What If... (Vol 2) #33: The Phoenix Rose Again?

Following the events of her daughter’s kidnap and her supposed death at the hands of Mastermind, Phoenix (reborn) went in search of the Shadow King to get Rachel back. Phoenix tracks the Shadow King to Muir Island. The latter accelerated Rachel from infanthood into adulthood “to the point where her heritage and power would manifest” so he could possess her body.

The Shadow King attacks Phoenix using Rachel’s body on the premise that Phoenix would never harm her own daughter. The Shadow King intends to possess all of Phoenix’s powers. But Phoenix would not give up without a fight, and she manifests the Phoenix force entirely, breaking his illusions. She kills the Shadow King, who then releases his hold on an adult Rachel (with the mind of her original nine-month-old self). With her powers, Phoenix rebuilds Rachel’s body atom by atom into her normal infant state.

Phoenix: “It’s okay, baby. Everything’s gonna be okay. My whole life is a lie, but at least you’re really mine. I love you so much, Rachel.”

Both mother and child make their way back to the X-mansion, finding the X-Men and New Mutants have returned. Phoenix lied that she and Rachel had gone back to Martha’s Vineyard while everyone was gone in order to hide the truth that she had regained her Phoenix powers.

Phoenix: “Shakespeare echoes in my head: ‘Deny thy Father and refuse thy name. Take instead...My heart.’ I deny thee, Phoenix...I deny myself. I will be Jean Grey...With all my heart.”

In the next eight years that follow, the X-Men battled foes without the participation of Phoenix, who stayed true to her vow never to use her powers. In the eighth year, an anti-mutant presidential candidate was elected into the White House. His administration passed the Mutant Registration Act. The X-Men discuss how to tackle the situation, while Phoenix watches on with the thought that she “could end this all tomorrow”.

Phoenix’s inner conflict keeps her up all night.

Phoenix: “How long do I go on like this? A goddess playing house, locking her power away as if it were another person’s. I’m the Phoenix, nothing can change it. It’s been so long since I used the power. But I can feel it right now. Ready. Waiting. There’s an ache in my soul. It wants to be used. I want to use it. I’m blind, but I just have to open my eyes and I’m cured. I can’t. God help me. I...Wont’t...Do it...I tell myself I’m not going to to do...But if not me, then who?”

Meanwhile, Wolverine makes his way back from the Danger Room and happens to pass by Rachel’s room. He hears her screams. She’s having a nightmare. Rachel confides in her uncle Logan had “a bird made of fire...it killed [her] mother...It hurt [her]...[she] was burning up.”

Late into the night, Phoenix pays the president a visit. She alters his mind, turning his hatred for mutants into respect. The next day, a changed president urges the public to “turn away from the path of hatred” and to co-exist peacefully with mutants. But that was not to last as the president was assassinated. The heightened frenzy led to the full launch of the Sentinel programme “to deal with the mutant menace -- permanently”. Every registered superhuman, mutant and human were targeted. Among those who perished were the Avengers and the Fantastic Four.

Unregistered outlaws like the X-Men sought refuge together in the X-Mansion. Wolverine, with the suspicion that Phoenix had regained her powers, confronts her. Phoenix acting strangely, Rachel’s nightmares and the sudden change in attitude of the late president, it all fit. He taunts the Phoenix to finally reveal her powers. Xavier, Scott and Rachel overhears their confrontation and the truth is revealed.

An upset Phoenix leaves the X-Men and flees to New Mexico.

Phoenix: “New Mexico, near Angel’s home. A few dozen lifetimes ago, Scott and I were happy here. I never realised it before, but Rachel was conceived on this spot. I close down my mind, close off all my senses, psychic and otherwise. Everything I do goes wrong. Try as I might, I only make them worse. The world is better off without me...I’m alone, with nothing to keep me company but the hunger. The gnawing hunger for power. It’s an addiction and I’m nothing more than a strung-out junkie. I won’t let it happen again.”

At that point in time, the X-Mansion has been attacked by the Sentinels. The X-Men flee to the old abandoned Sentinel headquarters in the Adirondack Mountains. The Sentinels made the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building their headquarters for their Master Mold and Cyclops plans to take Master Mold down in order to cripple the Sentinels. An alliance with Magneto is forged.

The X-Men invade the Baxter Building, but are heavily outnumbered by the Sentinels. The Phoenix arrives to help distract the Sentinels so the X-Men can make it into the building. Nightcrawler teleports all the X-Men into the building, but the strain was too much for his heart to handle. The X-Men battle on as a distraught Kitty phases Colossus and her into the room containing the Master Mold in an effort to end it all. Kitty and Colossus share a last kiss before he tosses Kitty into Master Mold’s circuitry system. She phases within and solidifies inside, causing it to self-destruct. The stunned Sentinels are then destroyed by Phoenix. The war is over

The phoenix confronts her fears about Scott.

Phoenix: “You know I’m not really Jean.”
Scott: “You are what you are. The woman I married. The mother of my child. Whatever you are, I will always love you.”

With this reassurance, Phoenix seeks Destiny to tell her of her future. Destiny tells her that she “sees death in every possible future [she] will lose control again”.

Destiny: “The life of a mortal, no matter how you treasure it, is not for you. You belong to the universe and it belongs to you.”

Phoenix understands that she needs to return to the universe where she rightfully belongs.

I tell myself Scott will go on. He and my child. I pray they will build a better world without my power. They will make their future days. As I transcend the mortal form I once made, the song of life swells within me. All life and the myriad possibilities we make of it. Humanity is not a thing of flesh. It is a song within the soul. One that will never leave me. Yet, I face an eternity, forever denied my heart’s desire. I find myself asking...What if? Would things have been better if I’d died?

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