Excalibur (1st series) #52

Issue Date: 
July 1992
Story Title: 
All You Ever Wanted To Know About Phoenix… But Were Afraid To Ask

Alan Davis (writer), Will Simpson (breakdowns), Jimmy Palmiotti & Dave Hoover (finishes), Michael Heisler (letterer), Kelly Corvese (colorist), Terry Kavanagh (editor), Tom deFalco (editor-in-chief)

Excalibur created by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis

Brief Description: 

Xavier is resting in his den, until slowly noticing that things are wrong. First, an ever-changing Cyclops, then Phoenix, try to stop him. Eventually, Phoenix casts him out and he awakes in reality, in Excalibur’s lighthouse after having spent hours in the psyche of Rachel Summers. He again tries to contact her with the help of Jean Grey and the Excalibur members and they come into contact with the Phoenix force. It tells them how it is a force of the cosmos and became self aware, thanks to the original Feron. It was wounded and traumatized by Necrom and retreated. Much later, it tried to find Feron again and instead found Jean Grey in the space shuttle, trying to save her friends’ lives. Fascinated by Jean’s inner strength and sacrifice, Phoenix proposed a deal. It put Jean into a healing cocoon and took her place as Phoenix. So intoxicated Phoenix was with human life that it forgot who it actually was. Corrupted by the Hellfire Club to become Dark Phoenix, it ended its human existence. As it intended to return the stolen lifeforce to the slumbering Jean, it detected another presence with the same psychic pattern; it was the astral form of Rachel. Phoenix read Rachel’s mind and learned about her bleak timeline where her family and friends had been killed and Rachel had been brainwashed into hunting her own people. Yet she never gave up. After the X-Men’s plan to change their timeline by preventing the assassination of Robert Kelly failed, Rachel returned her astral body to the past to learn what had gone wrong. She learned this was a different timeline. Phoenix sent part of its being away with the lifeforce of Jean Grey and attached itself to Rachel. In Rachel’s future, it revealed itself to Kate Pryde who asked Phoenix to give Rachel a new chance at life. Hence in Project Nimrod when Kate said “Dark Phoenix,” Phoenix supercharged Rachel’s power to send her back in time and then suppressed Rachel’s memories to give her a chance at a new start. In the fight with Necrom, Rachel died. Phoenix is nurturing what is left of her psyche while it slowly heals. Phoenix apologizes to Jean for all the pain it caused her and leaves in Rachel’s body for the stars. Elsewhere, in a small village, policemen are puzzled as all inhabitants have disappeared. Only the Crazy Gang would know more…

Full Summary: 

The atmosphere is warm and restful as Charles Xavier sits in his den; a fire is blazing, he has a glass of cognac at his side and a poetry book in his lap. He reads:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

The next page seems to be gibberish. Xavier repeats the last lines of the poem. Suddenly, the computer on his left, before an older model, now a modern one, beeps, Scott Summers contacts him, announcing that the crisis board is still clear. They can all enjoy their break. Xavier thanks him and returns to his book. Suddenly, something strikes him and he cries Scott.

Cyclops, in his current uniform, suddenly stands before him. How did he get here so quickly? Xavier asks. He was passing, comes the reply. He did not hear him, Xavier points out. He must have dozed off, Scott suggests. He’s been under a lot of stress lately.

Xavier stares as Scott is suddenly dressed in his first uniform. What’s wrong? he asks. You are wrong, Xavier tells Scott who is now wearing everyday clothes. This is not reality. What’s going on? Scott states he doesn’t know what’s going on. He changes again into the costume that Jean made for him.

Xavier explains that, in his mind, Scott Summers is not a cipher. He is a living stream of memory. Simultaneously scrawny youth and mature man, student and friend. This Scott is an illusion based on that fluctuating memory. Who is he?

