Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenix: Endsong

Phoenix: Endsong is one of those stories that resonates with a sort of melancholy echoing of the nostalgic past. Basically, this story is intended as the final farewell for the Jean Grey/Phoenix character of the X-Men universe. It is a heartfelt story that brings on this overwhelming and bittersweet sense of closure; it is one that somehow makes one recall one's own past, and perhaps those people who got left behind as you went on in life. It makes you wonder what could have happened if things had gone differently while simultaneously helping you realize that the past must be faced and accepted before going on into the future.

The Phoenix's Rebirth

For those not in the know, I'm going to give a brief explanation of what the Phoenix is. Of the members of the X-Men, among them is the gentle figure of Jean Grey. Her powers are psychic and telekinetic in nature, and at one point, years ago, a storyline was created where she was possessed by an immensely powerful force. This is called the Phoenix Force.

But this is not a friendly entity that possesses her. Part of what makes the Phoenix storyline so tragic is that Jean is fighting it from within, but she is doomed to failure. And, given the Phoenix Force's incredible power (at one point, it has Jean Grey decimate an entire planet), the other X-Men have no choice but to try and kill her. Imagine if your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband was possessed by an impersonal force that made him/her shoot nuclear blasts at people. You would have to try and stop him/her, but from time to time, s/he would break through the possession and call out desperately for help. What do you do? How do you reconcile putting him/her down? This is the dilemma that faces the X-Men when they have to confront the Phoenix. They can't imprison her; the Phoenix Force is far too powerful to be contained. They have to kill her, yet they can't help but pull their punches, knowing that their friend is conscious within. It makes for a story that is both intense and heartbreaking to watch. What if you had to kill your lover? That would be the hardest thing to do in the world.

In Phoenix: Endsong, the purpose of the story is for this to be Phoenix/Jean Grey's last appearance. As a result, the story is tinged with nostalgia and a sense of melancholy. It seems like the X-Men themselves realize this as well and, as a consequence, this is one of the more emotional comic books I've read. Thus do each of the X-Men have to fight her and, at the same time, wrestle with the memories of Jean along with the need to finish her off, once and for all.

The Bittersweet Past

As I outlined before, this story is one that is rife with emotions. It will drive you alongside the story, and somehow remind you of your own memories, of times where you yourself had to move on in life, and of times where you lost friends that you wish you did not have to. It brings up painful memories, yet ones that are warm and good as well. It is hard to pin down how Phoenix: Endsong accomplishes this feat, but I will try to explain.

After the Phoenix's appearance, much of the story is driven by the thoughts of the characters as they are forced to confront the idea of killing Jean Grey, their old friend, once again. These bring up memories of a time where Jean Grey was herself, a gentle soul who had an uncanny knack of befriending and cheering those around her. Part of what makes it resonate is the fact that, for much of X-Men's history, Jean Grey serves as the heart of the team, guiding them along the right paths every step of the way.

The thoughts and actions of Cyclops and Wolverine make the story particularly saddening. For those not in the know, Cyclops marries Jean Grey before she becomes the Phoenix. Theirs was an emotional rollercoaster of a marriage, not without strife, but also not without times of great happiness and love. Thus, being confronted with the task of killing his own wife, Cyclops is understandably stricken. He is the leader of the X-Men, so his task is to remain in control of himself and the rest of the team. But, somehow, you can tell that, inside, the task tears him apart. Wolverine, on the other hand, is a troubled soul who found a sort of solace in his relationship with Jean. It was a relationship that ended up blossoming into a star-crossed love. Wolverine loves Jean with all his heart, but it was a love that was almost entirely unrequited. And, because this is Wolverine we are talking about, he is the one who finds it easiest to do what is necessary in order to stop the Phoenix. But, to do so, he must turn off his emotions; something near impossible to do. Thus one of the most heartrending scenes is where Wolverine confronts Phoenix alone in the icy mountains of the north. But I won't give anymore details than that.


Phoenix: Endsong was not perfect. If you stood back from the onslaught of emotions and memories, it is easy to see that the details of the story are flawed and sometimes lack rationality. But I found myself not caring. What was important here was the characters and how they approached this impossibly heartbreaking scenario of having to kill their friend. I was also sad to see how short this story was. It only took maybe a half hour to read the entire thing. Every moment was good, but I found myself wishing it had not ended.

Finally, Phoenix: Endsong is a story about closure. We see the final farewell of these characters and Jean Grey; we see the boundless love that they all share. It is a story that is deeply personal. The artwork is beautiful and captures these events perfectly. I only wish it wasn't so damn short.


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