Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Adam Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Xavier, and several of his X-Men accepting the invitation that was extended by the team's financiers, the Hellfire Club, to a upscale party where they'll be the honored guests. While the party looks to be a raging success with Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence seemingly being broadcast to the world by the highly respected & successful business men and women that make up the Hellfire Club, we see this party was all a ruse to lure Jean Grey into their grasp, as Xavier & his students are gunned down. We then see them awaken in the lower levels of the Hellfire Club where we see Jean is being used in a ceremony to call forth an ancient force that is highly revered by the members of the Hellfire Club, and Jean Grey looks to be a direct conduit for bringing this force into the earthly plane. As we see Jean consumed by the Phoenix, we see Xavier is making a case that there is no Phoenix force, and that this impressive light show is all the byproduct of her imagination. However, whether it's real or not we see Jean looks to be possessed by a force that balks at the idea that it would bow to the wishes of the Hellfire Club, as she instead pursues her own interests, which is making the world a happier place to live. However, when Xavier is able to rid Jean of the Phoenix force we see he may have cause to regret this action as Magneto is back, and he lets the world know they have Charles Xavier to thank for his return.
Okay imagine a horror movie where the entire atmosphere is being built up toward a critical scene where a door will be flung open and the monster will stand revealed in all it's glory. Now imagine this same movie when this door is opened and behind it stands an entity who is more interested in preaching peace & understanding, instead of chowing down on your insides, and no this hypothetical movie isn't "Attack of the Undead Hippies". Instead this is Mark Millar's take on the Dark Phoenix saga, as we have the Hellfire Club awaken the entity in this issue and it decides sending out an expanding wave of energy that makes people feel better is a far better way of spending its time. This in turn makes Charles’s desperate struggle to stop her a good sigh less critical. There's also the idea that all of this was simply a light show that was unknowingly being generated by Jean's own mind, which if true does rob the Ultimate version of the Phoenix force of a great deal of its mystique. Now perhaps it's for the best that Mark Millar decided to take this idea in another direction, as the Dark Phoenix saga is the most adored story in the X-Men cannon, and as such no matter how good Mark Millar made his version, it likely wouldn't have measured up.
Since the focus of the final issue does shift most of its attention to the plot involving the Hellfire Club, the rest of the plots that were being developed in the previous issues get the short end of the stick, as the situation in the Savage Land only rates a mention on the recap page, while the Beast's meeting with his online sweetie is handled entirely off panel. Now the situation involving the Beast results is a pretty powerful lead in for the upcoming Ultimate War miniseries, as we see Charles unwillingness to kill Magneto has made the X-Men a viable target for humanity's burning hatred. We also see that ever the giving spirit, Magneto puts on a powerful demonstration of his thanks, that gives Charles full credit for his return, which should set Charles' dream of peaceful coexistence back several years. Now this plot does have an unusual little moment where we see Quicksilver & the Scarlet Witch have left the Brotherhood and joined the Ultimates, and since this switch of alliances is a pretty important detail, I do have to wonder why Mark Millar decided the best way to have handled this idea is to have it play out completely off panel. Then again having those two in the Ultimates does nicely add to the level of animosity against the Ultimate X-Men.
Adam Kubert returns to the book for the final chapter which is going to make the middle chapters on the arc look rather funny when it's collected in trade paperback form. However, since I buy this book on a monthly basis, I simply have to say that it's great to get Adam Kubert back on the book in time for a double-sized issue, and while the credits make it seem he was only able to provide rough pencils, what he did offer up was certainly enough to express his individual style, as I'd be hard pressed to tell he didn't provide full pencils, which I guess speaks to the talents of inker Danny Miki. This issue does have some fairly impressive big visuals, as the opening exterior shot of the Hellfire Club is an impressive bit of work, as is the establishing shot of the chamber that is hidden in the basement. The page where the X-Men are taken down is also quite strong, though since the dialogue indicated Colossus changed into his metal form, it would've been nice to see the art reflect this change. The arrival shot of the Phoenix force is also majestic enough that I'm of the mind that Xavier's not telling the truth when it comes to Jean's condition. This issue also ends with a wonderful sequence where we see Magneto makes his return to the Ultimate Universe.
The big finish to the "Hellfire and Brimstone" arc was a bit disappointing, as while it does feature the emergence of the Phoenix force, Mark Millar has decided that this entity isn't inherently evil, so it busies itself with making the world a better place, until Xavier is able to apparently vanquish it by denying its existence. I have to say that this issue takes two concepts that have proven to be quite strong ideas in the regular Marvel Universe when it comes to generating excitement, and he basically uses them to deliver a fairly tepid climax that is all flash and no sizzle. However, while the Phoenix force ends up being a bit of a dud, the final nine pages of this issue prove to be a wonderful lead-in for next week's "Ultimate War" as Magneto's return to the Ultimate Universe is as ominous as one could've hoped it would be. It should also be a lot of fun to see how this book has changed in the next issue, as I believe we'll be having a bit of a time lapse, similar to what we saw during the first Secret Wars, where the events that impact the monthly title are revealed before they play out in the miniseries.
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