Why Phoenix had to die!

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Last Updated: 
5th July 2012

And how the all-time greatest X-Men story ever was born.

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Scott Summers (Cyclop)'s girlfriend, Jean Grey (Marvel Girl), left the X-Men in issue #94 in 1975, but returned in X-Men #97 in 1976. "Basically, we missed her and wanted her back," artist Dave Cockrum recalled in Comics Creators On X-Men. "Archie Goodwin was the X-Men editor by then and I had started badgering him to let me do something with Jean Grey. I hated her costume. We felt that Marvel Girl was a dumb name, too."

"We never intended her to come back and just be plain old wimpy Marvel Girl," Cockrum told The X-Men Companion. "We made her a bit more flamboyant than she was."

"Dave and I deliberately set out to make her more independent and attractive before we made her into Phoenix," Claremont told The X-Men Companion. "I saw no reason why a young, intelligent, attractive, courageous, heroic woman should look like a Republican frump. I told Dave, "Let's jazz her up," - visually jazz her up, changing her hairstyle, giving her slightly flashier clothes and when he became more attracted to her, he liked drawing her and we liked using her again. I told Dave to jazz up the visuals on her power, because dotted lines do not an interesting visual make. And, partly because there was all this talk about Ms. Marvel, we felt some pressure to get rid of the Marvel Girl name."

"At some point we thought, well, we're giving her an official rebirth and Phoenix refers to rebirth so, okay, we'll call her Phoenix," Cockrum revealed in Comics Creators On X-Men. "I started drawing costumes and my first Phoenix costume was a lot like the current one, except that it was white and gold and had an off-the-shoulder cape like the Fawcett Captain Marvel. I loved it, personally, but Archie wouldn't okay a white costume because he said you'd be able to read the copy through the page on the old newsprint we were printing on in those days. So I changed her colors to green and gold, and he okayed it."

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The first female cosmic hero

While trying to save the X-Men from death, Jean Grey was exposed to cosmic rays in X-Men #100, 1976. "(Writer Chris Claremont) told me to play off the origin of the Fantastic Four with the cosmic rays and that whole "TAGATAGATAGA" sound effect," Cockrum recalled.

Then X-Men #101 started with Jean Grey having become Phoenix. The closer circumstances surrounding the rebirth were revealed in X-Men #125 in 1979: "Her body was consumed by the intense radiation. But her mind refused to die. Driven by her love for Scott Summers, she achieved her full potential as a psi becoming, briefly, an entity of pure thought before finally reforming as Phoenix."

"We agonized over what the hell she did," Cockrum revealed in The X-Men Companion. "It took us a long time to figure out exactly what she did, so we left her in the hospital for several issues, while we thought about it. It started out being an enormous upgrading of what she already did. So powerful that nobody could cope with it."

"Phoenix is actually Marvel Girl at her ultimate extent," Chris Claremont explained to The Comics Journal. "Phoenix in X-Men #108 (1977), when she saved the universe, was Jean Grey achieving her fullest potential as an entity."

"Our intent was to create an X-Men analog, if you will, to Thor someone who was essentially the first female cosmic hero," Claremont revealed in Phoenix: The Untold Story. "We thought at the time that we could integrate her into the book as well as Thor had been integrated into the Avengers. The problem with that is that it grew out of the synthesis between Dave and me. The fact that we had, in a sense, created her gave me a degree of involvement that (artist John Byrne) didn't have, coming in seven issues later."

Editorial resistance to Phoenix

"When we first introduced Phoenix, we wanted her to fight Thor or the Silver Surfer, but (new Editor-In-Chief) Jim Shooter wouldn't allow it," Cockrum told Comic Creators On X-Men. "He said no female is going to beat Thor or the Silver Surfer. We kind of sneaked around him by sending her up against Firelord, who had once fought Thor to a standstill. We established her power levels that way."

"Dave and I kind of liked the idea that we had a female character who was cosmic. No one else did," Claremont revealed in The Comics Journal. "Len Wein objected strenuously to our using Firelord if Phoenix beat him. We couldn't have a lady character who's cosmic, because well, his argument was that it made the rest of the X-Men superfluous. We got around it by having the fight be a draw."

