The X-Men Episode Guide 3×12: ‘Dark Phoenix Part I: Dazzled’
The early ’90s were spoiled for choice when it came to comic book adaptations. Not only was Batman: The Animated Series on the air, but X-Men led Marvel’s push to get on the small screen, diving right into the often convoluted continuity of everyone’s favorite mutants, luring in a generation of fans, and paving the way for cartoons to follow. That’s why we’ve set out to review every single episode of the ’90s X-Men animated series. This week, we finally tackle one of the cornerstones of the X-Men as we enter the Dark Phoenix saga!
Previously, on X-Men:
Oh man. So last week we watched an amazing episode where Gambit went full scumbag and Beast tried to have sex with a computer, right? Well, after that column went up, my good friend Mark Hale informed me that the episode where Gambit is a creepy possessive stalker who calls Rogue fat because she’s hanging out with another guy was written by AN ACTUAL PICKUP ARTIST , whose recent work includes a “system” designed to teach dudes in their 40s how to hook up with girls in their 20s. This is the single most amazing piece of information I have ever received, and I will cherish it forever, for I now have the key to understanding why Gambit is such a hilarious scumbag.
Also some stuff happened with Apocalypse and Archangel, but listen, nobody cares about that. Do you care about it? That’s what I thought.
In our discussion of quotable quotes from superhero shows that you can drop into your day to day life, I think some of you might’ve missed the second part of the question and just gone with quotes that you like regardless of whether you can work them into conversation. Either that, or at least one of you finds it necessary to inform everyone that you don’t wash your hands when you use the bathroom because you’re evil on a daily basis, which is pretty super gross, and the reason that I’m considering never shaking hands with anyone again. Either way, there were some good lines brought up, especially Gavin Jasper’s nod to Apocalypse’s dramatic “I am the rocks of the eternal shore — crash against me AND BE BROKEN!“, something I actually do have occasion to say almost every day.
This week, we’re diving right into the Dark Phoenix Saga courtesy of writer Jan Strand and director Larry Houston, and to be honest, it actually sticks pretty close to the source material, at least in this first part. There’s even a “Based on stories by Chris Claremont” credit right here at the start, which is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, I don’t think I’ve seen a “Based on” credit anywhere else in this show, although that might just be because they haven’t actually done a strict adaptation like this before.
Second, and maybe more important, the credit goes to Chris Claremont and only Chris Claremont, without mentioning John Byrne. At the very least, it’s pretty insulting to leave out the artist when you’re talking about a comic book story to begin with, but Byrne wasn’t just drawing those comics. Claremont and Byrne are credited as co-plotters in the issues, in addition to the usual roles of “script” and “pencils,” so to give sole credit to Claremont for this story is a pretty notable choice, and not in a good way.
It’s also one of those episodes that’s clearly being shown out of order. I mentioned this a few weeks back when things started to get screwy, but at this point in the series, we’re bouncing all over the place in terms of how the episodes were meant to be shown, instead going by the order that they aired and are presented on the DVDs. For the last few, it’s just been a quirky footnote, but here, things are starting to get confusing.
We open, for instance, with Jean undergoing treatment on Muir Island, with Moira MacTaggart, Banshee and Professor X quizzing her about what happened after she went into the sun with the M’Kraan Crystal. That’s something I’d like to know, too, since the last time we saw Jean, she was heading off to the sun and telling everyone that she’d just have to live there forever and ever. In chopping up the airing order, we’ve missed her actual return — she’s just back now. Sadly, explanations are not forthcoming. The only thing we really get out of this is voice actress Catherine Disher delivering one of the weirdest laughs I have ever heard in my entire life.
While all that’s going on, Cyclops and Gambit have gone to New York to scout a new mutant discovered by Cerebro. Because really, that’s who you want to make your first impression when you’re trying to convince someone that they should willingly put their life on the line for the future of a mutant race: The X-Men’s Grumpy Dad and a sex predator who looks like one of the Vampires from season one of Buffy.
Also, can we take a moment to appreciate that they are drinking flesh-colored tubes out of drinking glasses that exist only in the most abstract sense?
The mutant they’re scouting is, as we all know from X-Men #129 by Chris Claremont and Some Guy, Dazzler. When Jean checks up on Cyclops through their psychic connection — and I honestly don’t remember if that’s actually been mentioned before on the show, but it’s certainly something everyone’s fully aware of now — he heads outside, only to find Dazzler being kidnapped by the cosplaying dandies of the Hellfire Club.
Or at least “The Inner Circle.” That’s the only thing they’re called in the episode. My guess is that “Hellfire Club” didn’t get past BS&P, although oddly enough, they were totally cool with one of the members of said club walking around in her traditional outfit of lingerie and a cape.
But more on her later. This particular bestockinged gentleman is Donald Pierce, who tears his own sleeve off in order to reveal that he’s a cyborg as soon as he spots Cyclops. This is a pretty bizarre move, but I’ve watched enough pro wrestling to know that the rending of garments is just how some dudes get super pumped. Also, he karate chops a car and then throws the engine at Cyclops, so basically, Donald Pierce is my favorite character on this show. Sorry, Scumbag Gambit.
