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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:







 

I come not to bury John Byrne, but to praise him. And let’s face it- it would be easy to bury him.

The past few years have seen an increasingly controversial Byrne using his message board to… offer up more than a few opinions that have pissed people off. His last few books, mainly from DC, were non-starters. His exit from Marvel was so acrimonious that he refused to spell out the company’s name when he wrote about it online (one of those things you could easily bury him for). Yet to do so, to bury him, would be to forget who he is and what he has meant to the history of comics. And it’s time that we do, dammit.

Who is John Byrne? Simply put, he’s one of the greatest comics creators to ever pick up the pencil or fingers to keyboard. From his days working with Claremont on UNCANNY X-MEN to his five-year run on FANTASTIC FOUR to his revamp of the SUPERMAN mythos, his contributions are legendary and to this day, they are felt in comics shops every single week. That’s who Byrne is.

His work ethic was unbelievable. At one point, John was writing and drawing both FF and ALPHA FLIGHT at the same time. Two monthly books! And neither one shortened the page count. His only capitulation was to bring in an inker to back him up, as he had taken to inking his own work. So when Byrne rips on today’s modern, videogame playing, lazy-prick artists, he’s got a point. The man was writing and drawing 44 pages of material every month in his prime, not to mention doing covers for his own books, covers for other books in the line, and squeezing in an annual here and there. Calling him prolific wouldn’t begin to cover it.

And while Byrne may not have turned in stuff that looks like Bryan Hitch’s, it was also awesome and awe-inspiring. His FANTASTIC FOUR featured strange worlds, bizarre creatures, wild monsters, and cosmic-level threats. And he did it every month for over five years. So when I see someone write that Mark Millar and Hitch’s FF is the best the book has been since Lee/Kirby it makes me want to punch that stupid motherfucker in the face. They’ve put out two issues and have yet to prove they can tell a complete, interesting story with the characters. John’s work is so far ahead of their stuff that they should be embarrassed that anyone would compare it to Byrne’s, let alone Stan and Jack.

Take a look at his SUPERMAN revamp again. What Byrne did with Superman himself wasn’t necessarily revolutionary, that much is fair to say. John’s lasting contribution to that mythos can be summed up in one word: Lex. Byrne’s Luthor is responsible for so much of how the DCU works today. It was John’s tinkering with the character that made him eventual Presidential timbre. It was John’s take that served as the template for Clancy Brown’s amazing work on the character on the animated series and on the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon series. Byrne’s Luthor is at the roots of the character as he’s played on SMALLVILLE., and he’s at tht core of the work Mark Waid did with him in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT. So while you may not agree with him on many things, you must respect and acknowledge that, twenty-two years later, his work still stands tall, and everyone else is playing off of it.

Obviously, you could talk about X-MEN for hours, as his contribution alongside Claremont was a huge reason why the book exploded in popularity. Or you could spend time discussing how he took Roger Stern’s work on She-Hulk, built on it, and made her an A-list character still headlining today. Or you could discuss his own NEXT MEN and how he showed he could adapt to the marketplace and put out great creator-owned work. But ultimately, all you need to really do is look at the shelves.

To this day, Marvel and DC are still printing John Byrne comics, even though he isn’t producing new works for them. Marvel recently completed the FANTASTIC FOUR VISIONARIES series collecting his entire run. They recently produced a first volume of ALPHA FLIGHT CLASSIC. DC has slowly been putting together trades of his SUPERMAN run. There have been two trades collecting his AVENGERS WEST COAST, and part of Bendis’ Scarlett Witch storyline flows from those comics. A HULK VISIONARIES putting together his classic, short run on that book has been solicited. And IDW is producing the COMPLEAT NEXT MEN in a series of trades.

This should serve to put the man’s phenomenal body of work in front of an audience that doesn’t know he was once considered to be the single greatest creator working in the field. And when they pick up those books, I think that audience will get it. Two decades later, the material still plays, and still captures the imagination like no other. So while we may not always like what John Byrne has to say, I’ll defend to the bottom of my wallet his right to say it. He’s earned that right. And he’s earned our respect. And he’s earned my dollars.

Marc Mason

 



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