Changing X-Men directions

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23rd April 2013

From 1997 to 1999 the X-Men underwent several changes in writers while Chris Claremont waited in the wings, flirting with the characters he had helped make popular.

An X-Men reader poll published in Wizard #90 in 1999 revealed that 30 % of readers wanted Chris Claremont to write the X-Men again, putting him on top of the list with second favourite choice, Kurt Busiek, receiving only 18% of the votes.

In 1997, the readers who voted on Claremont almost had their wish come true. "Bob Harras had become the Editor-in-Chief and we started talking again," Claremont revealed in Comic Creators On X-Men.

"I, along with a lot of other creators in the business, have been bitching a lot in the last few years about how "Things aren't going quite right" and "If I were God Emperor of the Universe, what could I do to make things work?"" Claremont told Wizard #85. "It got to the point where I think Marvel decided to call my bluff." (...) "My coming back was not a spur-of-the-moment decision it's something we've been talking about for about two-and-a-half years. There was a lot of discussion, negotiation."

"When I came back to Marvel, the deal was... the expectation was that I would write one of the books," Claremont said in Wizard #103. "But we could never make the timing work."

"(Bob Harras) wanted me to come back and take over one of the X-books," Claremont added in Comics Creators On X-Men. "Scott Lobdell would write the other. Bob figured that would be the best of both worlds. Scott had a certain following and so did I. We could maybe play to our different strengths. But, before I agreed to write X-Men, I had to settle some outstanding royalty stuff with Marvel as far as Toy Biz was concerned. While this was happening, Scott decided to leave X-Men and Bob suddenly had to get writers on both books. By the time I came back, the books had already been handed over to Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle. Since Bob had already made a commitment to these two guys, he felt he couldn't just dump them. Instead of doing X-Men, I came back as editorial director and ended up taking over Fantastic Four because Scott had also quit that book. I was fine with FF."

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Unresolved plots

With Scott Lobdell leaving in 1997, a couple of his sub-plots remained unresolved. In Uncanny X-Men #339, Jean Grey's telepathic powers acted up, and in X-Men vol.2 #61, she suddenly found herself momentarily transported to an abandoned version of Manhattan. Later, in X-Men vol.2 #65, she found herself momentarily transported to the Heroes Reborn Universe where she met Iron Man. No explanation was ever given.

In X-Men vol.2 #59, Cannonball caught presidential candidate Graydon Creed talking to a person hidden behind a door. It was never revealed who he was talking to, but it might have been the mutant-hating Bastion, who supported Creed's cause.

Graydon Creed was shot in X-Factor #130 in 1997, and in Uncanny X-Men #353, an insert announced that the killer of Creed's fate would be revealed in X-Factor #150. Unfortunately, X-Factor was cancelled with issue #149, leaving the mystery unresolved until X-Men Forever #2 in 2001, where it was revealed that Mystique had shot him.

When Scott Lobdell left the X-Men with X-Men vol.2 #69, he had wanted to do a team of all-new, all-different X-Men that included the Israeli mutant Sabra. "I went through the effort to bring her onto camera and hopefully get her likeable and interesting," Lobdell told in Wizard #90. "And then I was told, "We don't want her on the team after all.""

Lobdell also revealed that he re-wrote Uncanny X-Men #325 from 1995 "six times completely from scratch because I couldn't bring myself to follow through on the (editorial) edict, which was to have Storm kill Marrow. It was only (on) the sixth time that I came up with the version that I was morally okay with, and even to this day I feel badly having written the story."

Meanwhile in Wolverine

At the same time as Scott Lobdell left X-Men, longtime Wolverine writer Larry Hama also left Wolverine, leaving behind a mystery that subsequent writers didn't touch. It regarded an artifact in the form of a box that Zoe Culloden, agent of the interdimensional company Landau, Luckman and Lake, sent to Wolverine for safe keeping in Wolverine vol.2 #111. In Wolverine vol.2 #113 and 114, the evil entity Ogun and Lady Deathstrike both coveted the box, which was opened by Storm. She didn't say what was in the box, only that whoever possess it would have access to resources untold.

Although Chris Claremont didn't return to the X-Men in 1997, he did write Wolverine vol.2 #125-128 in 1998, returning to the character he had helped make popular. In the story, Claremont defied the wishes of fans for Wolverine to get his adamantium reinforced skeleton back by giving it to Sabretooth instead. "In my mind, I want the villain to be significantly more dangerous and formidable than the hero otherwise, what's the point?" Claremont explained in Wizard #85.

"I think it's great that Wolverine is vulnerable, that his bones can be broken," Claremont continued. "Bad things can happen to him, and he has to factor his vulnerabilities into the equation. If a bad guy comes to him with a sharp enough sword, maybe the guy can take (Wolverine's) head off, as opposed to the old days, where it was, "Hey. Cut me. I don't care." More importantly, now Sabretooth - the one guy who truly doesn't care can't be killed. How do you win a fight like that? Well, that's the challenge. I'd like to give this concept a run for a while."

