Monday, October 31, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #286

"LIKE A PHOENIX!"
Writer/Penciler: You Know Who* | Guest Inker: Terry Austin
Colorist: Glynis Oliver | Letterer: John Workman
Editor: Michael Carlin | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
With Special Thanks to Roger Stern & Kurt Busek (sic)

* All parties involved seem to agree that a large portion of this issue was ghost-rewritten by Chris Claremont and ghost-repenciled by Jackson Guice, which led to John Byrne omitting his name from the credits.

The Plot: The Fantastic Four return to Earth and Avengers’ Mansion to find that the Avengers have recovered a peculiar energy cocoon from beneath New York’s Jamaica Bay. A quick analysis of the cocoon reveals a woman hidden inside, and Reed works overnight to eventually free her.

The girl is Jean Grey, formerly Marvel Girl of the X-Men, and after a brief skirmish she reveals that the last thing she remembers is battling Doctor Stephen Lang and his Sentinels on SHIELD’s orbital space platform. Reed, Sue, and Hercules take Jean to her parents’ house while Captain America studies old casefiles recorded by former X-Man and former Avenger, the Beast.

At the unoccupied Grey home, Jean finds a “holoempathic crystal” housing her essence, and that unlocks her memories of the X-Men’s escape from the platform and her encounter with a being called the Phoenix. Cap arrives and helps Jean and Reed piece things together: Jean was replaced by Phoenix in a simulacrum of her Earthly body, while she recovered from radiation poisoning in the hidden cocoon.

Later, back at Avengers’ Mansion, Reed prepares to place a phone call.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: This entire issue is set-up for X-FACTOR, the second X-MEN spinoff, which united all five original X-Men for the first time in many years. At the story’s conclusion, the call Reed places is to Warren Worthington, a.k.a. the Angel.

The FF return to Earth in the Skrull spacecraft they commandeered at the end of ANNUAL #19. As they make their final approach, they discuss the fact that they’ve had several cosmic-scale adventures in the past few weeks since they left the Skrull asteroid seen in that tale. When She-Hulk remarks that these events will make great stories for their comic book, Johnny reminds her that Marvel’s current philosophy is that “cosmic doesn’t sell”. This seems to be Byrne taking a jab at Jim Shooter, unless I’m misreading between the lines.


Bizarrely, there is no narration or dialogue explaining where the FF are returning from, nor are there any footnotes pointing at the annual. A casual reader who missed that issue would have likely been extremely confused as a result.

However we do receive a brief flashback to AVENGERS 263 and we’re told twice via footnote to check out that issue for an explanation of how Earth’s mightiest heroes wound up with Jean’s cocoon in their possession.


We’re reminded that the Fantastic Four are still living at Avengers’ Mansion since the Baxter Building was destroyed.

Johnny and She-Hulk leave quickly after arriving on Earth to check in with their respective love interests. As they depart, She-Hulk admits to the Torch that she’s attracted to Hercules, but her flirtation with him is purely a game to keep her from actually cheating on Wyatt… or something? I’m wondering if this is Byrne “correcting” something Roger Stern depicted between She-Hulk and Hercules in AVENGERS, but not having read that run yet, I’m unsure.


Upon emerging from the cocoon, Jean recalls battling the Sentinels on Christmas Eve. Reed chimes in and notes that the Sentinels returned “several Christmas Eves back”.

Cap notes that no one has heard from Marvel Girl in years; apparently the general public never made the connection between the redheaded Phoenix “joining” the X-Men within weeks of the last time the redheaded Marvel Girl was seen with them. (Though I suppose most of Phoenix’s action with the X-Men was out of the public eye, so that could be what Byrne is going for here.)


Jean recaps the events of X-MEN #98 – 100, though we receive no footnotes to those issues.

When she asks to contact the X-Men, Jean is told that they’re off limits due to the fact that they’ve been seen regularly associating with noted supervillain Magneto. Sue cites SECRET WARS as proof of this, even though she wasn’t present for that series.


Sue compares Jean’s loss of several years of her life with her own mental torture at the hands of Psycho-Man.

The holoempathic crystal was given to Jean’s parents by Princess Lilandra of the Shi’ar in X-MEN #138.

The story features a lengthy scene set between the final page of X-MEN 100 and the opening to issue 101, in which Phoenix and Jean swap places.


By the story’s conclusion, we’re told that Jean’s telepathic powers have faded away and only her telekinesis remains; this is set-up for her status quo in X-FACTOR, whose apparent aim was to get all five original X-Men as close to their original incarnations as possible.

