[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“Child of Light and Darkness”
It’s the penultimate chapter of the Dark Phoenix Saga, so again the narrative tension slackens. The fight between the X-Men and Phoenix is essentially a reprise of their battle from the previous chapter, and ends the same way. Mostly we’re being geared up here for the finale next issue.
However, this issue is noteworthy for its final sequence, brilliantly executed by Claremont and Byrne. It begins on page 13, with Cyclops making a verbose plea for Phoenix to rediscover the Jean Grey part of herself. The word “love” is hammered home repeatedly: “You can’t kill us because you love us. And we love you. ... For love of the X-Men, you sacrificed your life. For love of me, you resurrected yourself. For love of the whole universe, you almost died a second time to save it. Know nothing of love?! Jean, you are love!” Claremont is deploying his by-now familiar verbosity and sentimentality, lulling the reader into believing Scott will have to succeed in talking Jean down.
Meanwhile, Claremont leaves the sneaky stuff to Byrne, who in panels 3 and 5 of the same page is ever-so-subtly telling his own story: the arrival of Professor X and Angel on the scene. The surprise sucker-punch comes on the next page, when Jean, absorbed in Scott’s saccharine appeal to her good side, is struck down psychically by Charles. The fantastic aspect of the sequence, besides its shock value, is that neither the readers nor the characters will now ever know if Cyclops’ approach would have succeeded.
The psi-war on page 15, again recalling the “Psi War” between Xavier and Farouk in issue 117, is an excellent use of continuity for readers who’ve been there that long. Once again, as in the White Queen vs. Phoenix duel in issue 131, Phoenix is made analogous to Farouk, the megalomaniac villain. This is why Byrne and Claremont’s “Psi War” story was necessary in the first place. That story’s seemingly arbitrary insertion in between parts of the extended Neal Adams homage was a stealthy bit of foreshadowing, setting us up for the outcome of the present chapter. Just as Xavier won that fight, he also wins this one.
Thus, Jean is healed, Scott proposes marriage, she accepts (in dialogue that cleverly recalls their post-coital conversation in issue 133), while all around the couple, X-Men both old and new gather in a dramatic tableau alongside Jean’s family. Xavier asks John Grey for some tea, and there’s where there could’ve been a happy ending.
Instead, we get one last cliffhanger, launching us into the finest single issue of X-Men that Claremont and Byrne – and, arguably, anyone else – ever produced.