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Monday, June 3, 2019

Phoenix Rises, in Bizarre Adventures 27 - a Review


In case you've been under a rock, or perhaps you're like me and you don't really care, you might know that the next X-Men motion picture drops at the end of this week. To "celebrate" (OK, really, to "observe"), today I'm featuring a post that originally ran at the Bronze Age Babies back on 13 June 2013. Hard to believe I wrote this six years ago! Have fun, and please leave a comment at the bottom. Thanks for stopping by today.



Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981)
"Phoenix"
Chris Claremont-John Buscema/Klaus Janson

I think, and don't hold me to this, I got this at a nice discount way back around 1990 when I was a subscriber to Mile High Comics' monthly service.  As I seem to remember, owner Chuck Rozanski had specials each month, and I'm almost certain this was how I acquired this magazine.  I can guarantee you I didn't buy it from a newsstand, as this was released during the time I was not buying comic books.  There are three stories between the covers, and about mid-month throughout the summer we'll be picking our way through the book.  At the beginning of each story is a one-page "data sheet" on the featured hero, and I'll run those right alongside the magazine's cover as I've done above.  So without further ado, what say we take a look at the recently-deceased Phoenix and... Attuma?

Reading these stories (at this writing, I've obviously read today's fare, but also the next tale which is of Iceman), one has to wonder why they were created.  Just after the table of contents is a short editorial from Denny O'Neil where he touts the X-Men as Marvel's breakout stars and how he knew them way back when.  He also says that Bizarre Adventures will contain lots of new and exciting material.  But he makes a comment which prompted my statement just above; he writes, "Certain X-Men stories we wanted to tell were, for various reasons, not suited to the color format.  The answer?  Good old Bizarre Adventures."  So I don't know if the three stories within were made just for this publication, if they were stock waiting for a chance to see daylight at the back of an annual or in something akin to Marvel Fanfare (which, if you're like me and wondering when that debuted, it was in March 1982).  As there are references to past continuity, 'tis a mystery.

We open in a cemetery, at the grave of Jean Grey.  Her sister Sara Grey is visiting again, and today is the first anniversary of Jean's death on the moon.  Sara kneels to place flowers and talks to Jean.  Sara is concerned because her own son is 11 years old now, and will soon begin adolescence -- the age of manifestation for certain mutants.  Sara worries about that -- what would it be like for her boy Tommy?  She says to Jean -- "Your powers killed you, Jean.  Will they kill my son?"  And then her mind wanders back to a time two years prior, when she and Jean headed to the docks to spend a day sailing before meeting their significant others for dinner.  But all is not without incident, as two young bucks make a play on the women.  Jean flirts momentarily before telekinetically pushing one of the guys into the drink.  They aren't hassled any more as they board their small craft.  Out on the water the sisters talk, Sara wanting to know about Jean's powers and why she's a mutant and not Sara herself.  Jean has no answer.  This is a very vivacious Jean Grey, funny and loving life.  It's interesting to see Chris Claremont write her free from the bounds of the sullen Scott Summers.  One could almost imagine this Jean Grey being the woman to tame Wolverine...

Jean continues to play around with Sara, telekinetically drawing out the lunch cooler and then emptying it by ejecting the sandwiches and drinks like little missiles.  Sara isn't all that comfortable.  Suddenly they are aware of a fog bank, one that shouldn't be there.  It spreads across their course, seemingly creating a barrier to their travel.  Sara attempts to radio to shore, but the transmission is blocked.  Suddenly Jean is aware that Sara has passed out, and before she can mount a defense of her own she also succumbs to the attack, and slumps over the side of the boat and into the ocean.  Once unconscious, her mind dreams back to a time when she was 10 years old, and playing with her best friend Annie.  They were playing frisbee in the front yard of the Greys' home.  The Greys lived on a blind curve, and the frisbee that Jean threw got away from Annie; Annie chased it into the street where she was struck by a passing car.  Jean rushed to her side, and as she cradled Annie's dying body Jean's own mind reached out and into Annie's.  This was the first manifestation of Jean's mental powers.  She wasn't able to save Annie Richardson on that day, but she experienced her death by her side.  This was very traumatic for Jean, and eventually served as a catalyst for joining the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters.  There she learned to use her powers, and Charles Xavier protected her from those horrible memories until they could work through them together.  It was also at the School where she met Scott Summers and fell in love.  It was after graduating from the School that she died and was resurrected by the Phoenix Force, forever changing her.


Jean groggily wakes, but is shocked to find herself clothed as some sort of consort of plaything.  Sitting up, she notices that her skin has turned... blue!  I thought that was sort of a funny concept, in a black and white mag, but then whenever we read novels and the like I guess we have to do the imagining ourselves, huh?  She also becomes aware that she is underwater, and breathing!  Her mind races, going first to Prince Namor and a previous meeting between he and the X-Men.  Suddenly she hears someone scream (under water?) and takes off in that direction -- running at first and then swimming.  Entering the next chamber, she finds Sara overcome with shock and horror at their circumstances.  Jean gives her sister a telepathic bolt to put her down, and then enters her mind to calm her.  Sara thanks her, her previous fears set aside.  At that point armed guards enter and inform the Grey sisters that they are now brides, and are to accompany the men to their master.  And he is?  Attuma, Scourge of the Seven Seas!