My Thoughts: As can be gleaned from the never-ending continuity notes above, this issue is basically one long continuity patch (and when you see the names Byrne, Stern, and Busiek all in the credits of one comic, that’s really not surprising).

I don’t necessarily have any objection to Jean Grey’s return to life. Death hadn’t exactly become the joke it is nowadays in Marvel comics, but a character like Jean, one of the five original X-Men, really probably belonged in the land of the living in some capacity. My issue, however, is with the bizarre way the creative and editorial teams have gone about it. This whole situation seems weirdly roundabout to get Jean back in action.


I assume this is due to the fact that Jim Shooter wanted Phoenix punished for her crimes, which led to Byrne and Chris Claremont killing her off in the first place — neither of them wanted her to suffer for all eternity as Shooter had proposed. So, in order to bring Jean back for the impending X-FACTOR, some way had to be found to reveal that Jean never died, and that Phoenix was an imposter.

Problem with that is, in my opinion, this robs “The Dark Phoenix Saga” of a great deal of its gravitas. It was a tale of ultimate power absolutely corrupting a young woman unprepared to handle it. In the end her humanity won out and she beat the Phoenix, but only by killing herself. It was epic, touching, and tragic.


Only now we’re told it wasn’t really Jean at all; it was an energy being who replaced her. I’ve seen where John Byrne argues this makes the story more powerful — Jean’s spirit and humanity were so strong that they turned this cosmic being effectively mortal over time. I just don’t buy it. I feel like some compromise could’ve been reached here; Jean could have returned in another way, possibly utilizing the holoempathic crystal in some way. (Maybe Madelyne Pryor, Jean’s spitting image, somehow melds with the thing and becomes a Jean/Maddie hybrid with all the emotions and power of the former but all the memories of the latter? That could’ve been a pretty interesting angle, and a good way to bring "Jean" back without robbing "Dark Phoenix" of so much of its impact.)

Anyway — not a fan.

11 comments:

  1. I'm wondering if this is Byrne “correcting” something Roger Stern depicted between She-Hulk and Hercules in AVENGERS, but not having read that run yet, I’m unsure.

    Granted, it's been awhile since I last revisited it, but I don't recall offhand any major interactions between Hercules and She-Hulk. She-Hulk was around for the start of Stern's run, but by the time Hercules became a fixture, she was with the FF and I don't think the two interacted much at all.

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  2. Alpha Flight is really the second X-Men spinoff, to my mind, although I get where you’re coming from.

    I had to roll my eyes when Reed knew exactly what the "holempathic matrix crystal” was, down to using the specific name it’s given in X-Men — despite noting that such a thing was, as far as he knew, only “theoretically possible” and “many thousands of years beyond current Earth technology.” Using it as the catalyst for recovering Jean’s memory, on the other hand, was rather an elegant idea.

    Yeah, Jean coming back this way robs the end of the Phoenix saga of some and/or much of its power, depending on how aligned with and/or charitable towards what you note as Byrne’s perspective, but wary as I was about this when it happened there was still an undeniable excitement about it as well. The way it messed with Scott & Maddie's supposed happily-ever-after might be even more egregious than with Jean's sacrifice. Maddie turning out to be, like, a last-minute expulsion of Jean's essence by the Phoenix force at the moment of the merged-with-Phoenix original Jean's death, then getting triggered by interaction with the crystal, would've been a better way to go.

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    1. Alpha Flight is really the second X-Men spinoff, to my mind, although I get where you’re coming from.

      I always go back and forth on that. I never considered it a spinoff as a kid - it wasn't included in all those 90s crossovers, after all - and I don't believe it was part of the X-office at any point in time (at least during the times when there were editorial "offices).

      On the other hand, the characters first appeared in X-MEN, so by definition, any series starring said characters is technically a spinoff.

      On the other other hand, nobody really considers CHAMPIONS (or, later, NEW DEFENDERS) spinoffs of X-MEN, despite featuring prominently characters which originated in that series (DAZZLER, like ALPHA FLIGHT, is another gray area, where some do/some don't consider it a spinoff).

      Obviously, I ultimately sided with "not a spinoff" for ALPHA FLIGHT when it came to my X-aminations reviews, but that was as much about me taking advantage of the debate to avoid reviewing a series I wasn't terribly keen on reviewing (see also, in the future: much of Deadpool's solo series) as much as anything.

