Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the comic book artist. For the Victoria Cross recipient, see John Byrne (VC). For the Scottish painter, see John Byrne (Scottish artist).
John Byrne (born July 6, 1950) is a writer and artist of comic books. Byrne is known for his dynamic style of artwork (which has been greatly influenced by Neal Adams), and also for his conservative approach to established comic series.
Byrne was born near West Bromwich, England, but emigrated with his family to Canada in 1958. He attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary for a few years, where he produced some of his earliest work when he created the superhero Gay Guy for the college newspaper, The Emery Weal. However Byrne and the school eventually realized that his interests lay elsewhere. He made his first professional sale in 1971 to The Monster Times .
In 1974 he got his first assignment with Marvel Comics, in the form of a short story ("Dark Asylum") which eventually appeared in Giant-Sized Dracula #5, a year or so later. Meanwhile, editor Nicola Cuti asked Byrne to do the fan character ROG-2000 for Charlton Comics, and this led to his first full title assignment Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch . Wheelie was followed in short order by Doomsday+1 , Space: 1999 and a single issue of Emergency! . He eventually moved on to Marvel Comics and DC Comics, where he has handled nearly every major character at one time or another.
Partnership with Chris Claremont and X-Men Years
Byrne ended up doing art chores for Chris Claremont on several projects, including Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up, and eventually succeeded Dave Cockrum as the artist of Uncanny X-Men. Byrne and Claremont worked in tandem, with Byrne contributing a lot of plotlines for the book. Their work can be best described as a collaboration between artist and writer in terms of plotlines, similar to how Stan Lee and Jack Kirby worked. For instance, in the famed Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix storyline, Claremont had the idea to use the club, Byrne contributed specifics, including the use of Mastermind in the "Jason Wyngarde" persona, both of which were influenced by an episode of The Avengers television show and actor Peter Wyngarde). His Canadian patriotism showed as well such as resisting Claremont's idea of dropping the Canadian character Wolverine with story ideas that made the character a star and creating the Canadian superhero team, Alpha Flight.
While their collaboration was critically successful, Byrne later described the partnership as a Gilbert and Sullivan relationship. The source of his discontent was Claremont's deviations from the plots they had previously agreed upon. For example, in the seminal story "Days of Future Past" Byrne's original intent was that the X-Men would emerge victorious but Claremont's scripting cast ambiguity in the conclusion. Despite the tensions in their working relationship, Byrne has expressed respect for Claremont's great commerical achievements with the X-Men.
Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight, and other Marvel work
After Byrne left the X-Men, he took over the Fantastic Four as both writer and artist. His run was well-received by fans and critics and ended up increasing his popularity. His run is considered by many critics to be the best since Lee and Kirby, and some would argue the FF run was the peak of Byrne's work. Byrne's take on the FF was a combination of exploring the classic themes and characters of Lee and Kirby with some unique twists. For instance, the famed "Aunt Petunia" of Thing was revealed to be a quite young and sassy lady instead of what might have been considered a much older person. He shook things up by replacing the Thing with the She-Hulk, and having the Human Torch fall in love with Alicia Masters. Most significantly, Byrne modernized the Invisible Woman by making her personality more assertive and self-confident while discovering that her powers are actually so much more versatile and useful that she is actually the most physically powerful member of the team.
One notable way of paying homage to both creators of the book was his recap of Doctor Doom's origin. Lee and Kirby disagreed as to the deformity behind Doom's mask. Lee thought his face was horribly scarred, but Kirby felt that Doom should only have a minor scar, and his vanity was the reason for his mask. Byrne combined these viewpoints — Doom originally had a small scar after a lab accident and hid his face under bandages since that moment due to his vanity; however, when he had his mask forged, he placed it on his face while scalding hot, thus causing the total disfiguration of his face.
Byrne also became a stickler for what he considered the proper characterization of his book's cast. For instance, when Chris Claremont had Doctor Doom appear in the X-Men, the villain Arcade lit a match against Doom's armor. Based on past characterization, Byrne felt that Doom would have killed Arcade for that insolence. So Byrne invented the "Doombot", robotic simulacrums of Doctor Doom that would explain away inconsistent characterizations of Doctor Doom in other books. He also wrote the "Trial of Galactus" storyline after Claremont (without permission) wrote a small segment featuring the Fantastic Four getting chastized by Princess Lilandra for saving Galactus.
