X Mind-Bending Ways 'X-Men' Was Almost Completely Different
The X-Men franchise holds a weird place in the history of the superhero genre. Considered a failure by Marvel comics for its first decade (despite a roster of creators that includes names like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams), the franchise did a soft reboot in the mid-'70s that led to meteoric success and industry dominance for decades to follow. Most of that success occurred during the tenure of a young writer named Chris Claremont, who wrote the series for 16 consecutive years, the longest run of any comics author in Marvel's history.
Claremont did some brilliant and important things during all that time. He is credited with featuring the first Black superhero team leader (Storm), the first woman team leader (also Storm), and the first canonically Jewish superhero (Kitty Pryde). He is also credited with crafting what scholar Richard Reynolds calls "a superhero comic of choice among the LGBT community."
But as much as Claremont did, there was more that he wanted to do, and had he gotten his way on a few key stories, the X-Men might have looked very different today …
Cyclops Was Supposed To Retire And Stay That Way
Cyclops might be called the monocular 'face of the X-Men' – and if your superhero franchise needs to have a face, it might as well be a face full of optic blasts. Cyclops has been through a lot: tragic upbringing, death of his girlfriend, death of his girlfriend's clone who he married and had a time-traveling baby with (comics are weird) – even a brief stint as an actual terrorist. That ruby quartz visor has seen some shit, and it's a little sad to know that Claremont had actually written and published a happy ending for the character – one that got yeeted away by Marvel due to a change in comics' business model.
In 1980 Cyclops left the X-Men. In his travels, he falls in love and eventually has a child. During this era, he is portrayed as unburdened, self-invested, and ultimately quite happy. He actually got out.
Author Miles Booy notes, however, that editorial influence (and toy licensing) forced Claremont's hand when Cyclops' ride into the sunset was undone by editorial mandate within an industry that was just starting to recognize the value of intellectual property. Marvel "regarded the character as a corporate asset with value as an active hero" (Booy 113). Thus, Cyclops was unretired and launched back into action, much to Claremont's regret - he would later state in an interview that Marvel took his Cyclops and "just remade him as tropes."
Jean Grey Was Supposed To Stay Dead
Jean Grey/Phoenix/Marvel Girl is another iconic member of the X-Men franchise. In the comics, Jean has been the team leader for her own X-Men series, had her own solo title as well, and is currently the subject of comics' most talked about throuple with Wolverine and Cyclops.
This is all quite impressive since Jean is supposed to be long-dead after the infamous 1980 climax of the Dark Phoenix Saga in which her character (due to a last-minute editorial edict) commits suicide to save the cosmos from herself and (allegorically) from her personal masturbation practices, but we can file that last part under "comics are weird" once again.
Bringing her back to life five years later took a great deal of invention through the combined efforts of a swathe of Marvel creators under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, but perhaps the most interesting part of the plan to revive Jean involved getting Chris Claremont drunk so that they could break the news to him.
The story is recounted in Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story:"
"X-Men editor Ann Nocenti broke the news to Claremont on Friday night … Claremont, in high dudgeon, raced for a pay phone, only to realize he couldn't remember Shooter's direct line. Nocenti refused to give him the number, though, and when he considered going back to the office to confront his editor-in-chief, she told him to sit down, order another drink, and relax" (Howe 287).
Howe further recounts that Claremont would have quit that same night had he not had a chance to calm down (via Nocenti's plan), yet the writer would spend all weekend drafting counter-proposals to avoid Jean's resurrection, none of which were accepted by Shooter. As Howe notes, the "marketing potential far outweighed Claremont's artistic concerns" (287).
Adding Jean's resurrection to Cyclops' forced unretirement, Claremont had tried to push both members of the X-Men's most iconic romantic pairing off the page, but not even death could triumph over the promise of revenue streams.
Claremont Wanted To Make Professor Xavier A Cross-Dresser
As noted by Jim Shooter in an interview, Claremont wanted to portray Professor Xavier in drag in a comic, but Shooter simply told him, "No. You can't do that."
Despite the book's avowed following in the LGBTQ+ community, a cross-dressing Professor X was simply deemed too much for Marvel comics of the 1980s.
The idea of having a prominent cross-dressing superhero in the early 1980s could have been one more representational first for Claremont and a very early representational milestone for gender-queer representation in comics, considering that Marvel wouldn't really introduce a trans superhero until Sera from 2014, and if your immediate response to Sera is "who?" then you're already ahead of the problem.
