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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Does the Demon Rhyme All of the Time?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today we look at the way that Etrigan the Demon’s rhymes have changed over the years.


Etrigan the Demon debuted in The Demon #1 by Jack Kirby. He arrives complete with an awesome rhyming entrance…

However, as you can see from this sequence from #3…

after the rhyme that introduces him and then a quick couple of couplets…

Etrigan does not speak in rhyme.

That was the case for the rest of the Demon series. And even when the Demon began making appearances in other DC books in the 1970s, such as Wonder Woman #281 by Gerry Conway…

Things changed in 1984, though, when Etrigan showed up in DC Comics Presents #66 (written by Len Wein) rhyming…

and then Alan Moore has Etrigan show up in Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 (edited by Wein) also speaking in rhymes…

Whether it was a mistake or not by Wein and Moore, it is important to note that Moore addresses the change in Etrigan’s speech in the 1985 Swamp Thing Annual where we learn that Etrigan is a rhyming demon now…

In 1987, Matt Wagner did a Demon mini-series and he used the rhyming demon aspect of Etrigan…

However, John Byrne wanted to use Etrigan in an issue of Action Comics (then a team-up book written and penciled by Byrne) and he argued that Wein and Moore’s use of Etrigan as always rhyming was a mistake. So he did not have it appear in his book…

However, “Etrigan as a rhyming demon” was becoming an accepted piece of the DC Universe (heck, Wagner’s mini-series above was coming out CONCURRENT with Etrigan’s guest appearance in Action Comics).

Neil Gaiman even explained in Sandman #3 that Etrigan becoming a rhyming demon meant that he had received a sort of promotion in hell…

After a decade or so of Etrigan being a rhyming demon, Byrne finally got the chance to rectify the situation. In the pages of Wonder Woman #132, Byrne reveals that the rhyming was not a matter of Etrigan getting a promotion to being a rhyming demon, but rather the side effect of a spell by Etrigan’s long time enemy, Morgaine Le Fey (Byrne used this same spell to retcon some other Demon plots. Don’t worry, I’ll address them in the future, so don’t bother mentioning them in the comments).

And in Wonder Woman #134, the spell is broken and Etrigan no longer speaks in rhyme…

However, in Etrigan’s next three appearances in DC books, he continues to speak in rhyme, from Lobo #63…

to Action Comics #762…

to Supergirl #66…

It seems like writers just dig using the rhymes.

Anyhow, John Byrne later wrote and penciled (with a script by Will Pfeifer) a new Demon series, and sure enough, while others did not follow the reversion that Byrne put into place with regards to the Demon, Byrne certainly did….

In Etrigan’s first appearance after the Byrne series ended, Bill Willingham splits the baby by keeping Etrigan’s rhyming demon history intact…

but also not having Etrigan speak in rhyme…

This, of course, did not stay put either, as seen in this bit from Superman and Batman versus Werewolves #5…

In case you’re curious about Etrigan’s speech patterns in the New 52, Paul Cornell used a bit of both in the pages of Demon Knights. The rhymes are still present…

but Etrigan does not ONLY speak in rhyme…

I’d end this installment with a piece of rhyme but I really don’t want to put in the…work.


Chris McFeely

May 20, 2012 at 4:35 am

I’ve not read a lot of Etrigan, but one of my favourite touches with his speech was in Walter Simonson’s “Catwoman and The Demon” strip in WEDNESDAY COMICS, where Etrigan speaks in only-occasionally-rhyming iambic pentameter, rather than rhyming couplets, retaining the musical element of his dialogue without making it so overt.

Man, I enjoyed Wednesday Comics. Where’s a second volume of that, DC, huh?

DCP#66 has the rhyming.

Etrigan’s habit of speaking in verses is a later addition, introduced by Len Wein in DC Comics Presents #66

Len Wein, in DC Comics Presents #66, had Etrigan speak all in rhyme (except on the splash page, for some reason). That issue was published in February 1984; Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 appeared in October, 1984.

Wein was the editor of Swamp Thing at that time, of course, so I don’t know if he’d seen Moore’s script or discussed matters with Moore ahead of time. But in publishing chronology, at least, it seems to be Wein who got to introduce the idea that Etrigan speaks entirely in rhyme.

Thanks, fellas, I edited in the DCP issue.

So Byrne thinks his version of the character is definitive and that what any other writer has done is irrelevant? Now why doesn’t that surprise me?

Sigh. Byrne. “Only I can do justice to any of Kirby’s creations!” One word: Genesis.

I love the Demon! But if he’s not rhyming, he sure loses A LOT of character.

I really enjoyed the essay, but don’t understand why you neglected to mention his long-running series in the 90s. He rhymed in every issue of that. At least post some cool Val Semekeis or John McCrea art.

