The X-Men almost didn’t make it.
First introduced as a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby co-creation in September 1963 and featuring a team consisting of Professor Xavier, Cyclops, Marvel Girl (aka, Jean Grey), Iceman, Angel and Beast, sales for the X-Men books eventually dwindled off enough that between 1970 and 1975 Marvel opted to simply reprint older stories instead of commissioning new ones. What had once been a socially relevant comic book holding up Charles Xavier and Magneto as stand-ins for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had fallen out of favor.
And it likely would have remained a curious historical footnote if not for writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum re-launching the title in 1975 with a new team of international mutants like Wolverine (Canada), Storm (Kenya), Nightcrawler (Germany), Banshee (Ireland), and Sunfire (Japan). It was an instant hit, taken to even greater heights when Wein and Cockrum were replaced by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, whose three-year partnership turned Wolverine into a comic book all-star and gave us legendary arcs like the “Dark Phoenix” saga and “Days of Future Past.” Shortly after Byrne left, X-Men became Marvel’s best-selling comic book. But was it all based on a lie?
1. Arnold Drake went to his grave convinced Stan Lee ripped off him off when he created The X-Men
Comic book writer Arnold Drake, who died in 2007, introduced The Doom Patrol in DC’s My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963), 4 months before the X-Men debuted. The Doom Patrol was a team of misfit superheroes led by a genius in a wheelchair whose greatest foe not truly some villain but instead societal prejudices.
It’s not all the same, though. Instead of mutants the Doom Patrol consisted of notable celebrities who had become transfigured by accidents, like a race car driver whose crash resulted in his brain being transferred to the body of a robot. Nonetheless, Drake, like so many others in comic book history, became convinced Stan Lee ripped him off, telling Newsrama in 2005:
“Over the years I’ve became more and more convinced that Lee knowingly stole The X-Men from The Doom Patrol. I didn’t believe so in the beginning because the lead time was so short. Over the years I learned that an awful lot of writers and artists were working surreptitiously between the two offices [Marvel and DC]. Therefore from when I first brought the idea into the [DC editor] Murray Boltinoff’s office, it would’ve been easy for someone to walk over and hear that this guy Drake is working on a story about a bunch of reluctant superheroes who are led by a man in a wheelchair. So over the years I began to feel that Stan had more lead time than I realized. He may well have had four, five or even six months.”
Oddly, Drake ended up working for Marvel, writing for X-Men in 1967, yet he never once asked Lee about any of this. However, before you go burn an effigy of Smilin’ Stan note the counter-argument: it’s more likely Drake actually ripped off Lee’s own Fantastic Four when creating Doom Patrol. Both teams originally consisted of four members with no secret identities and based their operations out of headquarters in the middle of a major city. Plus, Doom Patrol had knock-offs of the flame-powered Johnny Storm, incredibly stretchy Reed Richards, invisible Sue Storm, and sad giant with a freakish body Ben “The Thing” Grimm.
So, um, turnabout is fair play?
2. Nightcrawler was originally supposed to be a DC character
Prior to taking over The X-Men with Len Wein in 1975, Dave Cockrum had been working on Legion of Superheroes for DC at which time he pitched them an idea about a ragtag group of heroes called The Outsiders who would be rejected by the Legion for being too weird but continue fighting crime as an informal group anyway. The idea wasn’t bad, but the characters he’d created to be in the Outsiders were a bit too much for DC’s editor Murray Boltinoff, who most specifically rejected Nightcrawler for being too funny looking.
Cockrum originally thought up Nightcrawler while stationed in Guam during his stint in the the United States Navy. His early version was drawn almost identically to how the character would later appear in the X-Men, but he wasn’t initially meant to be a mutant or German. Instead, he was to be a demon from hell who had decided to stay on Earth. When DC rejected the Outsiders Nightcrawler became a perfect fit for the X-Men where his bizarre appearance could easily be explained as a rather unfortunate mutation. It was Marvel editor Ray Thomas who suggested they make Nightcrawler German to fit in with their new international team.
3. Storm was created as an amalgamation of 5 other characters
Storm is supposed to be Kenyan, the daughter of an American journalist and Kenyan princess and discovered later in life by Professor Xavier to be living in Africa where the locals worship her like a god. In the films, this has mostly translated to future Oscar-winning Halle Berry proving she’s not great with accents or green screens.
While they’ve yet to do the character justice on film she, like Nightcrawler, almost didn’t exist at all. At least not as a member of the X-Men. She’s actually an amalgamation of five different characters, almost all of whom were part of Cockrum’s Outsiders pitch.
