Who Has Wielded the Phoenix Force?
Read up on the most recent hosts of the cosmic firebird before reading ‘Phoenix Song: Echo’ #1 on Marvel Unlimited!
Few writers know how to craft longform sequential storytelling epics quite like Jason Aaron. He's been doing it at the House of Ideas for years starting with Wolverine and his X-Men team right on up to his current AVENGERS run. (Not to mention the years of legendary Thor stories in between.)
Longtime fans of Aaron's comics will notice that he often returns to characters or ideas that intrigue him and there's one that sticks out specifically: the Phoenix Force. Classically associated with the X-Man Jean Grey, the mysterious cosmic pyre destroys that which has become evolutionarily static to make room for new forms of life. However, this manifestation of rebirth does not travel solo. Though the reasons are still unclear, the Phoenix Force bonds itself with an individual being, often one with Omega-level mutant or psychic power.
In the pages of AVENGERS (2018) #40-44, Aaron and artist Javier Garron brought together several characters competing to become the new Phoenix, leading directly into brand-new series PHOENIX SONG: ECHO. With the first issue by Rebecca Roanhorse and Luca Maresca now on Marvel Unlimited, it's a great time to go “bird watching” throughout Aaron’s tenure at the House of Ideas.
While readers may have first met the Phoenix through Jean Grey in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN, Jason Aaron introduced a much earlier Earth-bound host in MARVEL LEGACY (2017) #1 and further chronicled her adventures in the pages of AVENGERS as a member of a team dubbed the Stone Age Avengers.
In AVENGERS #39, we learned Firehair's origins as a mutant baby abandoned by her tribe at the Burnt Place. She was first saved and raised by a pack of wolves for 10 years before living with a group of mutants called the “Tribe Without Fear” who helped her understand her psychic powers. However, when a fierce battle broke out between them and her birth tribe, everyone but Firehair perished. She returned to the Burnt Place expecting to die, but instead met the Phoenix Force, the entity that scorched that area in the first place. Sensing her power and rage, the entity merged with the young girl.
Managing to assert some control, the mutant held back Phoenix's desire to burn the entire planet and instead decided to use her newfound power to help the planet. To that end, she joined forces with Odin of Asgard as well as Agamotto, Iron Fist Fan Fei, Black Panther, Ghost Rider, and the Starbrand formerly known as Vnn. Together, they have faced Celestials, Mephisto and others, but Lady Phoenix always shows herself to be a compassionate warrior as well as a passionate lover of Odin's. She even hinted that she might be Thor's mother, which the Thunder God did not take well to.
THE PHOENIX FIVE
As one of the architects behind the AVENGERS VS. X-MEN event, Aaron helped set up the main conflict between the two teams over the impending arrival of the Phoenix Force and its (assumed) next host Hope Summers. The Avengers figured its reemergence would lead to death and destruction while the mutants hoped that the Phoenix’s presence might help rekindle the Scarlet Witch-decimated mutant population.
During a confrontation on the moon between the heroes, Iron Man managed to disrupt the Phoenix Force. Its power was refused by Hope and then split between five X-Men: Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor. As the Phoenix Five, they worked to bring about a Pax Utopia by growing food, banning war, and destroying weapons. As they became more erratic, the Avengers were joined by the X-Men to stop them.
The X-Men and Avengers soon discovered that the Phoenix Five were far more vulnerable than a single host. Namor was the first to fall, but his power was redistributed to the other four. After Spider-Man goaded Magik and Colossus into taking each other out, that just left Cyclops and Emma Frost.
When confronted by the joint might of both teams and Professor Xavier, Cyclops decided to overpower Emma and steal her part of the energy which caused him to become the Dark Phoenix. At this new level, Cyclops easily overpowered everyone... that is until Hope Summers and Scarlet Witch worked together to eject the Phoenix Force. It then bonded with Hope who helped stop the destruction caused by the Five and then, with more aid from Wanda Maximoff, expelled the Force, using some of the power to make more mutants.