I really enjoyed that book!

1. What’s Byrne’s problem with the rhyming and why trying to force an aspect so unpopular (obviously) by other creators and fans?*

2. I’ve read that Lobo story when it was reprinted last year, and was surprised to see an early work by Ariel Olivetti, nothing like his modern lazy computer-generated stuff. Now, here, I see that the credits call him “Angel.” I couldn’t find any info about another comic artist named Olivetti, so I assume it is Ariel Olivetti’s actual work, like I thought in the first place. Was that a nickname or what?

* I did not read much starring Etrigan, but love his rhymes.

I thought you were gonna make mention of the 1999 DAY OF JUDGMENT crossover/mini-series, by Geoff Johns, in which the concept of rhyming demon as a hierarchy was also used in the end when Neron gets punished and demoted to the class of rhyming demon, much to Etrigan’s delight. But again, I noticed that was abandoned in subsequent Neron appearances…

How anyone can look at John Byrne’s “No, I wanna do it *this* way and everyone else is *wrong*!” pouting and still retain any respect for him is beyond me; even his art has deteriorated with his maturity & sanity. He’s become the embodiment of all wrong with comics creators’ attitudes, very nicely illustrated here, and yet he goes unchallenged. Why?

Tomer: the writer of that issue is credited as “Angel Grant”, and the rest of them have similar nicknames; I assume it’s a thematic thing for the issue.

I’ve always liked the rhyming, myself. It must be a pain to write (you can see some authors are better at it than others, especially when it comes to keeping the syllables right in the meter), but I’ve always thought that it adds something to Etrigan as a character.

I thought it was implied by the dialog in Swamp Thing Annual #1 that Etrigan’s rhyming was already an elevation in status and that issue of Sandman just made it explicit.

@Tomer: you’ll notice that the other creators’ first names are changed to fit the religious theme. Alan Grant is written as Devil Grant, for example. A quick Google search for the issue confirms that it is indeed Ariel Olivetti.

Ugh. As other people have mentioned, this is clearly John Byrne absolutely refusing to play nice with others in the most immature way possible. Yes the rhyming makes Demon a bit harder to write, but if most other writers can do it, John sure as hell take all the effort he spends on attempting to undo these changes and instead make the rhymes work.

John Ostrander had a good joke about the quality of Etrigan’s rhymes in an issue of the Spectre (that I know I’m ruining because I can’t quite quite it here), When Etrigan is called out for some questionable rhymes, the Demon responds that all great poets go to Heaven but it’s their critics who end up in Hell.

The pattern I’ve noticed with Byrne is that he tends to obsess over some aspect of a character that he read/saw when he was younger, and locks into that as “definitive.” I.e., I’ve seen him comment that because Spider-Man was first spelled as “Spiderman,” the latter is correct. So it doesn’t surprise me that he rejects the evolution of a character–i.e., Etrigan’s rhyming–because that’s how he thinks it should be. Check out his message board sometime for some insight to his madness….

(I will say that even though all this was during his descent into his own ego, his Batman/Captain America crossover was a moment of clarity for him.)

I’m going to have to second the question asking why you skipped the (mostly) Alan Grant/Val Semeiks Demon series. It ran for a total of 58 issues over FIVE years.

By the time that series began, I’d grown a little weary of the Hallmark-card-worthy rhyming from most of the writers that followed Moore, but found it pretty hilarious that Grant had him intentionally rhyming badly. And I’m no Kirby purist, but I was relieved when Byrne stopped that practice (or tried to.) Sure, Byrne’s a dick, but at least he tried to put an end to what were mostly tedious, shitty rhymes.

Yeah it seems like as everyone has said Byrne didn’t like the Rhyming so choose to ignore and not deal with what everyone else has done to the character.

As for the Bill Willingham he had Etrigan demoted, that’s why there was no rhyming with him at the time. He was demoted and Blue Devil took his place, Blue Devil kept rhyming without meaning to, and realizing he was doing it. Which got him looked at funny by fellow Shadowpact members.

One thing I like about the Demon Knights portrayal is that Etrigan is basically angling for that promotion, so he’s practicing his rhyming as part of that.


May 20, 2012 at 7:26 am

Always loved Wagner’s miniseries. The art was so atmospheric and he seemed to take the time to ground Etrigan’s story in European demonology. I think he was the one who realized the coincidence that Etrigan looked surprisingly similar to Belial (here’s the woodcut: http://www.godecookery.com/macabre/gallery1/macbr05.htm) and decided to make him the dad. Wagner more than any of the others post Kirby writers seemed to understand the horrific weirdness of that mythology and used it to make Jason’s situation terrifying. Would love to see more stories in that vein.