Xavier gets up. Cyclops stammers, then shouts at him to sit down. More gently, he adds that Xavier is safe here. Safe from what? Xavier, demands, still standing. Why this elaborate deception? Again, Cyclops orders him to sit down and Xavier refuses. He needs to know what this is about. He walks past Cyclops, who threatens he will have to harm him. He can’t let him. Cyclops fires his optic blast, but Xavier fends it off with his telepathic power. Here the optic blast is a psi-energy illusion he can easily deflect.

Will he so easily deflect his X-Men? Magneto asks, as he and the X-Men team from around that time appear (Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Shadowcat, Wolverine and powerless Storm). Magneto leading the X-Men? Xavier wonders as he takes Magneto out. That was a long time ago. He takes them all out easily as he muses that the architect of that construction is obviously working from outdated knowledge. Yet it is precise, intimate knowledge which would suggest his adversary is…

He walks towards the door and a voice shouts stop! In the doorway appears Phoenix, in the shape of Jean Grey in the green and gold costume. She orders him to go back. She will not let him proceed beyond that point. He must know what she is hiding, he announces, and will not be stopped. Phoenix hits him with a mental blast…


…that pushes him backward, even in reality.

Jean Grey gently telekinetically catches him. Xavier needs a moment to gather his thoughts. This is Braddock Manor, isn’t it? Why are they here? Jean reminds him that they came here to help Rachel. What happened to him? He projected his consciousness into Rachel’s mind ten hours ago. Xavier is astonished. He has no memory other than relaxing in his study. Jean explains she tried to communicate with him, but some force blocked every attempt. She couldn’t detect the source.

The imagery he confronted was confused, but based primarily on the period Rachel spent with the X-Men. Nightcrawler points out that Rachel’s memories have always been fragmented. She believed the Phoenix Force was responsible, so she made it dormant. Over a period of weeks, her memory began to heal. And she made a number of insights into her past life… their future.

The future of an alternate Earth, Jean corrects him. Rachel claimed that she was her mother, and Scott her father. In her “time,” the North American continent is enslaved by Sentinels. Mutants are exterminated or held in brutal concentration camps. If that grim, hopeless future exists, nothing they can do will alter it. She can’t believe they have no control over their destiny.

Kurt replies he understands and so did Rachel, but it was more than a philosophical dilemma to her. She lived through it. She hoped to remember the cause of her future to stop it from happening again. But her memory was destroyed when the she reactivated the Phoenix Force to fight Necrom. She defeated him, but returned tin her current condition.

Xavier telepathically tells Kurt not to blame himself. Kitty wonders what significance there is to Rachel suddenly wearing the original Phoenix costume. It may be the key to her condition, Xavier decides. While he was mindlinked to Rachel, he was “detained” in an illusion of total serenity. Every detail, every sensation was correct. If his subconscious choice of reading had not raised a sense of doubt, he would be there still. A small percentage of the power it took to maintain such a sophisticated illusion could have destroyed him. Yet no aggressive move was made until he tried to probe beyond the area he was confined in. He believes he was in direct contact with the Phoenix Force.

What about Rachel? Kitty asks. He doesn’t know, but it is time to find out. Kitty urges him to rest and eat something first. He has done nothing but rest for the last ten hours, he shoots back, and physical hunger will sharpen his concentration. Anyway, he doesn’t propose to make another personal approach. The Phoenix Force has cause to see him as a threat. It may be more responsive to friends. He anchors them all with a psychic lifeline, so he can pull them out at the first sign of danger.

Alistaire tries to touch the visible mindlink. Brian strictly tells him to stop mucking about. You’d think he’d never seen psionically-induced atmospheric ionisation before. Don’t be silly, Meggan tells him. It’s Professor Xavier’s mindlink.

Xavier reminds Jean that both Rachel and the Phoenix have displayed a strong affinity with Jean. Use it! She must suppress any negative feelings. Jean promises she’s ready. She knew she’d have to face up to this sooner or later.

