What is, what was, and what could have been

Brian Cronin’s weekly feature Comic Book Legends Revealed is an incredible source of answers to comic book questions you didn’t even know to ask.  He’s covered everything from Superman to Howard the Duck in his 300+ entries.  One of his most interesting topics, to me at least, came in part three of his #300 special feature and dealt with a subject very close to where I currently am in my effort to read the entire story of the X-Men all the way through. 

The background story had been building for nearly a year throughout both Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants.  Professor X had been mugged by students who believed him to be sympathetic to mutants (and then learned him to be actually a mutant himself) and left for dead on the street.  He was saved by the Morlocks, whose Healer barely managed to bring him back from death, but his full recovery depended on allowing himself time to rest and recuperate.  Needless to say, he pushed himself harder than ever and his body began failing on him to the point that he lay dying at the close of issue #200 forcing Magneto to swear to take over for him at his school and serve as headmaster for both the X-Men and the New Mutants.  And then the Starjammers suddenly appeared and fixed him.

But the interesting bit wasn’t the debate on whether the original plan had been to actually kill Xavier or not at this point.  On that note, it certainly seemed like that was the case – especially Magneto’s reaction at the close of the issue, despite knowing Xavier would come out peachy-keen.  No, the real story would come from a rather snooty-looking Brit who appeared for the issue’s signature event – the Trial of Magneto.

This was a less-than-likable character (I mean LOOK at him!) who popped in for a one-off appearance, made an ass of himself, and was never seen again.  My first time reading this issue, I thought very little of him, believing him to simply be a character used to vocalize anti-mutant hatred as a foil to someone else who could defend mutants.  After the issue, I never thought another thing about him.

But as Mr. Cronin revealed in his dealing with the matter, there was far more to Jasper James planned, only the plot was scrapped due to disagreement between Marvel and Alan Moore (yes THAT Alan Moore) that forced a retooling of the X-Men plotline.  The tale is not just interesting in what was planned and was forced to be changed, but also how those ideas were eventually retooled and used in Uncanny anyway.

It’s easy to escape the knowledge of Marvel’s British line of comics, being that they were released, you know, in Britain.  Many of these – and especially the Captain Britain comics – were actually quite good.  The most noteworthy of the Captain Britain line was a run by Alan Moore and Alan Davis which had such stories as the Fury killing off Cap (he got better), Betsy Braddock (later known as the X-Man Psylocke) becoming a purple-haired spy, and yes, the introduction of an important villain named James Jasper.

As told by Brian Cronin:

A major storyline in the comic involved a character that had been introduced by Dave Thorpe and Alan Davis (right before Alan Moore took over the book), Sir Jim Jaspers, was a member of Parliament on an alternate reality Earth who was super evil and wanted a world with no superheroes. Jaspers, who had the ability to warp reality, created a super-powerful android known as The Fury, who exterminated pretty much all the superheroes in England.

The Captain Britain from OUR reality got involved and he is actually KILLED by the Fury of that reality! Merlyn resurrects him, and as it turns out, it was a plan by Merlyn to steel Captain Britain against the threat of the Jim Jaspers of OUR universe, who is even MORE powerful and when he gets elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, well, things go bad quickly.

Chris Claremont, the creator of Captain Britain, was interested in these stories and looked to bring them over to the U.S. in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.  But Marvel managed to gum up the works by reprinting two of Alan Moore’s stories without telling him and (more importantly) paying him royalties for them.  He predictably got peeved over the issue and thus the relationship got rocky, putting it mildly.  This also curbed Claremont’s plans.  As Cronin wrote:

When Claremont found out about the controversy (obviously, he did not know that Moore was mad when he began using Jaspers, as obviously Claremont planned on using the characters as more or less a TRIBUTE to Moore) he quickly re-wrote the stories he had planned, which was going to be basically a two-year (or so) storyline. Everything happened as planned for the next few issues (which makes sense, as obviously by the time Claremont even LEARNED about the problem, the issues were already being produced), including Rachel Summers leaving the book.

But soon Claremont’s original plans diverged from what happened in the comic. The original plan involved Nimrod merging with the Fury to form an astonishingly powerful villain. This new villain would wipe out the Morlocks and most of the Hellfire Club. In the various battles with the X-Men, he would also severely wound Nightcrawler. Ultimately, Kitty Pryde would temporarily defeat him by phasing through him, messing with his circuits but the reaction would have left her injured, as well.

Nightcrawler, Kitty, Colossus and Longshot (hot off of his mini-series) would leave the X-Men to go to England where Colossus would serve as a bodyguard of sorts to the recuperating Kurt and Kitty. This, naturally, would lead into a new book called Excalibur.

Jaspers, meanwhile, would team up with Nimrod/Fury, and slowly turn the population of the world against the X-Men. Mutants all over the world would be forced to team up together. Eventually, Forge and Roma would get involved and the Siege Perilous would be used to defeat Jaspers and Nimrod/Fury, but the X-Men would be warped via Jaspers powers so that Claremont could make various changes with the team.

While that story in itself was quite interesting, I find it even more interesting that most of the plans laid out by Claremont actually did manifest throughout the X-line over the following 50+ issues, though not how he had planned them originally.  The biggest yanks from the line were Jaspers and the Fury, who obviously were core to this entire idea.  I’m not sure the original plan for Rachel Summers, but she was pulled from Uncanny X-Men in issue #208 when Wolverine put three claws into her gut to stop her from killing the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen, Selene.

