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DOES X-MEN’S ‘DARK PHOENIX SAGA’ STILL HOLD UP? | COMIC BOOK SPOTLIGHT

The Dark Phoenix Saga is often considered to be one of the best and most influential storylines in not just the X-Men franchise, but in the entire comic book medium. Since it was first released in the early 80s the storyline has influenced countless other X-Men stories and has had an effect on its characters and history to this day. It has been adapted into two different live action films, as well as, two story arcs for two different X-Men animated series. And with the latest live-action X-Men film taking another crack at the story, what better time could there be to ask questions about the source material. Mainly this: Does the original Dark Phoenix Saga still hold up?

For those of you who may not be aware, the Dark Phoenix Saga was an extended X-Men storyline that ran in the Uncanny X-Men #129-138 throughout 1980 by the X-Men powerhouse creative team that was Chris Claremont and John Byrne. The storyline itself was more or less a continuation of the original Phoenix Saga which was also told in the Uncanny X-Men series, running from Issues #101-108. In that story, iconic X-Men member Jean Grey merged with a cosmic being known as The Phoenix and together the two saved the universe with the process apparently killing the two. Later on, however, Jean resurrected, taking up the new name, Phoenix and rejoined the X-Men. And this is where the Dark Phoenix Saga really started.

The storyline itself focuses on Jean and the other X-Men as they search for new mutants after Professor X returns to the X-Men from an extended absence. At the same time, the higherups of a secret, Illuminate-like organization known as The Hellfire Club began to hatch a scheme to manipulate Jean to become one of their members while planning to rid the world of the X-Men once and for all. Unfortunately, their plans have unintended side effects which allow Jean to access the full range of her Phoenix abilities, endangering not only those around her but the entire universe as well. And to answer the question from earlier, yes. The story absolutely does hold up and it’s easy to see why the book is considered to be such a classic. And yet, at the same time, it doesn’t.

You see, the actual plot of The Dark Phoenix Saga is otherwise solid. It mainly concerns the version factions within the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe battling for control of Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force. The X-Men themselves are just trying to protect their friend. The Hellfire Club wants her to expand their own power. Jean herself eventually decides what she wants is at odds with everyone else and an additional faction comes into play with motivations of their own. And pretty much all of this is about as good as you would expect from a comic by Chris Clairmont in the early 80s. The challenges that the X-Men face within the book itself never stop being fun. The antagonists’ powers and strategies have a nice variety to them. The actual issues keep the reader engaged with plenty of action and constantly escalates the stakes. But, above all else, it knows how to invest the reader into the characters and their fates. And that’s where the story comes in and where things get a bit…debatable.

The actual story revolves around what is essentially the corruption and fall of Jean Grey. And this, unfortunately, is where the book gets into the eye-raising territory in terms of its themes and execution. Essentially Jean’s arc in The Dark Phoenix Saga can be summed up by calling it a good girl goes bad story and that would be fairly accurate. Before the events of the Phoenix Saga, the character of Jean Grey was about as milk toast as you could possibly get. She was the standard issue good girl character that writers love to use in love triangles or as a means of developing an otherwise loose cannon male character but are seldom interesting on their own terms. But then Jean gets her Phoenix powers and suddenly she’s not quite the wonder bread good girl she was in previous stories. This manifests in two way throughout the book. Jean has more power and seems to get more agency as a character than she otherwise had before. The second is that she seems to be more sexually adventurous than she was in previous books. The problem is that the creative team seems to view this as an absolute negative and this is where it gets a bit cringeworthy.

As the story goes on, Jean essentially becomes the most powerful member of the X-Men. She’s ultimately the one who defeats Emma Frost in the first act of the story and the X-Men can’t even come close to defeating her when the Hellfire Club turns her against them. In addition, this expansion of her power is signified by not so subtle ques of her…well essentially allowing her freak flag to fly. Early on in the story she ends up at a night club with Cyclops and keeps reading everyone’s minds, discovers that they all have sex on their minds and she’s kind of into it. Right after this, she materializes her and Scott’s uniforms out of thin air much to Scott’s shock and concern and her storyline goes on like that. It directly connects Jeans increasing power to her increasing sexual desires before they drop all subtlety and just turn her into a straight up dominatrix midway through the story.

