Fire is terrible and beautiful. From someone deep down in our earliest roots, we as human beings know that fire can be useful and can be deadly, sometimes both at the same time. Action movies love to watch things explode, and artists can tickle our emotions with depictions and metaphors of the ever-burning flame. I certainly don't have to be the one to tell you that fire can also slip out of control and ruin lives and forests; to burn away something you love means you're never going to get it back.
The Phoenix myth, at heart, needs both of these qualifiers. After all, it's a cycle of death and rebirth, not just one or the other. Death is normally the first part of the equation, as we need to lose something forever to have it be reborn, not just resurrected. It's also kind of a fiery chicken-or-the-egg story, too, as the Phoenix myth is a cycle, but the two essential elements are clear: death and rebirth.
WARNING: We'll be talking about the reasonably guessed ending to the recent Uncanny X-Men #17 and the Sinister Earth story line. Grab your finest ascot and a copy of the comic and read along!
Recently, Uncanny X-Men has had a villain. I know! I remember villains: clearly demarked objectives of some shade of evil alignment who menace people who have a different, more egalitarian point of view. In fact, I'd say that Uncanny X-Men has a couple of villains right now, one more sneaky than the other, but let's concentrate on the big one. Mister Sinister has been around for a while, establishing himself 16 years ago to varying degrees of success. A mad geneticist hundreds of years old who has played the X-Men like puppets toward a grander scheme. Okay, sometimes the grander scheme seems a little awkward (Scott and Jean need to have a baby, possibly to defeat Apocalypse, maybe because Mister Sinister is a huge 'shipper!), but it can be more diabolical (slaughter all the Morlocks because I'm not pleased with their genetic makeup) and certainly, Sinister is a great excuse for the terrors of actual mutation.
Man, I miss villains for the X-Men. Characters like Sublime or the new Hellfire Club just don't cut it for me; I need a guy (or gal!) with a clear goal that is morally wrong but that they have convinced themselves is right. With the number of threatening people who've joined up with the X-Men, Cyclops' hardline goals and Wolverine's willingness to lead a kill squad, we've entered a gray period of who's really on whose side, and the Avengers fighting the X-Men doesn't help much either. Anyway, I digress.
So while the Avengers are fighting the X-Men and the X-Men are running Utopia and so on, Mister Sinister has dug himself out a fine new underground. After fighting a short war with some Moloids, he has an elaborate and ridiculously stylish society built on his ideas of genetic design and Victoriana. Great machines are built to birth new clones of himself to populate his own little Hollow Earth. All his years of genetic sampling have been cranked up to 11 with the knob possibly broken off in the process, just for panache. Clones of his enemies (Cyclops, Gambit, Cannonball, etc.) and his "allies" (the Mauraders) are used as his personal menagerie, thrown out in murderous herds against those who would oppose him. Seriously, go check out Uncanny X-Men #16 for the best use of "Release Cannonballs" you've seen yet.
And of course, there are the Madelyne clones, a bevy of beauties designed to siphon the Phoenix power for Sinister's pleasure. It's all so meticulously designed, orchestrated and refreshingly old-school villainous that you can't wait for the Phoenix Five to descend on Sinister Earth and get this party started. And they do in short order, letting every trap be sprung. For a moment, there's even just a hint of peril before the Phoenix Force refuses to be tamed and the whole society, along with Mister Sinister, is burned to the ground.
For a moment (and for Mister Sinister), it was paradise. An entire civilization made in his image, run on his ideals, with bounteous wealth and enforced harmony. Sure, it was run by Mister Sinister and was very very evil in his use of rampant cloning technology among other evils, but for him and all the other hims, it was truly a paradise. And then the Phoenix Five won the day and razed it to ashes.
Will the irony of this situation occur to them when their own paradise eventually comes to an end? After all, the world is under their command, made in the X-Men's image of peace, run on their ideals, with bounteous wealth and enforced harmony. It's a great little set up, but we as readers are still waiting for the good guys to come in and ruin all of this planning and effort. We know this cannot last.
But what will rise up from the ashes?