"One of the storylines that Dave and I discussed was the possibility of turning her into a power junkie," Claremont told The X-Men Companion. "The idea was that the more power she used, the more she wanted; the more she wanted, the more she got; the more she got, the more out of control it got. And she was scared, because she didn't think she was ready for it, so she would deliberately not use her power, and then we'd deliberately put the X-Men in situations where they had to use her power. I wanted to give Jean an internal conflict, through which she could constantly demonstrate her heroic nature by overcoming it."

"Actually, when we introduced Phoenix I don't think we intended for her to keep super cosmic powers, because the rest of the group becomes superfluous then," Cockrum told The X-Men Companion. "Chris had said something about using the power to save the universe in X-Men #108 (in 1977), but that wiped it to such a degree that it reduced her powers. And after that, theoretically, she was not supposed to be that super-cosmic person."

Inventing rationale

"So anyway, we were told, Dave and I, that Phoenix could not be cosmic," Claremont said in The Comics Journal. "And when the editor passes down an edict, you're stuck with it. We had to cut her back. So we decided to cut her down to roughly where Storm is, which is fine. Now I had to think of a rationale."

"The potential to become Phoenix is still within Jean. But without the necessary increase in her awareness, in her perception. If her consciousness, her soul, whatever, is not enlightened if her consciousness is not cosmic, then she can't handle the power. It's like Doctor Strange could not become the Sorcerer Supreme until he had achieved a certain psychic and emotional balance, or awareness. Neither can Jean. She'll burn herself out, she'll be warped, twisted, turned into an evil person. Ergo, what happened was her mind shut her down, as a safety mechanism. To prevent her from hurting herself, it just dropped a wall down."

Claremont's rationale for the cutback of Jean Grey's powers was used in X-Men #125 in 1979. Professor Xavier's colleague, Dr. Moira MacTaggert examined Jean Grey and reached the conclusion that if Jean Grey was once again to reach her full potential, as she did in X-Men #108 while saving the universe, and gain access to the powers that still existed inside her, she could become something akin to a god.

The decision to turn Phoenix bad

Phoenix officially rejoined the X-Men in issue #110 in 1978, but John Byrne, who had taken over as X-Men artist from Dave Cockrum with X-Men #108, didn't share Cockrum and Claremont's enthusiasm for the Phoenix character. "I agitated to get her out of the book as quickly as possible which is what we did," he admitted in Phoenix: The Untold Story. "I didn't like Phoenix since the word go. Because she instantly made the rest of the X-Men fifth wheels, you know? And she wasn't even an X-Man."

"Much as I would prefer to have it different and this is why Phoenix isn't on the cover or in the title logo is that in the opinion of (X-Men editor) Roger Stern and John Byrne, she isn't an X-Man," Claremont revealed in The Comics Journal.

"John liked Jean, he did not like Phoenix," Claremont added in The X-Men Companion. "John's antipathy toward Phoenix as a character was one of the primary motivations behind the entire decision to begin a Dark Phoenix storyline and get rid of her, or at least change her in such a way that she could not remain on the team as Phoenix."

"Chris, new X-Men editor Jim Salicrup, and I went to lunch to discuss a crazy story that Chris had in mind wherein Phoenix was going to slowly, over the course of many issues, be corrupted by her power and become a great threat," Jim Shooter recalled in Phoenix: The Untold Story.

"Freewheeling, I pointed out that while Marvel had many heroes who started out as villains the Black Widow, Hawkeye, several others we'd never had a hero who went bad," Shooter added in Back Issue #29. "I suggested that Chris evolve Phoenix into a villain, permanently and irrevocably, the new "Doctor Doom" for the X-Men. Salicrup and Chris liked the idea and Chris began work on what eventually became the "Dark Phoenix" saga."

"As far as I was concerned, Phoenix was always a part of the X-Men," Claremont summarized in The X-Men Companion. "Jean was an integral part of the team. John disagreed, and from that disagreement as he put it, he was getting disenchanted with the book in the mid-120s. Then when we decided to turn Jean evil, or to make her a villain, he got intrigued and stuck around."