Alas, Cyclops avoids being the victim of vehicular homicide, and Pierce escapes to fight another day, leaving us to get to know Dazzler, who for some reason has reddish-brown hair instead of the usual blonde:
She informs Cyclops that Pierce is “some bigshot who won’t take no for an answer,” which seems like a pretty low-key description of a kidnapper with a cybernetic arm.
Back at the Mansion, Wolverine makes his first appearance in this episode by growling “Where’s the salami?“, and if anyone knows how I can extract a ringtone from a DVD, hit me up in the comments.
As Wolverine makes a sandwich, Jean and Professor X return to the mansion. Jean, weary from the “therapy” of wearing glasses and making machinery explode, heads up to sleep, while Cyclops launches into a first-class whine. He’s really upset that she doesn’t seem to be immediately recovered from the time she spent inside the frigging sun, and Professor X explains that the problem is that “the Phoenix is still inside her” (phrasing).
Once Cyclops has made it clear that treating Jean is “hopeless,” we are directed back to the Inner Circle, who are engaging in the Hellfire Club’s most honored tradition: standing around and recapping the major plot points. Thanks to Emma Frost’s psychic probing into Professor X’s files, she knows all about the events of The Phoenix Saga, and the Circle naturally has designs on harnessing her cosmic power for themselves.
To that end, they’re sending Jason Wyngarde, alias Mastermind, to control the mind that controls the Phoenix.
That seems like a solid plan that could in no way come back to bite them in the ass, right? I mean, what is the worst that could happen if you unsuccessfuly attempt to manipulate someone with the power to destroy entire planets? And really, how likely is it that Jean would even be able to unleash the uncontrollable might of the Phoenix?
Yes, Jean has gone Full Lo-Pan, which is a pretty good sign that things are getting worse. According to Professor X, the Phoenix is “becoming dominant,” full of “anger… and excitement.” And since things aren’t quite bad enough, Cyclops bluntly tells Jean that he’s going to leave her here in the infirmary while he goes out to see Dazzler again. All heart, that guy.
When Jean eventually goes to sleep, Mastermind and the White Queen link up to start up their plan of manipulation, sending Jean into a Victorian fantasy world where she’s married to Mastermind and everyone is actually supposed to be dressed like that.
The dream does its work, but before Jean can fall too far into the fantasy, she snaps awake. According to Emma, it’s because of this psychic connection to Cyclops, which she’s reflexively activating whenever she gets stressed out. Either way, it only makes things worse, as she teleports out to the club, charring her bed in the process. When she arrives in a burst of flames, we get a quick look at her new Dark Phoenix costume, but she switches into a relatively normal set just in time to walk in and catch Dazzler singing to her man.
I skipped over it earlier, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the music in this episode is amazing. Dazzler’s original song is like something you’d hear in the background of The Last Dragon (and if you don’t know what I mean by that, you really need to get on 1985’s greatest kung fu muscial), and when Jean rolls up into the club this time, they’re basically playing the “samba” demo you can find on any Casio keyboard. This, apparently, is the music of love, as Dazzler saunters off the stage and plants a kiss right on Cyclops’s lukewarm, fishy mouth.
Needless to say, this is very upsetting for Jean. I mean, it’s also upsetting for me, but for an entirely different reason. It’s also worth noting that it’s an inversion of what happens in the source material — in X-Men #130, it’s Cyclops who sees Jean smooching a stranger (Mastermind) in the club at Dazzler’s show. That still happens here, but only after Jean’s heartbreak at the presumed betrayal rattles her so much that she falls back into the fantasy where she’s Wyngarde’s shipmate.
Jean leaves with Mastermind, and since women are possessions that can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, the X-Men suit up and track her down using Wolverine’s enhanced senses. Cyclops asks him if he’s sure they’ve found the right building, and Wolverine responds with “The nose knows, tough guy,” proving that we are as far away as we could possibly be from the dialogue highlight that was “Check please!”
Rogue flies up to the skylight to check it out — why do all of these buildings have skylights?! Where are they, Gotham City?! — and catches a glimpse of Mastermind and Jean’s wedding ceremony, so that was certainly a whirlwind courtship. Surprisingly, the show doesn’t go for the obvious (and awesome) route of having Rogue crash through when Sebastian Shaw asks if there is anyone who objets. Instead, she just drops down and starts slugging it out, gut-punching a man who she just watched perform a wedding ceremony:
Shaw then punches Rogue through a wall, and Emma Frost shoots the rest of the X-Men with a green blast from her hands, because that’s definitely how her powers work. The ensuing fight scene is notable only for Scumbag Gambit proclaiming that “EVERYONE A COMEDIAN,” and for the X-Men continuing to blast Sebastian Shaw even after he has explicitly stated that his powers work. For a moment, Storm gets the bright idea to just freeze him in place, but before she can, she too gets a power blast, and this time, it’s from Jean.
Or rather, from the Phoenix, who has taken control of “her body… her delicious senses” (uh). So that’ll be a problem.
Discussion Question: Let’s talk about Emma Frost for a minute. Even though this show adheres pretty closely to the X-Men of the comics, I was always pretty surprised that they let the White Queen keep her costume. The “corset, panties and thigh-high stockings” look, while I am a fan, just seems like a little risqué for Saturday Morning, and it got me to thinking: Who are the characters with the most notable redesigns for animation? Were there any tweaks to costumes that you particularly liked or hated? Let’s hash it out in the comments!
Next Week: The Dark Phoenix Saga will continue until morale improves.