Sunday, November 6, 2016


Image borrowed from
Marvel Comics of the 1980s
Having covered FANTASTIC FOUR #286 and the return of Jean Grey this past week, I find myself thinking, as I occasionally do, about one of the best comic book runs the world never saw: John Byrne's X-FACTOR.

As I understand it, Marvel decided that the X-Men were such a phenomenal hit that they needed a second spinoff after NEW MUTANTS, and X-FACTOR was born, conceived by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and writer Bob Layton without consulting with the X-Men's editorial office or that title's writer, Chris Claremont. The goal was originally to reunite the four surviving members of the original X-Men -- Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Iceman -- with Dazzler filling the role of the distaff fifth member. But John Byrne and Roger Stern -- and, more importantly, Kurt Busiek -- got wind of this plan and Busiek pitched his idea for a way to bring Jean back into the picture, which Stern and Byrne ran with in AVENGERS and FANTASTIC FOUR. Thus the stage was set for all five original X-Men to return to action in X-FACTOR.

The title stumbled along initially with some woefully regressive Silver Age-style stories by Layton and penciler Jackson Guice, until the wife-and-husband team of Louise and Walter Simonson took over and invigorated things with issues 6 (Louise as writer) and 10 (Walter as penciler).

But I've wondered more than once what things might have looked like had Byrne taken the X-FACTOR reins from the beginning, instead. Mind you, he may not have wanted the assignment and it probably wasn't even offered to him. But this is my fantasy world and I think Byrne would have been a tremendous fit for X-FACTOR. For one thing, he's noted time and again that the original X-Men are his favorite superhero team. He would eventually give the world his spin on them in X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS circa 1999 -- and he's said that he actually began pitching HIDDEN YEARS way back in the eighties!*

So, given Byrne's love of the characters and his interest in telling new adventures starring them, he seems like he could've been a great fit for X-FACTOR circa 1986. Obviously he didn't do it -- and even if he had, he would've had his own idea on how to do things, but for the sake of fantasizing, my version of John Byrne's X-FACTOR would be something like "X-Men West Coast".

At the time, Chris Claremont was taking UNCANNY X-MEN in a very progressive direction; something I don't generally favor in superhero comics, and something Byrne tends to be against as well. I'd suggest that, as Claremont went on telling stories about headmaster Magneto, Storm in leather, and Colossus breaking guys' necks, Byrne might have set up X-Factor on the other side of the country, perhaps operating out of Angel's New Mexico mansion, as a sort of anti-X-Men team, setting up a school of their own to show the X-Men how it "should" be done. After all, part of X-Factor's mission statement as conceived by Bob Layton was to train young mutants, but Layton wrapped the concept in this bizarre and ill-conceived status quo where the heroes posed as mutant hunters in order to find and take in their young charges. I suspect Byrne could have made this work in a much more straightforward fashion.

I'd also propose that Byrne add Havok and Polaris to his X-Factor team. Other than the stated desire to reunite only the original five X-Men, I've never understood why those two weren't part of the group. Polaris gives them a much-needed second female member, while Havok is just really cool looking. Byrne included both in HIDDEN YEARS to (in my opinion) excellent effect.

Essentially, in my dream world, Claremont would've written UNCANNY X-MEN starring Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, etc. in his forward-looking way, while Byrne would have handled X-FACTOR featuring Cyclops and the rest as a more traditional superhero title. Unlike Layton, I believe Byrne could have easily turned X-FACTOR into a Silver Age pastiche without making it overly regressive and, well, terrible. I would've loved to see Byrne and Claremont competing in the same corner of the Marvel Universe. They brought out the best in each other years earlier as co-plotters, and even when feuding as writers of two separate titles, they seemed to feed off of and react to one another in ways that took their stories into interesting and unexpected directions.

But Byrne had one foot out the door at Marvel in 1986 and it's unlikely he would've been offered this assignment or taken it even if it had been offered, so John Byrne's X-FACTOR -- and the ensuing back-and-forth between Byrne and Claremont on a pair of "X"-branded series -- must remain one of my major comic book "what could've been"s, and nothing more.

* Side note: It seems possible to me that Marvel might have turned down HIDDEN YEARS initially precisely because they were launching X-FACTOR around the same time.

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