Despite being a huge X-Men fan, I’ll admit, I haven’t read too many of the X-Men books (or any comics for that matter) from before 2000. I did read some of Claremont’s later stuff from the re-launch of the X-Men title from 1991, but that’s about it. Lately though, I’ve felt that I’ve missed a lot of some of the truly great and classic stories from X-Men’s history and I’ve learned that Claremont was instrumental in some of those stories. However, the single story that was consistently praised and the top of many “Best X-Men stories” lists was the Dark Phoenix Saga. I figured this was the best entrance to my reading of some the greatest X-Men stories that have been written.

Many of the major plot points in this run are quite well known at this point. Some of the details, such as the involvement of the Hellfire Club (or Circle Club as it was called) and Mastermind, I didn’t know until I recently re-watched this saga from the X-Men animated series. This gave me a solid idea of what to anticipate from this book going in so I didn’t really expect to be surprised. That, of course, changed in next to no time.

Slightly before Xavier was a jerk.

One of the biggest surprised for me was the fact that this book introduced Kitty Pryde. I knew she was introduced in the early ‘80s, but I had absolutely zero idea that it was during the Dark Phoenix Saga. I hadn’t yet taken opportunity to investigate further into the issue she first appeared, so I couldn’t help but be taken aback when I saw her first discovering her mutant phasing abilities. Along with Kitty, Dazzler was also introduced into the Marvel Universe here. While Dazzler’s popularity doesn’t exactly stack up to Kitty’s, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw her on the cover of issue 130. This just brought back memories of trying to avoid getting stuck playing Dazzler in the X-Men arcade game.

Complete lack of practical clothing since 1980.

The fact that the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw, and Emma Frost were all introduced within these pages was also incredibly cool to see. Since I started reading X-Men with Emma Frost transitioning onto the team, I was used to her being around. There was also quite a bit of talk about her past allegiance with Shaw and the Hellfire Club in many of these issues. I had become used to hearing about them, so it was fun to try and put myself into the mindset of just having been introduced to these characters for the first time while knowing the general direction their stories would go in the future.

Nom Nom Nom.

All that was fantastic, but the best part of reading this for the first was certainly the story. In the past, I’ve found it difficult to go back and try to read some of the older comics. I never really felt that way while reading this. I really think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I was holding the book in my hands. I still can’t help but get a bit of a thrill to see what’s on the next page as I turn it. The trade paperback that I picked up just looked simply beautiful. The colors really seemed to pop right off the page. I’ll admit, my expectations for the art were relatively low, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by Byrne’s artwork. Of course one of the most memorable moments, when Jean destroys a star leading to the death of five billion members of an alien race, still holds up even today. My one complaint though was the fact that there seemed to be text on every panel, including each panel of the star exploding. These days, I’m used to the art getting the point across on many poignant scenes, and this seems like a moment that would have been perfect if there had been less text.

Ultimately, I can fully understand why this story gets as much praise as it does. It deserves every ounce of positive comments as it gets. Even though stories not too different have been done since then, and Jean Grey dying has become a running joke by even the X-Men themselves, that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of, if not the best X-Men story ever.