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#184327 - Mon Jul 14 2003 06:48 PM John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
Wonder Boy
Online   content brutally Kamphausened

Registered: Wed Sep 12 2001
Posts: 18208
Loc: A glorious bold new America


There was a time in the late 1970's/early 1980's where John Byrne strode over the comic industry like a god.

He came to prominence with the Claremont/Byrne/Austin issues of X-MEN (issues 108,109, 111-143) from 1977-1981.

He also had memorable runs on:
AVENGERS (issues 181-191),
CAPTAIN AMERICA (issues 247-255),
IRON FIST (issues 1-15,
and
POWER MAN/IRON FIST 48-50),
among many others.

And his signature work, FANTASTIC FOUR 232-293, where he wrote, pencilled and inked the series (which is a great run up through issue 274) and his tour-de-force brought FF back to the heights of popularity. I would argue that it was during the last year and a half of Byrne's run on FF (issues 275-293) that he began to decline.

And although his MAN OF STEEL/SUPERMAN/ACTION COMICS/WORLD OF KRYPTON run from 1986-1988 was a period of renewed interest in Byrne for his significant changes in Superman's mythology, this also represented an even further decline in Byrne's art, despite some good writing.

From 1975-1982, Byrne's art got increasingly detailed and refined. And it seemed to me that he just stopped caring about his art sometime in 1983, and from that point forward over a period of years, his writing began to decline as well.
The first solid clue was when he announced in a letters page (FF 258) that he was drawing in ink, and skipping the pencil stage. I remember reading this and thinking that this guy no longer cares about his art.

But I still have fond memories of Byrne's early work, and occasionally have enjoyed some of his later work as well, such as his SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK run (1989, and 1991-1993)

I think Byrne's career breaks down into several different eras:

Early Period (Charleton) 1975-1976
Early Marvel period 1975-1980
Marvel, the Peak Years 1980-1986
DC/Superman period 1986-1988
Back at Marvel period 1989-1993
Dark Horse period 1992-1994
DC, Mid-1990's period 1995-1998
Marvel Again, Exploring Early Marvel period 1998-2001
Current DC period 2002-2003

I'm really curious why an artist who seemed so dedicated to the quality of his art, and was very popular and praised for that commitment, suddenly took such a shameless dive in quality and seems to have just stopped caring, despite being one of the highest-paid and most recognized artists in the field.
This is the same guy that in the early 1980's would rip on other artists like Gil Kane and Don Heck and Bob Layton for the slightest imperfection in their work, and in particular ripped on many Silver Age artists for "doing nothing" to advance their art. And then Byrne HIMSELF became the epitome of a hack who continues to churn out half-hearted work.

As hard as Byrne was on his fellow professionals, I think Byrne has gotten relatively little abuse for the drop in quality of his own work.

There was a time where Byrne's work just got better and better, and he was arguably on a par with greats like Starlin, Gulacy, Buckler, Romita Jr., Perez, Rogers, Grell, Brunner, Chaykin, Simonson, Day, Bissette, Tottleben, Golden, Miller, Giffen, Paul Smith, Art Adams, Brent Anderson and Bill Sienkiewicz.

And even approaching the level of Neal Adams, Berni Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Frazetta and Corben.

But at some point Byrne just oddly stopped caring.

What went wrong?

And on a more positive note, what are some of your best-loved favorites of Byrne?

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#184328 - Mon Jul 14 2003 09:52 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
First Amongst Daves
Offline Banned from the DCMBs since 2002.

Registered: Wed Jan 23 2002
Posts: 15152
I quite liked Sensational She-Hulk.

But then compare that to his atrocious run on Wonder Woman.

I read something somewhere that when Jack Kirby died, Byrne said someone said to him that he was in charge now, that he was the comics god. Byrne didn't object to this.

I think Byrne might have decided that anything Byrne was good, so why bother with effort?

Incidentally, Byrne has been the subject of criticism over his often sadistic portrayal of women - see the She-Hulk graphic novel (She-Hulk is naked, chained and watched on video by a voyueristic and corrupt SHIELD agent): Big Barda's apparent rape at the hands of a minion of Darkseid in an issue of Action Comics (in which she and Superman later make a porn film - I kid you not!), and others. They was a website on the subject, the link to which I've now lost.