However, it didn't take long after Claremont's story arc before Sabretooth's adamantium was given to Wolverine instead by Apocalypse in Wolverine vol.2 #145 in 1999. Claremont commented on it in Wizard #103: "The whole point about Sabretooth and Wolverine is Sabretooth is Wolverine without any moral governing. That is why I wanted to give him the adamantium. Sabretooth should, in every shape, manner and form, be more formidable than Wolverine, so that in any given fight, Wolverine has the odds against him."

Editorial interference

While Steve Seagle and Joe Kelly were writing the main X-Men books, "the editorial climate at the time was extremely poor," according to artist Chris Bachalo in Comics Creators On X-Men. "They kept changing story directions from issue to issue. They'd have the meeting, decide on a direction and change their minds a few months later. I think it was all very frustrating for Steve (Seagle) and Joe Kelly, the writers at the time. They were having their differences with the editorial group and I think they got completely burned out after a year. I don't know if they were fired or if they left, but it was just a horrible situation. And it made drawing the book really difficult. We'd get working on the storyline, and then it would change and go in another direction. Steve's last issue was also my last issue. To this day, I don't know why I was moved."

Chris Claremont commented on the editorial effect on the X-Men books in Wizard #85: "Eleven X-Men books is probably too much because you're drawing from the same well of characters and events. And the sheer logic of it: I think there are more mutants in the Marvel Universe than there are other superheroes right now. It's hard to be the downtrodden minority when you outnumber everyone else two-to-one. And also, it used to be that the X-Men were the province of one writer, one editor. Then it became two writers and two editors. Now it's four or five editors and a half-dozen or more writers. It's very hard to maintain a consistent tone of focus."

"Part of me wants to write them all," Claremont admitted. "Part of me wants to put the whole canon in my pocket, run out the door and come back each month with stories. But my value to the company is in a different direction than that. And I would rather at this point make (Fantastic Four) more exciting and successful than it is than to go back to the X-Men."

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Abandoned storylines

The change in directions meant that two of Joe Kelly's subplots were abandoned before reaching closure. The first one concerned the Black King of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. In X-Men vol. 2 #71 he was approached by a wraith who gave him a letter with an Egyptian styled seal. It contained an offer, which Sebastian Shaw accepted in X-Men vol. 2 #73. It was never revealed what he agreed to do or what meeting would be called once he'd accepted.

The other abandoned plot concerned new X-Man Marrow. A mysterious figure approached her mentor Callisto, who was recuperating in the Morlock Tunnels, in X-Men vol. 2 #74. In X-Men vol. 2 #79, the mysterious figure was displeased with Callisto's speedy recovery, but pleased that Marrow had joined the X-Men. It was never revealed, but the mysterious figure was probably the Dark Beast a character with Morlock ties and whom Editor Mark Powers had revealed in Wizard #79 would be appearing: "You'll see the Dark Beast doing something really nasty to someone you know and like."

In Wizard #79, a storyline for August 1998 was also hinted at. "You will see more X-Men and X-villains gathered in one place together, united than you have ever seen before," Steve Seagle said. "There are times where you have to rely on your enemies to save you and there are times where your friends don't act at all like your friends. This August will be one of the times."

"Even your friends can be your villains," Seagle continued. "It is hard to say who is what. This story is going to lead to the biggest philosophical division that you have ever seen happen among all the X-characters. (...) You'll see old friends turn against one another over philosophical differences."

"You'll see the fantabulous Beast butting heads with other longtime X-Men," Joe Kelly added, while Mark Powers revealed that "an X-Man will die this year," and Seagle added that "I'm thinking that it will be sometime around... August."

However, this August storyline never appeared. Instead, Excalibur characters Nightcrawler, Colossus and Shadowcat rejoined the X-Men in a brand new direction for the books.

Why Kelly and Seagle left

X-Men writer Joe Kelly commented on the change of direction and why he left the book in Wizard #90: "If somebody told me from Day One, "We're going to work out the story and hand it to you, and you just plot it and dialogue it," I'd have no problem with that, because it's very up-front. When that evolves over time, it becomes frustrating."

"Joe (Kelly) and I, along with (editor) Mark Powers, proceeded to produce two detailed, yearlong plans for the two X-books which were filled with interesting stories, sweeping long-range character arcs, shorter stories, one summer "big event" crossover, and enough marketing spikes to make any retailer happy without irritating the fans," Uncanny X-Men writer Steve Seagle added in Wizard #90. "I was led to believe this plan had been accepted, and proceeded to start laying in the threads of these stories in the issues I was writing. Then all four tires blew out from under our wagonload of good stuff."

