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Welcome back superhero enthusiasts, 1980s arts and culture enthusiasts, Marvel Comics fans and comic book collectors! Today we go back to the early 1980s and examine an alternate universe portrayal of the X-Men and the Dark Phoenix saga itself as told in one of the comic books of the first volume of the series What If.
So much has been discussed about the Dark Phoenix saga of the Uncanny X-Men series through the decades. A lot point to it as the greatest X-Men ever told while some called it the true X-Men epic story that Chris Claremont and John Byrne came up with. Considering its deep impact and significance on the Marvel Comics shared universe, it was only a matter of time before the publisher decided to revisit the said storyline but explore other outcomes through the What If series.
With those details laid down, here is a look back at What If #27 published in 1981 by Marvel Comics with a story written by Mary Jo Duffy and drawn by Jerry Bingham.
The story begins with the Watcher looking back at the events that led to the Dark Phoenix saga, who got impacted and how Jean Grey used a weapon of alien origin to end her own life and prevent the Dark Phoenix from raging.
Suddenly, an alternate reality begins when Jean Grey survives and Cyclops reacts by using his optic blasts on incoming enemies until he got overwhelmed. The X-Men have been defeated and are brought to the imperial flagship of Lilandra’s grand fleet where the Shi’ar scientists prepare for the destruction of Phoenix.
Jeay Grey remains alive, floating above the X-Men and the others as Lilandra’s people prepare to start the process of the psychic lobotomizer on her. Their intention is to act upon Jean Grey’s brain and destroy certain parts of it in order to neutralize the Phoenix power within her. The operation turned out successful and Jean Grey survives once more. She and her fellow X-Men return to Earth…
This early, I can say that this is a very great exploration and portrayal of the concept about Phoenix (within Jean Grey) not dying during the Dark Phoenix saga. The script of this comic book is so great (note: solid plot structure, consistent portrayals of the characters, strong build-up with solid pay-off and more), it’s almost as if Mary Jo Duffy and Chris Claremont worked together behind the scenes.
The protagonist in this story is Jean Grey and this comic book examines her struggle with adjusting her personal life and her effort to fit in once again within the X-Men while remembering fully that as Dark Phoenix, she still remains guilty of destroying an entire solar system and committing the mass murder of five billion people.
Unsurprisingly, due to the emergence of a tremendous crisis deep in space, Jean Grey gets involved with her team going to the site on a mission. This easily puts her into a situation that makes her revive the power of the Phoenix deep within herself. While the use of the tremendous power of the Phoenix to help the X-Men looked sensible at first glance, it only signified the beginning of a chain of destruction and unfortunate developments. As expected, Jean Grey can only go so far with her good nature and her free will while having the magnificent powers of the Phoenix.
While the conflicts were portrayed well, Mary Jo Duffy’s script raises key questions about the red-head X-Men member: How can Jean Grey ever achieve a normal life and level with her X-Men teammates knowing that she carries powers that make her god-like? How can she ever forget the tragic fact that as Dark Phoenix, she murdered billions in deep space? What can Charles Xavier do to lead and guide the X-Men knowing that Jean is way too powerful? Could the love of Cyclops be helpful for Jean Grey’s personal efforts to control the Phoenix power within?
Another highlight of this story is the final seven pages. The ending is very impactful and definitely something you must see.
What If #27 (1981) is a classic alternate reality portrayal of the Marvel Comics universe and it surely works as a companion piece to what was established in the Dark Phoenix saga. Mary Jo Duffy’s script really captured the spirit of Claremont’s X-Men and the dramatic stuff and all the build-up led to a very tremendous ending that can disturb you or even satisfy you in the most unusual way. Most notably, this comic book really answered the question about what would happen had Phoenix did not die. The 2nd tale of this comic book – the Kree Encounter – is an interesting additive.
Overall, What If #27 (1981) is highly recommended.
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