The next two issues saw the plan for the Hellfire Club/X-Men fight would take place without the added might of the Fury, leaving Nimrod by himself to take on the mutants.  The fight cost the Hellfire Club Frederich Von Roehm (a rather unimportant character used as a pawn by Selene) and longtime baddy Harry Leland, who realistically had fallen out of the spotlight since his heyday in the Dark Phoenix Saga.  But after the battle, with the grand plan for Nimrod was shelved, along with a lot of setup for the character.  He was a great potential threat, but Claremont clearly had nowhere for him to go without the addition of Jaspers and the Fury.

But that didn’t mean the effects of the intended story wouldn’t move forward.  Instead of Nimrod/Fury, a new team of baddies, including a former Savage Land mutate (Vertigo) and an obscure Iron Fist villain (Sabretooth), were put together and unleashed upon the Morlocks.  Soon after, the leader was shown as the debuting Mr. Sinister, and even Gambit was (much) later tied into the event.  It was a big event not just because it killed off a big chunk of the X-Men’s supporting cast, but also because it directly tied into three other titles (New Mutants, X-Factor and The Mighty Thor) at a time when in-book crossovers were still relatively unheard of.

To set themselves as the heavily feared villains that the Nimrod/Fury hybrid could not be, the Marauders took out three longtime X-Men in Nightcrawler, Shadowcat and Colossus.  Sound familiar?  Claremont had actually brought Longshot into the cast through a rather silly annual issue, and also used the opportunity to bring over another character from the British comics in Betsy Braddock, sister of Captain Britain, whom he dubbed Psylocke.  Betsy came in without issue, presumebly before the Moore issue came up, likely because Claremont himself had created the character.  Anyway, shortly thereafter, the three injured X-Men along with three new recruits (Dazzler, Psylocke and Longshot) get sent off to Muir Island for healing.  I’m not saying that it was the plan, but if that wasn’t a core cast of a side X-Men team, I’m not sure what would be.

Either way, the three new recruits would be brought back to the remaining team members (Storm, Wolverine, Rogue) and longtime ally Havok would rejoin the team to bring about a new lineup for the team.  The next issues spent longer setting up the threat of the Marauders as well as Freedom Force, while Storm was busy setting up the next MAJOR EVENT for the X-Men line, the Fall of the Mutants.  This was likely going to be the site of the big battle against James Jaspers and the Nimrod/Fury hybrid, but without those characters, the X-Men spent some time fighting their old Freedom Force foes before setting off to deal with the HUGE character the Adversary, whom Claremont had introduced some time ago.  And just as had been originally planned, Forge and Roma were brought in, but the ending came out far more different than originally planned.

Instead of the Siege Perilous factoring into the conclusion of the story, another path was taken in which Forge used the souls of the eight assembled X-Men (Colossus had been brought back into the team shortly before) to seal off the Adversary, which actually played into the backstory of what Forge originally did to summon the spirit.  Roma resurrected the team and they elected to hang out in the Australian Outback, allowing the world to believe them to be dead.  That’s certainly a different direction for them.  This event would also have lasting effects on both X-Factor and the New Mutants.  And the original plan for Nightcrawler and Shadowcat went ahead, teaming them up with British characters Captain Britain and Meggan (along with Rachel Summers) to launch the new book Excalibur which itself went an impressive 125 issues, longer than both X-Factor, New Mutants and even the later launched X-Force (not counting its relaunch as what would become X-Statix).

But just because that chapter of the story had ended didn’t mean that all of the potential plans would not see the light of day.  Claremont still had Nimrod running around, whom himself had been established as a major potential villain.  The character eventually resurfaced in Uncanny X-Men #246 when he was forcibly merged with the original Sentinel leader Master Mold.  Does this also seem familiar?  Though certainly lesser of a threat than the Fury/Nimrod would have, the Master Mold hybrid did do some notable damage by killing the wife of Senator Robert Kelly, which would have potential (but not actual) ramifications for human/mutant relations.  The story ultimately closed as the original had been intended do by the X-Men opening the Siege Perilous and blowing Master Mold through it.

The Siege Perilous would also factor into the sudden various changes for the team.  Of the eight X-Men, five went through it – Dazzler, Havok, Colossus and Psylocke willingly; Rogue was blown through it along with Master Mold – each were notably changed.  Havok wound up a Genoshan magistrate; Colossus an amnesiac artist in Soho; Psylocke a transformed Asian assassin; Rogue was seperated from her Ms. Marvel persona.  Dazzler landed as an amnesiac and was given the opportunity to reclaim her showbiz career, but Claremont left the line before the storyline could be finished.  The other three X-Men also had noteworthy changes.  Storm was presumed dead and regressed to childhood.  Wolverine returned to the empty headquarters and was beaten so badly his healing factor was overtaxed.  Longshot quit the team, though his story was also left unfinished when Claremont departed.  Even Master Mold/Nimrod eventually reappeared, reborn as the mutant hating Bastion, most recently the villain of the Second Coming crossover.

So even though the core of the storyline was yanked, not only to Claremont manage to tell the story he wanted, but he managed to extend it nearly 30 issues further than the original had been intended.  It’s an interesting story of how unforseen changes can affect a storyline and how a creator works around it, and makes you wonder just what other storylines could have been, and what did actually become because of them.

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