Welcome to the four hundred and seventy-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and seventy-seven. This week, in what shocking way would Terry Gilliam’s version of Watchmen have ended? Who did Chris Claremont want to be as the fifth member of X-Factor instead of Jean Grey? And did the Superman writers really quickly split from John Byrne’s plots after Byrne had Superman kill in his final issue?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: The original ending of the first attempt at a Watchmen movie was going to be that they were turned into comic book characters!
SPOILERS FOR WATCHMEN AHEAD! IF YOU HAVEN’T READ WATCHMEN YET, YOU REALLY SHOULD GO DO THAT! BUT JUST IN CASE, FEEL FREE TO GO TO THE NEXT PAGE TO AVOID SPOILERS FROM 1986!!
As acclaimed as Watchmen is (and it sure is acclaimed, as it is awesome), one critique that has existed for the comic ever since it came out (it was something that even its original editor, Len Wein, had a problem with) is the ending of the comic, specifically Ozymandias’ plan for world peace…
Therefore, for years, when filmmakers tried to adapt the story into a film, there was always a debate over how exactly to deal with the ending.
When the movie was finally made by director Zack Snyder in 2009, the solution that screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse came up with is instead of having the world rally against alien invaders, they would rally against Dr. Manhattan by teleporting exploding energy reactors that would make it look like Manhattan attacked the world instead of teleported “alien” squids.
However, years before Snyder finally got the Watchmen movie made, producer Joel Silver was trying to get one made with famed director Terry Gilliam. In an incredible interview with Coming Soon, Silver explains how their film would have gone:
CS: Speaking of ones that got away, as a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan I have to know if there’s anything juicy you can tell me about his conception of “Watchmen”?
Silver: It was a MUCH much better movie.
CS: Than the one Zack Snyder made…
Silver: Oh God. I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material.
Silver: I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of “Brazil”]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.
CS: That’s fascinating. Very META.
Silver: Oh yeah. So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.
Good or bad, that would have been quite a remarkable ending.
Thanks to Joel Silver and Coming Soon for the information!
Check out the latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Discover the tragic story of just how the United States film industry was forced to allow the American Human Association to determine that “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film.”
On the next page, who did Chris Claremont want to be in X-Factor instead of Jean Grey? Hint: Her last name rhymes with Pray.
COMIC LEGEND: Chris Claremont planned on Jean Grey’s SISTER being part of X-Factor
As I have detailed in the past, the idea to bring Jean Grey back to life as the fifth member of X-Factor was met with a whole lot of controversy at the time. In fact, as I explained in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, at one point the plan was going to be that the fifth member was Dazzler and not Jean Grey. Ultimately, Jim Shooter felt it was stronger to have the original five X-Men together.
As you might have guessed, one person who thought that that was a terrible idea was the man who wrote the death of Jean Grey, Chris Claremont. Claremont was distraught over the idea of bringing Jean Grey back to life. So Claremont actually made a counter proposal. He said why not make the fifth member of X-Factor be SARA Grey?
Sara Grey was Jean Grey’s older sister, introduced in X-Men #136…
A year after Jean Grey died, Claremont wrote a story featuring the Grey sisters in Bizarre Adventures #27…
They are kidnapped by Attuma and turned into water breathers…
They escape and Jean alters Sara’s genes…
And then her memories…
So Claremont suggested then that perhaps Jean altering Sara’s genes would then have also triggered her latent mutant powers and then Sara would gain powers, as well! He suggested that Sara’s ability would be to trigger other latent mutants, which would serve her well in the initial pitch of X-Factor as “mutant hunters” (who are secretly trying to protect mutants). In addition, she was a single mother, so she could be open to a relationship with the other single members of the team, opening up all sorts of romantic possibilities.
Shooter liked the idea but he had already committed to Jean Grey’s return, so that was that.
Still, it was a very impressive Hail Mary by Claremont!
Sara Grey, by the way, was later killed off off panel. And then her children were both murdered, too. Ah, comics.
On the next page, did Jerry Ordway and Roger Stern really split from John Byrne’s plots after Byrne had Superman kill?
COMIC LEGEND: The Superman writers after John Byrne went in a drastically different direction to distance themselves from Byrne having Superman kill.
John Byrne’s last issue of Superman was remarkable in that it featured Superman flat-out killing three Phantom Zone villains who had just wiped out an entire pocket Earth (BILLIONS of people)….
In the issues to come, new writers Jerry Ordway and Roger Stern would have Superman suffer a nervous breakdown and a split personality over what he had done, adopting the Gangbuster identity…
And then Superman would exile himself into outer space…
At the time and in the years since (especially in articles written last year after Superman killed in Man of Steel), Stern and Ordway’s stories have been seen as an attempt for the new writers to distance themselves from Byrne as quickly as possible, to basically say “Byrne did THIS, but we are going to have Superman go away from that right away!”
However, as it turns out, they were NOT going away from Byrne’s original story. Before he left the book, Byrne had a general plan for what would happen after Superman killed the Phantom Zone villains. Note the last panel in Byrne’s last issue…
He clearly is saying that this is messing Superman up. So the nervous breakdown and the split personality was originally BYRNE’s idea. Ordway suggested that he use Gangbuster (as Byrne was going to introduce a new hero and have that hero revealed to be Superman) but the nervous breakdown was all Byrne.
Stern and Ordway (and editor Mike Carlin, I presume) then took that one step further with the Exile storyline, but the first few months after Byrne left Superman, Stern and Ordway were still working with Byrne’s basic plots. So while they got the benefit of APPEARING to distance themselves from Byrne’s dramatic plot development, they were actually following it (and then taking it their own direction, of course).
My pal Graeme pointed out to me that they explicitly point this out in Adventures of Superman #450, the issue where we explicitly learn that Superman has been posing as Gangbuster due to a split personality over his grief over killing the Pocket Universe villains…
Thanks to Jerry Ordway, who explained how it all went down in his Modern Masters. And thanks to Eric Nolen-Weathington, who I believe interviewed Ordway in that Modern Masters. And thanks to reader Jam for suggesting this one! And thanks to Graeme for suggesting the Adventures #450 page!