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CSBG Archive

Meta-Messages – John Byrne “Burns” Jim Shooter

In this feature I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” Here is an archive of the past installments!

Today we take a look at something that I’ve been meaning to spotlight for as long as I’ve been doing this feature but a few people have also suggested it to me over the years, including our very own Greg Hatcher. The moment is in 1987′s Legends #5 by Len Wein, John Ostrander, John Byrne and Karl Kesel and the target of their teasing was Byrne’s former boss at Marvel Comics, Jim Shooter.

The setup for the issue is that Jim Shooter was the Editor-in-Chief for Marvel Comics for about nine years at this point. Whether fair or not, Shooter had gained a reputation for being a bit egotistical. Byrne had clashed with Shooter a bit, especially when Byrne began working on Superman for DC Comics the previous year.

In addition, in late 1986 Shooter had launched a new initiative for Marvel Comics, a new line of comics dubbed the “New Universe.” This line was based on a basic concept of “What would superheroes be like in the real world?” Shooter wrote the flagship title of the New Universe, Star Brand, about a young man who lived in Shooter’s hometown of Pittsburgh who gained a mysterious brand that gave him amazing powers.

Oh, and Jim Shooter was a tall, thin man with dark hair.

So now view the villain Guy Gardner fights in Legends #5 before Dr. Fate summons him to a new Justice League…

Ouch.

Do note that Byrne only DREW it, though. Ostrander plotted the issue and Wein scripted it. I don’t know if either guy had any issue with Shooter at the time.

NOTE: I am well aware that both Byrne and Shooter were involved in other similar meta-messages, including another one involving Byrne and Star Brand. Please do NOT discuss these other meta-messages in the comments. If you really want to share them, you can e-mail them to me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com. Thanks!

103 Comments

That comes off as kind of petty. I can see a few panels or even a page, but four whole pages? The modern equivalent would be reading Infinity and having a four page detour where they make fun of New52. Really has nothing to do with the main plot of the miniseries.

Petty and not funny at all. Why does Starbrand get all the time such a bad rep? I managed to get a tpb of it quite cheap some years ago and found it an interesting read with some nice J.R.jr. art.

Starbrand was really good, especially for the time it was written. The rest of the New Universe, pretty poor.

That being said, did anyone but me notice the significant similarities between Starbrand and the recent series, Echo…

John Byrne=Petulant Child.

I thought this meta-message had been covered already. In any case, I agree with the “petty” verdict. I remember reading it at the time without knowing the back-story, I was already pretty uncomfortable with how mean it was…knowing the feelings behind it makes it even worse.

Maybe I just feel sorry for Jim Shooter and the bad rap he gets. Fact is, the Marvel he guided from 1980-1986 remains my comic-collecting golden age (to which John Byrne contributed hugely) so that will always outshine petty politics for me.

Never liked this scene. So unprofessional.

Oh, call the waaaaahmbulance. Shooter’s a big boy (very big, in fact!) and a public figure to boot, and thus fair game. He probably got a kick out of the whole thing.

That said, the gag did run a bit long.

Oh, call the waaaaahmbulance.

This is a pretty weird line to use to defend a four page sequence of a guy whining about his former boss.

I also thought this was featured before. I know it was discussed some where in a CSBG column, which is where I learned it was a shot at Shooter. If I remember right the comments section filled up with posts like BBB’s calling Byrne names, even though he was just the penciler.

BBB=Pseudo-intellectual put downs

“Fact is, the Marvel he guided from 1980-1986″

That for me sums it up. He might have been a pill to work with – no doubt – but as a weekly consumer during those ‘golden’ days, he ushered product that made me buy by the handful.

I even tried New Universe even though it caused the cancellation of Powerman and Iron Fist to “make space”.

Would I want to work with him? Nope. But would I hire him to publish my comic book line? In a heartbeat.

Some of those early Star Brands were quite good, I agree. I personally acquired a full run of D.P.7, which was a solid read. One of my personal favorite things about the New Universe was that the power levels were not static: everyone’s mutations were continually increasing, though if there was a “why” to that, I did not catch it.

EXACTLY ARCEE! I’ve never understood the bad rap this man got! As I understand it–he fought for more creator rights, pulled actual editorial edicts for storylines so that they mattered (Dark Phoenix–the classic–would not exist without Shooter) and was a pretty damn good writer (before Levitz — Shooter was viewed as one of the LOSH greats!)

In an age where Gates, Jobs and Bezos are doing amazing things for the world technologically and are generally referred to as ‘monsters’ during the height of their power–how in the world Shooter got so demonized is beyond me!

A few things pop out to me about this sequence:

1) The design of Sunspot’s outfit is basically Starbrand’s with the brown and blue colors reversed.
2) Although it doesn’t really play into the overall plot of LEGENDS, it does display Guy Gardner’s character pretty and why he was so different from the other Green Lanterns at the time.
3) Sunspot SHOOTS HIMSELF IN FOOT while ranting about achieving the “Ultimate power” and “creating a new universe.” Ouch.

As far as I know, John Ostrander did not have any sort of history with Jim Shooter at the time, as I believe LEGENDS was the first work he did for either of the Big Two. Len Wein was someone who had been at Marvel before, but if I remember correctly, he was one of those who left during the Shooter era when Shooter got rid of writers editing their own work. I believe Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman left for similar reasons.

According to Sean Howe’s MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, the infamous Marvel party where Jim Shooter burned in effigy was held at Byrne’s house.

I have no idea if the various horror stories I’ve heard about Shooter are true (I suspect most are exaggerated to some degree or another), but man, I sure love the Marvel Comics that were produced when he was the man in charge.

Guy Gardner quoting SHAKESPEARE?!! Who is this red-headed stranger?

Can’t believe I forgot about all this. Looking back, that was a tad much.

I think Wein had a problem with Shooter after he became EIC. On Shooter’s blog he mentioned there was a power struggle with Wolfman and Wein vs Roy Thomas and Shooter was caught in the middle.

Guy’s intentions are good, but “Sunspot” there probably cauterized the wound automatically when he burned off his foot.

I’m going with petty on this one. I’m betting this one is mostly Byrne, mostly because he’s always been so out-spoken in his loathing of Shooter.

The New Universe may have failed over at Marvel, but some of the same basic ideas (super-heroes in the “real” world, etc.) worked out awfully well at Valiant. You know, until Steve Massarsky made his power play, booted Shooter out, and the company tried to rise the speculator wave until busting out after selling high to Acclaim.

Using your book to hammer on someone else you don’t like in the industry is only funny when you agree with the opinion of the creator bashing the other person. Which doesn’t speak too well of us when we laugh, really. It’s unprofessional. It was unprofessional when Jack Kirby did it too.

I’ll admit, I’m a Shooter fan. He’s a terrific editor and one of the best plotters in comic book history, IMHO. (Dialogue? Not always his strength) He’s also incredibly generous with his time with fans and people trying to break into the industry, which I respect a lot.

Byrne’s one of the legends, one of the best all time. But he does himself no favors with this sort of nonsense.

Way over the line and in bad taste once the Shooter stand in character is actually maimed. I like both guys as creators for the most part.

