12:00pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Dark Phoenix': The Comics Behind Jessica Chastain's Character
[This story contains spoilers for Dark Phoenix]
Many longtime X-Men comic book fans were likely surprised to discover that, although Jessica Chastain plays the leader of an alien race in Dark Phoenix, she’s not playing Princess Lilandra of the Shi’Ar Empire — the alien leader with a particularly prominent role in the comic book version of the Dark Phoenix storyline. That doesn’t mean that her character doesn’t have a notable comic book connection, however.
In Dark Phoenix, Chastain plays Vuk, the leader of a shape-shifting alien race called the D’Bari, whose home planet was destroyed by the very cosmic force that’s possessing Jean Grey in the movie. The strange thing is, while Vuk is an original character making her debut in the movie —kind of; I’ll explain soon enough — the destruction of the D’Bari home planet by the Phoenix is something that comic book fans had a chance to see for themselves more than three decades ago.
The D’Bari actually debuted in 1964’s Avengers No. 4, in a roundabout way, when an unnamed D’Bari astronaut was shown to trapped on Earth, although he unhelpfully described his place of origin as “a far distant galaxy!” (He would, decades later, be given a name in another Marvel publication: Vuk. Never let is be said that Dark Phoenix writer-director Simon Kinberg hasn’t done his homework.)
The D’Bari wouldn’t be seen for another decade and a half afterwards, and even there, they were identified only as “an ancient, peace-loving civilization.” It’s all the introduction they really need, because almost as soon as the D’Bari appear in 1980’s Uncanny X-Men No. 135, they’re killed, the result of the Phoenix — who, at that time, believed it was Jean Grey even though it would later be established/retconned to be that the real Jean was in hibernation at the time — devouring a local star.
The seeming genocide of the unnamed alien race — eventually named the D’Bari when the story was referenced in 1990’s Classic X-Men No. 43 — was the inciting incident that convinced Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter that Jean Grey couldn’t be forgiven for her actions as Phoenix, no matter what writers and artists might have planned as a potential redemptive story arc.
As it turned out, it was only a partial genocide, as other D’Bari would show up in various other Marvel comic books, strangely enough often featuring Vuk in a lead role. One such story, which appeared in 2000’s Uncanny X-Men No. 387, plays an underrated role of inspiring Dark Phoenix the movie, in that it features Jean Grey — who, by this point in comic book mythology was not the earlier Phoenix, but did have some unexplored, unclear relationship to the entity — being confronted by Vuk, in disguise as an armored hero calling himself Star Hammer, who seeks revenge for the Phoenix’s destruction of the D’Bari home planet.
The conclusion of the story doesn’t map to Dark Phoenix’s finale — the comic book Vuk gains revenge “on the psychic plane,” rendering him comatose as a result — and the comic book character shares only surface parallels with Chastain’s onscreen alien. Nonetheless, the villain of Dark Phoenix is one who draws upon the long, labyrinthine comic book history of the Marvel Universe … and arguably personifies the best argument for simplifying things as much as possible when translating them to other media.