Thanks, Craig and Michael. Can’t believe I’ve overlooked the other credits and won’t be surprised if I’ve seen them already when I read the story…

For me Byrne is obsessive with characters first appearance aspects and too lazy to come up with rhymes.

I kinda like Cornell’s take, having Etrigan only rhyme at the end of a scene and/or when it’s cool. When the Demon turns up as a guest star I love his non-stop rhyming (when it’s written well, anyway) but I understand why it might get a little grating if he’s the lead in the story.

“Bill Willingham splits the baby by keeping Etrigan’s rhyming demon history intact…”

If I remember correctly, Willingham did adressed all this by saying Etrigan was “promoted” (demoted, really, but that’s how Willingham put it to show Hell’s reverse hierarchy) and lost his rhyming. I’m not quite sure, but I believe a few issues later he gave Etrigan his rhyming back.

Here are a quote from John Byrne about Etrigan and rhyme.

“Perhaps the only thing worse than the fans who might have skipped buying the book “because of the rhyming” are the dipstick professionals I have had to fight with over the years, who have insisted that Etrigan “has to rhyme” because “Kirby did it.” Kirby had Etrigan occasionally speak rhyming spells, and the first lines after his transformation from Jason Blood were usually a couplet — and that was all! From that point, he spoke colloquial English.

The constant rhyming was a Lit.Major affectation, and utterly out of place in a character like the Demon. I guarantee it will be back, tho, the first time he appears after BotD is done.”

John’s also said, “The rhyming thing was, of course, just a bunch of Lit. Majors jerking off.”

You think John has had a problem with Lit. Majors in his life?

I’m surprised Byrne didn’t just say the rhyming appearances were one of Etrigan’s many Demonbots. And yeah, he’s particularly notorious for this sort of thing, just ignoring years of continuity if it doesn’t suit his particular brand of purism.

And man, most of the creators who went right back to the rhyming I’m happy to root for, but I’m shocked that Superman & Batman vs. Werewolves did even one thing right, because man, that was a terrible comic. Not as bad as the Werewolves & Vampires one but still, terrible.

DC in particular should have a Byrneverse to contain all his ill-fitting retcons. It could have annual crossovers with the Haneyverse.

Omar Karindu”:Len Wein, in DC Comics Presents #66, had Etrigan speak all in rhyme (except on the splash page, for some reason). That issue was published in February 1984; Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 appeared in October, 1984.

Wein was the editor of Swamp Thing at that time, of course, so I don’t know if he’d seen Moore’s script or discussed matters with Moore ahead of time. But in publishing chronology, at least, it seems to be Wein who got to introduce the idea that Etrigan speaks entirely in rhyme.”

Given that Len Wein created another character who always spoke in rhyme (Droog, the Gremlin’s “pet’ in HULK #188), I’m inclined to think that Etrigan always speaking in rhyme was his idea.

Speaking of the Alan Grant/Val Semeiks Demon serie: from issue #42 on it was Written/Drawn by Ennis & McCrea. They rhymed the “#@(&” outta Etrigan. Led into the Hitman series, if you didn’t know.

Byrne was never the same after he Jumped the Tall Building. Aside from maybe Namor & She-Hulk, I haven’t enjoyed him since 1986.

Michael Howey

May 20, 2012 at 9:06 am

I really like a lot of Byrne stuff but his retconning has always been a problem. The worst example for me was when he explained the spider on Spider-Man’s back originally being blue in the original appearance (AF15) during “Chapter One”, but meanwhile he was changing just about everything else. That was just plain bizzare.

I always wondered why DC never collected Wagner’s Demon in TPB. They should have. I was elated when they published Kirby’s original series in hardcover. Of course my favorite Etrigan of all is Garth Ennis’ run. It’s hilarious. I look forward to what else you have to say on the evil one.

sandwich eater

May 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

LOL at the last sentence. I know it’s hard on the writers, but I’d prefer if he always rhymed, I get a kick out of reading rhymes in thought bubbles. I usually end up rereading the bubbles to try to get the meter right in my head.

I was thinking about the aforementioned series by Ennis (the man who rhymed the world) & McCrea, which I read a long long time ago. Really great rhyming. In one of the episodes, Etrigan was kind of depressed (because of something I can’t remember) and he stopped rhyming for a while, until he was fine again and the rhymes were back. Great article!

Etrigan’s Rhyming < The Minstrel from Groo the Wanderer.

From Peter David’s Supergirl#67 after Supergirl challenges Etrigan (who has merged with Buzz–long story!) to rhyme something with “orange”. Etrigan, who lands upon the roof of a car, says–

Ah, Supergirl, my love! You challenge me to rhyme with orange?
Fie! To think that upon such tripe does your respect, as I stand upon this car, hinge!


As Supergirl noted earlier in the issue, “Okay…that’s gonna get REAL old, real fast!”

