A decade before Bryan Singer brought the X-Men to the screen, the author of the mutant team's greatest stories imagined an X-movie produced by James Cameron, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and starring Bob Hoskins as Wolverine and Angela Bassett as Storm.
Chris Claremont (above) spoke Saturday about how he first imagined the movie -- and his acclaimed 17-year run as the writer of Marvel comics' "Uncanny X-Men" -- at a Columbia University panel. It commemorated his decision to dedicate his archives to the school.
"James Cameron, Bob Hoskins, Angela Bassett -- ahhh. Fanboy heaven. I would have been happy as a clam," Claremont said in a Q&A with Louise Simonson, his longtime "X-Men" editor.
(Photo of Chris Claremont at top of story by Seth Kushner, from "Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics.")
Claremont also talked about how he tried to dissuade former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter from reviving the character Jean Grey after Claremont killed her off in the Dark Phoenix saga, one of his most famous X-Men stories. (It was partially adapted, along with Claremont's X-Men graphic novel, "God Loves, Man Kills," for the second X-Men film.)
He was wistful about the X-movie that might have been -- but still irritated at the retcon that brought Grey back to life for the comics series "X Factor."
Claremont has said before that he wanted Hoskins as Wolverine and Bassett as Storm, but went into detail Saturday about why a proposed adaptation from the then-married Cameron and Bigelow never came to pass. (Cameron went on to win best picture and director Oscars for "Titanic" and Bigelow to beat Cameron's "Avatar" to win best picture and directing Oscars for "The Hurt Locker.")
In the comics, Claremont noted, Wolverine is diminutive but feral, like a real wolverine. He recalled a scene in the 1984 film "Lassiter" in which Hoskins pushes open a door and shoves the much taller Tom Selleck while berating him. That moment, to Claremont, captured the essence of Wolverine.
He said that as Cameron launched his own studio, Lightstorm Entertainment, in 1990, he and Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee went to his office to pitch him an X-Men movie.
"Just think about this for a minute: James Cameron's X-Men. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. That's what we were playing," Claremont said. "So we're chatting. And at one point Stan looks at Cameron and says, 'I hear you like Spider-Man.' Cameron's eyes lit up.
"And they start talking. And talking. And talking. About 20 minutes later all the Lightstorm guys and I are looking at each other, and we all know the X-Men deal has just evaporated. Kathryn goes off and writes a screen treatment for X-Men that was eaten alive by all the idiots who have a piece of Spider-Man because Marvel during its evolution has sold off the rights time and time and time again. To Carolco. To Universal. To this to that. To Fox. It was just a nightmare."
Claremont had no complains about Singer's "X-Men" films -- or the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Halle Berry as Storm. They launched a franchise and kicked off a decade of comic book blockbusters. But Claremont wondered what might have been if Cameron's film had been made a decade before Singer's.
He was less charitable about the return of Jean Grey, a decision that still annoys him.
Claremont's Dark Phoenix storyline, which culminated in Grey's death in "Uncanny X-Men" number 137 in 1980, was one of the most dramatic in comic book history because it killed off one of the most beloved heroes of comics' Silver Age. Claremont was stunned to learn five years later that Marvel planned to bring the character back to life -- or rather, reveal that Grey hadn't really died -- for the new comic "X Factor," which reunited the original X-Men.
Instead of bringing back Jean Grey, he suggested adding her sister, Sara Grey, to the team. He suggested that Sara Grey could have the mutant power to detect other mutants. While Jean Grey had long been involved with the character Cyclops, Sara could have potential partnerships with all the members of the team, which also included Iceman, Angel, and the Beast.
Shooter liked the idea of bringing Sara Grey into the fray, Claremont said -- but decided to go with the original plan for X-Factor. Within months, the title's original creative team departed, handing the writing duties over to Simonson.