was dying of radiation from a space mission with the X-Men. The Force saved Jean, and an ineluctable bond was formed between them as a result. Later, a brush with the Hellfire Club corrupted and forced the latent being out of Jean. Worlds hung on a balance, but Jean ultimately overrode her 'evil side' long enough to commit suicide, saving everybody.

Shooter felt that death was the only atonement for Jean's genocidal spree. But writer Kurt Busiek was able to pitch Marvel a scenario in which Jean and the Dark Phoenix were separate beings, the former healing all those years in a cocoon-like structure on the Jamaica Bay bed. The result was one of the most dramatic retcons in comic-book history.

Jean has since died again. But as with the namesake mythical creature, we'd learn better than to count the Dark Phoenix out.

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