The original ideas for the fate of Phoenix

"The original intent to turn her into a bad villain got lost for me about two-thirds of the way into the story when I suddenly started thinking, "We're doing this to Jean Grey with whom I've always been deeply involved,"" John Byrne confessed in Phoenix: The Untold Story. "My whole thought was, "Make Phoenix evil and then suck Phoenix out of Jean.""

"I wanted to depower her totally," Byrne continued. "Chris had said that she manifested her power when she was about ten, so I had said that the ideal thing would be to have had Xavier turn her brain back, basically, till she was nine years old. Then, in the scenario that I had envisioned, the Phoenix, still an evil force, would have been kind of like this Bogey-Man that would pop out every once in a while."

"This is a scene that I pictured in my mind: Jean, now essentially retarded and living with her parents is taken by her parents into town to see, just to date ourselves, "The Cat From Outer Space" was the movie I kept thinking of. Two or three punks see her wandering by herself while her parents are buying the tickets and escort her into an alleyway. There's a brief scuffle and from the alley comes this horrendous flash which is the Phoenix out loose again. And we have to depower her again. So Phoenix would pop out as a sort of "Jekyll and Hyde" thing."

"What Chris had suggested was that Phoenix would apparently be destroyed in the battle on the moon and that three or four issues later, she would turn up as Jean back at her old apartment, saying, "Here I am, I'm back, leave me alone, I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to hear about it, I'm just going to live my life." We sort of synthesized those ideas, which bubbled down into that we were going to depower her, but she was essentially going to be Jean and was going to live her life and wasn't going to be nine years old."

The original ending of the "Dark Phoenix" saga

"The ending that John and I had planned for X-Men #137 (1980) was that on page 28 or 29, we have that pullback from the moon, the "Butch Cassidy" act, and it's obvious that Jean and Scott have been trashed," Claremont told The X-Men Companion. "And then we have a five-page sequence in which Jean essentially has her psionic abilities removed down to a molecular level, the reason being, Lilandra says, that they don't want to destroy Jean, partly because they don't know what relationship she has to the M'Krann crystal. They believe they can safely strip her power; they don't know if they should kill her, so they won't. And she doesn't deserve to be killed. So her power is removed molecule by molecule. The galaxy's greatest telepaths sit there and they literally take Jean apart molecule by molecule, take out all of the molecules that relate to her psionic ability and put her back together again, leaving her a normal human being."

"John wanted to have her essentially lobotomised, reduced to the level of a 12-year-old child, for whom the mere presence of Scott would cause psychic angst and grief, so we'd have your basic impossible love affair. I didn't go for that. I was willing to accept a few issues of her being, essentially, in shock."

X-Men #138, 1980, was originally going to conclude with Scott Summers and Jean Grey leaving the X-Men. "The first issue she was pretty much going to be, basically, in shock," Claremont added in Phoenix: The Untold Story. ""I know something awful happened on the moon, and I did something, but I can't remember it so I'm just going to go on.""

"What I wanted to do then was spend about the next eight issues or so having Jean come to terms with the fact that she can no longer move things by thought, that she is locked inside of her head for the first time in her adult life. At the same time she has the memory that she had godlike powers, and more importantly, what she did with them."

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Tempted by Phoenix

"I had a rough idea of where I wanted to take it, which was over the next year having her deal with what happened, with what she did," Claremont revealed in Phoenix: The Untold Story. "From my point of view, I saw it as coming to terms with the fact that she killed five billion people that she committed a crime for which she can never atone, and yet she's still alive. The easy way out would be just to jump off a cliff, but she can't. She has to somehow put things right with herself, within herself."

"The ultimate end of it, leading up to issue #150 (in 1981), would be that Magneto, having found out about this, would come in, kidnapping her, and offering her the power again on the false assumption that he could control her. And the X-Men would come to her rescue. They'd be battling Magneto on one section of the Asteroid M, and she'd be in a room all by herself with Phoenix, the effect, the power, coming back, forced to make the choice (of a lifetime)."

"Does she accept this power that she wants with every fibre of her being, knowing that if she takes it she will probably lose control again, because she's not evolved enough, and go on a rampage and kill and maim and destroy?" Claremont asked in The X-Men Companion.

""Could I become a god again with all the power of a god, aware that in the process I may destroy living beings and planets, planetary systems, whatever, in order to survive?"" Claremont asked in Phoenix: The Untold Story. ""Or do I deny it and remain this kind of," what is for her, "shadow of a being?" And the idea was then that we'd end on a triumphant note as Jean proved her own heroism."