In some ways it’s petty, but this is a decent action sequence and introduction for Gardner. I don’t think this would be much different without the Shooter reference, I doubt it harms the book as a whole.

Y’know, while not taking away how petty, petulant and unprofessional it is – in this day and age where every day we see reports of people take out their ‘issues’ violently in public – all in all it’s kinda benign.

Well, not everyone was pleased on the way Shooter handled Marvel then (tight editorial guidelines for example) and how he treated Jack Kirby when Kirby needed his original arts back then in the 1980s. But in the end, I see Shooter as a tireless editor-in-chief who wanted to move Marvel into greater heights. It’s just his actions really turned off some of his finest Marvel artists then.

The first time I read this I didn’t know it was a Shooter stand in. Now that I do, it takes me out of the story every time.

I remember a couple of times Byrne decided to go after his former boss, and yes, I did think it was pretty childish of him. Now, I don’t mind someone illustrating a beef with a former boss (anyone in authority should have a thick skin or they’ll retire very bitter). But since I had read comments (it was an issue of Comics Interview, form some reason I am thinking around #25 but I don’t remember for sure) by Byrne in an interview there, before he left Marvel for the first time, singing Shooter’s praises, even saying he totally understood why Shooter turned him down for a raise, among other things that got him denounced at the time by Steve Gerber (alluding to Byrne as some kind of lapdog or some such).

Byrne’s slaps of Shooter at the time really reeked of “Shooter’s gone; I’ve found my backbone!”. Really enjoyed Byrne’s stuff back then, but sheesh….

Who hasn’t wanted to take a crack at their boss, or former boss, just like this? It’s a comic – it’s not like Byrne has actually gone out of his way to physically injure Shooter.

Most of the negative commenters need to pull out the stick, and think to themselves, “when was the last time I spoke negatively about my own boss?”

Brian from Canada

October 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Tight editorial guidelines worked for the company: Shooter wanted each book to have a separate identity, and all characters follow a set code of ethics and morals — and that’s what we got, from 1980-1985. The only real dark spot during this period was the power play between former powers at Marvel.

But what didn’t work for the company was board interference. Marvel wanted more titles to its output. Marvel wanted toy deals and crossovers. And Shooter had the unfortunate time of having to balance corporate directives and artistic directives. That Shooter kept it from showing up in the books and continued to emphasize strong storytelling says a lot — but the creators weren’t happy with him and were anxious to see him out the door. Shooter left on his own terms, and continued to demonstrate his skill at other companies. Sadly, most of those companies forced him out, went bankrupt or did the DC thing and reneged on promises.

(Ironically, the only other much hated editor at Marvel, Bob Harras, suffered the same problems of balancing corporate with creation — though he was fired instead of quitting himself.)

Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with those who love the era. Shooter had a clear love of comics and story crafting, unlike the present leadership who sees only dollar signs and sales stats as the reason to launch comics.

Night Swordsman

October 27, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Shooter was NO saint, and there were a lot of allegations against him during his time at Marvel, but he IS a great writer, no ifs, ands or buts about it. I actually knew that it was a parody of Jim Shooter(it was so blantent, even as a teen there was no mistake about it or the message about the New Universe books) and just felt that this was a petty thing to do when it came out in 1987, and still feel the same now. Also, there is no doubt that when John Byrne took OVER Star Brand a few years later, he was doing it for petty reasons, which is why most of the plots prior to that were jettisoned.

Shooter may or may not be a jerk(probably is/was), but Byrne’s(who I grew up reading and loving his work) is legendary now for being a creep, and is for me a extreme case when I have to separate the art that I grew up and loved as a child and teenager and the person whom I wish NEVER to meet or talk to. Comic creators were the real heroes of comic books for me as a kid, and it really sucks when you find out as a adult (or teen in the case) that they can be petty and mean.

Oh, and I would like to say publicly thank you to Dan Slott, Michael Golden, Steve Leialoha and the late Dwayne McDuffie for proving to me that the some creators really ARE as awesome as I hoped to be in person as they are as artists.

Having read the books at the time and seeing what both folks write in the Internet (and on paper) since their fall-out, it is just about impossible to side with John Byrne here.

Even if I wanted to, which would be just as hard in the first place.

The plain fact is that Shooter is a gentleman and a sharp thinker and speaker. It helps that he writes with the best of them.

And when it comes to editing… Valiant was great under him, as was Marvel (which badly needed his help when he arrived). Marvel has quite simply never been as good since.

Finally, Byrne is petty to an enormous degree, and not only (although quite remarkably) towards Shooter. I have read quite a bit of Jim Shooter’s blog; he is quite direct and informative and does not use kid’s gloves, yet I never saw him resort to Byrne’s level antics. He is a true profesional, simple as that.

Not a contest at all.

I have this book in my collection,and until now,that scene just slide right past me.I think if valient had never thrown himout,they would never have crashed and burned as they did, and the titles would be up to 300 or so issues by now.They were going great guns until he got flushed.If not for shooter,x men 137,would not have been the powerful classic it still is.

ouch knew shooter and byrne in the end wound up not wanting to work or like each other. but not only making fun of what shooter was trying to add to marvel with the new universe but make him a bad guy who comes off as a moron by guy gardner. talk about byrne being a little nasty to his former boss even if he was doing it in a parody sort of way

Memory is selective, especially from those who were children and only read the good comics and didn’t notice the awful ones that were produced during Shooter.
U.S. 1 anyone? Thor between 302 and 336, FF by Moench and Sienkiewicz, DD before and after Miller., Hypno-Hustler, how many series reached their nadir under this great editor?
Byrne wasn’t the writer, Wein was.

I was going to point out that DP7 as well as Star Brand were good reads (though Byrne arguably improved and wrapped up Star Brand).

Along those lines, Byrne was on Star Brand in late 87, about 5 months after this issue. Has Byrne commented on this? Is there any way he was just trying to be funny or even plug Star Brand? Writers have more lead time than artists so it is possible he was working on Star Brand at the same time, though more likely he just knew and maybe plotted some of his run. Anyway, even if he felt like on Star Brand he was fixing a broken wheel, this may not have been as malicious as it seems in retrospect. And the whole ‘shooting himself in the foot’ while obvious, may just be a comment on Shooter overreaching (which the New Universe certainly was) with no real blame implied.

And just to put in two more cents. 1) I heard Byrne talk about Star Brand at the NYCC in 87 and he seemed more excited than anything else. 2) I met Shooter a couple of years ago and he is a great standup guy for a fan to meet!

There are those who found Byrne’s Star Brand an improvement. But I remember wondering at the time when he would come to the good stuff. I was completely certain that he accepted the assignment to crash and burn it.

Then again, he ended up writing Next Men and Trio in very similar lines, so who knows.

@ecovore: If you have any doubts about Byrne having malice towards Shooter, then watch out for near-future features by Brian. There is a reason why he included the note at the bottom of this article.

But if you would rather not wait, just browse his forums for a while. It shall come up in half an hour, tops.

