Reflections on the Dark Phoenix Saga, Part Two

The Uncanny X-Men #130: Dazzler

God Spare the Child established the major characters and themes that will run throughout The Dark Phoenix Saga, and ended with a team of X-Men - Wolverine, Storm, and Colossus - in the clutches of Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, with a young Kitty Pryde as their only hope.

But let's forget about them for a bit.

Dazzler, the second installment in the Saga proper, sheds light on the Hellfire Club's motivations; introduces a new, somewhat inconsequential character; and explores Jean Grey's increasing psychological instability and its affects on her relationships with her teammates, and with Scott Summers.

A central theme of this chapter is the unknown. From the start, our team is placed in an unfamiliar situation of which they are not in control. It begins in a seedy section of lower Manhattan with the conspicuous arrival of the other half of the X-Men - Scott, Jean, and Nightcrawler. It is interesting to note how Claremont and Byrne frame this scene, establishing the team immediately as outsiders in an unfamiliar territory. They arrive in a Rolls Royce (with the license plate "Chas-X-1" - who knew Professor Xavier could be so vain?); they are impeccably dressed, despite their surroundings; and Nightcrawler is, of course, hardly a common-looking man. (Incidentally, Nightcrawler is also the most comfortable in his new surroundings.) From this point on, both in this issue and the Saga, the team is on new ground, both physically and psychologically.

Exposition follows, both for our benefit and that of the onlooking henchmen of the Hellfire Club. The team is in Manhattan searching for one of two new Mutants recently discovered by Professor X's Cerebro. (The first was Kitty Pryde.) Scott and Jean enter a dilapidated club - "Where old discos go to die," Scott observes - and shift into a psychic link in order to communicate over the noise of the club. The psychic link, which will become a critical plot point in later issues, is treated casually here, although there is some ambiguity regarding how much of their thoughts the other is capable of reading. Scott, for instance, is clearly unaware of how exciting Jean is finding the "vile" thoughts of the club's patrons, but whether that's her doing or his is unclear. What is clear is that Scott and Jean are in tune with one another in a very particular way, but that they don't know each other as well as they think - or rather, that Scott does not know Jean as well as he thinks. This gap between them - a gap that Scott doesn't know exists - will recur througout the remainder of the story.

It's a gap being exacerbated by one "Jason Wyngarde," who we see again now in the company of the Hellfire Club. More specifically, the man "Jean Grey has come to know as Jason Wyngarde" is conversing with Sebastian Shaw, the Club's leader and a billionaire industrialist. Shaw would go on to become a mainstay in the X-Men's rogues gallery, and more about his past and abilities will be revealed as this story unfolds. At this point, however, he is merely Wyngarde's benefactor, and a looming threat.

The scene between Wyngarde and Shaw is almost entirely expository, but it does hint at some of the tension that exists between them and set up some interesting drama for later in the story. Shaw and Wyngarde share some physical traits, including absurd mutton chops, nd are drawn opposite one another. Despite their alliance, their posture and the composition of the scene indicates that there may be more to their relationship than appears. We will return to this in a later post.

From here, we segue nicely into a further expository scene, recapping the events of the second half of the previous issue while also establishing that the White Queen and her team have managed to kidnap Professor Xavier in addition to the rest of the team. Only Kitty Pryde remains to save our X-Men - and she is quickly spotted by the guards and must flee using her powers. While this will pay off in the next issue, it's just an interlude at this point, meant primarily to establish Kitty's resourcefulness.

Transient

But real, substantial developments are happening at the disco, where Jean meets Jason Wyngarde in person for the first time. She is immediately whisked back to the scenario established in the previous issue - she is Lady Jean Grey, and she doesn't attempt to fight the reality any longer. Wyngarde's hold has tightened, and she is now being married to him (by a priest with a striking resemblence to Shaw). The ceremony culminates with the revelation of Jean as the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, with an image guaranteed to stick in the mind of any young male readers. The scene culminates with a kiss, but not one in the past - one that actually happens, and is witnessed by Scott, who... brushes it off.

This is one of the tragedies of Cyclops, and one of the things he has to deal with as the story moves forward. He knows something is wrong in this moment, knows that Jean wouldn't turn on him on a whim - but he let's it slide in order to focus on the task at hand. Why? Is the psychic link clouding his mind? It's a mistake that would come back to haunt him.

It's a fascinating scene for a number of reasons - it shows that Jean is losing her grip on reality, that Wyngarde's manipulations have begun to impact her real life, and also that Scott is too wrapped up in his sense of duty as the leader of the X-Men to really do anything about it. Throughout the Saga, we see Cyclops struggling with the responsibilities of being a leader of men, and like many who assume such a role in the real world, it's his personal life that suffers. What if he had been focused on Jean? What if he had picked up on the warning signs and addressed them, rather than brushed them off? This doesn't strike me as Claremont and Byrne just trying to create some tension between Jean and Scott. I see it as a crucial window into Scott's character, and a glimpse at his greatest flaws. The Dark Phoenix Saga is ultimately a tragedy for both Jean and Scott, but Scott might have been able to stop it in advance, and his suffering is greater for his early mistakes.

But enough of that introspection! It's time for some disco! Yes, this is the debut of Dazzler, the lightshow mutant, who is using her powers to bring a good time to New York's seediest disco lovers. In a painful sequence, Claremont tries really hard to make her seem hip and exciting. In retrospect, it comes across as a bad method of dating the whole story. It's one of very few elements that haven't aged well, and although writers have tried to make due with Dazzler since, she's just not that compelling.

Still, she plays a crucial role when the White Queen's henchmen burst into the disco and try to take our Cyclops and Phoenix (now back in costume). A fight ensues, Dazzler helps save the day, Nightcrawler finds time to answer a phone call from Kitty Pryde, and the team is soon off to rescue their compatriots - but not before passing Jason Wyngarde on the street. Jason Wyngarde, standing alone, smiking a cigarette and casting a shadow on the wall behind him - a shadow that is not his own.

The Rolls’ headlights touch Jason Wyngarde for a moment, throwing his shadow across the wall behind him. Cyclops automatically notes the image, but his mind — preoccupied with a host of far-more pressing concerns — doesn’t register it. Perhaps, one day, he will remember — and recognize — who he passed that night. By then, however, it may well be far too late for him, for the X-Men, and, most importantly, for the woman he loves.

And so ends the second - and arguably least compelling - chapter of The Dark Phoenix Saga, establishing that Jason Wyngarde is a) not who he appears, and b) someone that Cyclops should have recognized, but didn't. Once again, Scott's focus on the present sets him up for failure in the future.

But that's for next time, and the third issue of this arc, entitled Run For Your Life!