Jean Grey's Phoenix costume is one of the most easily-recognizable in comics, but it almost looked a lot different. Marvel executive Tom Brevoort has been passing the time amidst the industry shutdown by posting ancient Marvel artwork on Twitter. His latest tweet shows off early Dave Cockrum design concepts for Jean's Phoenix costume, some of which offer a dramatic departure from the look that finally saw print.
Jean's Phoenix costume first appeared in 1976's X-Men #101, but she didn't buy it from a costume shop. The X-Men were returning from a mission in outer space when solar radiation bombarded their ship. Jean sacrificed herself to save the X-Men, crash-landing the ship in Jamaica Bay. However, Jean apparently survived, rising out of the waters to declare herself Phoenix, her new costume assembled from the ether.
Sure, creating a costume out of thin air is unusual, but the X-Men were used to unusual circumstances by that point and blew the whole thing off without asking too many questions.
These events eventually led to the memorable Dark Phoenix Saga, and retcons in later issues of Fantastic Four and X-Factor would reveal that the Jean who emerged from the water was actually The Phoenix Force itself, a bird-themed cosmic death god which had made a copy of Jean while leaving the original to recover in a cocoon under the bay. That didn't stop the real Jean from returning to the iconic costume over the years, however.
But according to Brevoort, that costume almost looked a lot different, with several different designs for the outfit itself as well as one drastic change: the color. Most of the original designs had Jean in a white costume, but Marvel Editor-in-Chief Archie Goodwin feared that the contents of the backside of any page Jean's costume was printed on would show through the white space.
Here are a bunch more Jean/Phoenix designs. The Phoenix costume was going to be white, but with the bad paper comics were printed on, EIC Archie Goodwin was afraid readers would be able to see the page on the other side through her figure. pic.twitter.com/FbWNEvzezr
— Tom Brevoort (@TomBrevoort) March 30, 2020
So, thanks to poor paper quality, Jean's costume needed a color change, and though a design closest to the one on the left was ultimately used, it was the color scheme of the one on the far right that made the cut.
Bored during the shutdown? Chris Claremont's entire epic X-Men run is available to binge-read on Marvel Unlimited if you need something to pass the time.