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#184329 - Mon Jul 14 2003 10:31 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
Grimm
Offline living in 1962

Registered: Thu Jun 13 2002
Posts: 19546
Loc: The Twilight Zone
quote:
Originally posted by Dave:

I read something somewhere that when Jack Kirby died, Byrne said someone said to him that he was in charge now, that he was the comics god. Byrne didn't object to this.

iirc, in fact, he seemed quite pleased with the notion.

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#184330 - Mon Jul 14 2003 10:41 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
Pig Iran
Offline Kisser Of John Byrne Ass

Registered: Sat Feb 10 2001
Posts: 16240
Loc: Salma Hayek's Heaving Bosom
quote:
Originally posted by Dave:
I quite liked Sensational She-Hulk.

But then compare that to his atrocious run on Wonder Woman.

The only good thing Byrne did there was turn WW into a goddess..then DC stripped her of her new powers the next issue sfter his run was over...tragic.
The only good thing Byrne did there was turn WW into a goddess..then DC stripped her of her new powers the next issue sfter his run was over...tragic

Incidentally, Byrne has been the subject of criticism over his often sadistic portrayal of women - see the She-Hulk graphic novel (She-Hulk is naked, chained and watched on video by a voyueristic and corrupt SHIELD agent): Big Barda's apparent rape at the hands of a minion of Darkseid in an issue of Action Comics (in which she and Superman later make a porn film - I kid you not!), and others. They was a website on the subject, the link to which I've now lost.

I have those...they are a bit twisted..I only realized recently that Shulkie's nipple was hanging out in one of the panels .


Next Men and Danger Unlimited were the last truly great Byrne stories IMO.

My favorite Byrne works in order are..

X-Men
Alpha Flight
Fantastic Four
Avengers (various 175-200)
Iron Fist
Secret origins Doom Patrol Issue.
Man of Steel/Superman/Action Comics (Action Comics Annual #1 being the jewel in the crown)
She-Hulk
Captain America
Next Men/Danger Unlimited
Marvel Team-Up
Hulk
Avengers west Coast (yeah, I liked it)
Omac
Namor (about half the run was pretty decent.especially the savage Land issues)

In terms of comparing Byrne to other artists i think John Buscema is a good comparison. John Byrne could have been a better version of John Buscema..but he got the attitude.

I met him..he was a decent enough fellow, but he exuded cockiness (if I can judge). he had a decent sense of humor and was relatively cheerful. It just felt that he lost all interest in comics when I finally met him in 92. He had no spark about him as other creators had.

His intent on inking his own work and writing his own work was to his detriment. He needed creative refreshers and he never allowed himself to have any. hopefully his new JLA work with Claremont will re-energize him..

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#184331 - Mon Jul 14 2003 10:56 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
First Amongst Daves
Offline Banned from the DCMBs since 2002.

Registered: Wed Jan 23 2002
Posts: 15152
quote:
Originally posted by Grimm:
quote:
Originally posted by Dave:

I read something somewhere that when Jack Kirby died, Byrne said someone said to him that he was in charge now, that he was the comics god. Byrne didn't object to this.

iirc, in fact, he seemed quite pleased with the notion.
Yes, I got that impression, too.

quote:

I have those...they are a bit twisted..I only realized recently that Shulkie's nipple was hanging out in one of the panels .

Yes, her shirt was shredded by gunfire, and you can make out a green nipple on green skin.

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#184332 - Mon Jul 14 2003 11:01 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
profh0011
Offline 100+ posts

Registered: Wed May 21 2003
Posts: 128
Loc: "The Forbidden Zone"...
I've been following John Byrne's work for soooooo long. I used to wonder why he was the target of so much anger & derision from so many "fans". Of course, in the last 5 years, even I've started to tire of his stuff.