Still, I preferred rhyming Etrigan to the non-rhyming version.

I won’t give you an F, but this is a very head scratching INCOMPLETE. How did you do all that excellent research and over 60 issues of Alan Grant and Garth Ennis having him rhyme? You need to correct this and turn it back in.

“In one of the episodes, Etrigan was kind of depressed (because of something I can’t remember) and he stopped rhyming for a while”

It was because Jason Blood and Tommy Monaghan stole his heart and banished him back to hell.

I’m cool with him not rhyming I prefer that he does. When I writer does it well it’s great and adds a nice flare to the character. I like Cornell’s current take though. Moore/Gaiman/Simone also did the rhyming well. I need to check out Wagner’s stuff ASAP!

Oh, Ariel “Angel” Olivetti works next to my place, here in Caballito, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Great guy. See you!

Man, Byrne does come off as a bit of a crackpot here. He’s like Frank Miller to me– a creator for whom it’s best to just not consider any of their work after a certain point.

And while I’m here, a random curious question…

My LCS has a fairly complete run of Byrne’s X-Men: The Hidden Years in the dollar bins, and I’ve considered giving it a go. Does anyone particularly love or hate it?

I always thought it was daft to make such a fuss over it. Having Etrigan rhymes when he feels like it and not when he doesn’t would be reasonable (and certainly more practical than effectively mandating everyone rhyme him).
But Byrne retcon was a mess. The revamped Wagner origin actually improved on Kirby (heresy, I know).

I remember Gail Simone saying that one of the most fun things about Etrigan (whom she wrote towards the end of Secret Six — damn you, DiDio!) was that you got to write in rhyme — and that one of the worst things about reading him was that most of the rhymes were terrible.

She had him rhyming, and most of them were pretty good.

I’m pretty sure Etrigan’s final appearance before the “New 52″ reboot was in David Finch’s “Batman: The Dark Knight” #1 – 5. He does not speak in rhyme, and they make specific reference to the fact that he has “lost his rhyme” and that this signified a loss of power. In fact, Blaze offers to restore Etrigan’s power in exchange for his help. Etrigan believes Blaze has given him his power back, until Batman points out that he still isn’t rhyming.

By the end of the storyarc, Etrigan does have his rhyme back. I think he only says like two lines in rhyme though. (Maybe Finch just didn’t want to come up with all those rhymes!)

First off, I love this column and generally all of the topics you pick to highlight.

This one was kind of a treat. As others have stated, I prefer the rhyming Etrigan to the non-rhyming one.

As a more modern example, Kevin Smith featured Etrigan in Quiver (the Oliver Queen resurrection as Green Arrow story) that I was a big fan of. Etrigan also rhymes there, and I believe they might note that it was because of his “rank” or something. It’s been awhile since I read it, but I’m fairly certain it’s addressed there as a more modern example.

Perfectly sensible explanation…Hypertime. That’s what it was, solves everything.

so I guess it’s a matter of where Dark Knight 1-5 stack up versus Secret Six 32-34 — the last issue of the Six (Damn you, DiDio!) was #36. In the Six, Etrigan was in a position of some power, and rhymed constantly. Lady Blaze was already in charge of Hell, so if she was punishing him in Dark Knight, that story occurred after the Six pulled Knockout out of Hell — and while Bane was leading the suicide run into Gotham. So I’m inclined to give Simone the last word before Flashpoint — did he rhyme in that?

always thought the talking in rhymes made the character unique though think Bryne got rid of Etrigan doing it due to how hard it is to come up with words to rhyme if one has to do his diloque all the time. that plus John always has this thing where he figures only he knows how do do certain characters the right way.

i always loved his cameo in I can’t believe it’s not the Justice League Mini, and he failed to complete a rhyme, Booster or Beetle calls him out on it and he just replies with “Sue me”

I normally don’t like how arrogant Byrne can be with his retcons and his belief that only he can understand an original creator’s intent, especially when that creator is Kirby. However I think he’s right when it comes to Etrigan. Obviously he wasn’t meant by Kirby to rhyme all the time. That alone isn’t justification to revert back to Kirby’s intent though. If the change from Kirby’s intent led to an interesting improvement I’d be cool with it. In this case I don’t think it does. Having all his dialogue in rhymes from beginning to end just reads awful and often comes off way too clever and cute. It also leads to much worse dialogue for the Demon.

I think Byrne was right in this case.

Fun entry! Etrigan is probably my favorite character whose solo series I’ve never read. Aside from the Kirby collection, they’re surprisingly hard to track down, and I never picked them up back in the day.

As a long-time Demon collector, I’ve found the constant use of rhyme ponderous and forced, a chore to digest at times. Used as a flourish, it is much more palatable. I’ll vote in favor of Kirby/Byrne with this one.