Trio and Quetzal were re-purposed to form Storm’s main look, and then they added in a bit of Black Cat but didn’t like her power of turning into a black cat (the name’s pretty self-explanatory, huh?). So, they, gave her Typhoon’s weather-controlling powers:
Plus, they added a cape Cockrum had already designed to give to their new version of Jean Grey.
4. Wolverine was originally supposed to be a teenager, an actual wolverine, and not have any real claws
Created by Len Wein, Wolverine’s initial comic book appearance actually came in The Incredible Hulk, with Wein having picked the Wolverine motif because he wanted the Hulk to fight a Canadian-themed hero and he’d read that wolverines were mostly found in Canada where they were tenacious fighters. It then made sense to add Wolverine to the re-launched, internationally flavored X-Men.
So, Wein definitely created Wolverine, but Chris Claremont saved him. See, before Wein left the book his big plan for Wolverine was to reveal he was an actual wolverine who’d been mutated but somehow believed he was a man and not an animal. This was going to tie into one of Marvel’s villains of the time, the very Dr. Moreau-sounding High Evolutionary who used an army of mutated animals as his personal bodyguards.
When Claremont took over he completely dropped that. Also dropped along the way were Wein’s plans for Wolverine to be a teenager in appearance just like the rest of the team and for his claws to be part of his specialized gloves instead of part of his body.
5. Jean Grey was NOT supposed to die during the “Dark Phoenix” saga
Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s “Dark Phoenix” saga has now been adapted to the animated shows X-Men: The Animated Series and Wolverine and the X-Men as well as sadly shoehorned into X-Men: The Last Stand. So, you might know the gist of the story, but the way it plays out in the comics begins with Jean Grey sacrificing herself to save the team before later emerging as the Phoenix, far more powerful than ever before. After a couple of years of normal, albeit more super-powered behavior, Grey is briefly turned evil by a mutant illusionist after which she struggles to regain balance, her dark side manifesting as a separate personality called Dark Phoenix. Eventually, she flies into outer space and devours an entire sun, destroying an entire planet in the process. As you do. Xavier manages to pull Jean out from her Dark Phoenix personality, but when aliens come seeking retribution for the destroyed planet the X-Men defend Jean, who sacrifices herself before her dark side could return. She dies in Cyclops’ arms.
Super sad. Super complicated. Classic comic book.
That’s NOT how Claremont and Byrne wanted it to go down, though. Jean’s punishment for her Dark Phoenix crimes was supposed to see the aliens strip her of her powers thus setting up another year or so of story revolving around a newly de-powered, normal human being Jean Grey struggling with the change before being tempted with the potential of new powers by Magneto. Marvel editor Jim Shooter decided that punishment did not fit the crime. For having destroyed an entire planet full of innocent creatures, Jean’s punishment had to be death. So, Shooter forced them to re-write their ending.
6. John Byrne unintentionally ripped off a Doctor Who episode when co-creating “Days of Future Past”
The death of Jean Grey stunned comic book readers, and sales sky-rocketed. This directly led to “Days of Future Past,” which Chris Claremont told Vulture was written with a post-“Dark Phoenix” mindset of, “You thought it was suicidal to kill off one character? Hell, now we’re gonna kill ’em all!” Plus, Claremont’s partnership with Byrne was coming to an end since Marvel was re-assigning the latter to Fantastic Four. They wanted to go out with a bang, making “Days of Future Past” their penultimate story together on X-Men.
It was Byrne’s idea to begin the story in a dystopic future overrun by homicidal robots, re-using the mutant-hunting Sentinels to be a far more menacing presence than ever before. However, he would later recall that he may have accidentally lifted the basic plot from Doctor Who’s 1972 serial “Day of the Daleks,” which, like “Days of Future Past,” features a future overrun by metal robots (the Daleks) which has only been created because of the assassination of a political figure in the past (our present). Byrne hoped that since their story didn’t feature a blue police box traveling through time and space that no one would notice.
The plots are similar, but not identical and very different in structure. For example, “Day of the Daleks” begins in the present and proceeds like any other Doctor Who serials of the time whereas “Days of Future Past” was completely unlike any other comic book at the time, beginning in the dystopian future before using its time travel concept to explain what exactly went wrong and how the heroes can stop the scary future from happening. Plus, “Day of the Daleks” features a relatively happy ending (except for the part where one of the characters blows himself up in a house full of Daleks, which, ya know, total bummer) whereas “Days of Future Past” ends with Professor Xavier unsure as to whether or not their actions would truly prevent the robot dystopia. Also, kind of a bummer.
Sources: Brian Cronin’s Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed; Vulture.com, CosmicTeams.com, Toyhavena.blogspot.com