My first exposure to Byrne's art was IRON FIST. He & Chris Claremont were each the 5th person in their slot on that series (arriving a few issues apart). After a remarkable ink job by Al McWilliams, Frank Chiaramonte proceeded to BUTCHER whatever it was John was trying to do. I wasn't sure at the time WHAT he was trying to do, because I'd never seen a style like his before. (I had NO IDEA he was influenced at all by Neal Adams-- even when, years later, I finally discovered Adams' work some years after-the-fact.) It wasn't until Dan Adkins (WHAT A PRO!) teamed with Byrne that I started to like his art. (The stories also got a BIT less doom-and-gloom around then, as well.)

I got the 2nd STAR-LORD story when it came out-- stunning work! I read that issue of MARVEL PREVIEW was what led to Byrne taking over X-MEN when the book went monthly, as Dave Cockrum at the time wasn't able to handle the schedule. (Dave recently said he stayed on a bit longer than planned, as Byrne was chomping at the bit, and getting on his nerves even before getting on the book!) I always felt from the beginning that the revival of X-MEN was too damn dark, serious & gloomy all the time, but somehow Byrne's more "cartoony" style (compared to Cockrum) lightened the tone just enough to make it bearable (for me anyway).

Chris & John's run on MARVEL TEAM-UP was a high mark for that entire misbegotten series, and I actually LIKED the "slick" look Dave Hunt brought to the inks. For a few years, I used to wonder what Byrne would look like if inked by Joe Sinnott (my favorite!), and I found out in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #50, the story when The Thing went back in time to meet his earlier self.

Later, Byrne took over from Keith Pollard right in the middle of Marv Wolfman's interminiably long outer-space epic in FANTASTIC FOUR. I LOVED the art-- the story was only so-so. After about a year off, Byrne returned to WRITE as well as draw the book. The ONE decision that irked me to no end was when he decided to INK his own work. Joe Sinnott had been a steady mainstay on the book since the middle of the Kirby run, and seen it through Buscema, Fradon, Buckler, Andru, Perez, Pollard, Byrne & even Sienkiewicz (what was HE doing on that book???). To have Sinnott REMOVED just so the look of the title could somehow be returned to an "earlier, rougher" style... WHAT was John trying to do, revive the GEORGE ROUSSOS era????? AUGH!!!

He eventually did get slicker... and then LESS so... when Jerry Ordway took over, it was as though Byrne had finally found his "own" Joe Sinnott. Strangely, Joe inked an issue or two late in the run-- and I noticed that John's style had changed SO much since their earlier teaming, that Joe was NO LONGER a good match with Byrne. how bizarre...!

John's SUPERMAN was interesting... but WHAT was the point of the "pocket universe Supergirl", when they'd gone to such LENGTHS to KILL OFF the original, then say she "now never existed"??? (And besides-- in Post-CRISIS DC, we have Power Girl-- AND Mary Marvel!!!)

John's runs on THE SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK and BABE rank very highly in my eyes, although NEXT MEN was a bit too gloomy for me. DANGER: UNLIMITED was incredible!!!!! I was genuinely PISSED when John stopped it prematurely, because he said the sales weren't doing his bank account enough good. (Some series NEED time to build an audience-- canning the book after only 4 issues was the kind of thing those underaged drug-addict TV execs have been doing for the last 25 years in Hollywood.)

WEST COAST AVENGERS started out as a huge improvement over what the 2nd half of Englehart & Milgrom's run had deteriorated to. But John NEVER finished his projected "Vision Quest" story, derailing the book's direction 5 issues in. I loved the art (who was inking those issues?) and John did the SEXIEST Scarlet Witch in ages. But his entire run seemed aimed at imposing violent retcons over whatever anyone before him had done. (When Roy Thomas took over-- because Byrne left ABRUPTLY-- Roy set about doing to Byrne what Byrne had done to Englehart!)

Since then... SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE was not only uncalled for, but between the multiple changes & INCESSANT choppiness of the plotting, near-unreadable AND an insult to the memory of the entire Steve Ditko run which was far superior to Byrne's rehash on EVERY level. John's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was touted as being "independant" of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN; within months you HAD to read both in sequence or be completely lost (and I HATED J.R.Jr.'s "art" with a passion). Plus, the break in all the depressing crap was not a new direction at all, as Byrne saw Peter's life turn into the worst hell it had EVER seen. I'd finally had it-- I dropped the series for the 3rd-- and FINAL-- time. Who needs to read just to be depressed?

