Heralding the June 7 arrival of this stirring cinematic chapter in the X-Men universe, London-based Titan Books is releasing a fresh new Marvel prose novel starring that elemental force of infinite power, Dark Phoenix — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive chapter excerpt and comments from its acclaimed author.
Written by Stuart Moore (Namor: The First Mutant, Web of Spider-Man) and adapted from the seminal Marvel Comics series by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne, X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga arrives on May 14 and carries with it the mounting tide of mutant strife.
Taking its cue from 1980's classic Uncanny X-Men run, this expanded offering finds Jean Grey piloting a doomed shuttle straight through a devastating solar flare and getting dosed by a lethal storm of cosmic rays while sacrificing her life to save the X-Men.
But true to its namesake, the legendary Phoenix rises from the ashes of its former self, and Jean is transformed into one of the universe’s most fearsome entities. When she and her X-Men brethren launch an attack against the secret organization known as the Hellfire Club, her mind is manipulated into betraying her fellow mutants. Jean becomes the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen, and her destiny takes a deadly turn.
As her unlimited powers surge out of control, it becomes perfectly clear to the X-Men that the raging Phoenix must be destroyed without killing Jean in the process, all while the fate of the planet hangs on their victory.
“Dark Phoenix is one of the touchstone works of superhero comics," Moore tells SYFY WIRE. "In expanding it into a novel, my top priority was to flesh out Jean Grey as a person and keep the story focused on her as much as possible. I was determined to do justice to Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original, mind-blowing story, while bringing it subtly into the 21st century. By Sharra and K’ythri, I hope I’ve pulled it off.”
Now enjoy our exclusive chapter excerpt for Titan Books' X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Stuart Moore, then tell us if this literary treat might prepare you for June's Dark Phoenix feature film.
ALL AT once the flare passed. The shuttle’s engines coughed; instruments began to click and reboot; screens flickered brighter. The comms system blared to life with a hundred overlapping messages.
“—ust coming back up now—”
“—Tower One, do you read—”
“—ergency broadcast system, back online—”
Jean shook her head, struggling to clear her thoughts. The fires dancing across her skin had receded, the air felt cooler. But the radiation still boiled within her body.
“—flare has receded—”
“—ease keep all channels clear—”
Telekinetically she toggled the comms system off. Her hands were still wrapped around the control stick. She tested it, tugging slightly, and a message appeared on the nearest screen.
ENGINE CONTROLS REBOOTING
The Professor’s words echoed in her mind: The time is coming.
The center screen flickered to life. A haze of red and yellow began to resolve, to take shape. Autumn leaves—hanging from a grove of trees, hundreds of them. Directly below, in the shuttle’s path.
And another voice, from the depths of her memory: When things start to die.
A beep from the flight console. New text appeared on the smaller screen.
She pulled back hard on the stick. The shuttle lurched, g-force pressing her back in her chair. She grunted, pulled again, and gasped as the forward-screen image swung upward with dizzying speed. Bright sky, blue and clear, filled the display.
She let out a cry of joy.
Accessing Corbeau’s memories, she reached out with her mind and called up a GPS map. The tree-lined area below, she saw, was called Rockaway Community Park. It jutted out along Jamaica Bay, on the south side of Long Island—New York City, on the edge of Brooklyn and Queens. And just across the bay …
The small screen turned red.
The shuttle sputtered, went quiet, and began to drop. Jean’s stomach seemed to flip upside down. She leaned forward, pulling at the stick. No response.
The voice returned. An ancient presence that was her, and yet not her.
Time to die, it said.
Jean dove into Corbeau’s memories, racing through the options one by one. Main engines: offline. Emergency bailout: no time, and Scott and the others would still be trapped in the life-cell. Landing gear: at this speed, it would be crushed on impact.
It’s all right, the voice said.
Shut up, she told it. Shut up shut up SHUT UP!
There was one chance: the elevons. Corbeau had designed the shuttle to function in glide mode, without the engines. Probably just to show off, she realized. Now his ego might save all their lives.
Quickly, expertly, she extended the wings to their full span. The shuttle bucked and slowed as air pounded against the wings. Jean shook in her seat. They were still dropping fast, but she’d managed to achieve a measure of control over their course.
Now all I need is someplace to land!
Straining, forcing the elevons down and over, she steered the plunging bird toward JFK Airport. Buildings slid by, low and dark, leading to a thick control tower studded with lights. Beyond, a thin green-gray landing strip stretched out like a finger, ending at the blue glimmering bay.
She flipped the comms system back on.
“—maintain holding pattern—”
“Mayday!” she called. “JFK flight control, I’m coming in hot. Clear all traffic, please!”
A flurry of crosstalk.
“Unidentified bird, this is control tower. You are too low. Repeat…”
She checked the altitude: 210 meters. The controller was right. At this rate of descent, she’d never clear the buildings.
Jean reached out telekinetically, forcing her power to surround the entire shuttle. She seized hold, struggling to keep its plummeting bulk in check. Then she gritted her teeth and lifted.
The shuttle swooped upward, barely clearing the main tower, and lurched down toward the tarmac. Jean felt a brief moment of triumph—
—before the impact shattered her spine.
