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Thursday, June 7, 2012

If Shawn Wrote comics: Marvel Comics’ Phoenix

If Shawn Wrote comics: Marvel Comics’ Phoenix

Jean Grey was one of the most powerful female characters in the Marvel Universe. Chris Claremont and John Byrne gave her powers equal to Thor and the Silver Surfer. In comics she was a human being with the power of a god. A great concept with a lot of potential for a lot of stories. If written well, I feel Jean could have finally been Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman.

But thanks to the misogynists in the comic book industry, Jeans’ basically been a doormat for close to forty years. Stepped on by Scott Summers. The secret sexual fantasy of Wolverine. Stepped on and pissed on by Emma Frost.

A plot device for writers who need a Deus Ex Machina to get out of a corner they paint themselves into. A character who sacrifices her life whenever it’s convenient. A literal joke instead of the gateway into Marvel Comics for a generation of female readers.

If I could write Jean Grey in a Phoenix ongoing, I’d redefine her as a woman taking what she learned at the Xavier school and establishing her own life in the entire Marvel Universe. She wouldn’t be a doormat. She’d learn how to fight back and stand up on her own two feet as a solo superheroine.

At the start of my Phoenix run she’d be rising from the ashes. Again. This time she’d back from the dead with a portion of the Phoenix power. But this time she wouldn’t tell anyone she’s back. She’d be alone. Depressed. Drinking. Wasting her days in a dead-end job and her nights in front of the TV with a bottle of wine. She doesn’t want to be a superhero. She just wants to be left alone. Why? Hey, her husband cheated on her.

Any woman who has had a man cheat on her is going to feel like shit. Asking themselves why they cheated on them, what did the other woman have to offer that she didn’t? What they could have done differently? These are questions without answers. Questions most superheroines can’t answer with a Deus ex Machina or a simple plot device. The stuff of great storytelling.

And drinking is what women do when they want to medicate themselves. And wine is the Tylenol most American women use to ease their pain on nights and weekends. Then they go out to work the next Monday morning hoping to survive another five days of Hell. It’s a private ritual practiced in homes throughout the country.

Most people don’t know the wife next door or the girl next door has a drinking problem. Most don’t understand what drives them to drink.

Until something happens to show the world what they do behind closed doors. And that something is usually what makes them wake up and take charge of their lives.

In the first issue of my Phoenix run, it’s another lonely Saturday night for Jean. After moping about the past and her failed marriage through a four-page montage, she heads to a bar. The Grapplers, a fifth-rate group of female mercenaries come in celebrating their latest job. She starts a fight with them. And after she beats them (showing off her new power set against these formidable foes) she gets arrested. Why? Because a room full of people saw her throw the first punch!

As the Grapplers walk away scott free, Jean is sent to the Raft. Sure she could call up Charles Xavier. But she wants to cut her ties with the X-men. Too many memories. Too much pain. Too much continuity baggage for Shawn to deal with. I’m starting FRESH. I want new readers to access the character.

Plus, Jean doesn’t like Scott’s current approaches to ethics (Cyclops is a real douche these days). Her being idealistic and ethical she decides to follow the law and take responsibility for her actions. She decides to tough it out and have her day in court on her own.

While she bides her time in a cell, Jean gets a visitor. One of the Grapplers. They rub salt in the wound. She mocks her. Tells her that she’s a wimp. That she read about her. As she sees it Jean had the power of a god and got her ass whupped by a bunch of hired goons. That she’s a doormat. That’s she’s too afraid to fight back. And that for all of her super powers, she doesn’t take any power to control her own life. Jean loses it and fights. She gets a few licks in but eventually is taken down by the guards and sent to solitary.

There she really thinks about things. Her former relationship with Cyclops. How she time and time again gave up for others but never got anything in life for herself. How she never really fought back or stood up for herself. How she spent time working for Xavier’s dream and Scott’s dreams but never achieved any dreams of her own.

