I can’t believe it’s taken twenty-seven issues of What If to get to an X-Men story. On the other hand, we’ve had like fourteen Fantastic Four issue. It just goes to show you how staggeringly different the comics of yesteryear were to today’s. Really makes you think.
Anyway, this week we address the second most obvious What If question ever: What If the Phoenix hadn’t died. We start with a quick recap of the original Phoenix origin as Jean Grey successfully crashes a spaceship into Jamaica Bay, saving the X-Men and failing to splatter herself all over the beach.Instead she’s possessed by the cosmic entity Phoenix, making her into an A Number One Bad Ass.
Then we skip ahead a few months to Victorian Dandy and Mega Creep, the Mastermind who uses his mutant powers to make Jean think she likes dressing in bondage gear and hunting humans for sport. It’s a very specific fantasy. Eventually, Jean becomes Dark Phoenix, vaporizes a star and kills billions of people. Which is still the second highest body count on the X-Men behind Wolverine.
Professor X psychically strips Jean of her Phoenix powers, returning her to her usual normal powers. At this point, the Shi’ar Space Empire arrives on Earth, pissed about all those dead aliens for some reason. The X-Men are forced to battle the Shi’ar’ Imperial Guard to save Jean but she feels the Phoenix Force returning and elects to vaporize herself instead. Which is the end of Jean Grey. Until it’s revealed the Phoenix really just took the Real Jean’s form, trapped her in an underwater cocoon and impersonated her for years. But that’s not important right now.
This week, we look at that tragic vaporization and wonder what would have happened if Jean survived it. She does dodge it and eventually the Imperial Guard whittle her and Cyclops down, beating the goddamn hell out of Scott. The Guards round up the X-Men and then take Jean away and lobotomise her, utterly destroying her Phoenix powers and her regular psychic powers too. Then they boot the X-Men back down to Earth, tip their hats and fuck off back to the important task of being stuck-up, high falootin’ bird people. Jerks.
Back on Earth, the X-men try getting back to life as usual. Professor X brings Kitty Pryde (AKA Sprite, Ariel, Shadowcat and First Girl Matt Ever Fell In Love With) onto the team. He also apparently hires Jean on as a maid, since he has no goddamn idea what else to do with her. Charles, you’ve been training this woman since she was sixteen, she’s an accomplished superhero and original X-Man. Find something better for her to do than making cookies for the boys.
Professor X gets a call from the Shi’ar. “Hey, guys. I know we just finished tearing your friend’s brain out, right after we beat the shit out of you guys but.. uh, we’ve got a minor Galactus problem.” Sure enough, one of the planets in the Shi’ar Empire’s about to be eaten by giant purple man/actual fucking apocalypse Galactus. Professor X tells the team that he’s heard of Galactus from Reed Richards. I assume he was out of town that time that Galactus came by New York a couple years back. The X-Men head out, bringing along auxiliary members Polaris, Havok and Angel. Because when you’re fighting the doom of all civilization, you really want to bring the blonde guy with the wings. Good planning, guys.
The X-men arrive at the attacked planet, discovering Galactus and his current herald, Terrax. So named because he has an axe. Look, sometimes you just take the name that falls in your lap, alright? While Galactus sets up his big “Eat Your Fucking Planet” device, Terrax spends his time being a complete prick to the local aliens, a race of little ball people who are amazingly good at crying. Which is great when your planet is about to die.
The X-Men attack but they are out of their fucking depth, man. They can barely hold their own against Terrax, let alone get the attention of the big purple G-Man himself. (No, not the Grimace.) Finally, only Cyclops is left. Terrax goes in for the killing blow when Jean senses the attack. Her powers come rushing back and she bursts out of the spaceship in a blast of flame. She also almost kills Kitty before remembering that impressionable teenagers NEED AIR TO BREATHE and encases her in a little customized spacesuit.
The returned Phoenix quickly curb stomps Terrax, returning him to his non-axe owning, naked form. She then attacks Galactus, who does my absolute favourite Galactus thing ever. Specifically getting his ass kicked while he tells you it’s all part of his plan. “IT WAS TOTALLY MY PLAN TO JOIN YOU IN THE SKY, MORTAL. AND THEN ALMOST GET MELTED AND HAVE TO SCOOP UP MY LITTLE NAKED FRIEND AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE BECAUSE JESUS YOU’RE SCARY. BUT THIS IS ALL PART OF MY PLAN.”
Jean rejoins the X-Men and the sad ball people just as the Shi’ar Empress Lilandra shows up. “Hey, Jean, two wrongs don’t make a right but saving one planet from genocide TOTALLY makes up for killing another. You go on back to your home planet and nobody worry about a thing. We cool!”
With that puzzling pronouncement done, the X-Men return home where they basically kick the asses of every evil mutant ever because one of their guys is playing in God Mode now. Everything’s going more or less fine (Wolverine keeps hanging around in the shadows like a creep because he wants to bang Jean but that’s no surprise.) when Phoenix starts sneaking out into space to blow up a meteorite or two. “It’s no big deal.” She says. “I can stop anytime I want.”
The real problems come when, after an attack by the new and improved Sentinels (This time they have the technology to shove Wolverine in a box!), Jean heads into space and ends up eating an entire star. I mean, okay, it’s not around an inhabited planet or anything this time but …. y’know, that’s still rude. When she returns home, Kitty confronts her on the X-Men’s front lawn like so much white trash. Unfortunately, Jean doesn’t have time for arguments over her dietary decisions and chooses to vaporize Kitty instead.
Professor X tries to shut down Jean’s mind again but this time she’s in full-on Dark Phoenix mode and isn’t having it. She obliterates his brain before brutally murdering the rest of the X-Men. These include smashing Angel into the side of the mansion like a bird against a windshield, stabbing Colossus WITH Wolverine and burying Storm alive in one of the most brutal scenes I’ve witnessed since I started writing these things.
She finally works her way down to Scott who’s been holding back since he still loves her. He finally opens up with an optic blast but Phoenix barely feels it and blasts him in the face, killing him. That done, Jean realizes what’s happend and her Phoenix force vaporizes first New York, then Earth and finally the Universe. That done, Uatu pops his giant head in to mention that, while Jean dying in our reality was a tragedy, this universe might just be worse. Gee, MIGHT? You think, Watch? MIGHT BE WORSE. Jesus, this guy…