Yes, yes, and the “blonde Latina” thing.

§ June 21st, 2019 § Filed under question time § 13 Comments

Okay, I’m going to tackle another inquiry from the last time I took questions from you folks…but first, I encouragge you to look at the responses to Monday’s entry. Some alternative watchlists for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, incorporating ideas/arcs I didn’t consider, and some discussino of just why Kryptonians weren’t all that into space travel. I know comment sections can be a nightmare on the internet sometimes, but I’m glad my readers here are thoughtful, interesting, and funny. Thanks, pals.

• • •

Dave’s here, man, with this

“I am lately having resurgence of love for work of John Byrne. Re-reading all his old stuff! So I’d be happy to read about what you think of Byrne’s stupendous output. Like what is favorite/least favorite, if you ever met him, anything about John Byrne really (except X-Men).”

Now, John Byrne…that’s definitely a thing. I’ve never met the man, but some of his commentary online that one came across from time to time, specifically from his message board, would strike me as…..well, it would range from “inadvertently funny” to “downright disagreeable.” A lot of it struck me as the words of someone who didn’t much like where the industry is heading or his place in it, and, yeah, sure, I can understsand that, but then he’d gripe about how calling the heroes “Supes” or “Bats” was diminishing to those characters, and…well, look, I really shouldn’t be trying to turn you off there. You clearly enjoy his work, and I enjoyed his work over the years, and in fact wish he would do more comics work.

The last regular gig he had was Photoshopping Star Trek fumetti comics for IDW, but it looks like that’s pretty much over. I often think, in the back of my mind when Marvel and/or DC are looking to relaunch something, “why not bring in Byrne?” I always thought he had a good track record of getting down to the core of a character or concept, and making it work in a fun and accessible way. That’s the whole “back to basics” thing he was known for throughout the ’80s. Could be his style is a little…less contemporary than publishers thing modern readers would like, but maybe a little old-fashioned comic booking wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome nowadays.

I didn’t read everything he did, but I did read a lot. I read his early Doomsday +1 series he did for Charlton (in the Fantagraphics reprints), I was the one guy that bought Lab Rats, I think Next Men still holds up, the New Gods/Jack Kirby’s Fourth World was fun…in fact, any time Byrne was working on Kirby creations, it felt like he was really in his element.

Speaking of which, my all-time favorite work of his is still Fantastic Four. It remains, for me, the definitive version of the book (outside of Lee ‘n’ Kirby, of course). The “back to basics” idea I mentioned above basically came from here. I loved his versions of Doctor Doom and Galactus, and I especially loved his renidtion of Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. (It’s because of Byrne that every time I see another artist draw the Thing with a neck, I think “WRONG WRONG WRONG!”) It remains a nostalgic treat for me…scenese from those comics still solidly live on in my head.

The weirdness of Alpha Flight was a close second. Though I often praise the Bill Mantlo/Mike Mignola run following Byrne for its heavy body-horror tone, which is very unusual for a mainstream superhero comic, I think Byrne’s take on a “non-team” team book, where the characters rarely all unify for a single adventure, still made for some compelling reading. Given that the characters weren’t Marvel first-listers, or even second-or-third listers, Byrne seemed to have a bit more leeway with what he could do with them, including the sudden (and seemingly permanent) demise of what seemed to be the primary character. Er, SPOILER, I guess.

And of course one can’t forget the Superman reboot from the mid-1980s. He was one the books for about a year, but he managed to get a lot of material out onto the stands before he moved on. It was definitely a strange feeling to be reading Superman comics at the time with a consistent direction and creative team(s), shorn of all past history. “Back to basics,” once again. And it was this version of the character, this “post-Crisis” Superman that, despite New 52s and Rebirths and Zero Hours and whatnot, still basically exists today. I mean, more or less. You can still sorta follow a thread from Man of Steel #1 to the most recent issue of Superman. It’s a little knotted and tangled and the occasional piece was cut out and the ends spliced together, but the thread is there.

Now, “least favorite” is a little more difficult. I haven’t outright hated anything…there are works where bits and pieces I didn’t care for, but generally nearly all his work has some entertainment value. I suppose there’s that FX series he did back in 2008, but that was over someone else’s script and it mostly was “not memorable” more than “bad.” And I guess maybe that OMAC mini he did…despite his usual affinity for Kirby characters, I wasn’t particularly enthused with this one. Ah well, What Can You Do?

Also, for a time he was doing commission work, and a lot of that was downright beautiful. Seek those pages out to gawk at them, if you can.

So in conclusion…Byrne: so long as I don’t look at what he’s written online, I can still mostly enjoy his comics. There are some bits of his stories that…tend to get picked apart pretty thoroughly online, and deservedly so, but overall, it’s a long career filled with a lot of good work. And maybe someday, he’ll get to add to it.

13 Responses to “Yes, yes, and the “blonde Latina” thing.”

  • De says:

    Byrne’s Star Trek work is pretty good. The Fumetti stuff is a lot of fun, but my favorite was his Assignment: Earth mini that focused on Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln. Nothing says good time better than playing Who’s the Real Richard Nixon?

    I understand the frustration in Byrne’s feelings regarding the Fantastic Four movies, but causal racism is incongruous with someone who claims to love Star Trek so much.

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    I recently came across one of those Doomsday+1 issues in a pile of old comics I picked up and found it far more fun and readable than a 70s off-brand cheapo had any right to be.

