To celebrate the release of Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey and Emma Frost, AIPT proudly presents JEAN GREY + EMMA FROST WEEK – seven days of original articles and interviews about two X-Women so eXtraordinary, they don’t need codenames!
I make no secret of my love for X-Men Blue, so getting to discuss the series with its writer Cullen Bunn at New York Comic Con 2019 was a real treat. And when it came time to think of who I wanted to talk to for AIPT’s JEAN GREY + EMMA FROST WEEK, Bunn–who made Teen Jean Grey the leader of the time-displaced original X-Men–was at the top of my list. Oh, and as you’ll see at the end of our interview, this was also the perfect time to dig into Bunn’s pitch for an Uncanny X-Men series starring Jean’s daughter, Rachel Summers!
AIPT: Throughout X-Men Blue, you had a chance to write Teen Jean Grey as the leader of the original X-Men. What appealed to you about putting Jean front and center in a position of power in Blue?
Cullen Bunn: At the time, it just felt like the right call. I wanted to do something a little different with the team dynamic, and I thought Jean in a leadership role, pulling the team together, and (especially) working with Magneto would be a fun approach. In the early stages, I was especially looking forward to writing Jean’s psychic interactions with Magneto.
AIPT: I was going to say, also front and center was Jean’s often contentious relationship with Magneto. Your Magneto run is highly regarded and you clearly have a lot to say about the character. As a writer, was adding the fiery Teen Jean as a foil to the master of magnetism as fun as it seemed?
Cullen: Oh, it absolutely was! My love for Magneto is well documented. He’s my favorite Marvel character to write (so far) but I loved-loved-loved the interactions between those two. I thought Jean would be the perfect character to tell Magneto off from time to time. To put him in his place.
AIPT: A lot happened to Jean over the course of your run–for instance, she trained as a ninja, became Venomized and then Poisonized. What Jean development are you proudest of from your run?
Cullen: There are a lot of bits and pieces I was proud of. I really loved the Legacy one-shot, where Jean met her older counterpart. I thought it was interesting, because in that story, the character from the future was really from the past, and the character she was visiting was really masquerading as Jean. Woo! But I liked that story a great deal and I liked that I was kind of able to hint at the idea that Jean remembered going to the future and knew some of the trials and tribulations her young counterpart would be going through.
AIPT: When we spoke at NYCC 2019, you mentioned you always liked the idea of Scott and Storm being together growing up–which explained the unexpected Bloodstorm love triangle–but what made you decide to play the long game with Jean and Scott’s relationship?
Cullen: I knew long-time X-Men readers would be extremely interested in what happened with Scott and Jean, so I thought I might as well tease them along the way. Their relationship changed so much once the time-lost teens came onto the scene. But—as much as I like the idea of Scott and Bloodstorm, I knew from the outset that I wanted the classic Scott and Jean couple to exist, even if it was only for a few panels.
AIPT: Similarly, what was the idea behind introducing the psychic rapport between Jean and Scott in an unexpected way?
Cullen: Like a lot of things I did in X-Men Blue, the psychic rapport was a nod to the X-Men stories I loved in my youth. The bond between the two of them was so important. And since I knew that (eventually) these characters would vanish from our reality, I figured why not revisit that and shake things up a bit. The mechanism for connecting them was just a way of doing something a little different to form the bond.
AIPT: In your final Blue arc, you teased a future confrontation between Jean and the rage of Galactus and its three silver heralds. Can you tell us a little about this future Jean, taking on cosmic-level threats on her own? And did she win that battle?
Cullen: The idea spun out of the Legacy one-shot, where Jean punched Galactus. Well, that and all the comic book store debates I participated in in my youth. Who would win? Phoenix or Galactus? I always thought Galactus would have wanted a rematch eventually. Would Jean have won? Probably not without the help of her friends… and some of her enemies.
AIPT: Is there a Teen Jean story you were hoping to tell that you never got to?
Cullen: Well, the big one is really just an X-Men Blue storyline that never happened. My original plan for the series was that the Blue team would indeed set out to return to their home timeline. That was what I was heading to from issue 1. But my plan was that the team would head home… but get lost in the time/reality stream… becoming a new version of the Exiles. It didn’t happen because of changing initiatives and plans at Marvel, but I would have loved to write that.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite Jean Grey story of all time?
Cullen: Well, I guess it almost has to be “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” That’s the story that got me into X-Men in the first place, after all.
AIPT: Finally, a two-part, Jean-related question: On Twitter, you revealed that your original pitch for Uncanny X-Men featured Jean’s daughter Rachel Summers leading a space team. So, first: What do you love about Rachel as a character?
Cullen: Maybe it had something to do with her initial introduction or where my mind was at when I first read those issues. I loved the concept of (surprise) the time-lost nature. I loved the mystery of if she was really Scott and Jean’s daughter. I loved her relationship with the other X-Men. I loved that she was sort of a badass combat psychic. And when she took on the Beyonder in Secret Wars II… well, I was sold forever and for all time.
AIPT: And second: What kinds of adventures would Rachel and her crew have gone on if this series had been approved?
Cullen: Wow. I don’t remember a lot of the stories right off the top of my head. The initial idea was that because of the increasing dangers to mutants on Earth (this was during the Terrigen Mist storyline), Rachel took a team into space to find a new world where mutants could live in peace. There were stories about the Brood (naturally). There were stories about a Sentinel factory that had gotten lost out there in the great beyond and had taken on a new intellect. There was a lot of Otherworld stuff planned. While I don’t remember all the details at the moment, a centerpiece was the discovery of a new species of mutant who had gone into space long, long ago and changed and developed in startling ways.
AIPT: Always fascinating to learn what could have been, so thanks for sharing those details. And thanks for taking the time to chat about Jean, Cullen!