Monday, January 16, 2006

John Byrne Week: The Revenge

The long-running feud that John Byrne had (and by accounts, still does) with Chris Claremont is well known. While it was presumably over creative differences a large part of the conflict certainly has to do with their respective egos. Byrne long felt that he could do just as well as, if not better than his team-mate while on their X-Men run. From things I read in the 80's it appears that John and Chris could barely tolerate one another going back even further, even to the Iron Fist title.

Often, it was observed that John needed to put up or shut up, and quit writing checks with his mouth that his ass can't cash. Well, the funny thing was...John Byrne took that check all the way to the bank and cashed it in full. His work on Fantastic Four and Iron Man is classic and let's not forget his wildly successful Superman reboot. Not too many people can say those runs were anything but brilliant and so far removed from the scripting disasters that are Blood of the Demon and Doom Patrol it's like another person wrote them.

One of the things Byrne was known for in the feuding and the fighting was sending little digs at his former partner, Chris Claremont. The most well-known way Byrne did this was through the infamous sight gags regarding Dr. Doom. If Claremont featured Doom in a story, Byrne would soon present a scene where the one, true Doom would admonish and destroy the malfunctioning robot that acted without permission by attacking the X-Men (or wherever else Claremont would use him). Real subtle, eh?

One of the other ways Byrne would strike out at Claremont (and others) showed up in Fantastic Four v1 #240 (March 1982). In the story, the Fantastic Four assist the Inhumans in moving Attilan to the Blue Area of the moon. The foundations of Attilan are shattered by Black Bolt so the city, borne-aloft by anti-gravity generators, can drift into space to settle in its new home.

It's a fun tale and a dramatic, if cramped, scene eclipsed by text boxes. One box in particular seems directly intended for Claremont.

Take a look.

"We're not going to insult your intelligence by placing a sound-effect in this panel."

Now what the heck is that about? Well, let me tell you.

When X-Men v1 #119 (March 1979) was published Marvel, Claremont, Byrne and the rest of the creative team were in top form and X-Men was the hottest selling title in years. However, Byrne was starting to make noise in print letting the fans know about his dissatisfaction with the status quo and his title-partner, Chris Claremont.

Claremont had written into the script of X-Men #119 a sound effect to compliment the explosion of a volcano in the X-Men/Moses Magnum story set in Japan. This really ticked Byrne off and he complained mightily about it and Claremont to any trade magazine that would give him the space. To be fair, I think the f/x was unnecessary and distracts from the art and dramatic moment, but Byrne didn't have to be such a jerk about it, either. This is probably the first sign I can recall seeing showing the rift between the two creators. It's naive to think that the members of a creative team gets along all the time but I do expect them to play nice in public.

By the time X-Men #119 rolled around Byrne was clearly chafing at the creative bit and he was anxious to move on to other projects. Still, holding a three year grudge is pretty immature and unprofessional on his part.

It's ironic that the Fantastic Four scene Byrne used to critique Claremont suffers from poor layout and is cluttered by intrusive text boxes.

I couldn't find any images of John Byrne looking apologetic but I did find this picture of his head exploding, possibly from his ego inflating beyond the capacity of his skull to hold it in check.

I think the f/x of this explosion is 'fwoomf!', which I imagine is very similar to the sound of his foot firmly wedging itself into his own mouth.

Previous Byrne posts
John Byrne Week is coming! Maybe...
The John Byrne no one remembers
FF #253 and the Curling iron From Space
Why secret identities don't work


  1. Har! Nice bit of comix history. Tho I was, in my youth, an X-fan, I did not know anything about the sniping behind the scenes. Good post!

  2. That illustration was the frontspiece for a (I guess) limited run TPB of Byrne's art called "Out of My Head" or somesuch. Long interview with lots of spot illos and pencils and the like. I picked up a copy in the heyday of my Byrne fandom (like 1983 or so).

