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Location: Lancashire
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Member Since: Tue Apr 04, 2017
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Subj: Re: How Well Do The John Byrne Books Hold Up Today? I Didn't Find Them To Be Too Great.
Posted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 at 07:44:40 pm EDT (Viewed 116 times)
Reply Subj: How Well Do The John Byrne Books Hold Up Today? I Didn't Find Them To Be Too Great.
Posted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 at 10:15:33 pm EDT (Viewed 149 times)

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I read quite a few of them a few years ago (I still want/need to get the Supergirl arc, and the issue where Superman kills those Phantom Zone criminals.), and one or two issues recently, and they really don't seem like anything classic or special. I was kind of disappointed. It might just be me, because I find Byrne's writing to be a little bit- clunky. Too much exposition (And explaining.), and his dialogue is definitely not the best. I'm sure that they were a big deal back in the day. What do you guys think? Are there any classics that you can recommend (Other than the two classic Luthor stories in Superman that he did.)? Thanks.

By all he has since confessed John Byrne's Superman experience was not what he had hoped for, perhaps the most important fact to bear in mind, especially when looking back on those two years work, is that a full-on rebooting of the legend wasn't what he had initially expected when approached to take on the character. The urge for a restart and strip-down came from the executive offices high up and Byrne was their preferred choice to make the new dawn happen, and so came the revision and modernising touch that was Man of Steel...

There's little point in highlighting the all-round enormous success of Man of Steel and why it still holds up, so moving on the Superman series proper what we got was, on the surface, a thoroughly modern presentation that reset the character in a grounded context and aimed for plausibility rather than the pure fantasy and static stock situations that had powered the titles for decades previously. And taken as-is it worked marvellously.
If criticism from a modern perspective calls the work here I think that criticism may suffer due to the shifting techniques for storytelling in the decades since and the gradual shift to more insular storytelling. Byrne himself was not perhaps the most distinctive or gifted of writers in an era that was seeing the rise of sophisticated new techniques in storytelling from Frank Miller, Alan Moore and the underappreciated Ann Nocenti, but what he did he did very well - entertaining and thoroughly accessible adventure stories that appealed to the imagination of the younger end of the audience and teens. That's no thing to underestimate. In his Superman work Byrne's ability as a storyteller is in full expression, on the face of it all is in the same style he had brought to the Fantastic Four, well plotted imaginitive short stories that were effectively told and done in just one issue.
In Superman #1 for example we meet Metallo and are made aware of the remote but formidable power of Lex Luthor. Issue #2 Lex Luthor is brought front and center and puts Superman under a pressure so intense and personal he might well have won if not for his own ego and rigid imagination getting in the way of being able to accept a clear truth. Issue #3 and we follow as Superman is drawn into the Fourth World. Issue #4 and another contained story dealing with terrorism, loss, and tragic self-deception. Issue #5 and a two part story mixing Indiana Jones with science-fiction, Issue #7 and another self contained story...

I'm awfully fond of Byrne's run on the character in case you haven't realised. I will pull them out every year or so and it all still feels very fresh and very clear in its storytelling discipline. The first year of his run on Wonder Woman still excite me for much the same reasons, as while the marketplace had shifted to the Direct Sales market and the presentation and plotting of stories gradually became more and more insular and unconcerned with the requirements of being fully accessible and comprehensible to all Byrne was still a figure capable and determined enough to stick to the principle that Superhero comics were to be marketed at everyone, not the guaranteed sales of the local comic stores and their secured audience.
Artistically too this is fine work from Byrne, his is a Superman with a particular and memorable confidence to him, casual and comfortable in both flight and action, and even after three decades these books have lost none of their ability to impress when looking at the imagination on offer on the page and an artist constantly striving for the most interesting and striking way to illustrate a scene - the sight of Superman fling at us upside down on that half-a-page in issue #2 for instance, the sheer rage and pain on his face as he explodes into Luthor's office later fair shakes the reader even today, or how about the sight of Clark Kent in that opening sequence in issue #3 as he races through the streets in an incredible display of action and dynamism that would have been inconceivable in a Superman book just three years earlier...

Yes. I still feel that run holds up well on the whole. If it has a cloud it has to be that, as was his habit at the time, Byrne would abruptly leave the book, while events were in mid-flow and therefore leaving a work unfinished. It was nothing new - his lengthy Fantastic Four run ended in similar style, as did his West Coat Avengers. And while his successors on the books would prove more than acceptable and worthy replacements, who took the character and concepts truly to the next level in terms of quality and artistic success, there was always the wonder at what and where Byrne was heading with the character if he had only stayed on and seen through the events he set in motion come issue #22.
But then, as I said at the beginning, this series was never quite what he had expected, or wanted, anyway. By his own admission it was a work undertaken as dictated by from above, for all the critics of this Superman revamping care to accuse him the fact of the matter is that at heart John Byrne was, and still is, a traditionalist. Hiw run on Superman is remarkable as it still stands as the only time he has taken on a major character and book and not continued it from the previous canon. His Captain America, Wonder Woman, Avengers, X-Men etc - all were series'works that built on the existing series and canon. Superman on the other hand started from a new dawn and with a new world. An all new continuity and canon. And yet for all of the modernisation undertaken, the aim for a more grounded plausibility for both character and his world, still we get the familar - Perry White, Morgan Edge, The Toyman, Mr Mxyzptlk, The Prankster, all are character who could have stepped straight from the more fantastical Superman of just three years earlier and straight into the modern setting, so unchanged are they.
Indeed the peculiar aspect to Byrne's Superman run can lie in the noticable fact that even though the rethought world on the character strives for degree of the everyday and a visual realism to the city and its characters, as led by the suit and tie Lex Luthor in his city penthouse, into this more realist world of Bloodsport and Terminator-like Metallo strolls the surrealism of The Joker, and then there is the equally unreal sight of The Prankster. Both are characters whom Bryne could have strived to make fit into this new and less whimsical reality, and yet, no.

Tradition, in amidst a time of heavy heavy revision, ultimately won out here, indeed look to the reintroduced rogues seen in Byrne's run and it is interesting to see nearly all in fact remain largely much the same as they always were... If The Toyman and Prankster could have stepped from the pages of any Superman comic that came before the Crisis changed everything then in a strange sense how fitting that when they arrive The Phantom Zone villains join with Mxyzptlk, Toyman, and Prankster in demonstrating that for all of its surface alterations and shift in emphasis the world of Superman wasn't in fact all that much different to what it had always been... Byrne devised a new and more plausible stage for Clark kent and Superman to walk across, but at heart one has to think that he yearned for what he had originally hoped to gain access to when the offer of Superman was first presented to him - that thing being the established mythos.

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