      At the end of the day, I suppose that means I side with the "not a spinoff crowd" - Marvel, certainly, seems to support that notion - but I can definitely see the case on the other side.

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    2. DAZZLER isn't. The series was conceived from the beginning as its own thing, and Dazzler's first appearance as fully conceived character to be on UNCANNY was merely editorially forced on Claremont/Byrne.

      ALPHA FLIGHT is. Not only did Weapon Alpha first appear completely as a supporting character to Wolverine (and as such, UNCANNY), but Alpha Flight were created largely by Byrne specifically as someone who could give the X-Men some run for their money. Spinoff happens when someone created for supporting role ascends that original role and by popular demand or some productional pipedream is thought to be worthy of their own series.

      CHAMPIONS is a curious case. Tony Isabella originally wanted Iceman, Angel and Black Goliath as the heroes, which would have made it a more or less clear spinoff, but I think Ghost Rider's presence as a holder of his own titular book (plus Black Widow and Hercules) supercedes Iceman's and Angel's status.

      (NEW) DEFENDERS was an existing non-X-spinoff title and a legacy group of the original one, but the roster makes them pretty iffy still.

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    3. The prestige and status of the characters and groups btw must be a part of the equation when determining if something is a spinoff, because no one in their right mind would ever say that X-FACTOR was a spinoff of NEW DEFENDERS, despite 3/5 of the roster spending a third of the first issue closing the book for the Defenders. It's like their whole book and group was retroactively spider-womaned out of existence concerning spinoffery with Jean Grey's return here.

      Wouldst no one think of the Defenders?!

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    4. I still maintain an argument can be made that ALPHA FLIGHT, while technically a spinoff, isn't one in spirit. It wasn't managed under the X-office, it never crossed over with X-MEN in any formal way (the X-MEN/ALPHA FLIGHT limited series was its own thing, the few times Wolverine and/or the X-Men popped up in ALPHA FLIGHT it was more of a guest star thing than a formal Part 1/Part 2 crossover), etc.

      EXCALIBUR, similarly isolated in its own editorial office initially, at least participated in "Inferno".

      Again, there's an argument to be made that ALPHA FLIGHT is a spinoff; there's just an equal argument to be made it's not.

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    5. It most certainly is a spinoff, but as vehemently I insist that it is not an X-book, largely for the reasons you state. Should you have chosen to include them to X-aminations I would feel you're overdoing it.

      If Freedom Force would have gotten their own book, where led by U.S.Agent they would have acted as federal supergroup and the main focus wouldn't be in upholding the Mutant Registration Act, it would similarly have been a spinoff but not an X-book.

      See: Dallas, Knots Landing.

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    6. Ah, that's a good distinction (I didn't realize I was making). It's a spinoff, but not an X-book. I can wholeheartedly get behind that idea.

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    7. Teemu said exactly what I was going to (and will anyhow): Alpha Flight is definitely a spinoff; it’s just not an X-book.

      New Mutants, on the other hand, while the very thing we’re all implicitly considering the first X-Men spinoff, is basically the opposite case — an X-book, yet one whose title characters didn’t even debut in the flagship series. I’m not saying it isn’t a spinoff, as Professor X and his mansion and the whole X-team gestalt are there, but if you wanted to make a distinction between “spinoff” and “companion title” I could see it.

      Champions I don’t consider a spinoff because only two of the original five members are former X-Men and we’re talking about a shared universe whose very nature kind-of necessitates being granular about the spinoff concept or pretty much everything would be a spinoff of Fantastic Four (which itself is problematic because Golden Age stuff was quickly retconned into the Marvel Universe).

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    8. Disturbing point you make there about the NEW MUTANTS, Blam. I feel it must be brought into consideration that Donald Pierce, the villain in MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL 4 (where the New Mutants mostly premiered), and the Hellfire Club considerably raise the UNCANNY spinoff points. Emma Frost is practically a supporting character later on. Illyana of previous UNCANNY fame becomes a (if not the) core member.

      A very devious spinoff. Really the THUNDERBOLTS of spinoffs (like, if THUNDERBOLTS itself wasn't it, for AVENGERS).

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    9. Sad I missed this conversation! For the record, I agree that ALPHA FLIGHT is technically a spinoff of X-MEN, featuring as it does characters introduced in that series and being written and drawn by one of the X-creators involved in the issues that introduced them. But, as noted, it's certainly not an X-book.

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