  3. Hi Sleestak ... well, I'm a semi-regular on Byrnerobotics so I take a little umbrage at you calling me and my associates sycophants. If you read the boards you'll find plenty of back-and-forth on all topics, though I'm not sure why you'd expect people on a fan site to insult their host.

    I think Byrne's politics are asinine, but I don't go to his site to discuss that. Also, if you can actually find a real quote where Byrne actually says something sexist or racist ... not something that SOUNDS sexist or racist out of context ... I'd be surprised.

    He's wrong about a lot of comics things -- he didn't like Crisis on Infinite Earths -- but he's right about a lot more.

    Do I think Doom Patrol and Blood of the Demon are masterpieces? No, not by a lot. I don't enjoy them nearly as much as, say, Byrne's FF or Superman ... but, then again, I'm not eight years old anymore, and nothing is going to thrill me as much as comics could back then. But I think there have been some good issues of both, the art is still great, and, hey, they're respectful of the characters and the genre in a way that's pretty rare from the big two these days (and nonexistant at Marvel). It's been a while since his last mesterpiece (Generations), but how many people from his generation are batting 1.000 these days?

    I hadn't heard about the sound effect thing, and, yeah, that seems a little petty. But it's not like Stan Lee didn't write captions like that -- not as revenge, just as fun writing. And the Doom thing. Well, I think it only happened once, for one, and for another ... do you really think the real Doom would let Arcade light a match on him? Isn't it just possible that Byrne wanted to restore Marvel's number one villain to glory? Did Walt Simonson get this much heat when he declared that almost all of Doom's appearances were Doombots?

  4. Well, you have a point and no, not all persons on the JB board are sycophants and I apologize to those who felt they were tarred with the same brush. But it was clear I was referring to those select persons who are. His quotes and politics are well documented and covered elsewhere. Honestly, I am tired of those stories. I have nothing to add or detract to them.

    Maybe you did not notice, but I have been shying away from covering those subjects in detail because they are controversial and have been done elsewhere and at great length. While I touched on those points, I focused on his positive contributions to the field. I also acknowledged that JB was aching to produce work on his own terms and did so successfully after what was probably many frustrating halts to goals.

    I am hardly a JB detractor and am taking pains not to be snarky for the sake of cheap shots, but I will go for some easy humor when I have the chance. I could go on about "thought bubbles", calling Superman 'Supes', his views on blonde hispanics and that he thought one inker's work on his pencils made men look "queer"...but I won't. I want to avoid that crap.

    In fact, I am one of JB's biggest fans from way back in his Space 1999 days. I was once known as 'The Man Who Collected Byrne' among my geek peers. My next post about JB will be about his amazing runs on FF and Superman and my favorite mini by JB, OMAC.

    Interestingly, while I received plenty of responses and emails concerning this tongue in cheek "Revenge" entry, to date I have not received a SINGLE ONE that comments on my OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE experience with JB, the entry "The John Byrne no one remembers". Given that, I am leaning torward giving some validity of the popular theory that most JB fans and those of the board in particular, do little more than search for perceived slights and unquestioningly defend anything they see as a negative towards JB or his work.

    I thought after the first post I would receive at least something from either the JB-haters or JB-fans. I was waiting for at least one 'Hear hear!' and maybe a few 'It's about time someone stood up for John and what a great guy he could be', or at least one 'I never knew he did that, I should rethink my position'.

    But guess what? All I got was messages from attack trolls or people who felt slighted.

    While I acknowledge your reaction to feeling lumped in with 'sycophants' I think it is more like the lines of anyone who believes in God being insulted when someone opines that all Christian Fundamentalists are crazy bigots. Basically, it wasn't aimed at YOU, specifically. And those who may have truly felt pricked by the barb should examine their motivations a bit.

  5. The comment about insulting your intelligence by putting in a sound effect was because there is no sound in airless space. He probably meant that there was not enough atmosphere on the moon for sound to travel. It was not a dig at anyone.

    1. Attilan was not on the moon then. It was on Earth.

      It was on this story when it was moved to the moon.


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