Relatedly, Claremont was also defeated in his attempt to explore trans representation through the famous shape-shifter character, Mystique. As noted by long-time Claremont collaborator John Byrne, Claremont wanted to reveal that Nightcrawler's mother was the villainess character Destiny and that Nightcrawler's father was Mystique, whose mutant body could adopt functioning male sexual features. As Byrne recounts, editorial shut that plan down as well.
Claremont Wanted Magneto To Stay A Hero
On the other side of the Xavier-Magneto bromance, Claremont's Magneto was ultimately not supposed to be a villain anymore at all. Beginning in the famous God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel, Claremont initiated one of the most singularly ambitious face turns in comics history: taking a villain who was a mass-murdering, megalomaniacal monster and putting him in charge of the kids!
Over the course of 100+ issues of comics, Claremont slowly and poignantly established that Magneto regretted his violent actions and sought a heroic redemption that ultimately led to him taking up Professor Xavier's role of headmaster at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, where the once murder-happy master of magnetism was suddenly responsible for the safety and well-being of actual children.
Along the way, Claremont established that Magneto was a holocaust survivor, deeply traumatized by that experience as well as a series of post-war incidences in which his mutant powers earned him the same violent treatment within society that being Jewish did – up to and including his daughter being burned alive in Classic X-Men #12. It's a harrowing backstory that makes the character deeply sympathetic.
"But could you please make him a villain again anyway? The comic book store owners like it better when he's a villain."
I'm paraphrasing a bit here, but this is basically the approach and rationale that Marvel Editor Bob Harras presented when explaining his decision to demand that Claremont restore Magneto as a villain in the interest of re-establishing the status quo. And so Claremont did, grudgingly, as a last act on his way out the door of Marvel comics.
Claremont Wanted To Kill Wolverine Even More Than Sabretooth Did
According to a number of sources, Claremont wanted to kill Wolverine … possibly a lot. Wolverine is the most famous property to come out of the X-Men franchise, and Claremont played a key role in defining the character, but goddamn, did Claremont try to kill him so many times.
Shortly after joining the series, editors noted that Wolverine was very similar in both personality and powers to another character, John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird. There was a redundancy, and one of them had to go. Claremont, allegedly, did not want to kill off Proudstar, a rare Indigenous superhero, but the creative team decided to spare Wolverine instead since, as noted by illustrator Dave Cockrum, Thunderbird "came in as an obnoxious wiseass and loudmouth, and Wolverine did that better" (De Falco 86). And so John died instead.
A few years after that, Claremont apparently once again found his murderlust toward tiny hairy Canadians flaring up. But this time, the fearless feral mutant was saved by the onboarding of John Byrne as the new penciler for the series. Byrne recalls an interview about how Claremont was planning to kill Wolverine off again. Byrne was Canadian, however, and informed Claremont that "No way are you getting rid of the only Canadian character!" thus blocking Claremont's murderous pen yet again.
And when Wolverine got even more popular, and Marvel wanted to launch him as a solo superhero? You can guess where this is going. Claremont recalls that "When it was proposed that he get a monthly book though, I fought it tooth-and-nail."
Claremont's final attempt at canuckicide was already in the works at the time of his departure from Uncanny X-Men in the early 1990s. Claremont was planning a heel turn for Wolverine as the milestone development of the 300th issue of the series. Claremont outlines it in his notebook as such: "Wolvie goes nuts. X-Men too late to save him. Becomes Master Assassin of the Hand." The plan was to kill Wolverine, have him leave the book for about a year, then return via resurrection by evil ninjas in order to become the franchise's latest and greatest villain…but only after he finally gets dead! Unfortunately, Claremont's run ended with issue #279, and his replacements went in a different direction with the character.
But ... In 2009, Marvel let Claremont write a non-canonical legacy series that picks up his X-Men run exactly where it left off in 1991, and guess what happens in the first issue?
Dr. J. Andrew Deman is a faculty member in the English Department at St. Jerome’s University, where he researches and teaches all things comics. You can find his work by … knowing how to Google or, to see his most recent project, visiting https://sequentialscholars.com/ on the web or @seqscholars on Twitter.
Top Image: Marvel