To Michael
I wrote: “John Byrne=Petulant Child”
You wrote: “BBB=Pseudo-intellectual put downs”
Really?
Sorry you had to use a dictionary for all four words of my first commentary. I’ll try to remember this and dumb it down for you even more in the future.
“John/Micheal=Child”
Better?

Poor Len Wein. He always seems to be the guy who starts what others are better known for. He wrote GSX #1 before Claremont’s run, he created Swamp Thing which is ubiquitously associated with Alan Moore, and he wrote this mini which was a lead-in to the Giffen/Dematteis Justice League.

@Leocomix, I’d agree that Daredevil was at its best with Frank Miller but I’d say that the Denny O’Neil and Klaus Janson run and O’Neil and Mazzucchelli runs had some high points.

OK. I admit John Byrne is undeniably an asshole. I knew he had feuds, but was unsure, but….http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Byrne

Wow.

Still, there is the hope in my head that this is too obvious to be malicious, but, well, I admit I am probably wrong.

Brian might be a bit too polite to point this out, but if there was somehow any doubt that this was intended to be Shooter, the facial scarring this character has also confirms it. I don’t know if it’s acne or if Shooter had something like chickenpox or something (I seem to remember hearing he was sick as a child for a long period and that’s when he started reading and dissecting comics before writing his own, but I could be making that up ;) ).

All in all, total dick move on Byrne’s part.

I’ve met Shooter as well at a con, and like ecovore said, he was a very personable guy. Are there things in the stories he tells that are self-serving? Of course, most people do that. But this seems a bit too far, expecially if, as I gather from other commenters, Shooter wasn’t with Marvel at this point. And neither was Byrne, apparently.

One other thing strikes me. Panel 2 of page 7. Yeah, I know that’s Guy with his hands behind his back, but it sure looks like things are positioned like a guy taking a leak, with the GL light as the urine stream. Yow.

Shooter did some amazing work in his career. None of it (IMHO obviously) was when he was running things. Star Brand was so deathly dull, it would have been better with blank pages (true of most of the New Universe line, though not all of it). To say nothing of Secret Wars, Secret Wars II, etc. To say nothing of some of his editorial decisions, such as killing Jean Grey.
Can’t speak to his post-Marvel career, as I didn’t follow it.
That said, the parody does seem pretty vicious.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

October 28, 2013 at 2:15 am

I just had to go and follow that wikiquotes link “ecovore” posted, and I do suspect we may have to give Byrne the benefit of doubt.

I know he has a habit of shitting on people more talented than him (see: Byrne’s Doom Patrol vs Morrison’s), and the jealouysy-filled quotes about Moore and Morrison are probably authentic.

I also don’t doubt the authenticity of the racist bullshit quotes, you get those even from people with actual talent (Frank Miller, what the hell happened to you?).

Still, somehow I doubt even Byrne would be deranged enough to defend pedophilia on a public forum. Then again, considering the atrocious “Sue Storm turns into an evil dominatrix because she wants to be called a woman instead of a girl” storyline I probably should expect pretty much anything from him.

If this sounds harsh, it’s simply because everything I hear about Byrne makes me feel bad about reading – and worse, enjoying – his stuff when I was a kid.

From what I’ve seen about Shooter over the years, from him and from others, I’ve kind of concluded he may have been kind of a pushy boss that no one likes. And that he tried to be more in control of things as an editor than artists (and by “artist” I mean any of the creative people in comics) would have liked. And he did try to treat his position as a boss in charge of a business. I think it all comes down to the debate of art versus business, and whether the writer and artist of a comic should have be allowed to create on their own terms, instead of be wrangled by a boss who “tampers” with what they’re writing.

In any case, I’d say Shooter may have been somewhat egotistical, but I’m not sure that’s much more than a boss being a boss, and many people don’t like their boss. I do feel like in many cases that just letting an artist create leads to better art AND a better product, but in the case of Marvel in Shooter’s era, I think he considered himself the boss and shaped things how he thought they should be, and possibly tried to control people too much, which lead to resentment. And while “the ends justify the means” isn’t a great argument, it’s not completely irrelevant that Marvel was very popular in the 1980s.

I will say I’m in agreement with people commenting on these columns that sometimes this stuff comes off as petty, especially when the criticism is especially obvious. I’d be more on board with the writers poking fun of these people in more subtle ways that only insiders notice. Or, maybe just criticize that person without sticking them into tho story. Portraying the person as a ranting lunatic how blows his own foot off doesn’t seem like the more mature way to handle it.

I suppose that’s being too hard on someone, as if I’m the classiest person out there who’s never made fun of someone. Still, I gravitate toward these creator who handle things with a little class. There are some creators you can follow online through twitter, facebook, etc that handle things that way. One example, another guy from Shooter’s Marvel era, is Larry Hama, who I’ve followed online for years. The guy is very humble, and shies away from taking shots at people he used to work with. He has all sorts of cool stories about working in Marvel’s NY offices back then, and gives nice glimpses of that time. But it’s very rare to hear any criticisms volleyed and people he’s worked with, other than in the subtlest of ways.

Brian from Canada

October 28, 2013 at 6:57 am

@Ethan Shuster: you’re totally right — it’s all about business vs art. Shooter was loved at Marvel up until 1985. Then his last year got worse and worse for him. Ego may definitely played a part, but I also think that the underpinning was Secret Wars itself.

If you think about it, “Secret Wars” was the first time a marketing decision drove so many impacts on titles. It was such a success that the company wanted more. The line gets expanded greatly over those two years and it becomes harder and harder to maintain quality (so much so that we end up getting five EICs in the 90s).

@Leocomix: No editor’s run will be perfect. Some of the 40s titles I’ve read are duds, and there’s plenty in the 60s and 70s that are just weak. But Shooter’s missteps were at least readable; let us not speak of Quesada’s Adventures Of Owlman and Mar-Ville series, both designed to take deliberate swipes at DC in order to boost sales of Captain Marvel.

I suppose that’s part of growing up: learning that your childhood heroes are incredible jerks. I remain in awe of John Byrne’s classic works, but I am also in awe of his arrogance. He must be one of the more arrogant men in comics. Even reading just a little bit of his message board will show you that. He is arrogant even when he is saying stuff I agree with, like dissing the early Image Comics.

I also agree with the popular opinion here. Shooter may have been a bad boss, but he directed a renaissance in Marvel Comics, and I also much prefer the Marvel he directed than the Marvel of today. He made a few mistakes, like bringing Jean Grey back and opening the gates for the revolving door of death while weakening a classic story, but overall he did a great job.

You can get a Marvel comic from that time randomly, and chances are, it will be good read, maybe even a great read. You get a Marvel comics from the 1970s pre-Shooter, and you’ll have 50/50 of it being great (Englehart/Starlin/Gerber) or absolutely awful (1970s FF, Spidey, Thor), when you get to post-Shooter, the odds are even greater that your randomly selected comic will be awful, Marvel really went down the drains after he left.

I am a writer and I do know that a profession where you are a creative person, it’s very different kind of work. It’s not like a technical job where it’s just about getting a specific goal finished. And boss can’t really direct the creative process…

BUT I have to admit there is part of me seeing these kind of things and thinking that these are people whining because they have to do what their boss wants them to.