In the midst of this success, Byrne was also offered the total creation of a book based on a super-team he created during his X-Men tenure, the Canadian supergroup Alpha Flight. While Byrne was happy to do this and was creating from a blank slate, he soon became bored with the characters--they had less appeal to him that other characters like the FF. Also Alpha Flight was almost totally insulated from the rest of the Marvel Universe making it difficult for Byrne to play with other characters in the way he enjoyed. So after 2 years, he ended up swapping books with Bill Mantlo, with him taking over the Incredible Hulk from Mantlo and Mantlo taking over Alpha Flight.
Byrne also planned to be the regular creator on the series The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones , licensing the popular Indiana Jones character from Raiders of The Lost Ark . He worked on the first two issues of the book, but quit right after the first story, due to the licensing restrictions. Lucasfilm would end up requesting changes to plots or art very late in the production effort, which frustrated Byrne.
Conflicts with Jim Shooter
Byrne became increasing critical of Marvel under Jim Shooter's regime as editor-in-chief. While earlier in his career he once complimented Shooter's ability to run Marvel, in later years he felt Shooter was micromanaging things at Marvel. His first complaint came during a short-lived run he had on Captain America with writer Roger Stern. Stern and Byrne wanted to have a three-part story involving The Red Skull. Shooter had recently instituted a policy that storylines should only take one or two issues to tell, and would not approve a three-part storyline, so both Stern and Byrne left the book. He disliked being forced into the Secret Wars crossovers, particularly incensed that an emotional story called "Hero" had to involve the Beyonder.
He also noticed that Shooter was increasing his input into storylines. For instance, he originally wrote a sequence explaining the resurrection of Jean Grey and the difference between Jean Grey and Phoenix. Shooter ended up ordering changes by Chris Claremont and Jackson Guice, and the original art pages were replaced. (Though this may have simply been to make sure the wishes of the X-Men editors and creators were consulted in the return of an X-Men character).
Byrne decided to accept a Superman assignment from DC, one where he would re-tell and expand the origin and general theme of Superman after DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. When Byrne accepted the Superman assignment, he claimed that Jim Shooter started interfering with his work on Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk. Because he felt he could not work unhindered, Byrne stopped doing all his work for Marvel, requiring sudden replacements on already started storylines.
Byrne worked on the 1986 reboot of Superman, The Man of Steel. He instituted several important changes to the character while keeping a lot of the traditional elements of the character. Freed of all Marvel work, Byrnewrote virtually all of DC's Superman titles for two years or so. Keeping with the theme of the reboot, unlike some of the other post-crisis DC books, Byrne wrote the Superman books as if Superman was encountering the villains and supporting cast for the first time.
Byrne also did a few other projects for DC, including Legends. He also took a few shots at his former employer, by portraying a villain who could "create a New Universe" and looked a lot like Jim Shooter, as well as a Beyonder parody in Superman.
Byrne ended up leaving Superman suddenly. He did not discuss the details at the time, but later revealed that he felt DC comics didn't support his changes. When both the fan press and mainstream press interviewed DC about the changes, he felt that the management did not back him up and distanced themselves from the project, and was concerned about how his changes would affect the numerous licenses. Frustrated with this, he ended up leaving the series and going back to do Marvel work.
Return to Marvel
After Superman, Byrne returned to Marvel. He took over West Coast Avengers, renaming it Avengers West Coast, and started several storylines on this book. Byrne caused some fan controversy when he retconned the Vision's origin and removed the Scarlet Witch's children, which changes the tone of the characters very soon after Englehart's Vision and Scarlet Witch maxi-series. Byrne eventually was given the core Avengers title, and worked to tighten coordination between the two teams, and also pitched the idea for Acts of Vengance, a crossover event that affected virtually every Marvel title.
He also launched the second She-Hulk series. For the latter series, Byrne wanted to do the book as a comedy, making She-Hulk self-aware of her status as a comic book character, and had the character break the fourth wall at times. But Byrne's run on the series was short.
As Byrne tells it, editor Mark Gruenwald wanted Byrne to review some other She-Hulk material that would be published in the future, including a graphic novel written by Dwayne McDuffie, which was eventually released in a mini-series named She-Hulk: Ceremony. Byrne noted that McDuffie made mistakes about Wyatt Wingfoot's heritage, and also hated a visual gag that featured the She-Hulk breaking dozens of razors while shaving her leg hair. Byrne had ordered changes to the Graphic Novel, but found that editor Bobbie Chase not only reversed those changes, but was making changes to Byrne's own dialogue where it contradicted McDuffie's book. When Byrne complained to Tom DeFalco, then editor-in-chief at Marvel, DeFalco supported Chase. Thus, Byrne was forced off the book.
