This time we’re not looking at what actually did happen, but rather what Chris Claremont wanted to happen with his merry mutants.
You might have heard this before, but once upon a time Jean Grey went and died. It might have even been a big deal.
The Dark Phoenix Saga was a huge event at the time (and even remains so today) because it featured the death of a beloved X-Man. Sure, Changeling and Thunderbird died before, but this was Jean Frickin’ Grey! The beloved Marvel Girl who had been around from day one of the X-Men. And not only was the event huge because she bit the big one, but it was such a tragic tale that had been built up for so long with her fall to darkness and her eventual suicide.
And Chris Claremont made sure readers remembered how important her death was. Thunderbird only got one mention the issue after he died, but Jean was mentioned in nearly every issue for some time to come. Villains inquired about her. Members of the team became sullen whenever her name came up.
Of course, all this was for moot with the launch of X-Factor in which it was revealed that the Phoenix that had died was not actually Jean, but rather a clone of her created by a cosmic entity known as the Phoenix Force, which had answered her mental cry for help and placed her in a healing cocoon under Jamaica Bay that was later discovered by the Avengers. Jean’s revival was done because an editorial edict that wanted the original five X-Men back together in the new book.
But Claremont himself was not at all amused. In his mind, having the revelation that Jean was not actually Phoenix damaged the original story’s depth, and having Jean back created all kinds of new issues, most notably for Cyclops and his new bride Madelyne Pryor, whom Claremont had created specifically to give Cyke his “happy ending” for at least the time being. There was no way that Jean’s return could do anything but confuse the marriage and damage Cyclops’s character, making him a royal ass for abandoning his wife and son just to hook back up with his lost love.
So what was Claremont’s idea instead? He suggested using Jean’s sister Sarah, who had been introduced in the Dark Phoenix Saga, in her place amongst the original X-Men, giving them a red-headed Grey, but having her uncomfortable and even hateful of her role as a mutant. Rather than simply going with the original team, it would give them a new foil, and one that kept the tragedy of Jean’s death right in front of the original members. Also, what would Sarah’s reaction to Madelyne be? In fact, the Grey family were kept quite distant from Cyclops’s wife – it was an encounter that just never happened.
Claremont pitched the idea to Marvel, but they were sold on the return of Jean, and thus back she came, complete with wrecking Cyke’s marriage and creating a new spin on the Phoenix Force that took Marvel decades to finally straighten out.
What could have been…in my opinion is one more reason Chris Claremont is awesome.