The shuttle gouged a scar in the runway, then bounced sideways toward the adjoining grass. Sparks rose from its underbelly as it veered back, slamming down hard again. Momentum drove it forward, plowing a hot furrow through the tarmac.
Jean was conscious of a burning sensation, a fire spreading through her broken body. The minds of her friends, her lover, her teacher—all of them cried out from their confinement in the back of the shuttle. She had no strength left to shut them out.
This is the end, she thought.
No, the voice that was not her replied. It’s the beginning.
As the shuttle screamed forward, Jean’s consciousness exploded. Images flooded her mind. Flames dancing on skin; worlds exploding, dying in paroxysms of fire. A cruel woman in leather and boots, with hair like ice.
She saw Cyclops shackled, his face covered in crimson metal. Mouth open in a silent scream.
The shuttle bounced once more, the fuselage cracking in half. Two severed pieces dangled in midair, then plunged into the bay. Engines coughed briefly to life and sputtered out again. Jean Grey made no move toward the controls, no mental effort to prevent the vessel from sinking.
She was already dead.
CYCLOPS BROKE the surface, spitting filthy salt water. He gasped as a wave washed over him, then flexed powerful arms, thrusting upward to keep his head above water.
He looked around as best he could, surveying the scene through the crimson lenses of his visor. Over on the airport tarmac, emergency lights flashed. The edge of the runway hung jagged, crumbling off into the bay. The shuttle had done considerable damage on its way down.
Some of the other X-Men bobbed and floated, dazed, just a few feet away. Logan, Storm, and Nightcrawler were the closest. Just past them, Dr. Corbeau used a lifeguard’s shoulder-hold to keep the dazed Professor X above the water. Surprisingly, the Professor seemed to be regaining consciousness.
That was everyone. Almost.
All but one.
“Storm, Kurt,” he called. “Get Corbeau and the Professor to safety.”
Storm started to answer, then coughed. “One moment, Scott.”
“Ja,” Nightcrawler said.
“No hurry.” Corbeau shook water out of his thick hair. “I trained for the Olympic swim team, back in college.”
The dull whir of a helicopter echoed from above. NYPD no doubt, responding to the crash. Hopefully the Professor would recover soon—for his own sake, of course, but his mental powers could also prevent the rescue teams from noticing a pack of costumed mutants floating in the bay.
I can’t worry about that now, Cyclops thought. He cast his eyes down toward the water, where the shuttle had sunk beneath the murk. Then he thrust his head upward and began gulping as much air as he could.
The water began to churn. He looked over to see Wolverine chopping toward him, teeth gritted.
“I’m going down for her, Logan,” Cyclops said. “Try to stop me, I swear I’ll kill you.”
“I ain’t stoppin’ you, Cyke. I’m coming with.”
No, Cyclops thought. She’s my love—my responsibility. I have to save her!
Yet there was no denying Wolverine’s stamina. Of the two of them, Logan probably had a better chance of rescuing Jean. Cyclops nodded reluctantly.
They raised their arms, prepared to dive—and Wolverine froze. His eyes went wide as he sniffed the air. Cyclops shot him a look, then realized the water was bubbling all around them. Even through his insulated uniform, he could feel the temperature rising.
All at once the surface seemed to explode, flaring upward in a glow of iridescent fire. Cyclops tumbled one way, catching a face-full of bay water, as Logan was tossed in the other direction. Between them, a gleaming, shining blur of a figure shot up into the sky.
Wiping the water off his visor, Cyclops gasped.
Jean Grey hung suspended in the air, eyes closed, her arms raised toward the sky. Slowly she opened her eyes and turned to look down, like a monarch surveying her subjects. When she spoke, her voice seemed to fill the air.
“HEAR ME, X-MEN,” she said. “NO LONGER AM I THE WOMAN YOU KNEW.”
Cyclops’s brow furrowed. Somehow Jean was wearing a new costume. It gleamed green and gold, its long sash whipping in the wind.
“I AM FIRE,” she continued, “AND LIFE INCARNATE.”
It was her, and yet it wasn’t. Everything about her had changed.
Where did that come from? Jean’s never exhibited that level of telekinetic ability before…
“NOW AND FOREVER: I AM PHOENIX!”
“Jean!” he called.
At the sound of his voice she looked down. She seemed to struggle to focus, and then her expression softened. A look of fear crossed her face; she grabbed her temples and screamed.
For a long moment she flared bright. Fiery wings seemed to flash outward from her body, blocking out the sun. The police helicopter halted in its approach and circled back, keeping its distance.
Then the energy died.
Jean gasped, went dark, and dropped from the sky.
When she struck the water, Cyclops was the first to reach her. He waved Logan away and hoisted her up, keeping her head above the surface.
“Jean?” he said. “Jean!”
“She’s breathin’,” Wolverine said.
Cyclops rested his head on her chest and heaved a sigh of relief. Her heartbeat was strong.
He floated in the water, holding her, waiting for the helicopter to return. Then he realized that the Professor had recovered enough to reach out and alter the perceptions of the rescue teams. When their way was clear, Xavier sent a mental signal. Cyclops hesitated, casting a final look down into the depths of the bay.
“Scott?” Storm called.
He turned to follow the others, paddling slowly toward shore. Keeping a tight grip on Jean Grey, the woman he loved. The woman he would always love, he knew with fierce determination—every moment of every day, for the rest of his life.