I remember those days. I loved Marvel in the early 80′s, and really felt the company was going into a decline on all fronts as the decade wore on. By the time he was gone, things just looked like a shambles to me. Shooter had presided over the disaster, and all kinds of creators whose work I’d always liked claimed it was his fault. So I blamed him, it made sense on the face of it.

As time has gone by, though, I’ve come to realize things couldn’t have been that simple. Those were the days the suits were coming in to Marvel, and everyone knows that’s never good news. And those creators that I was so fond of, who complained about Shooter’s ego? They’ve got egos too — creative types (including me) always do. (I saw somewhere someone saying that whatever else the message of a work of art may be, it’s also saying “Look at me! Look at me! I’m more interesting than you!”) A few months into the New 52, I found Shooter’s blog, and some comments he made about DC’s new reboot. I was amazed at how much I agreed with the evil tyrant who destroyed Marvel both in particulars and on the principles those particulars were based on.

I’m not saying he’s exhonerated in my eyes. But I do think he was in a position that made it all to easy for anyone who had a problem with how things were going on any side to point to him and label him as a convenient bad guy, and often actually believing it themselves. It’s not a position that I envy, or necessarily think I would have handled any better than he did.

Why does Byrne get a majority of the blame for this, both in the title to the post and the comments? This is an honest question. Was this written Marvel-style, where the penciller has a lot more input into the story, or was it full-script? Do we know how much of this originated with Byrne?

That comes off as kind of petty. I can see a few panels or even a page, but four whole pages? The modern equivalent would be reading Infinity and having a four page detour where they make fun of New52.

I personally would love to read that if it was done well. The only problem is that the New 52 is such self-parody at this point it may be impossible for an outsider to properly parody.

I wouldn’t mind such things because critiquing a story is fair game. This, however, is excessively critiquing a person, which I think is a bit much for four pages. I’m not a fan of it either. If they did want to critique Shooter, I’d rather a substantive critique of his policies.

Guy Gardner quoting SHAKESPEARE?!! Who is this red-headed stranger?

A lot of people forget that Guy Gardner was a teacher before he became a Green Lantern. At least he was at this point in time. That was probably retconned away at some point.

And yeah, he was a gym teacher, but a lot of gym teachers also teach academic classes as well. One of my high school math teachers was also the coach of the basketball team. He used to shoot chalk into the wastebasket from across the classroom during class. :)

“I know he has a habit of shitting on people more talented than him (see: Byrne’s Doom Patrol vs Morrison’s), ”

“Talented” is little subjective when you’re comparing an artist/writer and a writer. Byrne can draw what he has scripted so the talented part is more your opinion of Byrne’s work versus Morrison.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

October 28, 2013 at 10:22 am

Shawn Kane,

I do understand – and to a degree share – your appreciation of writer/artists over “mere” writers, and I’ll even more willingly concede the point about “talented” being (at least to a large degree) a matter of opinion. After all, if talent – writing talent in particular – could be measured objectively, no one would have let the Image guys in the early 1990s write comics.

That being said, Grant Morrison actually debuted as both a writer and artist. It’s only his later American work (plus Zenith for 2000AD) that’s only scripted by him. Of course, this comprises the vast majority of his body of work, so it’s not exactly suprising that he’s considered to be “only” a writer.

Not that I have any idea how his artwork is these days. I’ve only seen that one bit in The Invisibles, which might be the only Morrison art published this Millennium…

Of course, none of this has anything to do with John Byrne or Jim Shooter, so I’ll stop digressing. Believe it or not, I really would like to like Byrne – I did grow up reading his Fantastic Four and Superman – but the man makes it so very very difficult.

“. I’d be more on board with the writers poking fun of these people in more subtle ways that only insiders notice. Or, maybe just criticize that person without sticking them into tho story. Portraying the person as a ranting lunatic how blows his own foot off doesn’t seem like the more mature way to handle it.”

But internal comics-industry stuff wasn’t aired as publicly in those days–fewer forums for one thing. As someone who followed what news I could, and knew about the criticisms of Shooter, the parody still flew right over me. So maybe back then it could have passed as an in-joke.

And of course, writers have been using their work to take mean-spirited shots since at least the middle ages, so the creators are in good company (I didn’t find it that awful, but then again, I’m less of a Shooter fan than some commenters so I may be biased).

John, Guy’s still an ex-teacher: the opening of the reboot GL Corps book (or one of the GL books, anyway) shows him trying for a job and being told he’d just make his school a target for crazies.

OK. I admit John Byrne is undeniably an asshole. I knew he had feuds, but was unsure, but….http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Byrne

Wow.

Still, there is the hope in my head that this is too obvious to be malicious, but, well, I admit I am probably wrong.

Okay, while some of those quotes are beyond awful, some of them are also very, very good, or at least thought provoking. Now I’m really conflicted.

Guy needs to see if anyone in the DC universe has a “school for gifted youngsters” that needs a teacher.

Not only would a school for superpowered kids ALSO be a target for crazies to start with, and could use the extra defense, a Lantern ring of any type is probably the best suited power option overall for breaking up fights on the school grounds (between students, mostly) and protect the teacher from pranks gone wrong. You definitely don’t want a mundane teaching classes.

There is another layer to this that no one has mentioned: Star Brand was essentially a riff on Green Lantern. Shooter was essentially Marvel-izing one of the premiere DC characters, which seemed to be a bit of a thing with him. Using Guy Gardner to take down a Star Brand pastiche is almost a Meta-Message itself.

“U.S. 1 anyone? Thor between 302 and 336, FF by Moench and Sienkiewicz, DD before and after Miller., Hypno-Hustler, how many series reached their nadir under this great editor?”

I thought it was generally accepted that the nadir for the ‘Fantastic Four’ title came during DeFalco’s run, if not the entirety of the run.

@ Rene,

“You get a Marvel comics from the 1970s pre-Shooter, and you’ll have 50/50 of it being great (Englehart/Starlin/Gerber) or absolutely awful (1970s FF, Spidey, Thor)…”

You know what’s funny, 1970′s FF, Spider-Man and Thor were mostly written by Thomas, Wein, Wolfman and Conway. Almost all of these guys left Marvel when Shooter became EIC. Wein even wrote this issue. Coincidence?

Shooter may have introduced some duds during his Marvel editor stint, but I think the hit series introduced in that era (New Mutants, Alpha Flight, G.I. Joe, Moon Knight, etc.) far outweigh the U.S. 1′s…

And the bad runs mentioned earlier in FF, Thor and Daredevil (which is subjective, like an above poster, I really liked the O’Neil/Janson-O’Neil/Mazuchelli DD)…all those ‘bad’ runs brushed up against definitive runs on those books that many feel have never been surpassed…those were on Shooter’s watch, too.

For me, it’s not only the quality of stories that made Shooter’s Marvel my favourite era. Those years introduced a whole bunch of projects that emphasized the fun of collecting the Marvel universe: the Official Handbook, Marvel Age, Marvel Fanfare, Special Edition reprints. Shooter made miniseries and graphic novels great ways to showcase supporting characters or special events. Stuff like The Fantastic Four Roast, the Official No-Prize Book, that crazy What If #34, and Assistant Editor’s Month also added to the sense of fun surrounding this universe (I know none of those are examples of brilliantly clever satire, but it was nice they didn’t take themselves too seriously).