At the end of her time in solitary Jean realizes the Grappler was right about her. Moreover, she realizes she’s spoiled. Being on a team for so long has led her to become dependent. While she knows how to use the powers of the mind she still doesn’t know how to use her head, which is why the Grapplers continue to get the drop on her. She realizes she has to start thinking for herself and by herself so she can survive in the Danger Room known as the Raft general population. Only the strong survive in jail, and Jean has to build up her resolve to survive in a jail filled with the most dangerous super-criminals.

As she does her time, she’ll form relationships with some of the more obscure super villainesses in the marvel Universe. Some of these will turn into friendships, others into arch-enemies. All of it will relate to the larger storyline and the theme of fighting back, standing up for oneself and achieving one’s dreams.

The subplot of this first three issue arc would climax with a breakout in the female wing of the Raft. At the climax, Supervillianesses everywhere making a run for it. But Jean doesn’t plan her own escape. Instead she helps capture some bad guys, some friends, others enemies. These relationships will eventually turn into rivalries/feuds in future issues. Relationships are paramount to a comic featuring a superheroine. And I’d have several friendships and rivalries planned as Jean begins establishing relationships with characters throughout the entire marvel universe.

At the conclusion of the arc, Jean gets her day in court. For her help at containing the breakout in the female wing of The Raft, She’s sentenced to probation for a year. She’s told to stay a hundred feet away from The Grapplers.

But the Grapplers aren’t done messing with her yet.

And as part of a joint venture between New York State and SHIELD her probation officer is SHIELD Agent Maria Hill. Maria Hill is a ball-busting by-the book hardass who doesn’t like superheroes. Reading up on the Phoenix, she’s taken the case personally. She sees Jean and sees her as a threat that needs to be managed. She’ll be riding Jean hard and that’ll put Jean in a jam as she tries to establish herself as a solo heroine. There’d be a great love/hate relationship between both women as they try to navigate the laws and ethics behind probation and crimefighting. (Plus her relationship/rivalry with Hill sets it up for Jean to do some jobs for SHIELD on the side. Jean gets to visit the Helicarrier in future stories!)

At the end of this three issue story arc, Jean realizes how much she’s taken her life for granted. How much she’s wasted her life. How she’s been a doormat. She starts focusing on staying alive and establishing her own life. Moving past the X-men. Making her own way as a superheroine. Applying some of the lessons she learned at Xavier’s school and learning new things on her own.

In my Phoenix series, she’d be moving on from Scott Summers. And She’d put Logan in his place. He’d get checked on his objectification and worship of her once and for all. I’d probably introduce a new love interest for Jean. Maybe I’d have her pursued by Michael Korvac, the man who was once a god; they have that in common. Scott has moved on with Emma. Jean should move on too.

After I tie up the loose ends regarding the X-men during my Phoenix run, there’d be no mutant Angst. No connection to the X-men. No visits to the Xavier school. She’s moving on from that small corner of the Marvel Universe and becoming part of the larger Marvel Universe. I’d be focusing on Jean interacting with more characters from the larger Marvel Universe and her relationships with heroes outside of the mutant community. Personally, I feel Jean outgrew the X-men years ago. Like Hank McCoy, she should have branched out and done other things.

During my Phoenix run, I’d explore her powers. Jean wouldn’t be just a telepath/telekinetic. I’d add to her power set to show her using super-strength, limited invulnerability, the ability to breathe in space and underwater, along with the ability to alter the molecular structure of the clothes she’s wearing and her hair and face (convenient for changing into costume/ disguising her face/hair when working undercover) Claremont and Byrne originally had her on the level of Silver Surfer and Thor, and I’d like to explore a broader powerset.

Even with that incredible amount of power, there’d be limits because she has a human mind. For example she can only alter the molecular structure of the clothes she’s wearing. And she’d be vulnerable to broken concentration, and distractions. She’d also be struggling with her own fears and doubts. One of Jean’s greatest fears would be going too far or crossing her own ethical lines.