Like a lot of prolific comics writers, Jason Aaron has found certain characters who he likes to use across titles. One such character is Quentin Quire, who the writer first shepherded along in the pages of WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN. During the “Battle of the Atom” crossover Aaron introduced a version of the Omega-level teenage mutant from a potential future who had become the Phoenix host.
In the final issue of that series, set many years in the future, an aged Wolverine was just about to close the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning when Quentin showed up and used his Phoenix-enhanced powers to transport in a group of students from the Fantastic Four's Negative Zone school, giving the old man a renewed purpose.
Later down the line, Thor (Jane Foster) ran into some trouble with Shi'ar deities Sharra and K'ythri that resulted in a Phoenix Force manifestation. Jean Grey school alums Kid Gladiator and Warbird were nearby and suggested they recruit Quire to stop the conflagration (MIGHTY THOR #18), knowing that his future self might wield Phoenix’s power. Though hard fought, Quentin ultimately stopped the battle by taking on a small piece of the Force. The rest of the Phoenix Force went on to briefly reunite with two temporal versions of its most famous host in JEAN GREY (2017) and PHOENIX RESURRECTION: THE RETURN OF JEAN GREY. Kid Omega did not hold on to his shard for long, using it to cure Jubilee of her vampirism and return her mutant powers in GENERATION X (2017) #86.
Early on in his THOR: GOD OF THUNDER run—which kicked off several years of Asgardian awesomeness for Aaron—the writer introduced readers to King Thor, one of reality's last survivors from several eons in the future. After traveling through time to stop Gorr the God Butcher, he felt a renewed sense of life and resurrected Midgard. However, King Thor still had to contend with a dying universe and an old friend bonded with the Phoenix: Logan, as seen in THOR (2018).
The mean old space bird had been destroyed by Loki, but burned once more, eventually bonded with Wolverine. Considering himself a space ronin, Wolverine acted as a kind of hospice nurse for the cosmos as it came closer to its ultimate end. The two old gods mixed it up because Old Man Phoenix knew that Earth's return would bring about trouble, specifically in the form of Doctor Doom.
Victor Von Doom not only survived, but had also become the Iron Fist, Starbrand, Sorcerer Supreme, and the Spirit of Vengeance. The Force itself would not let Logan kill Thor because of its connection to him (a hint at Thor’s parentage, perhaps), so the two teamed up against the former ruler of Latveria. Realizing they were underpowered, Wolverine transferred the Phoenix to Mjolnir which King Thor wielded to battle Doom within the Earth for years before finally besting the villain. Upon returning to the surface, the Phoenix took on the host of a nearby redheaded girl, though according to KING THOR #4, the Wolverine and the bird will find themselves reunited once more.
With the Phoenix Force so prominent in his work, it should come as no surprise when Aaron dedicated an entire arc of AVENGERS to the cosmic force. In AVENGERS #40-44, he brought together over 20 individuals nabbed by the Force itself to compete as its next host. While the beings inside tried to understand what the cosmic firebird was looking for in a traveling companion, it clearly had other ideas. The list included characters that Aaron created like Red Widow and the current versions of the Orb, as well as ones he had previously written like Wolverine, Black Panther, Valkyrie (Jane Foster), and American Eagle.
Fiery battles broke out between those involved, with everything dissolving into face-offs between Namor and Hulk (Jennifer Walters), Shanna and Red Widow, as well as Captain America versus Black Panther. However, another candidate rose from the depths of the ocean, having already been beaten by the sea king, and simply took power away from the others. While unsure of the exact reasons herself, Maya Lopez, AKA Echo, posited that she "won" the battle for the Phoenix not because she was the most powerful, but because she represented its emotionality as well as its perseverance to get back up after falling.
All of this, of course, lead directly into the PHOENIX SONG: ECHO series from Roanhorse and Maresca which further explores not only why Maya got chosen, but also what a formerly street-level hero does with that kind of power. In just the first issue she used the greatest destructive force in existence to stop a robbery and nearly killed a kid. After run-ins with Daredevil (Elektra) and X-Man Forge, she met a man named River who hinted at a major force threatening not just her but her entire maternal family line...
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