Later on, they drive the point completely home in the last two issues of the Saga. In it they completely manage to suppress the Phoenix side of her, essentially reverting her to the character she was before she obtained the Phoenix force. It’s at this point that the X-Men are once again fully ready to fight and die for her once again. Not the powerful sexually driven Phoenix, but the milk toast Jean Grey that everyone loves. They even give her her old Marvel Girl outfit from the older X-Men comics just to make sure nobody missed the metaphor and the whole thing is very weird and uncomfortable.

Now, to be clear, it’s highly unlikely that Chris Claremont and John Byrne are or were sexist. One only need look at all the female characters the two created and the way they two wrote them to form a solid argument against that. It’s also worth noting that they try to get ahead of this with Professor X saying that the absolute power of the Phoenix will corrupt absolutely and do briefly dig into this idea. But the Dark Phoenix Saga does contain a lot of tropes that, if used in a modern story, would absolutely be considered sexist. It’s basically a storyline about a woman who gets power, discovers that she likes sex and is into less vanilla stuff before going nuts. But the weird thing about it though is that it never quite crosses into a full-blown sexist territory and still, on the whole, works as a story.

The storyline itself, of course, mainly centers on Jean and her transformation and it’s very debatable as to how well all of that stuff holds up. However, a good chunk of the story also revolves around the supporting characters as well and this is where the book is just flat out great. Cyclops’ reactions to all of this helps to cement him as the team’s biggest prick, (he’s the only one who seems to object to Jean becoming more powerful and more aggressive), but for the other characters, it’s a bit more complicated. Essentially, they’re watching one of their oldest friends turn into an unstoppable force of nature and the story is also about them trying to figure out how to deal with it. Wolverine still has feelings for Jean and isn’t sure that he’ll be able to do what needs to be done for perhaps the first time in his life. Storm views her as a sister and even Professor X feels like he’s failed one of his children by not preventing this from happening. And even if the means to get there are a bit cringeworthy, the actual drama surrounding these characters and how they deal with having to fight a surrogate sister is possibly the most compelling part of this entire endeavor.

There are, however, some aspects of the book that just flat out don’t work and/or don’t hold up. There are a lot of character moments that are done in a single thought bubble and rarely seem to be the focus of the panel often feeling like background noise. It has a weird tendency to explain what is going on in the panels even though the artwork clearly conveys what is going on. It also contains constant massive dumps of exposition that turns it into a bit of a slog to read. It’s not a deal breaker, but the style will undoubtedly cause some whiplash if say you’re coming from reading the latest X-Men story from Jonathan Hickman, and really shows how much the medium has changed over the past forty years. But if you can get past this initial hurdle it is absolutely worth checking out.

This, of course, leads us back to that initial question. Does the Dark Phoenix Saga still hold up? And, once again, the answer is yes and no. It’s kind of hard to look at Jean’s arc in the story and not see a “women shouldn’t have power” message or “women who are sexually empowered are bad” ideology behind it. And in today’s political climate, the #metoo movement, and the general rise of more left-oriented ideologies in mass-marketed fiction, it’s kind of hard not to see the Dark Phoenix Saga as part of the problem. But the actual plot itself and the drama the characters go through is still solid stuff and it’s easy to see why the book has remained an influential storyline for so long. It’ll be interesting to see just how future generations look at and interpret the book but the question of whether or not The Dark Phoenix Saga still holds up is one that is going to result in a very long and complicated answer.

RELATED: Lucifer: Book Two | One Hell Of A Read | Comic Book Spotlight

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Square Enix Stands Atop At E3 2019

Square finally got to their part of the E3 conference and they absolutely took the ball and ran with it. After some rather lackluster, and nothing incredibly outstanding or new to show, Square completely flipped that around and gave us an absolutely outstanding E3 conference.