Marvel continuity was rich and complex, yet never frustrating thanks to those handy asterix boxes (which actually gave readers specific back issues to hunt down). AND BOOKS WERE NEVER LATE!

So there, one more pro-Shooter rant. Those were the good old days.

Oh, and those Byrne quotes … Bob Layton is an awesome inker, the man’s crazy.

“That being said, Grant Morrison actually debuted as both a writer and artist. It’s only his later American work (plus Zenith for 2000AD) that’s only scripted by him.”

That seems significantly overstated; he hasn’t drawn anything professionally since 1982, and even that is confined to a comic strip he did for a few years, a Starblazer story, and a few stories in “Near Myths”.

I have to admit, reading those Byrne quotes are pretty horrifying, but even more horrifying is that I find myself actually agreeing with him far more often than not.

That link led me to this message board thread, and I must admit that I agree with every entry Byrne makes in said 16-page thread:
http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=22350&PN=0&TPN=1

After so many years of seeing only his jerky quotes quoted, this comes as a shock to me.

With all due respect to Mr. Jim Shooter and all he did as a contribution to the world of comics but I remember the period in which he was the editor-in-chief of Marvel and can not say I truly enjoyed this particular phase of Marvel. In this period in question he created a strategy very unfair to compel readers to buy all the Marvel titles coming out. The notorious interconnectivity between titles. All Marvel titles had to be connected to each other somehow. For example, to read the continuation of an adventure the X-Men I had to buy a comics of Spider-Man, who was still in the Avengers, who was still in the Fantastic Four, who continued in Thor, who was still in the Hulk, which continued in the Power Pack that returned to the magazine of the X-Men to repeat the whole process and make me have to collect magazines in which I would not be interested at the time. Damn I wanted to read only the adventure of the X-Men why the hell would I have to buy all the comics from Marvel Comics just to read the sequence of a single adventure? That a fact that affects the Avengers have to affect the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man? It was not logical but not for Jim Shooter he thought that all the facts had to have consequences. I remember the discussion that he and the other editors had to explain why the death of Jean Grey and was simply ridiculous reason Jean died because he was too powerful as mutant carrying the Phoenix Force and made the other X-Men “useless” because it alone could take out all the enemies … then to become the omnipotent to begin with? Just to kill her and initiate a pitiable and endless succession of “deaths” and “resurrections” that completely invalidated the death as a narrative tool? Another Jim Shooter postulated that the characters had to suffer the consequences of their decisions and actions … Nothing more Hulk just be a “child” trapped inside the body of a God who did not wish to do evil to anyone, not this “child” was destroying cities then had to answer for it … Nothing more Spider-Man have made a faux pas and put in a comical mess, no, he had to answer for their actions, nothing more than “simple solutions” Rogue could not touch anyone and did not even receive a caress or human gesture of affection Storm “lost” his powers and was without them for almost the entire decade of the 80 that was pretty stupid. It may seem little but this created traps for creative writers. With the Hulk turned “oh my eternal nightmare, ah hell in my life, oh my a million inner demons” … BAG … for a character who is said to be “the most powerful mortal on Earth” the Hulk was shown as “the loser more powerful there is,” he goes there is a series of personal achievements and stands to lose everything the next instant so pathetic and end up in the mud, so it is very cost raises up to regain what he lost soon after making losing everything. And these bullshit of his multiple personalities? In real life Bruce Banner would have been admitted as a madman of the highest danger if he presented that describe the mental picture of it today and it was not only “a child” trapped inside the body of a God that if it decided to give a definitive end to it . And what amazes me most is his friends always forgive every time he freaks out and screwed everyone with a “Oh no … he was not … he was not guilty for what he did.” The Hulk “child trapped inside the body of a God” but was not present? And the same for all characters in the stage by Jim Shooter. And pardon, generosity, but Byrne is right … Shooter even burst himself standing with the New Universe Marvel … but not that Byrne is “better” because after all he wrote and drew the final Star Brand

Of course Shooter’s original concept for Jim Shooter Destroys the Marvel Universe, according to Fred Hembeck (who was the writer/artist) was almost as mean-spirited toward Mort Weisinger (Hembeck posted the pages on his website some time back). But of course, it never actually saw daylight for whatever reason (becoming Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe instead).

fraser – shame it didn’t see print. If anyone deserves it it’s Weisinger.

Just curious fraser, I can’t find anything about any incredibly mean-spirited Weisinger related pages suggested to Hembeck by Shooter. In fact, the only thing I can see on the topic actually suggests the opposite:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/03/30/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-44/

Do you have a link by any chance?

T. -

I don’t know, I agree with some of what Byrne says. But the way he says it… his arrogance is almost psychopathic. I feel a little ill.

Whenever I read Byrne’s opinions, I “see” a wall of noise that says “my way is the right way is the holy way is the only way is my way is the right way is the holy way is the only way is the right way is the holy way is the only way is the right way is the holy way is the only way…”

Rene, you’re definitely right that he expresses his opinions terribly, but I still think his opinions in that Magneto thread are very, very on the money.

Maybe. Most of them have merit. But I suppose I am person that is mostly inclined to the middle path, by nature. Heh, I’m not buddist, but perhaps I should be.

For instance, when Byrne says that a lot of the stuff that is wrong in comics is that uplifted fans get a kick out of changing things for the sake of changing things, he is right in that. But he mantains that all the major heroes should be in a kind of stasis, never changing.

My intuition is that that would be as bad as what is happening today. I wonder, if no real change can possibly be good, then why not discontinue all Marvel/DC comics and just reprint ad eternum the Lee/Kirby/Ditko stuff? maybe with just enough art change to update the characters for a present-day setting?

Moreover, Byrne seems a tad little hypocritical. Because, in his day, Byrne changed stuff.

@ Rene:

I am hardly a Byrne apologist, but what he says about the virtue of keeping characters “on model” strikes me as largely correct.

If someone is a faithful reader of the X-Men and are bored with the school setting, want Magneto and Professor X to flip roles and want Wolverine to be a more traditional “leading man” type, then suggesting that they have simply tired of the X-Men is hardly a radical thought. Since the X-Men has shown the ability to draw new people in other media (cartoons, film), it seems likely that the core of the franchise is still reasonably compelling. If fans want to read a comic with a different premise (or main characters, or whatever), then they should *shudder* try something with a different brand name on the cover.

Dean -

I’m not saying Byrne is incorrect. I’m saying that, IF Byrne is correct, THEN why not discontinue all DC/Marvel comics and just do reprints of stuff by the original creators?

Or, maybe they should do like old cartoons. Have a “Bible” of X-Men rules that no writer could deviate from, and just hire competent technicians to continue producing X-Men stories in the “right” model, indefinitely.

The thing is, I’m skeptical of “one-size-fits-all” schemes. Much badness has been produced by disrupting the status quo of franchises, but much goodness also has been produced the same way.