"You never know what it is, but (Editor-In Chief) Bob (Harras) was answering to other people and this was a chaotic time at Marvel," Seagle continued. "Certainly the redirected lineup which neither Joe nor I were too happy about I don't think that came directly from editorial. I think that came from outside forces, whatever they may be marketing or people above Bob, or who knows what."

"Steve and I had a cool, magic thing going, but it wasn't the kind of magic they were looking for, so what you get is something that falls in between their vision and our vision," Joe Kelly added. "One of the things we definitely were going to do was split the books up and give each one a definite agenda. My team was going to include Beast running the school with the younger team members Cannonball, the new guys, and maybe Kitty Pryde. Steve would take the 70s X-Men, which would be more active, with a more focused agenda. Cyclops was going to lead that team, with a very clear dream that was different from Xavier's."

"It really started to get troubling when the one character Joe and I both wanted in the book, which was Phoenix, (was something) we really fought for and we were basically told, "No,"" Seagle revealed.

"Phoenix had started expanding her powers," Kelly added, "and there were going to be characters who had been watching since the Phoenix saga to see if the Phoenix force would return."

Enter Alan Davis

"After Kelly and Seagle left X-Men, Bob (Harras) took me aside and asked who I would choose to write it," Chris Claremont revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. "I suggested Alan Davis. I remember we asked him to do both books for about six months. That six-month gig turned into two years."

"Chris Claremont phoned and asked if I'd like to pencil six issues of the X-Men?" Alan Davis recalled in Modern Masters Volume One. "Within about a week and a half of this, I realized there was something going on at Marvel, something political. I still don't know the full story. It was between Joe Kelly and Mark Powers, and I think Steven Seagle was involved, but I didn't really have anything to do with him. Only a few weeks after beginning pencilling, Mark Powers phoned and said Joe Kelly and Steven Seagle had quit, and asked if I'd help out by plotting the next issue. I said I would and sent a plot in. Mark phoned and said they really liked the plot and would I plot Uncanny as well? So I said okay, and then it was, "Can you plot next month's as well?" I said there was no way I could manage to do the dialogue, so I just continued pencilling one and plotting both X-Men titles and suddenly 18 months had passed and I'd pencilled 11 issues and plotted 24 or more. I had sorted out all of the continuity stuff Mark had wanted so all the titles could be integrated but there were a lot of new writers resisting the new line. More politics!"

"Mark Powers gave me lists of characters and events that had to be introduced or resolved to tie in with other titles," Alan Davis added. "It was complicated because the other editors and writers didn't want to play ball. It got very messy. Working on X-Men was my most "professional" writing, in that I was problem-solving rather than coming up with ideas that I would have chosen."

X-Men characters in Fantastic Four

Meanwhile, Chris Claremont wrote Fantastic Four vol.3 #4-32 and used some X-Men-related characters like Roma, Saturnyne, Charlotte Jones and Margali Szardoz in the book. Claremont would also have liked to use Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) in Fantastic Four, since Excalibur was getting cancelled anyway. Her role would have been working as Reed Richards' laboratory assistant an idea which probably came from Uncanny X-Men #178, wherein Kitty Pryde broke into the Fantastic Four's headquarters and thought: "I wonder if Dr. Richards'd like an apprentice?"

"The only problem was (X-Men Editor) Mark Powers and the writers of the X-Men books had other plans for her," Claremont sighed in Wizard #85. "Their wishes take precedence."

"The problem with carrying over characters and plot elements from previous titles is that the editors involved of both the prior and the current titles may have other ideas, as might the writer(s) who came after," Claremont told in 2001. "Folks complained when I used X-Men elements in the (Fantastic Four), complained again when FF elements showed up in the X-Men. Thing is, everyone has their turf and protects it with a vengeance. Sigh!"

Fantastic Four entered the top ten of Preview's Top 100 list of best-selling comics when Claremont wrote the book, but he was still fired from writing Fantastic Four when he agreed to return to writing both Uncanny X-Men and X-Men vol. 2 in 2000. "I made my decision to return to Marvel, and ultimately to the X-Men for the same reason that I decided to leave in 1991," Claremont stated to in 2003, "because it felt like the right thing to do."

James Busbee: Danger Room, Wizard #90, February 1999
Tom Defalco: Comics Creators On X-Men, April 2006
Chris Hutchins: Chis Claremont, Wizard #85, September 1998
Richard Johnston: Waiting For Tommy,, 2003
Christopher Lawrence: Chris Claremont, Wizard #103, April 2000
Eric J. Moreels: Claremont Talks New X-Title,, 24 January 2001
Eric Nolen-Weathington: Modern Masters Volume One Alan Davis, April 2003
Matthew Senreich: Team X-Men, Wizard #79, March 1998