We kicked things off with a trailer for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Now, this has so much hype leading into it and we got a real in-depth look into the gameplay today. We were shown how switching works and how the new ATB system works which even allows for the game to become more tactical, so the game’s far from a hack and slash. We were treated to the first boss battle as well and it looked outstanding, it had 3 phases with each being different from the last. If this is what this game is going to be like when it comes out it could go down as one of the best games of all time. It’s showing crazy potential at the moment and just looks outstanding. After being shown the release date of 3/3/2020, we finally got a look at Tifa, and not just a look at her model either, we saw her all out in gameplay and what she is capable of. This moment has been long awaited and it certainly did not disappoint even in the slightest. It also had a playable demo at E3 for those that were there. We also got a glimpse of the deluxe and first-class edition, the first-class edition looks expensive but a must have for any fan of the game.

After this we were treated to a nice trailer for Life is Strange 2 that looked pretty great, as well as a trailer for the, remaster of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles featuring new online multiplayer. Octopath Traveller now on PC got a spot, and a personal favourite of mine, The Last Remnant remastered is out now on Nintendo Switch, which is amazing.

We then got a bit shown off for Dragon Quest Builders 2 releasing later this month, which should be pretty fun like the first one; as well as another trailer for the Switch release of Dragon Quest 11, a game which while almost a year old has gathered hype for a switch port.

They showed a funny little trailer for the FF music being on Spotify too, which this I love having access to. Kingdom Hearts 3 has its DLC trailer shown again to good results as it looks to fill in gaps missing from the base game and give it a fully fleshed out experience much like the Final Mixes of the past.

FFXIV had a big trailer for its new expansion pack which is looking great, if there’s any MMO to play right now it certainly is FFXIV. The games been a massive success and will likely be for years to come. We also got a short look at Dying Light 2 continuing what we saw at the Xbox conference.

Saga Scarlet Grace and Romancing Saga were shown to finally be released in the West likely due to fan demand showing that they really listen to what people wanted unlike Nintendo, and its never bringing Mother 3 to the West.

Outriders from the Bulletstorm creators; People Can Fly was shown but we didn’t see much in terms of gameplay, however, knowing the companies awesome history I have some pretty good hopes for it. It comes in Summer 2020. Oninaki was also shown and releasing in August of this year.

Now, this probably isn’t as big a deal to some as it is to me, but Final Fantasy 8 is being remastered and put onto modern gen consoles later this year. It’s a personal favourite of mine and I am super hype to see that it is still getting love and support in now its 20th anniversary.

But this here, this is the big one. The Avengers game was shown and we got a glimpse into what the story is going to be about. From what we can tell, the Avengers have sabotage causing people to blame them and eventually outlaw them. The game is based on a completely original story as well, which is always good; and features the talents of people like Nolan North as Tony Stark and Troy Baker as Bruce Banner. So far it seems Captain America, Thor, Ironman, Black Widow, and Hulk are playable, but they’ve announced more to come, and any in-game updates that bring characters will be completely free. The game sports an up to four players online mode on top of all of this and has a release date of May 15th, 2020. This to me was the show stealer of E3, as well as Final Fantasy 7 as one is a long-awaited remake and the other is finally a new game of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that we have all been needing through all of this movie hype.

Overall easily by leaps and bounds the best E3 conference so far, Square Enix knocked it out of the park.

RELATED: Ubisoft Wins Big At E3 2019 | Watch Dogs Legion | Rainbow Six Quarantine | Ghost Recon Breakpoint | More

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Ubisoft Wins Big At E3 2019 | Watch Dogs Legion | Rainbow Six Quarantine | Ghost Recon Breakpoint | More

Kicking off day 2 of E3 is Ubisoft, now this one shall be interesting as they have already said there is no Assassins Creed this year. Could we be seeing more on things like Watch Dogs 3 or a new Ghost Recon? It’s about time to see that now. They kicked off the show with a whole Symphony conducted to Assassins Creed music.