The infinite human capacity for good

"She denies it," Claremont answered in The X-Men Companion. "She says "No! Get thee from me, Phoenix!" And the idea is, it is better to be human than it is to be a wrathful goddess."

"In X-Men #137 (1980) Jean is the victim. She is not a protagonist; she is acted upon; she does not act in her own behalf. In X-Men #150 (1981) she is the hero. She single-handedly all by herself, and no one knows it, saves the universe again. It's the greatest sacrifice that has ever been made. It would be like Lucifer deciding not to rebel against God. It is that seminal an event. And with that act, she thereby proves humanity's worth as a creature in the cosmos - not that they have this capacity, but that they have the capacity to deny it, to deny ultimate power for the benefit of all. Essentially all the stuff the Watcher said at the end of (the published version of) X-Men #137 would have been said at the end of X-Men #150 but not because she killed herself, but because she denied this infinite power."

"In a sense it would have been (like Magneto's) confrontation with Kitty Pryde (which took place in X-Men #150 instead), but on a much stronger note," Claremont added in Phoenix: The Untold Story.

This plot idea ended up being made into a story by another writer in What If vol.2 #32, 1991, which asked: "What if Phoenix had not died?"

The timeline of Rachel Summers

"My grand plan was that Scott and Jean would get married in the 1981 X-Men Annual #5 and for the 20th anniversary issue in '83 (X-Men #175), they would have a child," Claremont revealed in The X-Men Companion. "And Scott would have to deal with the fact that his job is to lead the X-Men and he wants to raise the kid, and Jean would be dealing with the fact that she loves this child but she loves working, fighting by Scott's side. So Mariko, perhaps, ends up taking care of the child, or Kitty. And Kitty would get pissed, because she doesn't want to be a babysitter all her life. I wanted to show the evolution, the ages of man, so to speak."

The grand plan ended up becoming an alternate timeline wherein the baby grew up to become Rachel Summers, who made her debut appearance in Uncanny X-Men #141-142 in 1981. She inherited the Phoenix power in Uncanny X-Men #199 in 1985, and was able to control it.

"We had a situation in which John and I knew we were both treading on thin ice with the "Dark Phoenix" storyline," Claremont admitted in The X-Men Companion. "We were stretching things as far as we thought we could go in terms of what we could persuade Marvel to accept. And we both felt this was a storyline that had to be cleared at every step of the way."

"Well, (X-Men editor) Roger Stern at that point had gone off staff in the middle of the storyline. Jim Salicrup had come in and taken over, so here I am giving plots to Salicrup, saying, "If there's any question, ask me; if there's any problem, would you please show these to Jim Shooter and check with him. We are dealing with some heavy concepts here. Jean is killing an entire planet." And Jim never showed them to Shooter. Shooter told Jim he trusted his judgment. Well, as it turns out, Salicrup approved everything."

Jim Shooter popped a cork

"When I read X-Men #135 (1980) that included the scene in which Phoenix destroyed a Shi'ar starship, killing hundreds, and an inhabited planet, killing billions, curious, I asked Jim Salicrup to show me whatever else was done on the storyline," Shooter recalled in Back Issue #29. "I discovered that Chris and John had backed down from the idea of Phoenix becoming the X-Men's "Doctor Doom." The plot indicated that Phoenix would somehow be mind-wiped and let go. Back to living at the Mansion, hanging around with Storm and company, sitting at the same table for lunch, etcetera. Did I have a moral issue with that? Yes. More than that, it was a character issue. Would Storm sit comfortably at a dinner table with someone who had killed billions as if nothing had ever happened? Nah."

"He popped a cork. And that was exactly what we'd been afraid of all along," Claremont told The X-Men Companion. "What I was trying to write in the Phoenix story is a story about forgiveness, about mercy, about how the greatest mass-murderer in the history of the cosmos can and, in certain circumstances, should be forgiven. And the difference between Lilandra's race this incredibly old, incredibly mature race that rules a galaxy and ours is that hers had that capacity to look at Phoenix or Jean, to judge the situation impartially and to choose the side of forgiveness."

