Artist: John Byrne
I have been an X-Men fan for years, and have recently decided to read both classic stories, as well as modern stories that I've always wanted to read. Due to this I thought I'd start here with one of the most important, and influential stories in the X-Men's history.
As the Hellfire Club try and take down the X-Men, with Jason Wyngarde trying to use Jean Grey against her fellow X-Men. However during this Jean is acting differently, and the Phoenix starts to take control of her.
This was a phenomenal story, being much better than I remembered. Chris Claremont did a outstanding job of balancing the story, as it was exciting, and dark, also having a lot of emotion throughout. I also loved it had a hint of the cheesy storytelling that was common back then, whilst it still being a very serious, and entertaining story. There was also a lot of depth to this story, as well as tons of drama, and suspense, and in this one story Claremont showed why he's considered one of the best X-Men writers of all time. I also loved how during the development stages of this story that Claremont managed to add some fun side stories, keeping the story fresh, and vibrant, whereas nowadays stories sometimes slow down, becoming boring. Claremont also did an excellent job with the characterisation, and he showed all the things I love about these characters (though he should have considering how long he was on the series).
The art on this story was simply beautiful, and John Byrne reminded me why he's one of the best artists to ever work on X-Men. The detail in his artwork was simply amazing, with everything being so vibrant, and fresh. Byrne also did a great job of showing the characters emotions, and especially between Jean, and Cyclops, with it being easy to tell what they, or the other characters were thinking. The layout of Byrne's art was also very dynamic, adding a lot of depth to the story, as well as more drama, and suspense. The action was also handled wonderfully as well, being very explosive, as well as exciting, and dramatic, as well as dynamic. The inks from Terry Austin, as well as the colours from Bob Sharen, and Glynis Wein, both helping Byrne's art stand out even more, and although I'm not generally a fan of pre-digital colouring, it worked perfectly on this story.
The main villains for most of this story would be the Hellfire Club, and although the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants may be the best group of villains that the X-Men have faced, Hellfire Club ate probably next on the list, being not far behind, having appeared in lots of great stories. This was one of them great stories, and I just loved the Hellfire Club in this story, as although they weren't as brilliant as they would be in future stories, they were still great, and the perfect villains. They gave so much depth, and suspense to the story, having a brilliant presence, and attitude. I also loved seeing a earlier version of Sebastian Shaw, as well as a evil Emma Frost, with them both being perfectly written, with amazing dialogue. I also loved seeing the X-Men fight the Hellfire Club, especially as they were at a disadvantage, making things more interesting.
This story would also introduce two characters who are well known now, and although their appearances weren't the best thing about this story, it was nice to be read their first appearance in a comic. I am of course talking about Kitty Pryde, and Dazzler, both who were targeted by the Hellfire Club. With Kitty being my favourite female X-Man it was nice to see her at a younger age, and she seemed very different, yet at the same time how I'd imagine her. I also loved seeing her adapt to her new powers, and how she reacted to the environment she was put in. Dazzler's first appearance was also amazing, as although I'm not a huge fan of the character, she's had some interesting appearances, and this was one of them.
Now I finally come to the main attraction of this story, the Phoenix, and how Jean Grey went from friendly X-Man, to the chaotic Dark Phoenix, who's hell bent on destroying the world. This has to be one of the most intense character developments that I've ever read, as there was so much depth, with darkness, and emotion when necessary, making for the perfect tone a comic book can have. I also loved how whenever the real Jean would shine through how you could see that she was just as scared as her fellow X-Men, being very dramatic, and emotional. The reaction of the X-Men themselves was also brilliantly handled, with the question over what should happen, showing that they understand the consequences of whatever their decision is, whilst also showing how hard that decision is.
Another group that would feature in this story would be the Shi'ar, who have a long history with the X-Men, also knowing what will come if the Phoenix continues to exist. Now I always love seeing the Shi'ar, and although this probably isn't their best appearance, it was still amazing, and added a great twist to the development of this story, also adding some amazing action, as well as balancing the possible future if the Phoenix exists. In addition to this I also loved seeing the interaction between Professor X, and Lilandra, which as always added it's own unique atmosphere to the story, as well as yet more depth, emotion, and suspense.
I'll finish by going slightly off from the story, and talk about the X-Men that featured in this story, as it wouldn't just have some of my favourite X-Men, but would have a mixture of both original, and newer X-Men. It was brilliant seeing Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm work along side Cyclops, and Jean as the current team, but the real treat was the addition of Beast, and Angel, and although they'd later return to the X-Men, due to them not being active roster members, it made it feel more of a all-star team when they all banded together near the end, making things much more exciting, and fun. The best thing however about all these characters was however how they were written, as they are all in the classic tone that I love, and although some of these traits have stuck with them, it's nice to see them all in full.
This is a true classic, and one of the best X-Men stories ever written, and although I've always liked it, re-reading it has just reminded me how phenomenal it actually is. It is dark, and gritty, with plenty of excitement, suspense, and drama, as well as great characterisation, and emotion, being evenly balanced. Due to all this it is extremely easy to recommend this story to anyone, whether you're a current X-Men fan or not, and if you saw X-Men: The Last Stand (which was based on this) and didn't like it, don't let that put you off this, as it's nothing like that.