The astral plane:

First, here is nothingness and Cap announces he is not impressed. This changes as, out of nothingness, they witness the Big Bang, the birth of the universe.

These can’t be Rachel’s memories. They belong to the Phoenix Force, Jean realizes. Why is it showing this to them, she asks. The Phoenix Force replies it wants them to understand. It is important they understand. This is how it came into being. Alone. Without feeling, without emotion, without desires. It existed, but was oblivious to existence. It simply was. Until a mind touched it. The contact focused its awareness, it woke to reality. Curiosity blossomed within it. The siren call of another intelligence drew it to Earth.

There it joined with Feron. He who had called it into consciousness. In joyous communion, it was shaped by his dream. It opened itself to share in a spectrum of sensation it had never known. But its first lesson was pain as Necrom violated its essence. It fled in agonized rage. In time, the fog and pain subsided and it endeavored to achieve its natural state. But it could not get back. It was forever changed.

Lost and alone, it returned to Earth. It too had changed. Man had evolved to take his first faltering steps to the heaves. It sought Feron, but found another. There piloting a damaged space shuttle, prepared to sacrifice her life for her friends whom she had locked in the safety of a shielded cargo bay was Jean Grey. It watched as cosmic radiation ravaged her frail mortal form, unable to comprehend the emotions that drove her to endure such agony for others.

But her cause was lost, death inevitable unless it intervened. It did not act with noble purpose. Like a jealous child, it wanted what it did not possess. A deal was struck, a devil’s bargain. With borrowed life force, the Phoenix force replaced the mind and form of Jean Grey and sealed her shattered form inside a healing cocoon.

So, the Phoenix rose as the triumphant savior of all aboard the shuttle while Jean Grey lay in a cocoon beneath the dark waters of Jamaica bay. Phoenix was intoxicated with the rich experiences of her new life. She learned of friendship, of camaraderie and love. Its heady passion overwhelmed her. She denied her own consciousness, buried it beneath a lie. She was Jean Grey.

But she still possessed cosmic power and power corrupts. It thrives on easy victories. And though friends offered sage counsel and unconditional love and concerned parents wrapped her in tender care, dark seeds had been sown. She was seduced by primal lust and hunger, turning into the Black Queen and eventually the Dark Phoenix. She was out of control. Nothing could oppose her. Or so she thought, until she was confronted with the indomitable will and terrifying skill of Professor Charles Xavier. He bypassed her psychic defenses. Laid psionic circuit breakers to disrupt her powers, then he reinforced the part of her that was Jean Grey. He made her see what she was… what she had become. In that instant, she glimpsed the soul of Jean Grey and rejected the power of the Phoenix.

Others were not prepared to forgive her for her crimes. The Shi’ar demanded justice. The X-Men stood beside Phoenix in a duel of honor. They were prepared to die for her … for Jean Grey. She could not let that happen. She embraced her guilt. She had stolen a life. Lived with lies and deceit, causing pain, death and destruction. It had to end. She made the X-Men fear her. She wanted them to hate her. To kill her. How little she understood of the human soul. As she looked at the man she had grown to love, she hesitated, she would miss him. Only her love for him gave her the strength to trigger the alien cannon that vaporized the mortal shell she had replicated.

The Phoenix essence survived. Hidden in the smouldering crater it watched Scott Summers grieve. Not for it, but for the woman he thought it had been. Long after Scott left, it reflected on its folly. It could conceive of no way to undo the evil it had done save return to Jean Grey the life force it had stolen.

As it descended toward the Earth, it sensed Jean not in the cocoon, but floating high above New York. It drew closer and discovered the astral form was another whose psychic resonance precisely duplicated that of Jean Grey. But on the surface it saw a name, Rachel Summers. Daughter of Scott Summers and his wife Jean Grey. Puzzled by this anomaly, the Phoenix Force read Rachel’s mind.

Rachel’s memories:

It saw memories of a loving family, the same family Phoenix had known, the X-Men. But these X-Men had never encountered the Phoenix.

