by Stuart Moore
When I began writing X-MEN: THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, two huge shadows loomed over me, like heavy cruisers of the vast Shi’ar Empire.
Shadow the First: The original comics series, on which this novel is based, is one of the all-time classics of the field. It’s the product of two massive talents—writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne—at the height of their power, tossing off characters, concepts, and milieus at a rapid clip: Empress Lilandra, the White Queen, the Hellfire Club, Mastermind, the Starjammers, Angel’s Aerie, Starcore Station, Peter Corbeau…. X-Men was the juggernaut of late ‘70s comics, leaving a trail of broken hearts, bodies, even whole planets in its wake.
In hindsight, The Dark Phoenix Saga was the culmination of the Claremont/Byrne collaboration. It straddles comics’ Silver and Bronze Ages, providing a rope bridge between the super-powered soap operas pioneered by Stan Lee and the darker, more psychologically complex graphic narratives that followed. And that’s the thing—rope bridges can be fragile. Any writer would be intimidated.
Shadow the Second is harder to explain without delving too deep into spoiler country. In the years since Dark Phoenix first cut a swath across the universe, the “dead girlfriend” has become an unfortunate, overused pop-culture trope. Now, in serial fiction, characters die; it’s part of the game. But when the primary purpose of a woman’s death is to ennoble, motivate, and/or enrage the male protagonist…well, I hope it’s obvious why that’s a problem.
This is not what was going on with Jean, in any version of the story. But tropes leave echoes, and reader attitudes change with changing times. And any character called Phoenix is pretty much guaranteed to die at least once.
Which brings us back to Shadow #1. One of the things people remember about this story is its shocking, psychologically powerful ending. An ending that rips out your heart, as it was supposed to. I thought about ways to tweak it, bring it more in tune with the times…
…but again, I didn’t want to lay too much weight on that rope bridge.
So in structuring and adapting this complex, sprawling story into a novel for 2019, I tried to keep one overriding principle in mind: This is a story about Jean Grey. Scott Summers plays a huge role, of course, both as X-Men team leader and as Jean’s one true love. Jason Wyngarde and the Hellfire Club loom large, both as external threats and as presences in Jean’s mind. Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus all have their parts to play, along with the grim Professor X. I’ve expanded the roles of Wolverine and Emma Frost, two characters who’ve been explored in much greater depth since the original Saga appeared.
But this had to be Jean’s story. The story of a young woman who’s faced danger, death, and unfathomable terror—but who has never really had to decide the course of her own life. Until now.
As they used to say on the cover blurbs: Can all her power save her?
Stuart Moore is a writer of comics and books, including the bestselling ZODIAC LEGACY novels from Disney Press, created and cowritten by Stan Lee. Stuart’s latest comics series, BRONZE AGE BOOGIE (AHOY Comics), is heavily influenced by 1970s comics.
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga is out from Titan Books now! Get it here.