Personally–I find the rhyming Demon monotonous. Kirby did it right–as always. I don’t see why others get so bent out of shape about Byrne wanting to have the character talk as his creator had intended.

And having seen how blithely Byrne rides roughshod over others’ work, I’m skeptical his decision had anything to do with Kirby—rather than, say, just he personally not liking/wanting rhyming.

@Erik Larsen – agree with this 100%. I can’t stand the rhyming dialogue for Etrigan – not helped by the fact that most of the time the rhymes are atrocious. I’ll go with the Kirby version every time.

I really enjoyed the essay, but don’t understand why you neglected to mention his long-running series in the 90s. He rhymed in every issue of that. At least post some cool Val Semekeis or John McCrea art.

The Demon ongoing series did not change anything, hence it is not important for this discussion, which is about when the Demon’s pattern of speech CHANGED (or was “abandoned,” if you prefer the term).

As I noted, it did not change for nearly a decade (a decade that happened to include the Demon ongoing series). The ongoing series is immaterial to the topic.

Chaim Mattis Keller

May 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I was disappointed not to see a mention of the fact that Alan Moore, in Swamp Thing # 50, had Etrigan talking to another rhyming demon, named Lisquinelle, and while Etrigan’s rhyme scheme is A-B-A-B, Lisquinelle uses a rhyme scheme of A-B-C-C-B-A. It was a nice touch, that perhaps each rhymer has his own special style.

Matty Macomber

May 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I think it was fine for Byrne to switch it back, but it seemed unnecessary to explain it as an unintended side-effect of Morgaine Le Fey’s spell. It would have been perfectly simple enough to stick with the ideas that the other creators had come up with and just demote him to his non-rhyming state. I didn’t know much about Etrigan when I first read that issue but Byrne’s writing drew disproportionate attention to this reversion that it seemed to me as a reader an intentional slight to his professional peers. I think it was the apparent pettiness in this issue that turned me off to his work when I realized that much of his work post-Superman was more destructive than creative– He seemed to want to dismantle the developments to characters after the 1960s.

Gee…speaking for myself…I remember the days when John Byrne doing a book was enough to get me to read/buy a book…instead of the last 10 plus years when his name makes me avoid anything he touches…and there is NOTHING better then someone retcon-ing Byrne…..
Sorry…for all intents and purposes….he lost me when he tried to make us believe that Lockjaw was really an Inhuman. No. Sorry John…..Lockjaw was and is the Inhuman’s dog. Deal with it.

Did anyone ever ask Jack Kirby what he thought? Did Jack ever read Moore on Swamp Thing? He missed out if he didn’t, and if he did, maybe it was just cool enough to make him wish he thought of it. Cause Moore’s Swamp Thing is just that good.

Somebody needs to challenge John Byrne to a battle rap. I need to see how that will go.

@Matty Macomber

I had the feeling that Byrne didn’t just want to change Etrigan back to the style that he liked, he *wanted* to make a public point of it.

And I too was turned away from Byrne’s books some time ago due to his destructive apparent pettiness.

Travis Pelkie

May 21, 2012 at 12:38 am

Kudos on the post title. Nice and subtle.

I think the best thing that Moore did was introduce the notion that the rhyming was indicative of rank in hell — so it’s not merely a neat thing that the Demon does, there’s an actual reason for it. Otherwise, yeah, it’s kind of annoying.

I will say I liked the first issue of Byrne’s new book Trio.

And wait a second: did Erik Larsen say something nice about John Byrne? My heart!

Lemme try something:

There once was a comic writer named Byrne
who’d make changes he didn’t quite earn
when the fans would say Boo!
He’d tell ‘em to “go screw!
you can change it back when it’s YOUR turn!”

Most of the criticisms about Byrne are pretty petty IMO – just jumping on the hate bandwagon. So, he wanted to honour Jack’s original intent for the character, and made a point to establish the him in that manner whenever he had the opportunity to write him – what’s wrong with that? Usually we criticise creators for not adhering to a creator’s original intent – now we’re criticising them for it (but we all know it’s just shit on Byrne time.)

I agree with Larsen – the endless rhyming is tedious, and making out it’s associated with a form of demon heirachy is just stupid, “So how many souls did you take to become numero uno demon around here?” “None dude, I just came up with a few cool rhymes to pass the times.”

I think it’s due to this being only one incident in a pattern of behaviour that stretches back a couple of decades, coupled with his abrasive attitude about the fact. If you’re rude to some fans and rude to come creators, eventually everyone will just consider you rude

Another vote for non-rhyming Demon. It so annoys me I just skip his dialogue.

Also, Byrne killed Terry Long. And created Cassie Sandsmark. So he gets a pass on just about everything from me.

