Who Are the Villains in ‘Dark Phoenix’?
The following post contains SPOILERS for Dark Phoenix, as well as assorted old Marvel Comics.
“I for some reason was told I’m not allowed to say I play an alien — but I basically play an alien.”
That was Jessica Chastain on The Graham Norton Show, doing a very poor job of protecting the secrets of the new X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix. Yes, Chastain plays an alien. That much is clear from the film itself. If you’re not too familiar with X-Men comics, though, you might not know exactly who she’s playing — or even what race of aliens she belongs to, which is mentioned just once in the entire movie in a subtitled alien language, and is easy to miss. While the film does take some creative liberties with her character, she is from Marvel Comics — and her role is kind of a clever callback to the original “Dark Phoenix Saga” that inspired the film in the first place.
A lot of people are going to assume Chastain is playing a member of the Marvel shapechanging alien race the Skrulls, and not without reason. The Dark Phoenix aliens behave just like the Skrulls from Marvel’s recent movie Captain Marvel. They can change their shape, they look like identical green space invaders, and they claim they’re the last remnants of a once mighty race that’s now on the verge of extinction. There have been reports that some of Dark Phoenix’s reshoots were designed to make the film less like Captain Marvel, which is definitely plausible whether or not it is true.
While they look and act like Skrulls, the aliens in Dark Phoenix are actually a race known as the D’Bari. And at least in their earliest appearances, they did have a predilection for disguising themselves as humans the same way Chastain’s character does. The first D’Bari to appear in Marvel Comics, a fine extraterrestrial gentleman by the name of Vuk, debuted in The Avengers #4 looking like this:
This D’Bari is like the ones in Dark Phoenix, but a bit less fancy. Instead of changing his appearance at will, he uses ... rubber masks and ascots.
Just remember what Avengers #4 taught us: Any person you see on the street might actually be an alien with a broccoli head under an extremely convincing rubber mask. (And an ascot. Without the ascot, the illusion is immediately shattered.)
After Captain America pulled off his Darkman mask, Vuk explained that he’d been stranded on Earth by a malfunctioning spaceship. His craft crashed and sunk to the bottom of the ocean; Namor the Sub-Mariner (who was perpetually feuding with almost every Marvel hero during this period) offered to retrieve and repair Vuk’s vessel if he’d destroy the Avengers. Cap — who make his first appearance in a decade in Avengers #4 — helps sort the whole thing out, and Vuk heads off into space in a repaired rocket.
He never quite made it home, thanks to the Dark Phoenix. As in the movie, the comics’ Jean Grey is merged with an incredibly powerful cosmic force known as the Phoenix. (In the comics, it was later revealed that this cosmic force actually just copied her body and put the real Jean in hibernation somewhere, but that’s a retcon for another time and another movie.) Jean’s transformation into the Dark Phoenix is represented in different ways depending on the medium. In the film, she accidentally kills Mystique. In the comics, the breaking point of her character arc is when the Phoenix recharges her powers by ingesting a star — inadvertently and unthinkingly wiping out a nearby planet ... the home of the D’Bari.
The destruction of the D’Bari — essentially a mass alien genocide — would have major ramifications for the Phoenix character, and continues to be referenced in Marvel Comics to this day. And it’s essentially what the Dark Phoenix film alludes to when Chastain’s character — who turns out to be Vuk, the dude with the impressively lifelike man-mask (and ascot) from The Avengers #4 — explains how the D’Bari’s home planet was wiped out by the Phoenix Force, and the survivors wish to claim it for themselves because they want to kill everyone on Earth and turn it into a new home world. So while the use of the D’Bari in Dark Phoenix isn’t necessarily faithful to the original comics, it is a clever Easter egg.
As for Vuk, he’s made sporadic comic appearances through the years. He popped up in Wolverine in the late 1990s, where he was a prisoner on an alien planet. A year or so later, he had his most meaningful post-“Dark Phoenix Saga” role in a storyline called “Maximum Security.” He confronts Jean Grey for her role in the destruction of his race and home. Very unfortunately, he does so looking like this (and calling himself this):
Jean defeats Vuk by using her mental powers to make him think he destroyed the Phoenix. And poor ol’ Vuk is still hanging around; he popped up just last year in the pages of X-Men: Gold Annual #1, where he hounded Jean Grey’s daughter from the future for her own connections to the Phoenix.
Vuk’s desire for revenge against the Phoenix is understandable, but who will avenge Vuk’s crimes against fashion? Someone must take a stand.
So there you have it; the comics history of Vuk and the D’Bari. This is by far, the most anyone has ever written or read about either one. And after this, they will almost surely go back to obscurity. But you know what Andy Warhol said: “In the future, every alien race featured briefly in a few issues of Marvel Comics will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
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