Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rebirth Incarnate

With the pieces all in place for things to come to a head at the point where we left X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong, the X-Men were cobbling together something of a plan in order to deal with the Phoenix, which had resurrected Jean Grey for reasons unknown. Hank McCoy (the Beast) had constructed a larger and improved model of the device he once used to briefly contain the Phoenix's power, and Scott Summers was marshalling his troops.

Phoenix has come to Earth following an almost fatal attack by a Shi'ar group which had left it weak and unfocused. To recover its strength, it's once more merged with Jean Grey, and in the process returned her dead corpse to life. In doing so, it's had to deal with a jumble of old memories which have made it seek out a reunion with Scott, though it primarily needs to feed on the power of his optic blasts in order to help regain its strength. Storm and Nightcrawler have also come to assist and are dealing with the Shi'ar, who are now pursuing Quentin Quire, an Omega-level mutant whom they fear may become a host to the Phoenix.

As for the Phoenix, Wolverine has located it and is once again prepared to end its life and its bond with Jean. But Phoenix still needs Cyclops, and it knows that Logan can be a means to that end:

The Shi'ar, to their horror, then detect Phoenix during their reconnaissance and fire on her--but she escapes and transports herself and Logan north, where Jean's essence then becomes dominant. And in a series of merciless attacks, Jean's struggle to find final peace is assisted by the claws of the Wolverine.

It's a gruesome ballet of gore as Wolverine fatally strikes over and over, with Jean and Phoenix both fighting to prevail over the other--Jean to die, Phoenix to survive. The struggle seems to come to a draw, though Jean is able to act on the Phoenix's weakness by entombing her body in solid ice:

The X-Men then make a timely arrival and begin their plan to bring down the Phoenix, which remains active and moves to gain sustenance from Scott's eye beams. It's a pitched battle--and the X-Men, working as a team, could possibly succeed; but Quentin has his own plans for the Phoenix, and he sabotages their efforts so that she can regain her strength.

As Phoenix soaks up Scott's optic blasts (thanks to Quentin's intervention), and the other X-Men attack Quentin, Emma Frost deals with Phoenix on another front in order to successfully complete their plan. But her efforts are going to involve a measure of self-sacrifice: offering the Phoenix a new host, one which Phoenix at last realizes truly holds Scott's heart:

While Phoenix is distracted, Scott then hurls himself and Emma/Phoenix into the Beast's device, and the two are contained. Unfortunately, their plan didn't bank on Emma as the Phoenix's host, nor did it anticipate that Cyclops would be trapped as well:

On another front, of course, the X-Men are also trying to deal with Quentin, an Omega-level threat--and with Phoenix now coming into her own, they find this crisis can't be contained any longer when Quentin frees the entity.

Phoenix then grants Quentin's one wish--to restore his friend Sophie to life. But Quentin has made misassumptions about Sophie's feelings for him, and heartbreak seems to be the one thing that can bring down a mutant of such power.

True, Quentin is only one part of this story, and perhaps he's only here to bring the Phoenix situation further along to a climax--but this comes across as a decidedly anti-climactic way of handling his involvement after so much build-up.  Unfortunately for the X-Men, the results nevertheless change the tone of the battle with Phoenix, as she taps into Quentin's despondency and prepares to lash out in frustration. Which could spell doom for the X-Men, the entire planet, and who knows what else--unless Scott can reach the one person who might be able to end the conflict.

Frankly, at this point, I'm as confused as the Phoenix. It's simply not clear how, even separated, Jean and Phoenix are one and the same, and always have been--but it does explain those times where Jean seemed to manifest the Phoenix effect, even when she denied any such connection. Regardless, we're stuck with that conclusion as far as this story is concerned, though it doesn't seem that it makes Jean in any more control of the situation. (You'd think it would, wouldn't you?) Until one voice is heard, from a person who knows better than anyone what she needs now:

With Scott's calming influence, Jean prepares to do the one thing she's wanted all along--to enter final death, and to say goodbye. To "pull all the pieces together." And with Emma's telepathic assistance (along with the "Stepford Cuckoos" and Cerebro), the X-Men join to send her on her way.

So, finally, all's well that ends well where the Phoenix is concerned.

Or hopefully at least Jean Grey.  But we shouldn't place any bets on it.  It looks like the Phoenix may now have an affinity for one of the Cuckoos.

It's an ending which all but robs Jean's farewell of its dignity, since the story of the Phoenix has now (you'll excuse the expression) taken on a life of its own, with Marvel appearing to have every intention of continuing it no matter how many times it needs to cry "Wolf!" vis-à-vis the danger Phoenix poses to the universe. And since Jean and the Phoenix have been confirmed to be one and the same, are we really going to yank Jean back from death's door again? We'll hopefully be able to put the final nail in this coffin, when the story of Phoenix--forgive me--continues.

X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong #s 1-5
Part Two

Script: Greg Pak
Pencils: Greg Land
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Clem Robins

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