X Men: Dark Phoenix Saga
Authors: Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Pencils: John Byrne
Publisher: Marvel, 2019
The X-Men have always represented a celebration of what it means to be “different” or “other.” Since their inception, X-Men comics have painted a vivid picture of what it means to live in a society that fears what they don’t know. They highlight the prevalence of affinity bias in our society - a tendency to get along easier with people who are more like us. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on the series left a lasting mark on comic readers and creators, providing the foundation for X-Men titles for decades to come. While depicting the trials and tribulations of Marvel’s mutants, Claremont and Byrne stayed true to the purpose of the team: to illustrate the consequences of bigotry and xenophobia, as well as how to be the best version of yourself despite those obstacles. In the Dark Phoenix saga, Claremont and Byrne explore a different kind of adversity: that which sprouts from within. Throughout the eight-issue story, Claremont’s script and Byrne’s classic designs tell a tragic story of life, love, death, and the burden of power in classic 1980’s comic fashion.
Dark Phoenix Saga depicts the progression of Jean Grey, original member of the X-Men, from a power telepath to the most powerful being in the Marvel universe. She wields the Phoenix Force, a cosmic entity with the power to end the world as we know it. The Phoenix Force has lived within Jean for some time, amplifying her already incredible psychic abilities. Though she has kept it at bay for some time, there are those who aim to unleash the power inside her for their own gain - the sinister Hellfire Club.
As the classic story progresses, we see Jean Grey struggle with her identity, unable to make sense of the power she holds while simultaneously trying to fight off the Hellfire club’s influence. Her aura darkens as she starts to unleash more and more of her power, spiraling down a road her teammates can’t seem to pull her away from. Though they want to help, they seem powerless to protect her from herself. Though some hope shines along the way, the story culminates in a sacrifice that truly injects the reader into the mind of someone who feels they are out of options.
Consider the last time you lost control over your world. Perhaps you felt ill, or a drastic unanticipated change in your life shook your sense of security to its core. Perhaps you felt anxious or stressed. How did you cope? Who did you look to for support?
It is the unfortunate case for our time that some people cannot easily find the support they need. Much like Jean Grey, they might feel trapped within themselves with no way out. As members of the medical field, it is our duty to advocate for those individuals, and provide them with some sense of hope in times where it might feel scarce much like Jean’s teammates attempted to do. However, as Dark Phoenix shows, it is often a challenge to relate to someone who struggles with mental illness. Empathy - sitting in a dark place with someone such that they might feel understood - can be a difficult practice. It takes a willingness to be non-judgmental and stay in a place of generous listening to reach someone in a way that they can feel safe and heard. As advocates for patients and representatives of a community that is meant to heal, it is imperative that we exercise empathy, and speak and act with compassion, with the same priority as any level of a physical exam.
While Dark Phoenix illustrates how we must advocate for our patients, it also illustrates how we must advocate for ourselves, and for each other. The X-Men are superheroes, saving the world on a daily basis much like physicians save patients. Attempting to save Jean, their own colleague, proved to be one of their biggest challenges. Medicine is one of the most rewarding fields out there, but it comes with a heavy burden on our mental health. As we provide empathy to those we serve, so must we provide empathy to each other, recognizing the obstacles we face every day in an effort to fulfill our duty.
With vivid, timeless illustrations by John Byrne and a legendary script by Chris Claremont, Dark Phoenix makes a case for mental health and empathy in the mighty Marvel way.
Dark Phoenix can be found in trade paperback form at your local comic shop.
If you or someone you know is in need of mental healthcare, contact the Crisis Response Network (800) 631-1314 or National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
Claremont, Chris and Byrne, John. X-Men Milestones: Dark Phoenix Saga. Published by Marvel Worldwide, Inc.