"And that's why I very specifically said all through every speech Lilandra made relating to Phoenix, "Phoenix must die, Phoenix must be neutralized, Phoenix must be dealt with." Because she understood that there were two separate beings, that one could view Phoenix without viewing Jean, that they were bound but not inseperable. It was not that Phoenix was evil, it was just that Jean suddenly found herself coming out of a situation where she had been sucked up into this Black Queen personality, this somewhat cruel, decadent trip. She went directly from that to a situation where her slightest wish, her slightest thought could be manifested as reality."

"In her case, both conscious and subconscious could draw on, literally, this infinite power she possessed," Claremont concluded. "The idea was that it was a tidal wave sweeping up the shore and then back down again, and when it swept down again was when she reasserted her control. The point is that she was not ready for it."

"When she consumed D'bari, it was the equivalent of a human being destroying an ant hill. (...) The same goes for the starship. And, again, in her defense, they shot first."

Let the punishment fit the crime

"I remember getting together with Chris and asking him to change the story," Shooter said in Phoenix: The Untold Story. "We talked about various possible changes that could be made, because I felt that there had to be some consequences for the actions. I felt that the way the story was originally designed to end, it did not have enough consequences for what happened it wasn't an ending. I found that the story was kind of in a way, it wimped out. It ended with her being back with the X-Men, seemingly without much concern on their part about what she had done, which struck me as being out of character for them. Also, it didn't fulfill that original discussion that we'd had."

"He felt that the punishment did not fit the crime," Claremont told Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. "And our claims that Jean was not responsible were, in effect, getting her off on a technicality. He did not buy it."

"Not that she had to die, but she had to be punished. We were saying, "She was insane, we removed the insanity, she sort of got better, therefore all was forgiven." He said, "No, you don't go killing five billion people and then get better. There has to be a moral equivalence.""

"He did not want Jean getting away scot free," Claremont recalled in The X-Men Companion. "The essential given was that he thought Jean had committed four billion four hundred and thirty acts of homicide, first degree murder, and she was getting away for it with a slap on the wrist. He would not be dissuaded from this view. (...) Shooter wanted Jean punished. He wanted her to suffer. His idea was she go to prison, that she be tortured horribly, that she be drawn and quartered, whipped, chained I mean, drawn and quartered at morning and put back together at night. He wanted the tortures of Prometheus chained to a rock with the eagles ripping her guts out every day, or a reasonable facsimile thereof."

Hurt feelings

"John Byrne and I were both thinking in terms of going to Jim's office and saying "Listen, you have someone write X-Men #137 and #138, we'll abide by whatever you do, we wash our hands of it,"" Claremont confessed in The X-Men Companion. "Because at this point we were not at fault. I had cleared every plot. Every plot had been cleared by Salicrup. Every script had been cleared by Salicrup and, I assumed, by Shooter. I was sitting in Shooter's office saying, "I told you this!" But he didn't remember. "Didn't Jim show you the plots?" "No." "Didn't Jim show you the scripts?" "No." And Shooter's saying, well, he understands that it's not our fault, that we did everything that we were supposed to do, but he feels that it is his responsibility as Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics to see that nothing goes out of the office that reflects a moral position that he does not think Marvel should take, and that he felt that this story made a moral statement that Marvel should not stand behind. And he did not feel that we had sufficient foundation for the forgiveness aspect that I was talking about."

"By this time Louise Jones has already been appointed editor of the book, effective with X-Men #138 (1980). Louise and I then sat down and we started putting together X-Men #137, because Salicrup didn't want any part of it, and I was real pissed off at this point and I didn't want to work with him on it anyway."

"The only reason Jean was in this trouble was because we went ahead with a storyline that we felt was clear from top to bottom," Claremont complained in Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. "If we had known when we started that this was going to be the end, we probably would not have done the story in that way."

"I finally just decided and John and Louise agreed that firstly, putting her in jail was unworkable and it was unfair. She was being nailed on a bum rap."

A new and open ending

"The problem was that the following issue had already been drawn," Claremont recalled in The X-Men Companion. "Also my thought processes at the time were that I would not have Jean taken to prison, because I could not then viably see any way that the X-Men would leave her there. So that meant that we'd have a situation where the X-Men are continually trying to rescue her, and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. It made no sense."

