The Dark Phoenix Saga has been retold many times since its original run in the Marvel X-Men comics back in 1980. Penned by Chris Claremont and inked by John Byrne, it is considered a classic within the superhero comic genre. It tells the story of how Jean Grey, one of the founder members of the X-Men, becomes infused with a powerful cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force and how she wrestles to control her vastly increased psychic abilities. She is then manipulated by a group known as the Hellfire Club and as a result, her life takes a deadly turn.
The story was adapted for the X-Men animated series from the ’90s, and was alluded to/reworked for the show Wolverine and the X-Men and in the film X-Men: The Last Stand. Of all of these versions, only the first came close to capturing the feel of the original comics. Next month will see the release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix and only time will tell if it is able to do the story justice or if it will be consigned to the trash like the Last Stand should have been.
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With the new film approaching Titan Books has released a new novel adapted from the graphic novel. Written by Stuart Moore, the book attempts to modernise the tale from its dated origins – which it does successfully – and perhaps introduce the story to a new generation of readers.
In terms of modernising the story, Kitty Pryde makes comparisons of Emma Frost’s school to Hogwarts and calls the X-Men Muggles before finding out that they are mutants, but it’s the Hellfire Club that perhaps gets the biggest update. There is only so much that could be said in a comic book but here in the novel there is more of a 50 Shades of Grey feel to the evil society that better encapsulates what they were about. Other examples would be the modern use slang rather than that from the ‘70s and ’80s.
Overall the book is a good read. Moore successfully captures each of the characters so that they do not jar against the comic book versions. He is also able to give us greater insights into their thoughts that the limited space of a comic book thought bubble could not. The fight scenes are entertaining and action well paced throughout;; Moore knows his stuff when it comes to the various mutants and the fascinating array of powers.
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The downside to the book though, and to an extent, the downside to almost every other retelling of this story, comes down to the scale. The Saga takes place over a long length of time with other events happening in between the major scenes; to make it fit into a single novel rather than it being told across several comic books meant things had to be left out and summed up. This is not a problem if you are familiar with the story already but it could potentially be confusing for someone who is not.
The question also gets raised as to why the graphic novel needed to be retold in a book format at all. Apart from bringing the story into a more modern setting, it does not really add anything that was not already said by Chris Claremont or conveyed by John Byrne’s artwork. The graphic novel still holds its own, it is highly readable and widely available; this book is good but perhaps it is something that a completionist would want to own, as beyond that it feels it was released purely to cash in on the new film.
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga is available now from Titan Books.