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Mike Norris
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Posted: 04 December 2009 at 5:29pm | IP Logged | 1  

Comics Should Be Goods Comic Legends Revealed had a question about Days of Future Past. The old ending switcheroo. And in the comments a poster said you pulled a switch in the Phoenix story line by having Jean kill an inhabited world when the script called for an uninhabited one. Causing Shooter to decalre "Jean Grey must die!!!!".

My recollection is that the only change you made was to make the planet the home of the Asparagus People rather than Planet Unknown.

 

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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 6:14am | IP Logged | 2  

Here we see how much confusion can be wrought in fandom by the fact
that so many people who have read comics almost all their lives still do
not understand the process by which those comics are produced.

To begin with, there was no "script" at that point in the process. Chris
and I did UNCANNY X-MEN "Marvel Style", meaning plot, pencils, script,
lettering, inks. And altho we had begun our working relationship on that
book with Chris providing me with detailed, written plots, by issue 113,
when I started getting co-plotter credit in the book, we had switch
entirely to "phone plots". Chris and I would hash out the details over the
phone, then I would draw what we had worked out. (During the time
Roger Stern was editor, he was also in on this process, and Rog and I
would often talk on the phone ourselves, and frequently these
conversations would turn to the issue I was working on.)

As Chris and I had worked out the details for the original shape of what
came to be known as the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean (Phoenix was still Jean
then, turned evil by Mastermind) flew off into space, had an encounter
with a Shi'ar ship, blew it up, and then returned to Earth. The Shi'ar
pursued her, and, in the original version, captured and "psychically
lobotomized" her. In this way, Dark Phoenix would be set up to become
a recurring villain in the series.

When it came time to draw the key issue, I, as co-plotter, decided Dark
Phoenix needed to do something "bigger" than just blow up a Shi-ar
ship. Something that would make it absolutely clear that Dark Phoenix
was the Meanest Mother in the Valley. So I decided to have her blow up
a star, and that that star would have at least one inhabited world in its
family of planets. I called Roger, ran this by him, and he approved. As I
recall, it was also Rog who suggested the "asparagus people", last seen
in AVENGERS 4. Chris liked this idea, too, and would subsequently name
them the D'Bari.

This, then, was an addition to the plot as Chris and I had originally
worked it out, not a "switcheroo".

If anything might be described as a "switcheroo" it was when Shooter --
who, by his own admission had "not been paying attention" -- saw the
pages and decided Phoenix had to be horribly tortured for all eternity for
her crime of planetary genocide. Despite the fact that this was no worse
than things we saw any of the top level Marvel bad guys do routinely
without any permanent consequences to be faced.

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Joe Smith
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 6:31am | IP Logged | 3  

Excellent post JB.

Say, was Jean supposed to be in DOFP, or was she, by karma, a vegetable?
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 6:38am | IP Logged | 4  

As Chris and I (mostly me, in this instance) originally plotted "Days of
Future Past" the only reference to Jean would be the hint -- and only a hint
-- that Rachel was her daughter, with Scott.

Another of the many ideas I deeply regret, given what happened with the
characters after I left!

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Joe Smith
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 7:20am | IP Logged | 5  

The storyline ends up thrusting you into the stratosphere. You're no longer John Byrne, you're JOHN BYRNE.

Yet, you're unhappy with the way the story proceeds, and ends. You leave the title feeling that the toys were not put back in the box the way you found them, and it's largely due to the EIC.
The question is, does Death of Phoenix become the legend it becomes without each hand stirring the soup? Do the repercussions demanded upon Jean by the EIC BEGIN the continuity madness in which we've become trapped?

Was the story TOO heavy for comics? (more like 138, I mean)
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 7:27am | IP Logged | 6  

If Chris and I had done the story we planned, with Jean being lobotomized
by the Shi'ar, and coming back every couple of years to vex the X-Men yet
again, there's no question in my mind that our story would not in any way
have been as memorable. And, as I have said many times before, I do think
the story as it turned out was better, as a story, than what Chris and I had
cooked up.