And having seen how blithely Byrne rides roughshod over others’ work, I’m skeptical his decision had anything to do with Kirby—rather than, say, just he personally not liking/wanting rhyming.

I don’t know, given his track record of being obsessed with Kirby I have no reason to doubt him. Also, there’s no rule that says one reason has to preclude the other. He can like to ride roughshod over others’ work and personally not like the rhyming because he feels it’s not Kirby’s intent.

Either way, I think he’s right about it not being Kirby’s intent and about it being better for characterization.

I like the rhymes, but I’ve only had limited exposure to them: Moore, Gaiman, Wagner, Ennis…I can imagine if I read a 50-issue run I could start to see it bog down the story.

I can respect Byrne’s reasons for changing it to non-rhyming, it’s just a shame that he’s so damn rude (assuming the above quotes attributed to him are accurate). Dismissing the rhyming as something the English lit. majors like (like they’re some elitist scum) is just very depressing.

Even if you ignore the man’s personal quotes, the fact there’s an in-story dismissal that runs contrary to everything established before and dismisses it in the most pejorative way, and this is pretty solidly been Byrne’s M.O. for most of his 90s and 00s work at the big two

As it is, Byrne could have still played nice and gotten what he wanted: Have Etrigan get promoted above Rhymer in the Hell’s Hierarchy, so he no longer feels compelled to rhyme all the time but still does so becuse Etrigan knows it annoys mortals (he IS a demon after all.) Etrigan gets a nominal power upgrade, Byrne gets the freedom to write the Demon the way he wants, and still allows other writers to write the Demon the wat THEY want, Everbody’s happy.


I rather dislike rhyming Etrigan. In that regard, Byrne’s retcon gave me a more readable, though slightly less interesting, character.

That doesn’t mean I like *how* Byrne handled the retcon, or how he acted about it outside the book (if the quotes mentioned are legit), why he did it , or how he has acted with other books. Danny, The Eye, and others match my opinion on Byrne.

Those quotes sound pretty consistent with almost every other Byrne quote I’ve seen on his forum. The guy seems to have some kind of complex about asserting his will and proving himself superior. That’d be fine if he just “proved himself superior” by writing superior comics. Instead he seems to have some kind of reactionary anti-intellectual tendencies (“Meh! Stop sounding smart! Bleh!”), and apparently enjoys taking other writers down a peg by undoing their stories. I’m not a continuity nut, so I don’t personally care whether the guy stays in continuity or not… it’s the fact that he thumbs his nose while he’s doing it that makes it hard to swallow. Haney didn’t need to do that to ignore the entire history of a character’s continuity (even the bits he wrote himself)!

Byrne did an incredible job on X-Men back in the ’80s. Don’t know what else I can say about the guy.

What’s really funny is if you read the text pages he wrote on his OMAC two-part miniseries from the late eighties (which is actually pretty good—certainly a better Kirby riff than Byrne’s DEMON). He has a long lecture about how he despises writers who retcon past creations and ignore or change the established mythos.

I don’t remember if Etrigan rhymed in his Animated DCU appearances. I think he had one appearance each in the Batman and Superman shows, and once or twice in the JLA/JLU series (though in one of those he was made too young to speak, but it was a well-written and funny episode), but was he rhyming in those appearances?

In other fantasy media, the rhyming of a demon was a way to amass power – the more they spoke in verse, the more power they charged up. There’s a bit in one of Craig Shaw Gardner’s books there the main character meets a rhyming demon who keeps forgetting to speak in verse, and has to tack on nonsense to his sentences to keep the meter streak going.


He didn’t rhyme in JL or JLU, but did in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

And he did have ONE line in “Kid Stuff” — “Mommy,” which provoked the a laugh-out loud reaction in my house when Wonder Woman dropped him immediately following.

Folks who dislike the rhyming– really? Always? To my eye Moore and Gaiman were both so great with it to make it worth a lot of groaners from lesser writers. (And Mishkin had effectively great fun with it in Blue Devil.) Maybe five years of it taxed Ennis’ talents beyond their limits (though I think he could a great job considering), but I just don’t understand reading the Moore or Gaiman issues and thinking “I wish Etrigan would stop rhyming.”


You said yourself “He has a long lecture about how he despises writers who retcon past creations and ignore or change the established mythos.”

In situations like that with Etrigan, I believe that Byrne sees himself as “fixing” retcons of past creations that ignored or changed the established mythos. The original Etrigan didn’t rhyme. Rhyming wasn’t added until around what? A decade or more later?

It ultimately comes down to Len Wein changing the character in a way that Byrne didn’t like. Byrne could use sticking with history to defend his POV. When you get to these arguments about staying true to a character, they all come down to personal opinion, and a means to “justify” your opinion. As much as Byrne has been willing to trash character development and evolution when he disagreed with it, he doesn’t decry other changes (at least I don’t recall him arguing that Superman should go back to his original powers and origin) and is fine with his own developments and evolutions.