Additionaly, Byrne seems self-servinf in some of his examples. Sometimes he decries the “fanboy” mentality of jaded people causing a franchise to change too much (for instance, with modern writers he doesn’t like, or Alan Moore or Grant Morrison). Other times he decries the opposite “fanboy” mentality of people being too resistant to change (for instance, in relation to Byrne’s how work in X-Men, that changed the franchise considerably).

For instance, when Byrne says that a lot of the stuff that is wrong in comics is that uplifted fans get a kick out of changing things for the sake of changing things, he is right in that. But he mantains that all the major heroes should be in a kind of stasis, never changing.

I think there’s nothing wrong with that policy when the property is open-ended. A property that is expected to last for 20, 30, 50, 70+ years, if it gets too bogged down with changes, becomes too intimidating to new readers. Besides, I don’t think Byrne means the property has to literally retell the same stories over and over again, but rather that the general premise should be similae. For example the Simpsons doesn’t really change in terms of the basic premise, yet they have endless story ideas.

Moreover, Byrne seems a tad little hypocritical. Because, in his day, Byrne changed stuff.

He actually addresses that in his Jean Grey example, either in that thread or another one. He says that he himself fell into that trap because at the time the death of Gwen Stacy was still a big deal and he fell into that mindset. But he said that he now regrets the times he’s done that and wishes he didn’t. He also said that he likes the illusion of change. Changes that don’t really affect the overall dynamic or storytelling engine, or are easily reversible.

T. and Dean -

There are one other things I dislike about Byrne’s argument.

First. One of the lynchpins of it is: “comics sold a lot better when the status quo X, introduced by the creators, was around. If comics sell less now, it’s because the status quo has changed.”

That is a dirty trick used when one wants to link his pet peeve to the reason the comics industry is “doomed”. It paints people who disagrees with them not simply as people with different tastes, but as “evil” accomplices to the doom of comics. The pet peeve may be that comics are too dark, changed too much, don’t have enough strong women, or whatever. When in reality, the decline in sales is too complex to pin down to such and such changes in content.

And it’s not even a consistent argument. Because sometimes a “changed” status quo sells a lot more than the original one. For instance, Magneto as a sympathetic villain and Holocaust survivor didn’t stop the X-Men movies to be hits. Most people seem to like this “changed” status quo. Cyclops being a “jerk”, something Byrne ridicules, also is in the movies.

So, “comics sold a lot more back then” is not a valid argument.

Second. A lot of people defending the status quo in franchises are awfully arbitrary about which status quo to defend. More often than not, it’s the status quo from when they started reading comics. What is the “true” status quo for Superman stories, for example? The 1940s comics? The 1950s comics? The 1980s comics? What is the general premise? Smallville wasn’t too intimidating for viewers, despite mixing elements from several eras of Superman stories and discarding much about the supposed general premise.

Anyway, it’s funny, because I am a Byrne fan, and I agree that current Marvel and DC are a ugly mess. But I don’t think things are as clear cut as he says.

I am hardly a Byrne apologist, but what he says about the virtue of keeping characters “on model” strikes me as largely correct.

If someone is a faithful reader of the X-Men and are bored with the school setting, want Magneto and Professor X to flip roles and want Wolverine to be a more traditional “leading man” type, then suggesting that they have simply tired of the X-Men is hardly a radical thought. Since the X-Men has shown the ability to draw new people in other media (cartoons, film), it seems likely that the core of the franchise is still reasonably compelling. If fans want to read a comic with a different premise (or main characters, or whatever), then they should *shudder* try something with a different brand name on the cover.

Or another compromise could be to have changes as experiments that, when they end, are easily reversible if the next writer chooses. For example, instead of killing Gwen Stacy, move her out of town. That’s what they did with Mary Jane for a while. When later writers wanted to use Mary Jane, they did. She-Hulk or Medusa or Crystal can join the Fantastic Four but its an easily reversible decision.

Or if you have a big change, make sure it’s one that doesn’t change the fundamental premise and storytelling engine. For example when Lee and Ditko put Peter Parker in college, they preserved much of the same dynamic he had in high school. An example of a change that seemed major but didn’t actually change the larger dynamic of the book was Mary Jane finding out Peter’s identity. It led to new types of stories, but at the end of the day he was still going to school, working at the Bugle, having money problems, fighting crime, etc.

@ Rene -

Byrne is certainly an imperfect messenger, since he made his name in part with the Dark Phoenix Saga. He also has some odd biases and rivalries. Still, keeping the basics consistent and accessible seems like a good idea.

What differs is the set of individual associations that various creators have with a character, or set of characters. That is where Byrne’s anti-fanboy stance is overly limiting. The X-Men were meaningful to everyone at a different point in their lives.

@ Rene:

Regarding sales, I disagree that the decline in comic sales are hard to understand. There were basically two “step downs” to lower plateaus: one occurred in the early 70s and the other in the mid-90s. The 70s collapse was primarily a DC Comics problem. Superman and Batman went from selling four times what the Fantastic Four and Spidey were selling to half what those titles were selling in a span of a few short years. FF and Spidey remained essentially flat while their main rivals collapsed.

The driver there is pretty easy to figure out: TV had replaced comics as the go to entertainment for kids. The 8-12 year-olds had gone over to cartoons and I DREAM OF JEANNIE re-runs. Marvel provided something TV of the time (or DC Comics) didn’t: continuity.

The mid-90s collapse was somewhat the same. Comic shops were living on a male late-teens and early-20s demographic that largely left comics for home video games. The Sony PlayStation killed the Image boom in my mind. The comics that thrived in the post-collapse market were the ones that did stuff that video games couldn’t. KINGDOM COME had a highly referential, literary quality that TOMB RAIDER couldn’t offer.

So, I both agree and disagree with Byrne on the sales question. Taking comics back to when they appealed to ten year-old boys is obviously never going to work. Still, the medium has to be open to the types of people who enjoy what comics have become to survive.

Dean -

I agree with you about keeping the basics consistent. Except in those times I don’t. :)

Would I sacrifice Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing just so I would never had to read JMS’s totemic Spider-Man? Would I sacrifice the Elektra Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga just so I’d not have to read Bendis’s Avengers Disassembled?

I think not. In the end of the day, I can always re-read what I like and forevermore ignore what I don’t like.

It’s very doubtful that too much change is the main reason for comic’s sales decline.

But I think a real problem with today’s comics is too much change too much quickly. Give people a chance to absorb the change and explore the new status quo, before getting to the next one.

But no, Byrne’s reaction, that status quo must be always mantained, it’s just the same lunacy, at the other end of the spectrum.

@ Rene

Alan Moore’s “Anatomy Lesson” is actually a pretty good example of the illusion of change that Byrne advocates. It seems like a massive and radical change, but the basic dynamics of the title didn’t change all that much. SWAMP THING was still on the borderline between the superhero and horror genres. It still featured a monster as its hero. It was still set in a swamp. All the same elements of the story-telling engine were in place. In theory, Byrne’s Law would allow Moore’s SWAMP THING. It also would probably have allowed the Elektra Saga, since Miller introduced the character that he ultimately killed off in the same run.