Byrne left both Avengers titles suddenly also from conflict with DeFalco. Byrne had pitched a storyline centered around the Scarlet Witch, and had already built sub-plots around it. Byrne had pitched the peak of this storyline as a crossover event, but DeFalco canceled it. DeFalco, after discovering Byrne was working on this storyline anyway, ordered it cancelled. Byrne felt he could no longer work on either Avengers title and left suddenly.
Despite Byrne's problems with DeFalco, he did not leave the company like he did under Shooter's run, and Byrne then developed the Namor series and did writing chores on Iron Man. When editor Chase left She-Hulk, Byrne returned to that title.
One of the final projects he worked on at his second tenure at Marvel was scripting X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. After 17 years as writer on the series, Chris Claremont had left, due to conflicts with the editorial staff. Byrne had started making plot plans for the book, and was even interviewed by Patrick Daniel O'Neil in both Wizard and Comics Interview with these plans. However, Byrne was limited to scripting the books, and found working with artists Jim Lee and Wilce Portacio to be problematic. Claremont had left the book in part because the artists were late and made plot changes at the last minute, and Byrne had similar experiences. Byrne also found he could no longer identify with the characters. Before he could quit, Byrne ended up being replaced as scripter without even being told.
When wrapping up his second tenure at Marvel, he also worked on a limited series for DC, a revamp of OMAC. OMAC was unusual as it was a prestige-format book entirely in black and white. It sort of fell under the radar of his usual projects, perhaps due to the black and white format, a lack of marketing, or the status of OMAC as a minor character. Reportedly, Jack Kirby, creator of OMAC, did not like Byrne's interpretation of the character, which disappointed Byrne.
Creator-Owned Projects, Legend, and Dark Horse
Byrne decided to do several creator-owned titles, published through Dark Horse Comics. His first project was John Byrne's Next Men. Many fans were pleased with his work, and although his work was not as popular as the Image creators, it was well received by fans, and was one of the top-selling Dark Horse titles. Tying into Next Men was a graphic novel, 2112 , which was a new story based around original art he did for a Stan Lee graphic novel that ended up not being used.
Working with Frank Miller, Byrne formed what was supposed to be a label of allied work, called Legend. They invited a few other creators to contribute to it. This was not intended to be a universe, but more or less a label of like-minded creators.
While doing Next Men, which to some had a lot of the feel of Byrne's old work on X-Men, Byrne decided he wanted to do a more classic superhero project. He launched Danger Unlimited (DU) as a limited series. After this series was published, however, sales were a little lower than his Next Men sales. Byrne made a controversial statement that the book was not profitable for him. Byrne decided to launch another series, Babe . This series was a little more light-hearted comedy, similar to She-Hulk (although without breaking the fourth wall). Many fans felt disappointed with him dropping Danger Unlimited and were less thrilled with Babe. (Byrne did tie-in the Babe characters with the DU universe at the end of the Babe 2 series.)
By stating that his creator-owned work wasn't successful enough for him, it disillusioned some of Byrne's die-hard fans. Writer Steven Grant has theorized that this may have contributed to Byrne's decline in popularity 1.
Next Men came to an end in the mid-1990s. Byrne had intended for this to be a temporary hiatus, but around this time, the comic speculation market had caused a severe collapse, drastically reducing sales of such books across-the-board.
Return to DC
Byrne first returned to DC to work on a revamp of Wonder Woman, and then later New Gods. Byrne's goal was to make Wonder Woman a "major player" in the DC universe. He tried to work with much of the mystical and mythological aspects of DC's library, adding certain characters to the cast. He made Diana Prince a goddess, introduced a new Wonder Girl, and established that Diana's Prince's mother, Hippolytia, was active as Wonder Woman in World War II with the JSA due to a time travel storyline.
One of the most controversial things Byrne did was place Jason Blood in the cast. In his run on Wonder Woman, Byrne reversed several changes made to Etrigan's origins. Byrne felt that a lot of the other writers added elements to Etrigan's backstory that took away from Kirby's original intents for the characters. Through a long sub-plot, Byrne ended up reversing these changes, and re-establishing the classic character. However, there was some fan criticism to this and once Byrne left DC, other writers ignored the events of Byrne's changes.
