This weekend, Columbia University hosts Comic New York: A Symposium, discussing how comics and New York City are inextricably linked. Saturday’s programming concluded with Chris Claremont and his long-time editor Louise Simonson in conversation, in recognition of his donation of his archives to Columbia University.
Chris Claremont is a great storyteller, and told lots of true stories. One of the most interesting was how he had plotted X-Men to issue #300-350 (c.1992-97). Professor X would have died, Magneto would have assumed control of the Mansion and school, and Scott Summers, Cyclops, would have retired to domestic bliss with Madelyn Pryor, available for emergencies.
Of course, as the saying goes, God laughed. On a Friday evening in 1985, he met with his editor Ann Nocenti (whom he considers one of the best editors he has ever worked with, along with Louise Simonson). Before they could discuss upcoming story plots, she broke the news: the original X-Men would be reunited, including a presumed-dead Jean Grey. As most fans know, Jean Grey, AKA Phoenix, committed suicide to prevent her Dark Phoenix persona from manifesting again, as seen in Uncanny X-Men #138.
[This story itself had been mandated by Jim Shooter, Editor-In-Chief, who felt a lesser punishment would have been disproportionate to the genocide Phoenix had committed against the asparagus people of D’Bari.]
Chris Claremont was livid. Jim Shooter had pledged that Jean Grey would remain dead. Claremont tried to call Jim Shooter, but the offices were closed for the weekend. So he returned to dinner, and then developed an alternative, which he pitched to Jim Shooter.
Instead of Jean Grey, her role in X-Factor would be filled by her sister, Sara Grey. Claremont had written a story which had appeared in the X-Men issue of Bizarre Adventures #27 (1981). In that story, Brides of Attuma, Jean/Phoenix and her elder sister Sara were kidnapped by Atlantean villain Attuma. Both sisters’ physiology were altered to that of the water-breathing Atlanteans.
Phoenix, of course, escaped, and using her power cosmic, returned Sara to a normal Human.
Claremont then proposed to Jim Shooter that when Jean Grey had returned Sara to normal, that she had also switched on Sara’s latent mutant genes. Sara’s power would be that when she came into close proximity with a latent mutant, that person’s mutant abilities would manifest, allowing X-Factor to locate mutants more easily. [Although he did not mention it, this would also have been a narrative link to Rachel Summers’ history as a “hound” in the dystopian future of “Days of Future Past” (1981).] Additionally, Sara would have been single, creating an interesting dynamic with the four single male members of X-Factor.
Jim Shooter liked the idea, but was set in the revival of Jean Grey. The rest, they say, is history. [Sara Grey-Bailey was later assassinated in 1994. The Grey lineage is like the Kennedy Clan… almost all members have met their ends in the Marvel-616 timeline.]
So fans are left with what-may-have-been.
The symposium concludes Sunday. All panelists will sign books, which are available at the event.