Power wise, Jean would be on the level of heavy hitters like Ms. Marvel, Rogue, and She-Hulk. And she’d throw down with two of these ladies at one point in the series just to show how powerful she is.

Ethics would be a major theme in my Phoenix series. When I wrote Isis I often pondered What if a human being had the power of a god? Would they do whatever they wanted? Or would they follow the laws of the land? Would they take a job? Or would they literally make their own money with a thought? Who would be their check and balance? What would a check or balance look like or operate like? These are the kinds of questions Jean would have to answer on her journeys throughout the Marvel universe as she establishes herself as an independent hero.

As a crime fighter, Jean would have to ask questions and examine herself? How far is too far? Is it ever right to use her telepathy to change someone’s mind? And when she interacts with villains does she defeat them or go the extra mile and take away their powers?

What if she heard the thoughts of someone planning to commit a crime? How would she get involved? Would she stop the perpetrator before they acted? Or would she wait for something more concrete before going into action? Would her testimony even be considered evidence? Or would it be hearsay? Fascinating stuff.

How would other heroes like Spider-Man or Captain America perceive a human being with the power of a god? How would they relate to them? Would they want to work with them? Would they respect them? Or would they fear them? Would they collaborate against her the same way the illuminati conspired against the Hulk in World War Hulk? Phoenix as a solo hero is a gold mine for story potential. Do the other heroes work with her, or do they raise up arms to take her out like they did Korvac back in the 1970’s?

As for villains, I’d love to build Jean a nice rogues gallery from the most underrated female characters in the marvel Universe. I’d love to have the first storyline where she feuds with the Grapplers a group of fifth-rate female mercenaries. And they’d outsmart her. But she’d learn lessons from that battle that would make her change her whole perspective on life.

I’d also have her throw down with Quicksand. Another underrated Marvel supervillian, this Asian villainess has some fun and formidable powers.

I’d also have her battle people like the Purple man and Mesmero. These mind-controllers would really make her think about ethics and what is going too far.

She’d have a feud with Graviton, one of the most underrated villains in the Marvel universe. Graviton is such an underrated character, he controls a force of nature. He’d be a serious threat to someone like Jean. I can think of a hundred ways he would use the force of gravity to challenge her.

I’d also have her team up with Captain America, Spider-man and Thor so she could see how other heroes perceive her. I no longer see Jean as an X-man, but as a hero standing on her own two feet like those top tier characters.

I’d also explore the cosmic stuff too. A woman who can toss around heralds like Firelord needs to have a battle with Thanos. Phoenix/Thanos would be a very intriguing place to explore the ethics involved in taking/protecting life and death and how much force is excessive force.

Michael Korvac would also be an interesting rogue/ I’d like to add to Jean’s gallery. Here is a man who had the power of a god as well. He only wanted to bring peace to the universe. An order to the chaos. And he wound up having everyone turn on him. I’d love to write a story with him challenging Jean on ethics and her new mission as a superheroine.

Mephisto would pop in to tempt Jean during my run. In this storyline where she attends anger management classes, she’d finally put the Dark Phoenix to bed. As Jean fights back and stands up for herself, I’d establish that the Dark Phoenix is a manifestation of all those emotions she suppressed in her attempt to maintain control and not harm others by going too far. This would all lead up to a Phoenix/Dark Phoenix battle where the Dark Phoenix is defeated once and for all and Jean becomes a more balanced person who allows herself to express all of her emotions.

A Shawn James run on Phoenix would be a mix of superhero adventure and politics, with a little fun thrown in. My vision for the series is a female-friendly read filled with action and adventure that makes the whole Marvel Universe accessible to new readers while entertaining longtime fans by exploring and expanding on old concepts long established in the Marvel’s long history. Jean Grey is a great character with a lot of potential that’s been untapped. I’d love to work towards taking her character to the next level.

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