Byrne also tied in the gods to the second project he started working on. Byrne worked on New Gods, and then ended up cancelling that book and releasing a new title called Jack Kirby's Fourth World. Near the end of his run, Byrne outlined a line-wide crossover for DC called Genesis, establishing that all DC characters got their powers ultimately from The Source. Byrne was disappointed with the results of the crossover though.
Return to Marvel
After wrapping up many projects at DC, he returned to Marvel to work on several projects.
Byrne was hired first to do some art for Spider-Man. The Spider-Man titles were suffering after some disappointment from the end results of a long drawn out Clone Saga, which ended in fans leaving the books. The Spider-Man line was return to basics.
Byrne started doing art for the Spider-Man books. However, the editors at Marvel wanted a more ambitious project, so they hired Byrne to do a revamp of Spider-Man's origin similar to Byrne's Man of Steel work. was a 13 issue series that refined elements of Spider-Man's origin, retelling a lot of the earliest stories and origin. Byrne ended up changing a few elements, most notably tying in the origin of Doctor Octopus with Peter Parker's.
While sales were good, and the editoral staff wanted to do this to help simplify continuity, reaction was poorer to this book than to Byrne's Man of Steel. Byrne's singular vision of characters over time had irriated fans who felt he didn't respect the writing of others. For instance, a popular comic at the time was Twice-Told Tales of Spider-Man by Kurt Busiek, who wrote stories that took place "in-between" the earliest issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Some felt that Lee and Ditko's origin's did not need Byrne's extra changes, and some felt his ignoring of Marv Wolfman's addition to the origin was a snub against him. Even other professionals criticized the revisions, and after a few years Chapter One was not considered a "canon" tale.
During this time Byrne created the third Spider-Woman, Mattie Franklin, who he later wrote in a spin-off series.
With fellow friend and writer Roger Stern, Byrne and he wrote a limited series called , which followed the story of a new band of heroes that occupied the time between World War II and the Modern day. With the Marvel Universe originally starting in the 1960's, and the existing policy of only 7-10 passing years between the launch of the Fantastic Four and the current titles, both writers felt there must have been other events going on in the Marvel Universe between that time. The series was printed in reverse chronological order, from issue 12 to 1, and involved a time travel plot as a framework.
Finally, Byrne created a title called X-Men: The Hidden Years. Since Byrne felt alientated by the current X-Men, but wanted to do an X-Men title, Byrne made the proposal to write a series that took place between the last issue of the original X-Men title and Giant-Size X-Men #1, which established the new team. Byrne was more comfortable with the original characters. Also, because he enjoyed the work of Neal Adams, his work on this title began his new style of laying out panels in the format Neal Adams used a lot, with angular panels instead of the usual square grid.
While the debut of this title was initially successful, it soon dipped to be lower than most of the other X-Titles published by the company. Fans had complained about his storylines moving slowly. They also complained about Byrne's treatment of Magneto. Byrne wrote Magneto as the classic megalomaniac from the early titles, without the elements Claremont added to the character in later issues. There was even speculation Byrne was going to retcon the fact Magneto was a Holocaust survivor in this series, explaining it away as mental alteration by Professor Xavier, but Marvel would not approve that.
Byrne ended up leaving Marvel due to problems with the new management, represented by Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas. The new administration was disappointed that the successful X-Men movie did not increase sales of books, and management was angry that the books had become so convoluted and self-referencial and tied to hard-to-follow continuity. They had ordered several changes to the line. Marvel cancelled several of the peripheral X-Titles, including Hidden Years. Byrne felt that the management did not handle this well, and claimed the book was turning a profit while other titles that had worse sales like Spider-Girl were kept alive. Because of this he has vowed not to work for Marvel until a new regime was established.
In the meantime, Byrne worked on a prestige project for DC, as well as two sequel series. He also created a short-lived creator-owned series for DC called Lab Rats .
Non Comic Book Projects
In addition to his comic book work, Byrne has published three novels: Fearbook , Whipping Boy and . He also has short stories in the Hotter Blood and Shock Rock anthologies. Fearbook was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers of America as "Best First Novel".
His stepson is comic book artist Kieron Dwyer and they collaborated on stories featuring the character Torch of Liberty , part of the Danger Unlimited universe.
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