So it's like this -- Attuma ain't so dumb after all.  Tired of being second tuna to Namor, Attuma has decided to kidnap mutant women (yep -- he's got Sara Grey all wrong) for breeding stock.  After some time, he'll have created his own Atlantean mutant army, strong enough to finally defeat Prince Namor.  But Attuma's biggest problem (among many) is that he thinks Jean is Marvel Girl and has erected psychic dampers to keep her in check.  It's a pity, because his plan may have succeeded -- if Phoenix had not exploded on his scene, blasting him into a wall while destroying the machines that had clouded her mind earlier.  It really isn't even fair; Jean makes short work of every warrior that enters the barbarian's chamber.  She and Sara flee, but are soon cornered by Attuma himself.  You know how these things go -- if he can't have it his way, there'll be hell to pay!  Attuma wields a mighty large blade, and flails it about wildly.  His strength is surprising to Jean, and she's actually forced back.  Yeah, that lasted for about two seconds and then Blammo! again.  She literally brings the house down this time.  Swimming like crazy for their liberty, the sisters make it to the surface -- only to discover that Sara's infection with Attuma's virus has left her a water-breather.  She nearly suffocates once she hits the atmosphere.

Jean takes Sara back underwater while she thinks of what to do.  Sara laments that she might actually like the adventure of Attuma's offer (man, I thought this scene was weird -- "The things, I could learn down here, the places I could see.  I could spend a lifetime just talking to those dolphins.  If I was single."  Really??  Be Attuma's love slave?).  But Jean tells her that she thinks she can return her to her human attributes, but it will basically require a reworking of Sara's DNA.  It works, and Sara surfaces.  But where's Jean?  Sara dives back down, to find her sister being nudged toward the surface by the dolphins.  Sara's able to haul Jean ashore and revive her.  The two ladies build a fire and warm themselves.  Jean sent Scott a telepathic S.O.S., and told he and Sara's husband of their location.  They continue to talk about Sara's fears for her children.  Jean reaches out one more time, and mindwipes Sara's memories of their Atlantean adventure, and of Phoenix.  As far as Sara will know, they had a boating accident and Sara saved Jean's life.  She also thinks that she'll ask Professor X to have the kids genetically scanned.

Back at the gravesite, Sara thinks that the mind block disappeared when Jean died.  She thinks that Jean shouldn't have done it in the first place, but she's glad that Jean loved her.  She also knows that Jean never got around to asking the professor to see about Sara's kids.  But in the end, Sara thinks that she's not quite as afraid as she used to be; after all, if her kids are mutants and turn out like their Aunt Jean, that wouldn't be all bad.

This was an interesting story.  I warmed to it more the second time I read it, which was for this writing.  My initial reaction was that it was pretty far out there -- Attuma??  But he merely served as a vehicle for Claremont's bigger issue, which was an examination of Jean Grey in a snapshot taken a year before she died.  It was also a tale of those affected by mutants and how they deal with those issues.  Metaphorically, I suppose the script plays into our hopes and fears for all sorts of relationships and life situations.  John Buscema's art is pretty typical of his output in the early 1980's -- it's obviously Big John's greatness, as we have grown used to seeing him in his main B&W venue, Savage Sword of Conan.  I'm pretty sure these are tighter rather than sketchy lay-outs.  Klaus Janson does wonders on the inks and with wash; there's no zipatone, but what there is is a ton of backgrounds!  It's really a pretty lushly-illustrated story.  So for fans of both artists, I think you get the best of both worlds.  This won't necessarily be my stance in mid-July, when I'll treat you to the second story in this magazine.  The Iceman tale was drawn by George Perez and inked by Alfredo Alcala.  I'll challenge you then to pick out the Perez influence.  Nuff said.

4 comments:

  1. Yep, nicely-done story. Don't have much to add to my comments to the original post from all those years ago. In fact, I just want to underscore something I said there as well: I really don't think Sara is saying she'd be o.k. with being Attuma's love slave, she's just saying if she didn't have a family she loved back on the surface world, she'd be fine with remaining a sea-dweller.
    Also, given the way it ends with Sara at Jean's grave (and also the observations you made), I can't help but conclude that this is yet another story cheapened by the subsequent retcon and 'resurrection' of Jean.

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  2. Something I didn't catch until rereading it last night:Sara's flashback to her Atlantis adventure includes Jean flashing back to her childhood friend's death. So Claremont gives us a flashback-within-a-flashback.

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  3. I've heard of this story, but never read it; I was never sure if it was meant to be canon or not.

    I recently watched the "new" X-Men movies (First Class, Days of Future Past, Apocalypse)on TV ... they were actually pretty good. Better than I expected considering the way most fans dismiss them, and definitely better than X-Men 3 (which they even made a joke about in one of the movies).

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  4. Mike, actually First Class and especially Days of Future Past are pretty much beloved. Apocalypse is the one that's hated, and Dark Phoenix is pretty much on the hate list now as well, even though I enjoyed all 4 of those films, despite the last two's ignorance of the source material and their cinematic flaws. As for that Bizarre Adventures mag, I remember buying it at a mom and pop store back in 1981, I was big into anything X-Men and especially Jean/Phoenix. I since sold that magazine but did find a beautiful copy a few years at a con in Toronto. One of my faves with a beautiful cover and the art inside is gorgeous.

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