Rachel’s world grew suddenly dark. Her mother was killed when Mastermind detonated a nuclear device in Pittsburgh. The government then decided to outlaw mutantkind. Kurt Wagner, his wife Amanda Sefton and Illyana Rasputin were he first to be slaughtered, when the military launched a devastating attack on Xavier’s mansion.

Rachel begged Professor Xavier to retreat. But he would not abandon his dream. He pleaded for a cease fire. His plea fell on deaf ears. Rachel collapsed, unable to bear what she saw. Through her senses, Phoenix relived emotions it had never known, panic, terror and as the troops’ cruel hands dragged Rachel from her guardian, it understood what it was like to be helpless, without power.

For long months, Rachel suffered at the hands of her captors. She valiantly fought hypnosis, drugs and machines that twisted her mind – it was a fight she could not win. When her dwindling resistance finally failed, the core of Rachel’s spirit retreated into the darkest recess of her psyche and she became a hound. Ahab’s prototype. A mindless slave, conditioned to detect other mutants. Her telepathy, though not as keen as her mother’s, made her well-suited to the task. Once she had tracked a psychic scent, her quarry was doomed.

Without remorse, Rachel tracked friend and foe alike. Her mind locked to theirs, understanding in an instant every thought, memory and desire. And when the target was trapped and killed, that tiny part of Rachel far beneath conscious thought maintained the link, using each new death to fuel shame and grief and anger.

Ahab saw rebellion in Rachel’s steady gaze and responded with characteristic cruelty. Rachel welcomed the pain. It gave focus to a growing fury that shattered the psychic restraints of her conditioning. Though Rachel’s mind was free, she knew she could no escape. But she used that instant of freedom to avenge all the souls Ahab forced her to betray. She tossed him into his machinery which exploded. Before she could move again Rachel was snared by a Sentinel. She did not stop struggling, but smiled with savage joy as she looked down at Ahab’s mutilated body.

In the months that followed, she drew strength from that small victory and resisted every attempt to reprogram her. So she was sent to a concentration camp to await genetic experimentation.

Rachel was reunited with the surviving X-Men and they devised a plan to save mutantkind. Rachel was crucial to the plan. Not for the telepathy and telekinesis she had inherited from her mother, but her own mutant ability to project her astral self through time. The plan was to change a significant event in the past to reshape their present. The event had taken place prior to Rachel’s birth, so she had no body to possess in that era. Whereas Kate Pryde had been a teenager and, since it is easier for an adult mind to displace that of a child, Rachel projected Kate’s consciousness into the past.

The plan did no work. History had been altered, but when Kate returned to the future, it was unchanged. Rachel projected herself into the past to investigate why they had failed. There she discovered she travelled crosstime into another Earth’s past and so prepared to return to the future. Which is why Phoenix had discovered her astral self meditating above New York.

It could not bear to lose Rachel to that future. She had endured inhuman suffering, she had been stripped of her humanity, her very soul. But she fought and won it back. There was so much it could learn from her. As it felt her psyche begin to slip into the timestream, it sent a portion of its essence to restore the stolen lifeforce of Jean Grey and followed Rachel into the future.

Rachel was unconscious from the strain of the journey when Phoenix emerged from her mind and revealed itself to Kate Pryde. In that sad, old face, it saw the child it had known. Kate listened in silence as the Phoenix Force told its story. Kate revealed she had nothing to live for, but Rachel was young. Her short life had been a living nightmare. Kate asked Phoenix to give Rachel a chance for a fresh start and Phoenix agreed.

The following day, Kate and Rachel broke into the cyberrobotic complex to destroy Project Nimrod. Nimrod was to be a new super-sentinel, security was virtually impenetrable. Once in there, there was no way out. It was a suicide mission. Kate was ready to die to give Rachel a clean getaway and, since the complex reactor would vaporize everything within a square mile when it exploded, no one would expect Rachel to survive.

