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!
As stated in last week’s X-Men review, this show has always prided itself in being somewhat faithful to its comic book source material but went into full-on adaptation in Season Three with “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” The final two chapters continue the show’s reverent treatment to Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s most renowned X-Men epic, making minimal but extremely significant changes along the way to make it more palatable to young cartoon audiences. While there is at least one glaring but understandable amendment made, this five-part storyline remains impressively faithful to the spirit of the original story that ran in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men back in 1980.
The penultimate chapter of the Saga, appropriately entitled “The Dark Phoenix,” mostly deals with the X-Men trying unsuccessfully to convince the corrupted entity to leave Jean Grey’s body, having experienced evil emotions for the first time thanks to the Hellfire Club (sorry, the “Inner Circle”). This of course leads to a huge battle in Central Park, where the Dark Phoenix basically mops the floor with her opponents, experiencing even more exhilaration via physical conflict. Jean briefly regains control after Scott is knocked unconscious and she leaves, with other powerful figures within the Marvel Universe noticing the immense power she wields. As the Phoenix travels through space, she destroys an uninhabited star system and runs afoul of a Shi’ar spacecraft that sees her as a threat to all intergalactic life. This leads to Lilandra tasking the Imperial Guard with bringing the Phoenix to justice, convinced that the entity has been completely corrupted and must be destroyed. The Phoenix then returns to Earth and faces the X-Men again at the site of Jean’s childhood home, where Xavier enters Jean’s mind and successfully helps her to wrest control back from the Phoenix. Jean’s reunion with her friends is interrupted by the appearance of Lilandra and the Imperial Guard, who state that Jean and the Phoenix must be destroyed for the sake of the galaxy.
While not a completely literal adaptation of the penultimate confrontation between the team and the Phoenix, “The Dark Phoenix” captures the spirit of that part of the story nearly perfectly, showing the internal struggle felt by the whole team who wish to stop the Dark Phoenix while at the same time ensuring Jean’s safety. One particular scene shows Wolverine struggling with his duty towards his team and his unrequited feelings for Jean as he fails to capitalize on an opportunity to take the Phoenix down for good. The mental battle between the Phoenix and Xavier is visually impressive, albeit brief, and the cliffhanger ending packs quite a wallop given how hard-fought the X-Men’s victory was. All in all, “The Dark Phoenix” packs a great deal of drama, emotion, action, and pathos into a tight twenty-two minutes while heightening the stakes for its final chapter, just as the original story did in the comic. 4.5 out of 5 Literal Cyclops Dolls.
The final chapter of the Saga, entitled “The Fate of the Phoenix,” signals the biggest departure from its source material, as the storyline doesn’t end nearly as tragically as it did in the comic. Just like in the original story, Jean’s fate is decided by a trial by combat where the team faces the Imperial Guard in an official battle sanctioned by the Shi’ar and approved by both the Kree and the Skrulls. It is in this battle where Jean takes her own life in the original Claremont story in order to permanently eliminate the threat of the Phoenix, but here things end a lot happier with Jean completely vanquishing the entity from her body and reuniting with her team and her fiancee. This “Love Conquers All” ending to such an originally tragic storyline might be seen as a cop-out to fans of the comic, and admittedly it is less emotionally satisfying, but within the parameters of an animated television series primarily catered to children, it works just fine.
Understandably, Marvel did not want to end a multi-part storyline with the suicide of one of its characters, as that would set a poor example for the show’s young viewers, but even though the story ends happily, it does not shy away from the dark dilemma the team faces as they battle the Imperial Guard over Jean’s fate. There are several times during the episode where it seems that things will end badly for the team and for Jean, especially when the Dark Phoenix once again gains control of her body, which makes the eventual finale that much more satisfying on an emotional level. It’s rare when a kids’ cartoon that aired during this level steered so close to tragedy, and “The Fate of the Phoenix” should be commended for skirting this close to darkness before bringing us back to the light. 4.5 out of 5 “X-Men Stares.”