“All You Ever Wanted to Know About Phoenix… But Were Afraid to Ask”
Writer: Alan Davis
Pencils: Will Simpson
Colours: Kelly Covese
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti and Dave Hoover
Editor: Terry Kavanagh
Original publication date: July 1992
And we’re back! With a special episode of “Retconning with Reck,” in which writer/artist/podcaster Adam Reck of the Battle of the Atom Podcast joins us to untangle Excalibur #52, “All You Ever Wanted to Know About Phoenix… But Were Afraid to Ask,” which left wondering if some questions are better left unanswered. But we’re gonna ask anyway, delving deep into our mighty collective knowledge of X-Men lore to get to the bottom of whether this story makes any sense—and whether it matters. Plus, we reveal Rachel’s shocking true mutant power, clown on Professor X’s taste in poetry, and spotlight a love connection in the Sword Strokes letter page.
On historical context:
“I don’t think Marvel knew what to do with Excalibur in the middle of the ‘Mutant Genesis’ rebrand of 1991. They had a big launch, and Alan Davis was back, but to me, it was the red-headed stepchild of the X-Men franchise.” -Adam
On retelling mythologies:
“At this point in X-Men history, there weren’t a lot of easy ways to go back and read the old comics. I have vivid memories of Classic X-Men, specifically the one reprinting X-Men #138, which essentially summarizes X-Men from the beginning of the Silver Age to the end of Dark Phoenix Saga. That issue was like a handbook to me. Excalibur #52 feels like it wants to be that. Except is doesn’t make any sense.” -Adam
On retconning mileage:
“Retcons of origin stories usually happen to create more storytelling opportunities. You add something to a character’s history to set up new conflicts, new possibilities. But with this latest retcon of Rachel’s backstory—what is it adding other than to make her history more confusing and rob her of agency?” -Anna
On mechanics of retconning:
“This issue feels like a kid who thinks they’re building with Legos but is actually just stacking blocks next to each other. How did the Phoenix get with Jean? Oh Jean was floating around. How did it get with Rachel? Oh Rachel was just floating around.” -Adam
On Phoenix as narrator:
“For me, Phoenix works better as an enigmatic character. When you try to completely fill in the backstory, you take away some of that cosmic awe and wonder. And when you have the Phoenix directly narrate their story, that diminishes it further. It humanizes Phoenix in a way that I don’t think its supposed to be humanized.” -Andrew
“Some of the stories Davis wrote leading up to this made me feel closer to Rachel than I’d ever felt before. And the coldness of this ending after that buildup was a tough pill to swallow. Even knowing Rachel will be back—it was hard to re-read.” -Anna
Want more Adam Reck?
You can find him on Twitter (@arthurstacy) and ranking all the X-Men stories that are fit to rank with Zachary Jenkins and a bevy of big-name guests over at the Battle of the Atom Podcast.
Adam also makes awesome art and comics! You can often find him contributing lewks to ComicsXF’s redesign series, featuring new costumes for old favs! Adam also does commissions; hit him up on Twitter to learn more!
And as usual:
You can find Anna on Twitter (@peppard_anna) and on her podcast with Andrew and Michael Hancock, Three Panel Contrast (@3PanelContrast).
You can find Andrew on Twitter (@ClaremontRun).
You can find Mav on Twitter (@chrismaverick) and on his podcast, VoxPopcast (@VoxPopcast).
Thank you for explaining why I hated this Phoenix retcon so much! And then she leaves for good so soon :sob:
Is this where the reputation of Rachel’s backstory being confusing comes from – alternate future daughter seems fairly easy to me (who grew up with it though)?
I actually own “The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix” – it’s an interesting idea but the new characters are confusing, and I hate the art.
We’re not looking forward to the departure of Rachel, either! But we’ve got some great guests lined up to sing her praises before we lose her. I *think* the confusing-ness of Rachel’s backstory largely stems from something Excalibur #52 tries to fix, which is the gap between her time in Uncanny X-Men and her reappearance in Excalibur. She was supposed to have a miniseries in that gap but the miniseries never happened. There are also unanswered questions about how, exactly, she ended up in the past to begin with, which Excalibur #52 again tries to answer, but doesn’t do an entirely satisfying job. We are going to be revisiting her backstory at least a couple more times in Excalibur before all is said and done!