Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the seven hundred and thirty-fifth installment where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.
Phoenix was not originally going to remain cosmically powerful.
In the first legend this week, I discussed how one of the main things that everyone involved in the All-New, All-Different X-Men agreed upon was that they all wanted to revamp Jean Grey. Len Wein, Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont all felt that Marvel Girl was not given too many opportunities for development, so they all put an update of Jean as a priority in their respective runs on the X-Men. Of course, Wein ended up leaving the X-Men almost as soon as he and Cockrum had relaunched the series by introducing the new members of the team like Wolverine (who had been created earlier during Wein's run on Incredible Hulk), Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus (plus the return of former X-Men ally, Banshee).
Wein was interviewed by Peter Sanderson for the classic X-Men book, the X-Men Companion, and Wein explained his plans for Jean...
Peter Sanderson: Having written out the four old X-Men, do you feel there would have been any loss in the book in terms of romantic interest, since you had broken off the relationship between Scott and Jean?
Len Wein: Well, I had no intention of it being any more permanent than Chris made it. Chris was following a little bit of my scenario in the early issues. She was meant to be come back in just a few months. The two of them couldn't stay apart and she was going to show up again.
Sanderson: As a member of the team?
Wein: Yes. With re-designed powers. We were going to revamp her not quite into what Phoenix became, but make her a different character, because we all thought she was a wimp, that she wasn't worth it. We had to pretty much reconstruct Jean Grey as a character.
Sanderson: What did you have in mind?
Wein: I don't remember. It's been five years. I don't really remember the details.
Sanderson: Okay. But she would have had a different costume and stronger powers, but of the same kind she had already.
Wein: Yeah, it would all have been telekinetic.
So clearly, no matter who was writing Jean Grey, she was due for a power expansion. Of course, when Wein left and Claremont entered, Claremont and Cockrum took things one step further with the introduction of the Phoenix. Jean Grey "dies" at the end of X-Men #100 while saving the rest of the team...
and then she is reborn in the following issue as the Phoenix...
You can tell here, of course, that this was much different than simply Jean's powers increasing. This was the creation of essentially a whole new character, a character much different from the Jean Grey of the past.
Nowadays, everyone is quite familiar with the Dark Phoenix Saga, but back in the late 1970s, there was a whole other Phoenix Saga at play and that was the storyline that was initially going to run from X-Men #101 and then #105, 107-108 (yes, I know that that is extremely complicated in terms of a storyline, but it was what it was - there was a fill-in issue in the middle of the storyline due to Cockrum's inability to get the book out on time even though it was bi-monthly at the time. That was one of the main reasons he left the series and John Byrne took over and the series quickly turned to monthly status).
Jean has these new powers, but it is a bit unclear just how powerful she is now. Claremont and Cockrum thought that it would be a good idea to show her go head to head with a major Marvel cosmic character to show just HOW powerful she had become. Their initial plan for her to tangle with Thor. However, as Cockrum evealed to Tom DeFalco in the amazing Comic Creators on X-Men, "When we first introduced Phoenix, we wanted her to fight Thor or the Silver Surfer, but [Whoever was in charge at the time - Cockrum incorrectly attributed the decision to Jim Shooter, who was not yet Marvel Editor-in-Chief, so it couldn't have been him - BC] wouldn’t allow it. He said no female is going to beat Thor or the Silver Surfer. We kind of sneaked around him by sending her up against Firelord, who had once fought Thor to a standstill. We established her power levels that way.”
As Cockrum notes, their work around was to have her face off against Firelord in X-Men #105 (I wrote about the whole deal in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed)...
(and yes, that is, in fact, Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont in those panels, with their respective significant others of the period).
While the Firelord fight certainly did a lot to show that Jean was now on a whole other level, it also showed that Jean was acting a bit unusual. The whole talking about herself in the third person deal was more than a little strange. However, one of the craziest things in the issue is that she later used her Phoenix powers to charge up an interstellar teleportation device, which serves to freak out her teammates, even, as she is showing much more power than they could ever imagine (note that they mostly missed her fight with Firelord)...
