The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Byrne has no
respect for
comic history


November 4, 1999
By Franklin Harris

I'm not suggesting violence here. Don't get me wrong. But somebody -- anybody! -- please stop John Byrne before he strikes again.

A little history lesson is in order here.

Remember the 1980s? It was the decade of Reaganomics, Madonna and Michael Jackson. And in 1986, Byrne, perhaps the most popular writer/artist in comics at the time, took on the task of updating Superman, the world's most recognizable superhero.

No doubt Superman was in need of a good dusting. At the time, he was nearing his 50th birthday, after all. But Byrne decided sandblasting was in order. In the span of a few issues, he jettisoned almost a half-century's worth of history, rewriting the Man of Tomorrow's past. Gone were Superboy, Krypto the Superdog and the Fortress of Solitude. Even Supergirl, who had died heroically only a few months earlier, fell prey to Byrne's poisoned pen. When he was finished, she wasn't simply dead -- she had never existed.

(DC Comics has since created a new Supergirl, one who isn't related to Superman, and a new Superboy, who isn't a young Superman, but a clone of the Man of Steel.)

Well, it's 1999. Reaganomics is dead, and Madonna and the King of Pop are mere parodies of their former selves.

And John Byrne is a hack.

Remaking Superman in his own image, ignoring decades of stories by talented writers and artists, evidently went to Byrne's head. He hasn't stopped "revamping" superheroes since.

Now, lest you think that my remarks are simply the jealous rantings of a frustrated artist, upset that someone like Byrne is allowed to wield such power, I assure you that isn't the case. Harlan Ellison, who has more literary awards than Ivana Trump has credit cards, put Byrne's huge ego in his crosshairs back when Byrne persuaded DC Comics to restart "Superman" comics with issue No. 1 in order to usher in the Byrne Era on that title.

(Yes, that's right, true believer. Byrne also is partly responsible for the loathsome trend of restarting comic-book series with new No. 1 issues at the least provocation. There is no end to his pernicious influence.)

Since mucking up Superman, Byrne has made a muddle of Wonder Woman's past (to say nothing of the mess he made of her former sidekick, Wonder Girl) and rewritten the histories of Spider-Man and the Hulk.

Byrne, who hates coincidences, turned the creation of Spider-Man from a series of accidents into an elaborate conspiracy. And the Hulk, who was originally created when scientist Bruce Banner fell victim to Cold War sabotage, is now the product of meddling by extraterrestrials.

Even second-tier characters do not escape Byrne's notice. His brief tenure on "Avengers West Coast" resulted in the Vision and the Scarlet Witch losing years of carefully crafted character development.

Turning on X-Men

Now, Byrne is turning his attention to the most popular characters in comics, the X-Men.

This month, Marvel Comics debuted Byrne's latest creation, "X-Men: The Hidden Years" No. 1.

With "X-Men: The Hidden Years," Byrne is seeking to fill in the "gap" in X-Men history created when "The X-Men" became a reprint book in the early '70s (issues 67-93).

Immediately prior to "X-Men" No. 67, the book was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by the team of Neal Adams and Tom Palmer. It was probably the best creative team the book has ever had, even if "The X-Men's" circulation slumped.

Now, Byrne stands ready to screw the whole thing up.

Ironically, if Marvel is set on having a "hidden years" series, Thomas would be the perfect person to write it. Unlike Byrne, Thomas has a good record of patching the holes in superhero history, notably in comics like "The Invaders" and "All-Star Squadron," both set during World War II.

The first issue of "X-Men: The Hidden Years" wasn't a disaster. Byrne spent most of the issue recapping the Thomas/Adams/Palmer issues. After all, most of today's "X-Men" readers weren't around in the '70s. And at least Palmer is back, helping make Byrne's artwork the best it has been in years.

But I await the rest of Byrne's issues with trepidation.

He has a track record, and he has no respect for those who came before him.

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