Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Episode #25: Happy Birthday, John Byrne!

John Byrne was born on July 6, 1950, at West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England to Frank and Nelsie Byrne. His parents lived with his maternal grandmother during his earliest years.
In the article A Personal View on the inside back cover of Man of Steel #1, John Byrne reminisced about his first exposure to Superman. It wasn't in the comic books, but on television in 1957. The TV show was The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, in the episode Superman and the Haunted Lighthouse. After his family moved to Canada in 1958, John was first exposed to American comic books, particularly the Superman family of titles. His first Marvel comic book was Fantastic Four #5, whic introduced Doctor Doom.
In 1970 John Byrne enrolled in the Alberta College of Art & Design, but left in 1973 without graduating. Some of his earliest comic book work was done for Charlton Comics. His forst color comic book work was the story Rog-2000 in the back of the title E-Man, a robot character he created. He drew a series of licensed comic books for Charlton after that, and co-created, with Joe Gill, the post-apocalyptic s/f title Doomsday +1, also for Charlton. This was my first exposure to John Byrne's art. Even in this early stage of his career, I was hooked on his artistic style, regardless how he might personally cringe after looking at this early art (as a lot of comic book artists seem to do).
John Byrne's early Marvel work included the titles Iron Fist, The Champions and Marvel Team-Up. During this time he began working with comic book writer Chris Claremont. John Byrne began working with Chirs on X-Men #108 (December 1977) through #143, when he left the title as both men increasingly saw the characters from differing perspectives. John then had a brief run on Alpha Flight, a group of Canadian super heroes noted mostly for including what became Marvel's first gay super hero Northstar. Next was The Incredible Hulk 314-319, which he left because of editorial differences with Editor-In Chief Jim Shooter.
Byrne's most famous Marvel work was on Fantastic Four #232-293 for the next six years. He followed that up with his most famous work at DC, relaunching Superman. He began with the six issue mini-series Man of Steel, then an new Superman #1. Byrne wanted to combine the original Siegel/Shuster character and the Fleischer cartoon series. In Byrne's version the public was not aware that Superman had a secret identity. As a safeguard Superman vibrated his face at super speed so that clear photographs could not be taken of his face. Clark Kent kept a weight set in his apartment to explain his physique, and while he was mild-mannered Clark certianly was no wimp. John Byrne left DC after two years after differences with the DC editors over Superman's direction.
Byrne returned to Marvel and, after brief runs on Star Brand and the West Coast Avengers, started Sensational She-Hulk for eight issues. This title was known for breaking the "fourth wall". Jennifer Walters knew she was in a comic book, and in one scene, when she was late for an appointment, instead of hailing a cab, simply stepped into the next panel. He left after eight issues because of conflicts with the editor, but returned on issues 31 - 50 under a different editor.
In the early 1990's John Byrne moved to Dark Horse Comics. His most famous Dark Horse title was Next Men, which looked at how super powers would affect those who had them. For instance, one woman who was invulnerable had no sensation of hot or cold, and her hair could slice your fingers off if you tried to grab it, as one unfortunate character did. Another character, who had superhuman strength, was almost invulnerable because of his dense muscle structure, but he could be hurt. A super fast character had muscular legs slightly over proprotioned to his small frame. Another character with vision powers had eyes that were a little larger than normal and had no white to his eyes showing, his pupils were so large. This series lasted for thirty issues.
Babe was a She-Hulk like character for mature readers, and Danger Unlimited was like the Fantastic Four, or DC's Challengers of the Unknown, who battled an alien invasion of Earth.
In 1992 he worked with science fiction writer Larry Niven on DC's Green Lantern: Ganthet's Tale. Later he wrote briefly for some of the X-Men titles but left again over editorial differences. From 1995-1998 John Byrne worked on Wonder Woman, and in the late 1990's did Spider Man: Chapter One, before Ultimate Spider-Man became a more successful reprise of Spider-Man's origin. He did X-Men: The Hidden Years for 22 issues.
Beginning in 2000, John Byrne did three mini-series under the title Superman / Batman: Generations, as well as runs on Doom Patrol and Blood of the Demon. He returned to Superman in Action Comics, working with writer Gail Simone from issues #827-835, as well as All-New Atom #1-3.
John Byrne is currently working for IDW Publishing as the writer and artist on Star Trek: Assignment Earth, which follows Gary Seven, his cat Isis and secretary Roberta, from the Star Trek episode of the same name.

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