Review: X-Men #137

X-Men #137 cover
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

X-Men #137
Published and © by Marvel, September 1980

Title: “The Fate of the Phoenix!”
Synopsis: Amid lunar ruins, the X-Men duel the Shi’ar Imperial Guard to determine the fate of the Phoenix.

Writers (plot): Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Writer (script): Claremont
Penciler/co-plotter: Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

Review: For young comic-book fans in 1980, X-Men #137 was a life-changing event. The entire Chris Claremont/John Byrne run had been addictive, but this double-size issue brought a whole different level of high. Claremont’s skills are on full display, with a well-crafted story, good pacing and strong characterization. Byrne’s pencils offer a perfect mix of grace and power, all beautifully inked by Terry Austin. Then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter deserves some credit, too, for insisting on the gut-wrenching ending that still cuts deep today. The best superhero comic of the Bronze Age. And one of the best, period, of any genre or era.

Grade: A+

Second opinion: “So accomplished is Uncanny X-Men #137 that every scene contains something that merits praise.” – Jason Powell, “The Best There Is at What He Does: Examining Chris Claremont’s X-Men,” 2016 … “A highlight is the spotlight given to each X-Man on the eve of the battle for Jean’s life.” – Jim Johnson, The Comics Buyer’s Guide to the X-Men (Comics Buyer’s Guide Presents), 2003 … “A testament to the power of comics to move readers just as much as other, more respected media could.” – Pierre Comtois, “Marvel Comics in the 1980s: An Issue By Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture Phenomenon,” 2014 … “X-Men #137 is arguably writer Chris Claremont’s finest work on the title he spent more than 16 years on.” – Melanie Scott and Stephen “Win” Wiacek, “Marvel Greatest Comics: 100 Comics That Built a Universe” … No. 3 (and top Bronze Age issue) on Marvel’s “Greatest Marvels of All Time” list. … “ ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga (is) the peak of an incredible run, if not the best superhero comic ever produced. … Recommended.” – The Slings & Arrows Comic Guide (second edition), 2003

Cool factor: Everything. This one’s that good.

Notable: The (first) death of Jean Grey. …  … Double-size issue. … The original ending to this issue was eventually printed in 1984’s Phoenix #1 (see review).
Collector’s note: According to the Grand Comics Database, there is a 2019 facsimile edition of this issue. … According to MyComicShop.com, there is also a Mark Jewelers variant of this issue.

Character quotable: “The X-Men do not realize it – they may never realize, or accept it – but this day they have won perhaps the greatest victory of their young lives.” – Uatu, the Watcher (and commentator, apparently)
A word from the editor-in-chief: “I felt the way the story was originally designed to end, it did not have enough consequences for what happened – it wasn’t an ending.” – Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, from “The Dark Phoenix Tapes” in Phoenix #1, April 1984
A word from the writer: “It’s always been (and always should be) about Jean. One vulnerable, human being who – because of a unique combination of genetic potential and circumstance – finds herself bound irrevocably to the Divine. How do you cope, how do you keep from being consumed; this is the most absolute of powers, how can you possibly keep from being just as absolutely corrupted? And once you fall from grace, even a little, how do you – how can you – atone?” – Chris Claremont, talking about “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, in “The Next Level,” a 2004 essay collected in “The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2,” 2014

Editor’s note: This review was originally published by Comics Bronze Age on March 2, 2009.

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