Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What if the Dark Phoenix Saga never happened?

Back in 2009, on his forum (, John Byrne wondered what might have happened if he could have changed Claremont's mind:

I was looking at THIS, in the Gallery, and got to musing on how different Marvel history might have been if the editors and I had leaned a little harder on Chris, every time he tried to boost Jean’s power levels no matter how I drew them.
Of course, Phoenix had already happened before I came on board, but if it had not been for my complaints that she was was rapidly turning the X-Men into fifth wheels in their own book, along with Chris’ determination to keep ramping up her power, Steve Grant might never have spoken those six little words, “Why not make her a villain?”
Steve’s idea was perfectly reasonable, in context. “Power corrupts” was a not uncommon theme in Marvel comics, and as Chris had already turned Jean’s powers well past 11, the notion that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” seemed an almost organic extension. Plus, Jean as a villain brought all kinds of additional angst to the book and characters. She was a favorite of mine, and I did not really want to see her go down that path, but it seemed like she needed to be sacrificed for the good of the other characters and the title itself.
I had no idea how literal that would turn out to be!
It’s undeniable that the Dark Phoenix Saga is what pushed UNCANNY X-MEN fully into the limelight, tho it took a while for the speculators to catch up and boost sales to match. In those early days we were still pretty much selling one comic to one warm body, and our sales lay well below the likes of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or FANTASTIC FOUR.
But what if I’d thrown my weight around a bit more? Chris handling the characters in ways I didn’t like — principally using the captions and dialog to turn scenes into something other than what we’d plotted —would eventually lead to my leaving the book and moving on to FANTASTIC FOUR. A happier place for me, as it turned out (at least at the beginning), but what might have happened if I’d been able to keep X-MEN the happy place it had been when I first arrived? If Phoenix had been kept down to just Super Marvel Girl, rather than a nascent goddess?
There would have been no Dark Phoenix, of course. No need. Scott and Jean might have continued on their romantic arc undisturbed, so no reason for Scott to leave, or to fall for Madlyne Prior. Magneto would not have been allowed to “reform” — and any suggestion of him doing so would have been preposterous after what we’d planned for 150. UNCANNY X-MEN might well have stayed “small”, growing its audience, perhaps. but just as likely staying one step ahead of the cancellation axe, as it was for most of my time on the title.
There’s even the possibility that Chris, frustrated, might have been the one who left. There were already plans afoot to give me script approval (tho this was after Dark Phoenix), and if that had happened earlier, I might have found myself both writing and drawing the book.
Which, I suspect, would not have lasted long. UNCANNY did not really become “hot” until Paul Smith came along, and that was less due to Paul’s arrival than to the buzz the book was generating out of Dark Phoenix and all that followed. If Chris had left, or been reeled in, none of that would have happened.
Howard Chaykin has said that the present state of the comicbook industry is all my fault. That I, as the “first superstar” was the one who set everything on the path that led to what we see now. Looking back on my X-MEN days, and thinking about how different things might have been, I am suddenly thinking Howard might be right!


  1. Wow, he really comes across an insufferable here. More than usual I mean.

    1. I don't know. If we leave the last paragraph out, its is practically him saying the X-Men would not have reached its height if he had stopped Chris. And that there would always be risk of cancellation if things had stayed the way he wanted them storywise.

  2. Sounds to me like Byrne is claiming that leaving the book was the best thing for the X-men, Claremont and himself. There's perhaps some merit to that, after all sometimes creative teams need to split in order to achieve personal growth... And if Jean had survived, it's possible the status quo of the book might never have been shaken up the way it did when Cyclops left after Phoenix died on the Moon.

    Can't say I care too much for his indirect dig at Dave Cockrum when he claimed sales on Uncanny only went through the roof after Paul Smith came on. While certainly a great artist, Smith barely did six months worth of issues while Cockrum basically came up with half the team.

  3. I remember X-Men being "hot" well before #165. It was X-Men and New Teen Titans that were the "hot" titles. There was even a crossover in 1982. I don't remember Fantastic Four selling more than X-Men. It was the other way around, for sure.

  4. Top 10 from December 1984
    1. X-Men
    2. Alpha Flight
    3. Thor
    4. Phoenix Special
    5. Fantastic Four
    6. New Mutants
    7. X-Men/Micronauts
    8. Tales of the Teen Titans
    9. Avengers
    10. Hercules
    (Byrne's Thing was #11)

    The FF sold well, but you're right Sean, not better than the X-Men, especially in those pre-X-crossover days.

  5. I don't get how Byrne comes off as "nasty" in his statement, here. Just seems like the honest, personal musings of someone who was "there." I don't see his comment about the book only getting "hot" when Paul Smith came on board as a slight to anyone. Sales numbers weren't calculated until much later in the game than they are today, and publishers were "in the dark" about how well a book was doing for quite some time. So, they didn't know the book was "hot" until Smith had already come on board.



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