Byrne tried to drop the rhyming, but other writers continued to use it. So Byrne did a blatant retcon, seemingly in an attempt to visibly discredit the rhyming idea. (Simply having Etrigan promoted or demoted above or below “rhyming” status would likely simply just have other writers who like the idea come along and restore him to rhyming rank. Discrediting and “resolving” his rhyming as being the side effect of a spell was more of a “salt the earth” approach, as well as a “I don’t like your idea, so I’m not even going to try to play nice” statement.)

I think Byrne made excuses because he was too lazy to make rhymes. (Hey, he accused Grant and Gaiman of masturbating, I can accuse him of being lazy.)

It’s not hard to rhyme, you don’t have to be an English major. It is hard to make poetry. Byrne punked out, that’s all there is to it. DC assigned him The Demon and he didn’t want to do the rhymes, didn’t even try to creatively give a reason for him not to rhyme anymore, and then tried to spin it into some kind of act of righteousness, to correct what once went wrong.

“How dare they change what Kirby established.” You go around pretending you believe that and you will quickly be proved a hypocrite. “I liked Beast better when he was just a guy with big ape feet.” <–You're a g.d. liar, buddy.

Travis Pelkie

May 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm

It’s also quite possible that Kirby did intend to do more with the rhyming, but simply forgot to be consistent.

You’d think the editor would catch that, though. Some guy named…Jack Kirby.


Also, I seem to recall something in Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics about that time period of Swamp Thing, and that he was inspired by the rhyming couplets of the old Burma Shave ads. I didn’t think he was talking about the Demon, though, but it certainly seems that it might have led to that train of thought — Burma Shave rhymes, use a supernatural character, Demon has a rhyme of transformation, hey, maybe he rhymes all the time — or it’s a sign of rank!

I do recall for certain that he mentions in Writing… that when composing the Demon’s words and “getting into his head”, Moore says he imagined that the Demon was heavy, and that his fangs would distend his mouth, so Moore crouched himself down, pulled his lips over his teeth, and spoke in a raspy voice to get the feel of what the Demon must be like. Pretty cool.

I can’t speak much on Byrne, but I can say this: That issue of Action Comics is the reason I am reading Demon Knights. I didn’t read many comics as a kid, but there are a couple that got stuck in my brain (the other was a Spider-Man comic featuring the Vulture).

Billy: “at least I don’t recall him arguing that Superman should go back to his original powers and origin”
When he rebooted Superman post-Crisis, he made the same argument: Everyone since Siegel and Shuster has got it wrong, so he’s going back to the original, or reasonably close (lower powers, no Superboy, almost no kryptonite). Of course, Byrne’s confident, studly Clark bore no resemblance to the Siegel/Shuster version whatsoever.
Re Etrigan, I think he rhymed in his appearance in the Kesel Hawk and Dove too (and there’s another series where the later version was better than the creator).

Bah, my long post apparently got eaten, let’s try again.

Green Arrow was around for decades before he became a left wing blowhard with epic facial hair. Aquaman wasn’t always from Atlantis. Wolverine was a guy with knives in his gloves. Batman killed people. Beast wasn’t blue. Magneto and Mr. Freeze were utterly generic villains with no back stories.

How many iconic versions of characters should we throw out because they go against their original appearances?


You got me, but at the same time, that is kind of my point anyway. Byrne had his opinion of an idealized “classic” Superman that he wanted to “return” to, but his opinion wasn’t really the “original” original Superman. He just wanted certain aspects from it, or more particularly he wanted to excise certain changes that he didn’t agree with. Any changes or additions that he liked, well, he liked and likely had no issue with.

Which is not to say that he is “wrong” for believing some changes were detrimental to the character and/or stories.


May 22, 2012 at 7:51 pm

If I recall, Etrigan shows up in Hitman to help Tommy defeat the Mawzir (well, “help” is a generous word). Someone comments to Etrigan that he’s not rhyming, and he attributes it to the fact that Jason Blood is keeping his heart in a box. At the end of the story after Tommy gives Etrigan his heart back he’s rhyming again.

Or something. That made a lot more sense in my head.

“Wolverine was a guy with knives in his gloves. Batman killed people. Beast wasn’t blue. Magneto and Mr. Freeze were utterly generic villains with no back stories.

How many iconic versions of characters should we throw out because they go against their original appearances?”

Wolverine was planned as the blades being in his gloves rather than his arms. However though that was how it was figured, it was never shown, before it was established that they were in his arms. So it’s not really a change. Similiarly the generic villains later getting back stories doesn’t go against their original appearance. Now if they had been given back stories, And Then the back stories were changed, then that would go against their original appearances. That just expanded on them. Of course Batman starting off killing people and then switching to never killing is going against their originals.