The first 2 GENERATIONS minis were really interesting and quite fun. The 3rd (current) one suffers from the same OVER-complexity and SEVERE choppy plottig that murdered MARVEL: THE LOST GENERATION for me. What ever happened to "straightforward" storytelling? Whatever happened to letting scenes play out, instead of CONSTANTLY being interrupted with other scenes, so that by the end of a book, you feel you haven't been able to read ANYTHING? (I CAN'T be the only one who feels this way...)

I wish-- and I feel this way about a lot of creative types-- that John would create his OWN characters-- STICK with them for a really long time-- and find an INKER who can do his pencils justice. (Even Jim Steranko admitted that other inkers always did HIS work better than Jim did himself.)

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#184333 - Mon Jul 14 2003 11:10 PM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
First Amongst Daves
Offline Banned from the DCMBs since 2002.

Registered: Wed Jan 23 2002
Posts: 15152
quote:
John's SUPERMAN was interesting... but WHAT was the point of the "pocket universe Supergirl", when they'd gone to such LENGTHS to KILL OFF the original, then say she "now never existed"??? (And besides-- in Post-CRISIS DC, we have Power Girl-- AND Mary Marvel!!!)

It was fucking pointless. You're right: Power Girl could easily have filled the role.

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#184334 - Tue Jul 15 2003 12:49 AM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
Mr. Nobody
Offline 500+ posts

Registered: Wed Nov 12 2003
Posts: 509
Loc: Ohio
Reading some of the early Byrne/Claremont X-Men issues is how I got completely hooked on comics. I thought his art was fantastic and aspired to draw like him (there's still a bit of his influence, I think, in my own work, and noticeable among many pros today). I followed him to the Fantastic Four, and of course his work on Superman. While not as good, artistically, as X-Men, they were so well written (me not really being a fan of either properties, it goes to show how good storytelling can save anything), and since he was doing his Jack-of-All-Trades thing, I forgave the slip in art.

I'm probably one of the rare few who immensley enjoyed his West Coast Avengers run, as well.

And then came OMAC. This is still high on my list of favorite books. This is when I realized that there is a world of comics outside straight up superhero books, and began to get into some of the edgy stuff released by DC and Epic back in the 80s, as well as some indie stuff.

I followed over to the Next Men, which I liked a lot, but the art had slipped so much, this is when I realized it. Shortly after, I kinda dropped out of comics for a year or two.

When I came back, Byrne was still around, and I couldn't believe it was the same guy. The quality of art had dropped so dramatically, and his writing was so subpar, and so... old... it didn't seem right.

This is when I started talking with a few people and hearing the horror stories of how he treated his "fans", his fellow pros, etc. One year at the Mid-Ohio Con, my friend, a retailer, and I were in line to meet Sergio Aragones. Byrne was sitting at the next table, and saw my friend with his retailer name tag. He then proceeded to harass and hassle him, at first trying to get him to go over to Byrne's table (since no one was there). He moved on to annoyance and then insulting both my friend and Sergio Aragones, sitting no more than 10 feet away.

I've tried giving his most recent work a try, but it's so bland, sloppy and unexciting, I've given up.

But, I'll always have my X-Men books.

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#184335 - Tue Jul 15 2003 05:35 AM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
the G-man
Offline Officially "too old for this shit"

Registered: Fri May 16 2003
Posts: 43422
Loc: the right
The simple answer here is that Byrne's ego got too big.

He started thinking he could do it all and he started thinking that he could do it quickly.

And his worked suffered.

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#184336 - Tue Jul 15 2003 09:36 AM Re: John Byrne: The good years, the bad years, and what the heck went wrong?
Animalman
Offline 10000+ posts

Registered: Sun Oct 28 2001
Posts: 14896
Loc: At Large
Alpha Flight #1 was the first comic book I ever read. I loved that series. Great stuff.
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