Chris (The Genre Fiend)'s Reviews > Uncanny X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont
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I know, ok? I know this is one of the highest-regarded tales not only in X-canon, but throughout the whole of Marvel's 75-year output. I know it's a formative text that set the bar for writers like Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon to one day leap over (and others like Brian Bendis to limbo under with the skill of Barbados Slim). I know Chris Claremont is a visionary writer, and that the writer-artist tag team he had with John Byrne produced some of the most talked-about-to-this-day graphic literature ever consumed by mortals.

With all that in mind, I was not a fan of Dark Phoenix.

I can read old stuff, with detachment from the expectations modern comics bring for things like dialogue and complex storytelling. An amount of leeway needs to be given for the context of older graphic novels, especially for ones that set in motion the tropes and story ideas we take for granted today (i.e. Jean Grey's whole Phoenix thing, something the book introduces prominently). This is a leeway Dark Phoenix oversteps in two ways: first, the story preceding the actual, y'know, Phoenix bits is only partly-connected at best. The Hellfire Club are interesting as villains, and the inclusion of Emma Frost before Avengers vs. X-Men sucked out her characterisation is welcome. But, good as they are, they feel oddly extraneous (except Jason Wyngarde, for obvious reasons) to the overall Phoenix storyline, and only put in there for the sake of giving the other X-Men a threat to face whilst Jean grapples with her psyche.

Second, Chris Claremont's writing is very, very hard to take seriously. I understand he had a pathological fear of artists misinterpreting his writerly directions for scenes. Thus, he used his dialogue to explain every goddamn detail on the page in the hopes that even if the artist didn't his vision right, at least the reader would know what he was on about.

Unfortunately, since I can only assume John Byrne is an intelligent human being who understands dramatic intent and how a scene is meant to be conveyed, this means the marriage of Claremont's writing and Byrne's artwork tends to explain a scene's movements twice over. Once through "Oh my god, Jean's blowing up a sun!" dialogue, and once through actual visuals of Jean blowing up a sun.

Character thought-bubbles are aplenty, which also subtracts tension from the pacing. Every fight scene has a novel's-worth of character introspection while the actual fisticuffs are taking place, in dire contrast to the short, snappy and largely wordless exchanges Claremont wrote for the fight scenes in his Wolverine miniseries.

It's disappointing, especially since the story's thematic content, character developments and conclusion (the latter of which, though obviously spoiled by X-Men: The Last Stand, was nonetheless executed well) are all reasons why I should like this book. The vast, overhanging spectre of Claremont's writing and the disconnected feel the first six issues of the story have weigh too heavily for me to mark higher the parts I did like, so in the end I settle on an average score. It definitely behooves an X-fan to check it out, if only so you can add it to your list of "classics every comic fan should read" that you've read. Certainly not a gateway entry for newbie readers, though.
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Reading Progress

July 2, 2013 – Shelved
July 2, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
May 21, 2014 – Started Reading
May 25, 2014 – Finished Reading

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