Regarding the sales decline, it seems pretty clear to me that as comics lost one type of reader that they never fully replaced them with a new type of reader. When ten year-olds abandoned DC in the 70s, they chased the Marvel readers. When backwards baseball cap guy abandoned Marvel in the 90s, they chased the folks reading THE AUTHORITY

Don’t have a link, T, but I remember seeing pages posted–on Hembeck’s website IIRC (it’s been a few years)–and the scenes with Weisinger portray him as a totally clueless dope who has no idea what readers want in a comic. It did strike me as rather mean-spirited (had they portrayed Weisinger as an SOB, I don’t think I’d have had that reaction, since everyone seems to agree he was one).
However reading Hembeck’s account it’s obvious Hembeck came up with the idea and not Shooter, so I retract any charges of mean-spiritedness sent toward the latter (and I don’t think Hembeck was trying to be mean, just funny). My misremembered bad.

I agree that sometimes the writer gets tired when the audience isn’t–Len Wein made that point about restoring Kandor and sending it to another dimension: he figured everything had been done with Kandor, why keep it around? And in hindsight realized that for future generations, they’d have still enjoyed it.
But I’m inclined to agree with the other side that what should constitute the baseline is pretty subjective. Quesada and OMD took Peter back to his single twenties, rather than high school, for instance.
And there are things like the Kesels’ Hawk and Dove which took the Ditko characters, reworked them into something extremely different and made them actually interesting.
Heck, Jerry Siegel was willing to have Lois learn Superman’s identity which would have been a big honking change, and much of what’s now thought of as definitive might not have come to pass.
And Dean, I think Anatomy Lesson was a bigger break than you do, from a man tormented by being stuck in a monster’s body to a creature that was never human.

I’m now thinking of all the TV show-runners who insist that they can’t pair two characters up because the show depends on the sexual tension. Invariably the sexual tension runs down anyway: sooner or later you just got to roll the dice and try something new.

@ Fraser:

It isn’t a black or white question for me.

If you have a property (e.g. Hawk & Dove) that has never quite worked, then there is obviously far more latitude than a property (e.g. Spider-Man) that has worked for generations across multiple media. A property that hasn’t worked in decades (e.g. Doom Patrol) needs a lot more “updating” than something that works for a lot of people right now (e.g X-Men). However, we are far moire likely to get shocking takes on Spidey and the X-Men, because fans and fans-turned-pros are kinda bored with them and yet can’t let go.

On Swamp Thing, Moore opened things up considerably. However, he left the story-telling engine largely intact. The central character was the same (http://tinyurl.com/mfs8efu), so was the supporting cast. The setting and tone were unchanged. The antagonists literally carried over from an on-going story. What Moore did was change how the main character perceived himself.

I’m now thinking of all the TV show-runners who insist that they can’t pair two characters up because the show depends on the sexual tension. Invariably the sexual tension runs down anyway: sooner or later you just got to roll the dice and try something new.

Those are different cases because they stories aren’t meant to run for infinity. I believe a TV show should progress and have an endgame in sight, especially if it’s a drama rather than a comedy. TV shows move in real-time and are finite, while successful comics are essentially time-frozen and open-ended, often lasting for decades.

and the scenes with Weisinger portray him as a totally clueless dope who has no idea what readers want in a comic. It did strike me as rather mean-spirited (had they portrayed Weisinger as an SOB, I don’t think I’d have had that reaction, since everyone seems to agree he was one).

I actually prefer the depiction of a clueless dope who had no idea what readers wanted in a comic over portraying him as an SOB, even though I think both accusations are true. The latter is an attack on him as a person, even if verified by many sources as true, while the former is attacking and critiquing the work itself, which I think is more fair game. Also, I think the former needs to be said more often, because the common narrative that’s accepted was that he was an SOB who gets a pass because he was an excellent editor and creator who added wonderful innovations to the Superman mythos and understood the fanbase, when in MY opinion his creative offenses are as bad as his interpersonal ones.

By the way, I’m not totally against attacks on a person’s character when that is the main point of the work. If the overall Hembeck book was primarily about attacking comic creators rather than critiquing the work, then I guess I would change my opinion. I haven’t read the book, so I’m only going by what little I’ve read about it online.

I think a good innovation DC had back in the day was the imaginary stories. They would preserve much of the storytelling engine and add and remove elements in a way that was always reversible (Legion of Superheroes or Supergirl for example could easily have been written out of the book), but they would have imaginary stories that could enact drastic changes. People could be killed off, characters married, Batman could have kids with Catwoman, Dick Grayson could take over as the new Batman, etc. I think in modern times the imaginary story/Elseworlds thing could be turned into long-run miniseries, or even open-ended series like X-Men Forever. Death of Gwen Stacy would have made a great Elseworlds type story but it was an albatross on the neck of the main Spider-Man continuity.

I think there are a lot of separate issues at work here.

Not all changes people decry actually change the “storytelling engine”. Gwen Stacy being alive is not an essential part of what makes Spider-Man work. Gwen Stacy wasn’t even in most of the stories by the Lee/Ditko team.

Even if we venture into the argument that Gwen Stacy dying makes Spider-Man less carefree, it should not be forgotten that was the point of Spider-Man from day one, with Uncle Ben’s death. If anything, Gwen dying strenghtens the storytelling engine.

Also, is Jean Grey being alive an essential part of what makes the X-Men work? In fact, the X-Men can work and did work with only Cyclops remaining from the original five. Here we get to another weapon in Byrne’s arsenal. That of “disrespecting” the original writers, because Jean was a part of the original team.

But how do we come to the conclusion that the original writers always know better? Byrne would say: “But comics sold a lot more back then, so Stan and Jack are always right!” But in the X-Men’s case that is problematic, because the X-Men were a commercial failure. Jean Grey was just another of Stan Lee’s girly girls in the least popular superteam Marvel had.

What made Jean Grey so popular and fascinating was the very “change” decried here! It was the Phoenix Saga, the Dark Phoenix, the Hellfire Club, the grand tragedy of her death.

No “albatross” in the continuity was caused by Gwen dying or Jean dying. And there was no permanent damage to the storytelling engine in either case. The problem was that the stories of the deaths were so popular, so fascinating, that later writers couldn’t stop themselves, they kept returning to them, with clones, new revelations, resurrections, re-deaths, retreads, re-makes. And also replicating them in other series, such as Bendis and Byrne himself with “Dark Scarlet Witch”.

So, what is the moral here? “Do not create popular, influential stories, because the next generations will forevermore get stuck trying to replicate them?” Surely, no one can take that kind of “moral” seriously? I do not “blame” Gerry Conway for killing Gwen or Claremont and Byrne for killing Jean. But I do blame them for Gwen Stacy’s clone and Madeleine Pryor (I am unsure about Rachel Summers) opening the gates. Some sensible editor-in-chief should have made further stories with Gwen and Jean off-limits.

Even if we venture into the argument that Gwen Stacy dying makes Spider-Man less carefree, it should not be forgotten that was the point of Spider-Man from day one, with Uncle Ben’s death. If anything, Gwen dying strenghtens the storytelling engine.

