No look-see at the career of John Byrne would be complete without mentioning one of the things he is known for, the revamping of a character. For years, John Byrne has been one of the few regular "Go To Guys" a company called when they wanted to refresh a title.
In Fantastic Four, John Byrne successfully proved to everyone that he could not only draw, but write and reinvigorate a franchise title. Known by DC/Marvel fans at the time as being primarily an artist, John Byrne tackled the FF with enthusiasm, turning in incredible art and very good stories. The FF run was 90% hit and 10% miss in my opinion, which is much better than almost any creative team can boast. Perhaps one of the better changes to the group dynamic was the revamp of Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl.
Just a few issues after appearing as a guest on a television show reaffirming her contentment to be a housewife and fourth wheel of the group not defined by society's labels, Sue Storm was mind-controlled by the Psycho-Man to attack her team mates. After she got revenge for the Psycho-Man's brain-rape, Sue Storm publicly changed her FF code name to the Invisible Woman. That was a great move on John's part, in allowing Sue Storm to evolve as a character it gave her and the team a new dynamic and plenty of opportunities for fresh stories.
It was also Byrne, if I recall correctly, who stated what was previously left to perceptive fans to imagine that Ben Grimm would never be successfully cured of being the Thing because of his deep insecurities about being human.
There were a few revamps that were not as successful. The New Universe title The Star Brand was doomed by the powers that be at Marvel by the time John Byrne tackled it. The creative mess was clearly beyond his ability to repair given the time left to him and lack of corporate support.
John Byrne's most successful and well known reboot was of course, Superman.
The Superman reboot is intimately tied into the Crisis On Infinite Earths attempt by DC to refresh their tired and continuity-heavy stable of characters. A reader had to have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of DC to understand what was going on in a title. While that made for a rich, shared universe, it greatly limited the characters.
By the end of CoIE, Superman was handed over to John Byrne, who must have pitched the pitch of his life to DC. Reintroduced in the 1986 Man of Steel mini series, Superman was depowered and had his origin retold. No longer would he juggle planets or reignite stars with a stern look.
Other than the depowering, there were three story elements that most turned the Superman character on its head.
- The first was that Krypton was no longer the logical, scientific semi-utopia that it had been portrayed as since 1939. The Byrne Krypton was cold, lifeless and sterile. The people were disconnected from society and one another, and they could be considered walking dead long before the planet was destroyed by runaway science.
- The second change was the shift in the concept of the Clark/Superman persona. Since his beginning, the real person who was the Superman was Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton. Clark Kent was the mask that Superman wore to mingle with the mortals. Pre-CoIE, Superman started as Superbaby, then continued a career as Superboy until he moved to the big city, and took on the mantle of a Superman. Kal-El had always been 'super' and didn't know how to be human. He faked it best he could, but all he could accomplish was a close simulation.
- The third story element was a shocker. In a very exciting multi-parter Superman killed some pocket universe Kryptonian criminals who had killed the population of that alternate Earth. Fans that believed that Superman never killed had forgotten that most Golden Age heroes did indeed kill their enemies and the Silver Age ones often stood by while the villains died in their own traps. But for about 20 years Superman was known in the comics as having a personal code that he never killed. This made him unique among his peers as even in the late-60's and during the 70's, the other heroes occasionally killed in self-defense.
It's a testament to John Byrne's Superman work that it was more than a decade until DC decided to revamp the character and his supporting universe again.
John Byrne also tackled DC's OMAC, which was nearly forgotten after having been through some horrible reinventions and aborted revivals by various creative teams. Rumor had it that Jack Kirby was not happy with Byrne's treatment of the character but then, Kirby was also kind of cranky in those days. I really enjoyed it and the series is always one I re-read every 6 months or so for the pure enjoyment of it.