But looking back, if I had the power, I would erase the whole thing. Too
many people since have, consciously or unconsciously, set the Death of
Phoenix as a scale against which to measure their own work. They want to
do their own "Death of Phoenix", their own "event", forgetting that what
Chris and I did was not planned as an event. It just happened.

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Joe Smith
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 7:33am | IP Logged | 7  

Bingo! and how many editors have meddled saying, I CAN MAKE THIS BETTER!
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Carmen Bernardo
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 8:08am | IP Logged | 8  

   I could see what JB must be shooting at, realizing what the current generation of editors and creative types are doing with characters now.  It's one of the reasons that I'd feel like I'll never be a team player at places like Marvel or DC as they're being run these days.

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Joe Smith
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 9:18am | IP Logged | 9  

Well, Carm...you gotta play ball at first. Then you can go on a 60 issue run of a flagship title or two.
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Lars Sandmark
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 9:26am | IP Logged | 10  

If we can use the Death Of Phoenix as an example of an excellent comicbook story that fired the imagination of readers, let's say that 'event' inspired many fans to want to become comic creators as well. I would have loved to be involved in comics, but knew that I couldn't achieve that level of excellence in storytelling.

The problem is all of the other readers who were inspired to be comic writers THOUGHT that they were good enough, but weren't! -Fan turned Pro syndrome.

They think that they're creating their own wonderful 'event' story but actually they're just wreckin' the good stuff.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 9:28am | IP Logged | 11  

It has been wisely said that no one ever created a great comicbook story by
setting out to create a great comicbook story. That's a lot of what's wrong
with the industry right now. If you set out to create an "event" (in the sense
of something that is truly memorable and not just a sales stunt) you will
almost certainly fail.
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Don Zomberg
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 9:43am | IP Logged | 12  

Phoenix had to be tortured...

From reading Les Daniels' book on Marvel Comics, I got the impression that Shooter was appalled at the idea of a Marvel hero committing genocide. Did he not get that it was Dark Phoenix and not Jean who destroyed the planet?

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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 10:31am | IP Logged | 13  

Shooter was all along in on the notion of Phoenix/Jean becoming a villain.
He endorsed it, encouraged it, practically tried to take credit for it. (That
belongs to Steven Grant.)

The general impression in the Office at the time, tho, was that Shooter
resented any book's success for which he could not claim a great part of
the credit, and the "success" (critical, but certainly not in the sales
department!) Chris and I were enjoying was very much despite
Shooter, not because of him. We spent an in ordinate amount of time and
effort trying to work within his increasingly restrictive rules and still do the
stories we wanted to do. Honestly, I have spent years trying to convince
myself his reaction to the destruction of the D'Bari planet was NOT just an
effort on his part to sabotage what we were doing.

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Brian Miller
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 12:36pm | IP Logged | 14  

It's threads like this one that make this my favorite board on the NetWeb.
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Petter Myhr Ness
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 1:30pm | IP Logged | 15  

  "They want to do their own "Death of Phoenix", their own "event"..."
-

And this is perhaps why Phoenix/Jean returned, only to be killed off again? Once or twice...
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 1:41pm | IP Logged | 16  

It's difficult to make a strong case that Phoenix ever really went away. After
I left the book (and even while I was still there!) Chris seized every
opportunity to reference Phoenix, even in scenes where it was not intended.
Eventually it became the habit around the Office to refer to Phoenix as the
Least Dead Character in Comics. So much so, that when X-FACTOR was in
the development stages, it seemed perfectly logical to take an idea Kurt
Busiek had suggested, and "reveal" that Jean and Phoenix had never, in fact,
been the same being. That was kind of a win/win situation -- we got Jean
back, and Chris could do whatever he wanted with Phoenix.

Of course, what happened after that was basically an unending
cascade of bad ideas.

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Darren De Vouge
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 1:48pm | IP Logged | 17  

... And perhaps why "big events" now come rolling off an assembly line every year now.
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Ian Moss
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 3:09pm | IP Logged | 18  

Maybe this response should go in the JBF FAQs ?