It doesn’t. Uncle Ben dies because Peter Parker didn’t use his powers for good. Gwen Stacy dies for the opposite reason: because he DID use his powers for good. The former gives the lesson that not using your powers to help others can eventually hit you at home with your own loved ones. The latter gives the lesson that using your powers to help others can eventually hit you at home with your own loved ones. Not only does it not strengthen the storytelling engine, it actually directly opposes and undermines it!

The reason Gwen Stacy thing bugs me isn’t because it makes Spider-Man less carefree. Spider-Man under Lee/Ditko was never carefree and lighthearted. He was a dark character who just happened to crack jokes.

@ Rene:

What Byrne says with regard to Gwen Stacy is that the love interest spot in the Spidey cast was a rotating one. Peter went from Liz Allen to Betty Brandt to Gwen organically. His point seems to be that killing Gwen off changed the nature of the love interest within the Spidey cast. You couldn’t bring someone new in and avoid the darkness of Gwen’s death hanging over everything.

I have a hard time arguing with him on that point. There really is a Peter Parker before and after AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121 and the one before is better.

The Dark Phoenix Saga is a more complicated question. The engine that drives the X-Men is the school as a setting and the core premise that mutants are a despised minority. That enables a lot more rotation in the cast than (say) the Justice League. The Jean Grey that Stan & Jack created was pretty replaceable.

The problem is the work that Claremont and Byrne did themselves. The Scott-Jean-Logan dynamic felt increasingly like the heart of the book. I don’t just mean from the love triangle, but how those characters bounced off each other. Adding the friendship between Jean and Storm made the character even more central to the cast. Finally, the Dark Phoenix Saga itself did a lot to make the most interesting of Stan’s girly-girls.

I do not agree that Spider-Man’s new love interests being devoid of shadows is an essential part of Spider-Man’s storytelling engine. Why is the Peter Parker before ASM #121, “better”?

When I started reading Spider-Man, and the Black Cat was introduced, I don’t remember ever thinking “Gee, Spidey has a new girlfriend, there is a risk she will die like Gwen Stacy!” Spider-Man worried about her, like superheroes often worry about their supporting characters in superhero stories, but that was not unusual. That the Black Cat might, indeed, die for real didn’t make the Spider-Man storytelling engine any less interesting. I would argue the opposite.

As for Phoenix, Claremont and Byrne did much of that development on purpose, though the initial plan was to kill her off in #150 after her being depowered. They knew that for her death to have impact, she had to be developed and made to appear central. It’s hard to consider “sacred” a status quo that was made to be broken.

It’s strange, but the more I reflect on what John Byrne has said, the more I think the Marvel Universe today is exactly the way John Byrne likes! It’s just that it has arrived there by another road.

John Byrne defends an immutable status quo for all major characters, with only the illusion of change. In my view, that gets boring after a while. The current Marvel Universe is a mess of constant change, with “shocking” event following “shocking” event, but it all blurs together after a while, and everything is undone by the next crossover. It’s the same precious illusion of change at work, only in a more gaudy package. In my view, that also gets boring after a while.

What makes a story worthwhile, IMO, isn’t the absence or the presence of change or the maintenance of storytelling engines. It’s that subjective, innefable, quaint, hard to define thing called “quality”. It often happens when a writer has a voice all of his own and connects with a readership making the whole experience feels electrical. I feel it with Stan and Jack, but I also feel it with some “storytelling engine breaking” stories.

Perhaps that is bad news for a left-brained rationalist like Byrne appears to be, but there are no definitive formulae to follow.

If you don’t think Gwen Stacy’s death casts a dark shadow on the book, think of a comic like Superman that for a long time had a very constant storytelling engine with very few major changes, at least pre new 52. Whenever you want to adapt Superman, it’s exceedingly easy. Clark, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, and Lex Luthor. Easy peasy.

With Spider-Man, notice how few of them touch on Gwen Stacy. If you adapt it into a cartoon for very young kids, you either have to ignore her, or if you do introduce her you have to worry about kids getting into Spider-Man for the first time, falling in love with the Gwen character, then going to the comics to look for her only to find out she’s dead. Or you have to deal with people watching the show knowing full well she’s going to die, and then it just becomes a matter of waiting for her to die. And if you introduce her dad too, then you have to wait for both of them to die. That’s why so many of the Spider-Man adaptations either in live TV, cartoons, or movies, ignore or downplay Gwen. Or turn Mary Jane into a Gwen/Mary Jane amalgam. Now we finally have a Spider-Man movie franchise that puts Gwen at the forefront, and it turns out to be a depressing slog to get through, and I think a lot of that is due to the presence of the Stacys. You have the dad die in the first movie and I’m betting that Gwen dies in the second. To people new to the franchise, the takeaway will be that Spider-Man got this poor family slaughtered. So in an open-ended ongoinging franchise, the Stacys death ruins the story engine that allows new readers of all ages from any generation to easily jump into any adaptation. It’s the 800 lb elephant in the room that people have to deal with whenever adapting Spider-Man into any form.

Archie adaptations? Easy. Just show the whole gang at Riverdale. Archie, Betty, and Veronica love triangle, best friend Jughead, rival is Reggie. Easy. Batman? Similarly easy. You can have him with or without a Robin, but it’s pretty consistent. Without Gwen Stacy’s death, Spider-Man’s long-term story engine could have gone one of two ways. Peter Parker in high school or college with his rival Flash Thompson, his boss at the Bugle Jameson, his supporting class at school and his love interest. It could have been a revolving door love interest like in the Ditko days or a regular love interest, like when Gwen was his Lois Lane in the Romita days.

John Byrne defends an immutable status quo for all major characters, with only the illusion of change. In my view, that gets boring after a while.

Yes it gets boring after a while. Which is a sign that you as a reader should move on. For example the European comic Asterix has been hugely popular for generations. But the storytelling engine is the same. When people feel they get tired of it and outgrow it, they move on to other interests and another generation takes their place as the fanbase. American superhero comics and Archie comics long operated the same way. No one was expecting the same readers to stick around for decades. And that’s the problem. When the same readership sticks around for decades, you have to keep changing things to keep things interesting for them which in turn makes things incredibly convoluted and alters the storytelling engine considerably, which then makes it harder for new generations of readers to easily jump in and replace the older generations. In the old days a comic never had to print the words “jumping on point” on a cover. Every issue was a jumping on point!

@ Rene

There are an awful lot of versions of what was originally supposed to happen in the Dark Phoenix Saga, but the one point of unanimity is that the decision to kill her came as a result of Ye Olde Editorial interference from Jim Shooter. Shooter himself said so on his blog (http://tinyurl.com/5ss2cd9) and that is largely echoed here (http://tinyurl.com/lz5czfb). Claremont and Byrne plotted the Dark Phoenix Saga with the intent of writing her off, because Byrne didn’t like the character. Shooter wanted her to become a villain. Claremont wanted a backdoor to bring her back. Byrne just wanted her gone.

Anyway …

It was an ending that was anything but carefully planned. Claremont wrote and Byrne drew a much more hopeful, optimistic ending that Shooter quashed. That is probably part of why it was so powerful. