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ComiCONN 2018: X-Factor writer Bob Layton on Cyclops’ controversial decision to leave his family for Jean Grey

Writer/artist Bob Layton weighed in on Cyclops’ decision to leave his family for Jean Grey in X-Factor #1 at ComiCONN.

In a world of Wolverines and Gambits, fans of Cyclops have always faced an uphill battle when trying to explain why the first X-Man is also the greatest. “He’s boring.” “He’s not cool.” You’ve heard the opposition’s arguments, which can typically be considered subjective. But then, the truly skilled anti-Cyclops debaters will serve up one of Scott Summers’ most indefensible moments. No, not the time he murdered Professor X in a Phoenix-fueled rage, I’m, of course, talking about when Slim abandoned his wife and newborn baby to reunite with the original X-Men–and his believed-to-be-dead ex-girlfriend Jean Grey.

The notorious incident transpired in 1986’s X-Factor #1, which was written by Bob Layton–a writer/artist most closely associated with Iron Man. On June 30, Layton was a guest at Connecticut’s ComiCONN, where the moderator of the “I am Iron Man!” panel asked about Scott’s controversial decision.

Before the launch of Marvel’s latest X-book, Layton was looking to do a new spin on a third-rate Marvel character, as that’s what he loved to do. The House of Ideas, however, suggested the creator tackle a project that would make them money–something like reuniting the original X-Men.

There was just one problem: Only four of the original five were still alive, as the legendary team of Chris Claremont and John Byrne had killed off Jean six years earlier in Uncanny X-Men #137.

Layton’s idea? Take a female mutant who isn’t appearing regularly in a title, Dazzler, and slide her into Jean’s spot on the team. And while he was at it, he’d boost her power set (something more laser-like) and change her name to Strobe. But, comic creators are an inventive lot, and using an idea created by Kurt Busiek, Marvel found a way to bring Jean back to life. Layton added that Jean’s resurrection was ultimately a move on Byrne’s part to tick off Claremont, as the two were feuding at the time.

“I’m no idiot either,” Layton told the panel audience. “If they’re going to bring back the fifth, lost member of the X-Men, I’m going to use her.”

But then you have an entirely different problem. Following Jean’s death on the Moon, Cyclops moved on with his life. He fell in love with Madelyne Pryor, a woman who was identical to his deceased former flame, and the pair married in Uncanny X-Men #175. Scott left the X-Men soon after, and he and Madelyne moved to Alaska to raise their baby. That is, until Angel–or Marvel–came calling.

What followed were many drama-filled issues (of both X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men) that really didn’t resolve the Cyclops-Jean Grey-Madelyne Pryor love triangle until the 1989 “Inferno” crossover event. But it all started back in Layton’s X-Factor #1. The creator is nothing if not confident and clearly had no regrets over the decision to shake up Scott’s marriage.

“Stuff like that happens in real life,” Layton explained. “That’s the difference between good Marvel characters and bad, other comic book characters. We do internal conflicts. Marvel characters are always internally conflicted and that’s the difference. They’re always struggling with themselves–their real battle is with themselves. And Scott’s a tortured guy, anyway. I mean, he’s not the happiest fella on the planet, believe me.”From Layton’s perspective, the entire scenario was an opportunity for great drama. But at the same time, he couldn’t help but view Scott’s predicament as… strange.

“He married her as a surrogate,” Layton said. “He wasn’t in love with her–he married her because she looked like Jean. That’s so vapid. I don’t know who wrote that story, but to me, it was just like, yeah, you married her because she looks like your old ex-girlfriend. I saw that as not a healthy thing. As much as I love somebody, I wouldn’t just want to hang out with her doppelg√§nger–all they do is remind me I couldn’t do anything to save her, so I’ve got this clone sitting here. She doesn’t act like her, talk like her, smell like her–any of that stuff. To me, that’s not realistic. That’s not how we behave in real life, and I always try to bring something from reality to what I do.”

And in Layton’s opinion, bringing in aspects of the real world is the hook that makes Marvel so unique in the comics landscape.

Naturally, many fans have a different view of the matter, as well as the long-lasting ramifications on Cyclops as a character. And it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that Claremont himself was among those who weren’t pleased with this decision to reverse his storytelling. I had a chance to speak with the X-Men’s most famous writer in 2017 at New England Super Megafest Comic-Con, where the X-Factor controversy came up in conversation.

“There’s no happy way to end this,” Claremont said at the time. “You have a father and a husband walking out on his wife and child for his first girlfriend. And you can say what you like about the first true love, but he swore an oath before God and man that he would love her and be faithful to her, and now, okay, circumstances have changed. My point–there’s no way a comic hero can recover from that and still be a hero.”What’s your take on Cyclops’ actions in X-Factor #1, as well as the ways in which Layton and other Marvel creators handled the dissolution of Scott and Madelyne’s marriage over time? Share your feelings in the comment space below!

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