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Arc Carlton
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 6:50pm | IP Logged | 19  

It's wonderful to find out all this information behind the Phoenix story.
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Rick Whiting
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Posted: 05 December 2009 at 11:35pm | IP Logged | 20  

It has been wisely said that no one ever created a great comicbook story by
setting out to create a great comicbook story. That's a lot of what's wrong
with the industry right now. If you set out to create an "event" (in the sense
of something that is truly memorable and not just a sales stunt) you will
almost certainly fail.

______________________________________

This should be posted on the walls of the DC and Marvel offices.

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Glenn Brown
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Posted: 06 December 2009 at 3:31am | IP Logged | 21  

I remember reading an article in the LA Times about UXM #137 which may have printed the day it was released; if not, it was the same week.  It was a Very Big Deal as I remember, garnering media coverage not only in the comic press but mainstream press as well.  Comic shops were sold out immediately the Friday it came out (New Comic Day back then was Friday) and withheld copies placed behind the desk at a premium price, which sucked.  After calling every comic shop within reasonable distance and realizing I had missed the bus, my eleven-year-old self feared I would never find a copy...until I spotted one through a large-paned liquor store window on a spinner rack as my mother drove down the street.  "Mom...STOP THE CAR NOW" I intoned as if I'd just been possessed.  She must have understood because she, indeed, pulled over and allowed me to rush inside and grab my copy before someone else got there first.  Still have that original one but I think I have a minty one now as well.
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Michael Penn
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Posted: 06 December 2009 at 7:01am | IP Logged | 22  

...we got Jean back, and Chris could do whatever he wanted with Phoenix.

****

When the Dark Phoenix issues originally came out I was following them along with great interest and pleasure -- some absolutely terrific storytelling (duh) -- but only up to the finale. #137 was a letdown, in one specific way: Jean was dead. Having been first and foremost a fan of the original team, killing her off was not at all what I'd been hoping for. I certainly had no inkling of a "lobotomy" abandoned story, but I had expected that, since in #136 Jean and Professor Xavier together had fought against Phoenix and were temporarily successful, maybe #137 would find a way to permanently rid Jean of Phoenix and exonerate her somehow.

I just wanted Jean back!

I have to add, though, how happy I am to have learned half a century later how much JB loves the original team and how dedicated he is to the principle of "putting the toys back in the box" (etc), so I can surely see why he'd now prefer that the whole episode were wiped out.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 06 December 2009 at 7:18am | IP Logged | 23  

I remember reading an article in the LA Times about UXM #137 which may
have printed the day it was released; if not, it was the same week. It was a
Very Big Deal as I remember, garnering media coverage not only in the
comic press but mainstream press as well. Comic shops were sold out
immediately the Friday it came out (New Comic Day back then was Friday)
and withheld copies placed behind the desk at a premium price, which
sucked.

I'm not sure how that's possible, Glenn. There was no prior notice of what
was going to be in 137. Remember, Chris and I didn't even know
ourselves! It shipped utterly without promotion, hype, hoopla, whatever. I
cannot imagine how an article could have been written about the issue that
would have come out any time close to the month it shipped, let alone the
same week.

And, remember, if the book "sold out" at the LCS, that would have been no
big deal in 1980. The Direct Sales Market was still only a part of the
marketplace as a whole. Anyone who could not find the issue at his/her
LCS could have strolled down the block to the nearest drugstore and found
it on the spinner rack there.

It simply was not an "event" in anything like the modern sense. In fact,
what it was, was something almost impossible to achieve in the modern
marketplace: a surprise!

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Ed Sanders
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Posted: 06 December 2009 at 7:38am | IP Logged | 24  

I agree with JB....at that time comics rarely got any mainstream coverage unless it was a very big event with Superman or Spider-Man.  The only real fan publication back then was maybe CBG and their advance info was mainly one sentence blurbs.  It was a total and pleasant surprise for me when that issue hit the spinner racks. 

Edited by Ed Sanders on 06 December 2009 at 7:39am
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Paul Greer
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Posted: 06 December 2009 at 9:44am | IP Logged | 25  

I recall buying # 137 off the racks at my local drug store. I had been buying the comic since 121 on a regular basis. The only toruble back then is that Uncanny wouldn't always show up at the same drug store or newstand. I had four different places I would check. Spider-Man I could always find in all four places, but it seemed like X-Men would only appear at certain newstands ever other issue.
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