The interstellar transportation device, by the way, was paying off a subplot that had begun all the way back around when Claremont took over X-Men as the main writer. Xavier was visited in his dreams by a mysterious creature who eventually turns out to be the beautifully Lilandra of the Shi'ar, who is on the run from her tyrannically unhinged brother, D'Ken, who is the Emperor of the Shi'ar Empire and is planning to destroy the M'Kraan Crystal, an object which protects the very reality of the universe (D'Ken is one of those, "If I'm going down, I'm taking the whole universe along with me!" guys).
Here, then, is where the collaboration between Claremont and Cockrum and then Claremont and Byrne end up playing a major role in the development of Jean Grey. You see, Cockrum and Claremont initially intended for the first "Phoenix Saga" to end with a sort of reboot of Jean's powers. In other words, Jean's cosmic power levels were not meant to be a full-time deal. They were meant to go away in large part due to her helping to stop D'Ken and protectin the M'Kraan Crystal (and thus saving the entire universe).
Cockrum explained the situation to Peter Sanderson in the historic X-Men Companion:
Cockrum: Actually, when we introduced Phoenix I don't think we intended for her to keep super cosmic powers, because the rest of the group becomes superfluous then. We had intended for her to either lose a sizeable portion or if or limit herself one way or the other. So yeah, she was a powerful female but she would not make the rest of the group unncessary.
Sanderson: About what power level do you think she would have been at?
Cockrum: I don't really know
Sanderson: Equal to Storm's? Storm's been doing some pretty powerfull stuff lately, though.
Cockrum: Well, Storm's a pretty powerful lady, too. But I think we probably would have settled on that power level, yeah.
Claremont confirmed later in the X-Men Companion (it might have been in volume two) that they were, in fact, planning on having Jean Grey/Phoenix settle down to around Storm's power level. Which was still very powerful, of course, but she wasn't going to be some planet-destroying level of power.
Things changed, though, when Cockrum left the series in the middle of the storyline and John Byrne came on board. It turned out that it would be Byrne, not Cockrum, who would draw the big moment where Jean would lost most of her power upgrade by healing the M'Kraan Crystal (Cockrum noted that even here, she needed the help of her friends to save the day, so it wasn't like she was universe-altering all by herself)...
With Cockrum off of the book, Claremont was no longer bound by whatever he had initially had planned with Cockrum and so there was no moment where the Phoenix's powers come back down to normal levels after she saves the universe. A lot of this, though, seemed to come down to how John Byrne saw the Phoenix. The Phoenix was a big deal to Cockrum and Claremont because they had created her and so therefore, they wanted to continue spotlighting the character as a regular team member. Byrne, though, was a fan of Jean Grey and not of this new version of the character. It was Byrne who began to really push the idea that she was no longer quite human after the transformation into the Phoenix.
Claremont, whose ideas on how Jean got her powers exactly were relatively vague at the time, was open to this new idea (and again, since Byrne was not doing any plotting in his first issue of X-Men, Claremont had already clearly made the decision to not reduce Jean's powers too much in X-Men #108 on his own). Therefore, if you were willing to explore how much of Jean's humanity was still left over once she became the Phoenix, then it makes a lot more sense to keep her at her stronger power levels, as that just plays up the distance between her and her teammates (who are all clearly human).
When he began to plot more, Byrne, of course, also pushed for the book to spend less time on Phoenix period, hence her absence for a number of issues when she believes that the X-Men are dead and they believe the same about her. Obviously, the storyline ends up with Jean being corrupted and becoming Dark Phoenix...
And none of that ever would have happened had they stuck with their original plans regarding her power levels.
Thanks to Peter Sanderson, Tom DeFalco, Chris Claremont, John Byrne and the late, great Dave Cockrum and Len Wein for the information!
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed - Was X-Men: Dark Phoenix's ending changed because it was too similar to Captain Marvel's ending?
OK, that's it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo, which I don't even actually use on the CBR editions of this column, but I do use them when I collect them all on legendsrevealed.com!
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