Last line of the article was hysterical. Great job, Brian!

Roquefort Raider

May 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

Bah! The John Byrne Etrigan was clearly just a doombot.

Two examples of iconic versions that go against original appearances:
•The Spectre. The definitive version was Michael Fleisher’s 1970s incarnation. Not inconsistent with the GA version, but much more murderous and in that distinctively black-humored vein (like the Brave and Bold toon where the scientist gets turned into cheese and eaten by his lab rats).
•Dr. Fate. The idea of the helmet as possessing Kent and Dr. Fate being a separate persona didn’t develop until a First Issue Special (Martin Pasko, Walt Simonson, IIRC) in the 1970s, but it’s defined Fate ever since (though in the reboot, who knows?).

Once again John displays his usual tragic lament
Of how he is the only one who honors creator intent.
Yet I have noticed he tends to pick and choose
If you believe me not, then let us take time to peruse
His track record with scalpel-like precision
Consider, for instance, his treatment of the Vision
An android who, in his earliest appearance, could cry
He was created to be a most feeling guy
And love, and display all manner of emotion
And upon the Scarlet Witch showered great devotion
John, however, in a burst of revisionist schlock
Rendered the android more emotionless than Spock.
If that was John’s definition of back to basic
He needs a vision adjustment and should consider Lasik.
Then there was Lockjaw, a dog by all presumin’
Until John declared no, he was a deformed Inhuman.
Stan and Jack created him to be a pooch
If John doesn’t like that, their asses he can smooch.
I wrote Etrigan as rhyming since I felt it made him unique
How fortunate John’s approval I did not have to seek
I suspect, if this does not sound too crazy
That John was, sadly enough, too damned lazy
To make the effort of devising rhymes
A challenge, I admit, at even the best of times
But since Gaiman devised a reason for the rhyming pedigree
Then with all lack of due respect, John, that’s good enough for me.
I have no lit degree; a BA in journalism is mine
But John can take his dipstick and shove it where Skrull don’t shine.


Even though PAD succeeded in making the case that Byrne is hypocritical in how he applies his “respect the original creator’s intent” rule, he also inadvertently made the case that constant rhyming inevitably becomes unbearably corny when it runs on too long. Now more than ever I believe Byrne made the right call.

“Now more than ever I believe Byrne made the right call.” – T.

Of all the uppity, snooty, rage inspiring things to say…

I disagree with T., but I just find it interesting: I’m a pretty sarcastic guy, and yet somehow I’ve never been called “uppity” in my life.

Travis Pelkie

June 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Bravo to PAD. But hey, he is a professional.

Yes, curse that corny rhyming that goes on too long. That’s why Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan suck.


Well my first reading of Etrigan was in Detective Comics 601-604 (have those ever been reprinted?)
With the Tupla as the monster,
And the ‘Breyfogle-mobile’ newly minted.

And I loved the rhyming there.

“Born in hate? Fear made to live?
Bah you’re nothing! A man-made shell!
But if it’s hate you want, it’s hate I’ll give.
All the hate in Hell!”
(Wish I still had those books)

I also remember in that issue he’s not rhyming when he’s choking Batman, to be fair..

Sometimes, Byrne is lame.
That is not good for his fame.
He should dig himself as a mole,
for being such an ass#*%@!!

To PD,
Hardy har har,
though to be honest,

I personally prefer the non-rhyming demon. That opinion has nothing to do with John Byrne or honoring Jack Kirby’s intentions with the character. I personally enjoyed the few non-rhyming stories better and felt the rhyming motif was too gimmicky, and I would make the claim that the gimmick would overall make the story suffer and limits the character. I also feel the because of the rhyming scheme placed upon Etrigan, readers can usually can determine what the end of his speech will be, and that the gimmick often makes the character narrating his own actions which is telling instead showing. Thanks.

What I find most interesting about all this is that somewhere in the world, there’s a couple who thinks that the slums of Gotham City are the perfect place for their honeymoon.

Maybe Bryne should just not write Etrigan comics if he hates rhyming so much. That said, doing a whole comig with a guy who rhymes all the time would be fun for a bit but limiting.

The only people to ever really get the rhyming right are Moore, Giffen/Dematteis (in JLA Classified) and, oddly enough, Kevin Smith. His appearance in “Green Arrow: Quiver” had some of the most intricate Etrigan rhyming I’ve ever read.

Honestly, why are people getting their panties on a bunch over Byrne scrapping the grating rhymes? I can’t honestly think a single good thing about them. They made the character hard to write, annoying to read, and needlessly cheesy. And the “the rhymes are a sign of rank” explanation is just plain cringe-worthy.

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