"There's a limit to how much John can do in terms of re-pencilling, because he's got Captain America on his desk, he's got the next X-Men on his desk, we're both pissed, so it eventually comes down to the fact that if anythings going to happen, it's going to happen in the last five pages, period. So I'm tossing a number of ideas around in my head. I try a couple out on Louise. She says they sound fine. I go to Jim Shooter. I try them on him. He says, "Sounds good to me," but evidently the only one he heard, or the only one that stayed in his mind, is that Jean dies."

"So what happened was, I wrote a plot which was essentially this: We end the last shot in page 28 or 29 with people on the ship going, "Majestrix, something's happening on the planet.""

"Page 29 was supposed to be: Shot of the moon, ship in the foreground, Phoenix effect around the moon, the bird, claws out, wings extended, bolt of energy just plowing up from the moon through the ship boom! panic on the ship, Xavier going, "Oh, God, wake up, my X-Men," X-Men responding, attacking Jean, she and Scott end up getting knocked into the Watcher's house, which we've previously established as having weaponry and devices that are beyond the ken of mortal men."

"Jean and Scott have their scene. The Watcher is standing there in the background somewhere observing. Jean picks his brain unbeknownst to him, finds the right weapon, uses it to destroy herself, or to manifest herself on some other plane of existence, Scott is upset, Watcher has a big moment, story ends."

How Phoenix ended up dying

"Her corporeal form would have faded away, but it would have been some esoteric device of the Watcher's that would have done the trick," Claremont revealed in The X-Men Companion. "As far as Scott's concerned, it would have been a death."

"Now, John evidently went down to Miami with Jim Shooter and gave him a somewhat different breakdown of the last six pages, the critical fact being that John felt the Watcher should not be involved, the Watcher's house should not be involved. Louise and I weren't told of this until we got the pencils. Fait accompli. There was nothing we could do about it. It was too late to get them re-pencilled. Louise was upset that Jim had approved a plot change without telling her. Jim was very apologetic; he thought John had discussed it with her; John thought Jim had. I was wondering what the fuck was going on."

"And again, the splash page, that shot of the ship being blown away, is not what I'd plotted, and more fundamentally, by replacing the Watcher's house with a Kree blaster, then you have to accept, given the history of the Blue Area of the Moon as outlined by Steve Englehart, that a device constructed by the Kree at the very beginnings of their mechanistic civilizations, when they were essentially being given everything by the Skrulls, is capable of destroying Dark Phoenix. To me, anyway, that stretched the bonds of credibility."

"And again, the structure of the story as pencilled was such that there was no opportunity prior to Jean's death to explain the logic behind it, which is why you've got Scott going, "Oh, weep, weep, weep," and then you've got those five balloons sitting on his head explaining why Jean did what she did."

A much more powerful ending

"At that point I was someone once described it as "a fit of pique" "How dare I destroy such a character in a fit of pique?" and yet that entered into it," Claremont admitted in The X-Men Companion. "If we'd had two weeks, if Jim had said, "Well, restructure it in this and that way," we could have sat back and done things properly."

"And at the end of it, there simply wasn't time, given the fact that we only had six pages, given the fact that the next issue was pencilled and we couldn't bump it, given the fact that the story had to come to an end, given the fact that we were all furious and all hurt."

"Well, it was awkward because as soon as Jim heard, "Oh, she's going to die," Jim spoke to John, John liked it, John thought that was fine, so I was really kind of left out on the edge of the limb. I could quit. The only option I had was not to finish the story and quit, and I wasn't willing to do that. So we made the best of it."

"I insisted on the solution," Shooter recalled in Back Issue #29. "It was done brilliantly, if reluctantly, by Chris and John. And that was the issue that propelled the X-Men to the top for, what, two decades?"

"Chris has never been able to let it go, but I actually think that what we ultimately did was better than what we had planned," Byrne told Comics Creators On X-Men. "I think the death of Phoenix made it a much more powerful story. I don't think it would be the comics icon that everybody still references today if we had done what we had originally planned to do."