    I love Byrne’s deep research and knowledge of continuity, and his ability to expand on said continuity without being a slave to it.

    Fantastic Four #236 is one of my favorite single issues ever and makes up for a huge amount of curmudgeonly old-man shaking-fist-at-TV opinions (not that I care what comics creators think anyway, so long as they’re not abusing puppies or assaulting people in the street or whatever).

  • Chris Wuchte says:

    Loved Fantastic Four #236. Wasn’t the first issue of his I bought (that would be #235), but it cemented my entry into the world of comics after years of simply reading whatever random issues happened to come my way as a kid. The rest of my teens involved weekly trips to a comic shop.

    When I re-read his run a few years ago, I still enjoyed it, but I felt like She-Hulk replaced The Thing a little too soon. At the time, I would have been reading his Thing title concurrently, but reading FF without that context today feels like something’s missing.

    His Alpha Flight was also ahead of its time in at least hinting at Northstar’s sexuality. Even as a kid I picked up on it, and reading it today it seems pretty obvious.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    I’ve only just started reading Hellboy and was surprised to note that Byrne wrote the script for Mignola’s initial serial story. I suppose given that it wasn’t really Byrne’s project, that speaks to the restraint he shows, but it’s an effective script, keeping in tone with the subsequent early stories, and holds up to repeated re-readings for me.

    I loved his FF run at the time, but can’t stand looking at or re-reading it anymore.

  • Thom H. says:

    I would follow John Byrne to any new project when I was first reading comics. I *loved* his Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight in particular. I will always have a soft spot for the original AF characters because he imbued them with so much potential (even if he didn’t always pay it off himself).

    It was only when he started leaving projects without warning (e.g., Superman, West Coast Avengers) that I really lost interest in his work. To this day, seeing his artwork pushes every single one of my nostalgia buttons.

    I loved the work he put into making She-Hulk and the Invisible Woman well-rounded characters, even if he did fall back into sexist tropes every now and again. Unfortunately, I find most of his classic stories a little too classic to read anymore, but they sure are beautiful to look at.

  • John Lancaster says:

    There were two of us Mike. I was the other guy buying Lab Rats. I even reread it a couple of years ago.

  • Brian says:

    And my axe! I mean…I bought Lab Rats too.

  • Sir A1! says:

    I think his pre-X-men and X-men work were his best years, art-wise. His Charlton stuff was great, especially ROG 2000 and the Terry Austin’s inks really just gave his key Marvel period a real polish. When he was deep into his 80s superstar phase andy beyond that, I think he really needed an inker to bring it together IMHO. Even with FF if I’m going to be truthful.

    As for writing, I do remember that Captain America/Batman 1-shot he did and he stole a key line from THE ROCKETEER and I was just like, Are you f*cking kidding me? I know it’s a cult movie but all the nerds are going to notice that i.e. me.

  • ExistentialMan says:

    John Byrne’s brief stints on titles at Marvel are still some of my favorites. Champions, Marvel Team-Up (especially #68), the Daredevil/Ghost Rider crossover, the Amazing Spider-Man Man-Wolf two-parter, The Avengers run with Michelinie, the black & white Starlord magazine with Claremont, and Power Man/Iron Fist. I could (and have) reread those many times!

  • Wriphe says:

    My only John Byrne anecdote:
    A friend of mine self-published his own comic in the 90s and approached artists at conventions in hopes of generating some endorsements to help sell the book to people reluctant to buy indie comics. When he pitched to Byrne, Byrne refused to even look at the issue, dismissively saying, “I don’t read comic books.” So that’s the pull quote my friend published in marketing material.

  • Bryan says:

    “It was only when he started leaving projects without warning”

    I first started reading comics in late-1985, and this is all I think about when I think of Byrne. My first issue of Hulk was 317 (I think; the one with the cover of The Hulk with the slash through him) and first FF was 292 (again, I think; the one with She-Hulk’s foot caught in the black orb), which was his final issue. In later years I’d see him complain about writers doing whatever they wanted with characters and “not putting the toys back in the box when they are done” and trying to reconcile that with the guy who spilt Banner and the Hulk with no immediate way to reunite them and a Fatastic Four trapped in a world of rapid accelleration and no way for the Thing to replace She-Hulk in the team’s regular adventures. And that’s not even getting started with whatever that whole thing with The Vision was in AWC years later.

    That said, even though he left a couple of months after I started reading, I always think of him as Mr. Marvel because of the Marvel Handbook covers. He was able to capably draw everybody, so a lot of times when I think of a character, it’s Byrne’s version I think of.

    And FF 236 would make a great film.

  • Thom H. says:

    @Bryan: I totally love those Byrne covers, too. That’s another project he didn’t finish, though. I believe it was Josef Rubenstein who took over the OHTMU covers when Byrne found something else to do somewhere near “S”.

  • Bryan says:

    @Thom H: Ron Frenz did the S issue (he was the artist on ASM at the time, and that was the Spider-Man issue, and he was one of my favourite artists at the time, so I was glad to see him there) and I think Keith Pollard did the rest. It does make you wonder how close to the deadline those covers were being drawn, though, because every cover connected to the one before and the one after, so it had to have been somewhat sketched out well in advance, and the abrupt change of artists makes it seem like they’d just winged it.