In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
The X-Men Animated Series has prided itself on remaining faithful to the spirit of its many characters, even when it didn’t follow the comic stories verbatim. Several key episodes of the first two seasons, like “Days of Future Past,” were more “inspired” or “suggested” by the original comics than were straight-up adaptations, but in Season Three, the writers seemed to want to make things even more faithful towards the original source material with “The Phoenix Saga” and even moreso with its followup, “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which ran midway through the season. This adaptation of what is arguably the most famous X-Men storyline ever written is probably the closest the show ever got to a full-blooded adaptation of the comics and is so faithful to the original story that these episodes featured a nod to its original author, Chris Claremont, in the credits.
The “Dark Phoenix Saga” begins with “Dazzled,” an episode that picks up from the end of “No Mutant Is An Island” that revealed that Jean is alive and still harboring the Phoenix entity. The episode begins at Muir Island, where Xavier and Moira keep trying to make the Phoenix leave Jean’s body since its purpose was fulfilled at the end of the original “Phoenix Saga.” Unsuccessful, Xavier takes Jean home in hopes that being with her frines will help calm her. Meanwhile back in New York, Cyclops and Gambit take in a show, watching the mutant singer known as Dazzler, whom Scott helps out later on when she is threatened by a mysterious cybernetic-armed mutant and his gang of flunkies. Dazzler expresses her gratitude and invites him to her show the following night, and when Scott comes home, he and the rest of the team discover that Jean has returned. Scott is both relieved to see his beloved but bothered and discouraged that she remains distant from him. The mutant who tried to abduct Dazzler returns to his group, a collection of powerful mutants known as the Inner Circle, and after one of their members, a psychic named Emma Frost, tells them of the Phoenix, they make plans to try to take control of the entity for their own purposes. Another member of the Inner Circle named Jason Wyndgarde makes plans to seduce Jean / Phoenix using mind control so that they can woo her to their side.
At the Mansion, Xavier keeps trying to separate the Phoenix from Jean’s body, claiming that the Phoenix is becoming more dominant and is unwilling to leave her. Frustrated, Cyclops returns to the club he visited the previous night in order to protect Dazzler from the Inner Circle, and as Jean sleeps, Wyndgarde enters her mind, constructing a Harlequin-esque fantasy in which he rescues her from drowning and nurses her back to help on a Colonial-era ship. When Jean awakes, she follows Scott to the Club and is enraged when she sees him with Dazzler, drifting over to Wyndgarde and following him to the Inner Circle headquarters. He brings the rest of the team to their building, where Rogue witnesses a ceremony where Jean and Wyndgarde are wed. The team attempts to rescue Jean and are overpowered by the Inner Circle, ultimately betrayed by the Phoenix, who embraces her newfound relationship with Wyndgarde and is inducted into their club.
As an introduction to a larger story, “Dazzled” keeps many of the elements featured in the first parts of the original “Dark Phoenix” story, from the brief involvement of Dazzler (her official introduction in the comics) to Jean’s mental manipulation and indoctrination into the Inner Circle (who of course are better known as The Hellfire Club in the comics). The episode does a great job in distilling these story elements into one compact half hour that manages to find time to effectively sum up Jean’s history with the Phoenix in a flashback and establish just how much the entity is now harming Jean by sticking around. Judging from this introductory episode, the “Dark Phoenix Saga” just might contain the best episodes of the animated series that I have seen so far. “Dazzled” earns 4.5 out of 5 Scorched Bed Sheets.
Part two, entitled “The Inner Circle,” picks up with the titular group inducting Jean as their new Black Queen while Wolverine, the only member of the X-Men not taken captive, battles their henchmen in an attempt to get the drop on the Club’s sinister members. It doesn’t take long until jealousy and infighting takes the group over as Sebastian Shaw and Wyndgarde bicker over who will control the Phoenix, with Emma Frost warning them that it will take them over if they are not careful. Scott tries to use his psychic connection with Jean to snap her out of Wyndgarde’s control, which results in a duel between the two rivals taking place inside Jean’s mind in which Scott is mortally wounded thanks to the Phoenix’s interference, though his body doesn’t die due to his psychic connection to Jean. Wyngarde tries to persuade the Phoenix to destroy Scott, but her attempt is interrupted by Wolverine barging in. He is easily immobilized by the Phoenix, and Wyngarde tries to convince her to destroy Shaw so that he can take over the Inner Circle. The Phoenix then turns on Wyndgarde, escaping through the Club’s ceiling and leaving the X-Men to fight their way out. On the Club’s roof, Wyndgarde unsuccessfully tries to reclaim control of the Phoenix but is overpowered by her. Cyclops catches up to her, and she tells him that the taste of evil given to her by the Inner Circle has fully transformed her into anevil, amoral entity known as the Dark Phoenix.
“The Inner Circle” continues the mostly faithful adaptation of this story into one that fits a weekly, half-hour format for young viewers. One of the more striking aspects of the episode that impressed me that most was its visual tribute to one of the most iconic images of Wolverine from John Byrne’s legendary run on the title alongside Claremont. Unfortunately the promise of having Wolverine cut loose on the Inner Circle’s flunkies eventually devolved into having Wolverine recite lame dialogue that references the “Do You Feel Lucky?” scene from Dirty Harry and the “Here’s Johnny” scene from The Shining. It’s understandable that the creators of the show wanted to tone down the violence to make this more kid-friendly, but automatically turning Wolverine into a quipping quote machine just fell flat. Story-wise, there is way less going on here than in the much better prelude, as here we mostly just get falling action to serve as a bridge between Jean / Phoenix’s initial betrayal of her former friends and her complete transformation into the dark being that the X-Men will spend the rest of the storyline trying to stop. While there are a couple of cool moments here, including a fun though all too brief battle between the team and the Inner Circle, this episode suffers a bit as a singular piece while remaining important as a part of a larger storyline. “The Inner Circle” earns 3.5 out of 5 Purloined Turkey Legs.