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This is the twenty-ninth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous twenty-eight. This week is a slight change of pace, as it is the first “Theme Week.” This week’s Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed is “Kurt Busiek Week!”
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Kurt Busiek came up with the idea for Jean Grey’s return.
How decisions are made in any creative medium is almost always a story of interesting interralations between many people. Writers and editors, producers and directors, friends and relatives, ideas can come from all sorts of places.
How the idea of Jean Grey’s return to comics came to fruition is just one of those stories.
The best encapsulation of this story comes from an unlikely (for me, at least) source, wikipedia, which I generally am hesitant to cite as a definitive source, but in this instance, Kurt Busiek himself helped edit the current Wikipedia piece, so I think its veracity should pass muster.
So, to begin,
Shortly before the publication of Uncanny X-Men #137, future freelance writer Kurt Busiek, then still a college student, heard about the upcoming events through the fan grapevine, as did fellow future comics pros Carol Kalish (who would go on to head up Marvel’s Direct Sales Department for years) and Richard Howell (artist of the Vision and The Scarlet Witch 12-issue maxi-series, among others). The three of them also heard that Jim Shooter had declared that Jean Grey could not be revived unless it was done in such a way as to render her guiltless of Dark Phoenix’s crimes. Taking this as a creative challenge, all three then-fans decided to come up with their own resurrection scenario. Busiek’s involved the discovery that Jean Grey was still on the bottom of Jamaica Bay in suspended animation, and the Phoenix entity had used her body and mind as a lens, creating an immensely powerful duplicate of Jean, but a duplicate which grew more corrupted and distorted the longer it remained separate from the true Jean.
in 1983, after beginning a career as a freelance writer the previous year, Kurt Busiek attended a comics convention in Ithaca, New York, staying at the home of Marvel writer Roger Stern. In conversation, both writers’ longtime interest in the X-Men came up, and Stern expressed regret that there was no way to bring Jean back, not while satisfying Shooter’s edict. Busiek told Stern his idea, not expecting it to amount to more than idle conversation. Later, Stern told the idea to John Byrne, then writer/artist of Fantastic Four.
In 1985, Jim Shooter greenlighted a new series that would reunite the original X-Men into a new team called “X-Factor,” to be written by longtime freelancer Bob Layton. Hearing of this, Byrne called Layton and suggested Busiek’s idea as a means of raising Jean Grey from the dead while satisfying Jim Shooter’s demands for total absolution for Jean.
So there you go. Five men, a few years, and many conversations ensued before the perfect confluence of events resulted in Kurt Busiek’s idea (which came about before Jean even DIED) gestating into how Marvel handled Jean Grey’s return.
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