The right solution

"Whatever we felt about Jim's decision, it was his right and responsibility to make it. It upset me because I liked Jean a lot as a character," Claremont admitted in Comic Book Profiles. "But, looking back on the impact it had, it quickly became apparent that Jim's decision was the right call. You have to take responsibility for your actions, especially if you're a hero."

"We had stumbled over the absolutely right solution to the story," Claremont added in Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. "It was right for the character, right for the book, right for the series, and our decision was that we wanted the story to have an ending. Putting her in prison was not an ending, it was leaving us a giant loose end that we would spend the next two years frantically trying to resolve. Sort of like, "whatever happened to Madelyne Pryor?" Therefore we decided if she is going to be punished, then she should go out with class and she should die in such a way that reaffirms the heroic nature of herself and the X-Men."

"But we also determined that if she did die, it would be for real. No imaginary story, no back from the dead, no convenient last-minute gimmick. She would die. The characters would have to deal with the loss. The readers would have to deal with the loss. We figured we hoped that they would never look at the book the same way again. Every time we would then have a major or minor hero-villain conflict, the reader would be sitting there wondering if it is going to be the end. It happened to Jean. And it worked. It gave the book a credibility, and a degree of tension that up to that time no mainstream superhero series had."

"You should never assume that just because, for example, Jean Grey was half of the second oldest romantic relationship in the Marvel universe, because she was Phoenix, the most powerful female character in comics, that at the end of the climactic battle, she would survive and she and Scott would somehow live happily ever after, because that's not always the way it happens," Claremont instructed in Amazing Heroes #75.

The first "event"

"What was transcendent about the death of Phoenix was that a great many readers viewed it as the death of a real person," Claremont continued in Amazing Heroes #75. "That Jean Grey died, that we did something. And it was an event that in the end I, as a writer, have tried to remain true to since then. (...) We have remained true to that one fact that Jean is dead, because that was an event that had meaning to the reader. And we wanted it to remain so."

"We tried to write the succeeding issues and years and, in my case, decades to deal with that as a fundamental parcel of the series," Claremont recalled in Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty. "In certain respects some of the characters never got over Jean's death. It affected the way that Wolverine dealt with people Wolverine's relationship with Kitty, Scott's relationship with everybody, Charlie's relationships. It was a powerful aspect and color in the book's spectrum. I think the benefits to the book as a whole far outweigh the active loss of that character. That allowed us to go in directions that normally we couldn't. We are saying that not every relationship lasts, and we then have the option of throwing in surprises."

"After we killed Phoenix, we got about 3-4 (death threats). Frank (Miller) got his set after (the death of) Elektra (in Daredevil). The sad thing was we didn't take it seriously until John Lennon got killed, at which point we decided we would open up a file and make copies, and if anything happened, we would forward the information to the FBI. I suppose that is about as far as we would take it."

"It was something that had never been done before," Byrne commented in Comics Creators On X-Men. "Marvel had had lots of bad guys go good, but had never had a good guy go bad. She made this noble sacrifice and then Chris kept referring to it every chance he got for the next ten years, so people were unable to forget how "important" it was. So, yeah, I think that's the point at which X-Men really started to rise. That particular issue sold 175.000 copies, which were pretty phenomenal sales back then. I think that particular issue also helped destroy the industry because it was the first "event," and people have been trying to do events ever since. The thing about the "Death of Phoenix" storyline was that it wasn't planned as an event. It was a story that grew organically from what we were doing. At no point did we sit down and say, "We're going to do this huge mother of a story that will sell billions of copies." We just did the story. Ever since then, everybody's been trying to do their own "Death of Phoenix." And because they're trying to do it, they can't."

William Christensen and Mark Seifert: From Gofer To Comic Great, Wizard: X-Men Turn Thirty, July 1993
Comic Book Profiles #8, Fall 1999
Tom DeFalco: Comic Creators On X-Men, April 2006
Margaret O'Connell: Chris Claremont, The Comics Journal #50, October 1979
Al Nickerson: Jim Shooter Remembers The Death Of Phoenix Storyline, Back Issue #29, August 2008
Phoenix: The Untold Story #1, April 1984
Peter Sanderson: The X-Men Companion I, March 1982
Peter Sanderson: The X-Men Companion II, September 1982
Kim Thompson: Interview With Chris Claremont, Amazing Heroes #75, July 1985