Phoenix Saga (Part 2): The Dark Shroud
Written by Mark Edward Edens
Summary: Shortly after the shuttle crashes into Jamaica Bay, Jean Grey emerges from the water wearing a new costume and proclaiming herself "The Phoenix." She collapses and is taken to the hospital. As she recovers, the X-Men are attacked by an evil apparition of Professor Xavier. He realizes that the alien scanning for his mind has broken down his psychic barriers, causing his dark side to emerge. Xavier travels to Muir Island for help, and shortly after his arrival, is greeted by the alien Lilandra. She explains that she needs Xavier’s aid, but is quickly interrupted by the Juggernaut.
- This episode adapts various events from Uncanny X-Men #101 and #106.
- Xavier meets Moira MacTaggert’s new boyfriend, Banshee, when he arrives on Muir Island. Their conversation is the first indication on the show that Xavier and Moira where once an item.
- Deadpool makes another cameo as one of the images from Wolverine’s past that Dark Xavier uses to torture him. Howard the Duck also appears, surprisingly enough, on Beast’s t-shirt in one scene.
“Um, Actually…”: In Uncanny X-Men #106, Dark Xavier is a side effect of the nightmares Xavier feels are driving him insane, placing the story before the X-Men even leave for space. Also, Lilandra comes to Earth in the cartoon with a stolen M’Kraan Crystal, while in the comics the X-Men encounter the Crystal after meeting the Shi’ar in space.
Review: For anyone who doesn’t know, Dark Xavier appears on less than three pages of Uncanny X-Men #106, which was an inventory issue awkwardly inserted into the original Phoenix storyline as a flashback story. Both Bill Mantlo and Chris Claremont are credited as writers, and since the style isn’t recognizably Claremont, I wonder if Claremont only wrote the framing sequence for the story. The real hook of that issue is seeing the New X-Men fight evil versions of the original team, with all of this talk of Xavier’s dark side tossed in at the end as a quickie rationalization. It’s not an obvious candidate to be adapted, but I guess the X-Men needed something to do before being sent off into space again. Admittedly, it’s the not most ridiculous element of the original storyline that could’ve been adapted. That would have to be the Cassidy Keep Leprechauns, who showed up during the team’s vacation in Ireland.
Since Classic X-Men skipped Uncanny X-Men #106, I had no idea as a kid that this Dark Xavier stuff actually came from the comics. That might’ve influenced my belief that it’s kind of a lame idea. Devoting over half of the episode to the X-Men fighting illusions just feels like obvious filler, plus the design of Dark Xavier is a bit silly. It’s just Xavier with a cape; an eeeviiil cape, I guess. Since the show had the benefit of hindsight, and a penchant for using Jim Lee designs whenever possible, I’m surprised Dark Xavier isn’t wearing the armor Xavier wore in Uncanny X-Men #275, the most recent example of an Xavier-as-villain fake-out. That could’ve been enough to sway my opinion as a kid.
Even if the action in the episode is largely pointless, that doesn’t mean the chapter is a total loss. For viewers ignorant of the comics, Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix is probably just as shocking as it was for comics fans in 1976. Fans of the cartoon aren’t used to seeing Jean do much of anything; now, she’s saving the entire team, exhibiting new powers, changing costumes, and speaking in the third person. That’s almost the equivalent of Cover Girl becoming the most important G. I. Joe. It’s just not something the audience would’ve ever expected. Edens also does an admirable job of creating tension amongst the team without overplaying his hand. Cyclops is angry with Xavier for sending the team into space with no clear objective in mind, which is pretty understandable considering what’s happened to Jean. Xavier, even in an episode that casts him as an unintentional villain, remains sympathetic during the argument (a skill contemporary Marvel writers lost years ago), and Beast is able to display his personality as the affable voice of reason. Beast and Wolverine also have a nice scene together, and Gambit (who’s expressing his concern for Jean by going to a nightclub) gets a few one-liners in. So, there are some entertaining moments, and the Juggernaut cliffhanger did a lot to revive my interest as a kid.