Before detonating the device, Kate sad the code word Dark Phoenix and Phoenix supercharged Rachel’s power to throw her back in time physically. Rachel was unaware that she hosted Phoenix’s presence. Kate said it should be so. She also asked that the Phoenix suppress Rachel’s memories to stop the ghosts of the past haunting her future. It was not easy, Rachel’s mind was strong. Sometimes she remembered. Phoenix had not meant to cause confusion. It sought only to do as Kate had asked.

Just following orders, eh? Jean asks cynically. She’s heard that before. It explains Rachel’s jumbled and inconsistent memory, Kitty muses, but what happened to her? Where s Rachel?

Here, Phoenix replies and shows them an infant in a bubble at the heart of the Phoenix raptor. Rachel was destroyed in the fight with Necrom. She should have died. It was a simple matter to restore her body, but Phoenix has learned through bitter experience that the human mind and soul are beyond its understanding. It gathered Rachel’s shattered psyche and will protect and nurture it until it heals.

Will it heal? Nightcrawler asks anxiously. Will she be as she was? Will she know them? Know who she is? Only time will tell, Phoenix replies. Until then, she is in its care. With that, it sends them back to their bodies. One thing is certain, it adds. Now and forever, it and Rachel are irrevocably merged.

Speaking through the glowing Rachel, Phoenix explains to Jean that it has removed all traces of its power from Jean, but it can not remove the memories that tainted the lifeforce it returned. Can Jean forgive the pain it has caused her? Not answering the question directly, Jean asks what about what it’s doing to Rachel. Rachel claimed its power as her own, comes the reply. Freely and without reservation. They are one.

They only have its word for that, Kitty points out. Seems to her Phoenix is just taking what it wants. Xavier interrupts that they can only trust the Phoenix. Its actions thus far have been in Rachel’s interest.

Phoenix thanks him and states it must leave now. Where is it going? Kurt asks. To the stars, comes the reply and Phoenix and Rachel fly away, leaving the others to wonder whether it was telling the truth.

Kitty sobs that it’s like Rachel is dead. They should have done something. Jean reminds her that nothing they could do would have stopped the Phoenix. Xavier agrees. They can only pray that the Phoenix has truly come of age. That it has acquired the spiritual strength of Rachel Summers.

Less than a hundred miles to the north of Braddock Manor lies Skufington Wallop, one of the innumerable picturesque hamlets that dot the British landscape. Two policemen look around and find that all the houses are empty. They are creeped out. While looking for a logical explanation why a whole village just disappeared in the middle of breakfast for no reason, they fail to notice things below their feet, like two flowers with legs running away, or above their heads, like a flying pig. Puzzled they leave, watched by the Crazy Gang…

Characters Involved: 

Captain Britain, Meggan, Nightcrawler, Phoenix, Shadowcat (all Excalibur)

Jean Grey, Professor X (both X-Men)

Alistaire Stuart

Phoenix Force

in the Phoenix’s force narration:

Cyclops, Marvel Girl (both X-Men)

Phoenix Force

Rachel Summers

John and Elaine Grey

Kate Pryde

Professor X


Story Notes: 

The poem is “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost.

Phoenix presumably considers Xavier a threat because he defeated Dark Phoenix in X-Men (1st series) #136.

Feron befriended the Phoenix as told in issue #50.

Jean Grey steered the doomed space-shuttle in X-Men (1st series) #99.

The deal between Jean and Phoenix is shown in Classic X-Men #8.

Jean has been shown to dislike the Phoenix because it “stole” her life. She has also has issues with the existence of Rachel as shown in Uncanny X-Men Annual #14.

The scene from Project Nimrod was shown in Uncanny X-Men #192.

In prior issues of Uncanny X-Men, Rachel’s past has been depicted differently, the most notable difference being that Rachel seemed to come from a timeline where Phoenix didn’t kill herself on the moon, but was depowered and later gave birth to Rachel.

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