The trailer to kick off E3 is the trailer for Watch Dogs: Legion, the game seems to be based in a post-Brexit London. Now I didn’t like the first Watch Dogs game but the second was so much better than the first, so I am looking forward to seeing how this third game of the series goes down. Hopefully, it keeps up the good potential. Its gameplay seemed to be pretty more of the same from what we normally get in the franchise. The game seems to allow you to play as multiple characters though, which is awesome, once people die they are permanently dead and you have to switch to a new character. They seemed to heavily focus on this game so its definitely the big game for the year.

Watch Dogs trailers kept playing for a while and they showed more of the people that you have a chance to control and how everyone works differently. Also how when people die and how they affect the story if they die. I think this is actually a lovely touch. Easily the best character seems to be the old lady whose an ex-assassin. It finally ended by saying the game is coming March 6th, 2020

After this we had Rob McElhenney of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame show the new show Mythic Quest, which is about the development team of a huge MMO game. It’s done by much of the Always Sunny cast and it’s being assisted by Ubisoft to give it a more authentic touch. This show actually could be great and has been my favourite part of the conference so far.

This was then followed up by showing what is coming in Year 4 of Rainbow Six Siege; talking about new operators and showed a clip of the new season in action. This game’s had a strong following for years so its good to see it still getting support.

After this we got more showed for Brawlhalla ending out showing a Crossover between Adventure Time and Brawhalla which is definitely something that I didn’t see coming. Though the game seems to be doing pretty well for itself so it is good to keep adding stuff like that to it.

Then we got a trailer for the new Ghost Recon staring John Bernthal of The Walking Dead and The Punisher fame. The name of the game is Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, after the clip Bernthal was actually on stage to talk about the game.

They also announced Ghost Recon: Delta Company which allows the community to have help streaming and things such as that. Which certainly is never a bad thing either. The games beta goes live September 5th and the game comes out on October 4th. They also announced that there will be something to do with a Terminator in game.

Just Dance 2020 got a trailer too, which is crazy how big of a deal this game series is still to this day. It was a big thing to show off the 10th anniversary for the franchise as well; I will be honest, I thought the franchise was a bit older than that. The game’s still on Wii too, which is crazy that something is still being developed for the Wii given that its two generations ago now.

Next up was a trailer for an upcoming For Honor event, they actually did a pretty good job at saving that game from how poorly it was received at launch. So its good to see that the game is actually still alive and well. The event is called Shadows of Hotokiri.

We were then treated to a trailer for what looks to be a new horror game. Which is actually the new Rainbox Six coming up called Quarantine which seems to be a three-person co-op game, giving the vibes of the trailer it seemed to be a zombie based game.

The Division 2 seemed to be the next focus, showing more content that would be coming to the game because of its strong community. For this week from the 13th to the 16th, it will be free to play as well. Seems the big content update coming is based around adding way more new areas instead of just being around Washington. Seems it will be released in episode packs and they have already shown off parts of episodes 1, 2 and 3. They also showed that the Division Movie will be done with Netflix as well.

Ubisoft announces Uplay+ which is a new subscription service that allows people to have early access to Ubisoft’s catalogue on PC. The price will be 14.99 a month, which seems to be the common price and getting to be a bit much I think. Everyone is starting to get their own service which may oversaturate the market. We are already seeing this in tv and movie streaming services and games may be next to this way. It will even be available on Google Stadia, which makes sense since it was Ubisoft who have spoken out the most about streaming being the future of gaming.

Next trailer was for a Roller Derby game; this could actually be pretty fun if done right. The game is called Roller Champion, the game seems to be very team and PVP based, and the game has its demo launched. They then showed a gameplay trailer for it and it looks like it could be great if it’s not buggy that is.

Finally the Ubisoft CEO came on stage thanking all the teams for what they had to show throughout this conference and of course thanking the community. He then announced a new project that is based on old mythology. The game was called Gods and Monsters and it will be released Feb 2020. It had a pretty basic design, but that was it for the conference, and it was pretty good. Some awaited announcements and good additions to current games.

RELATED: Bethesda Rundown | E3 2019

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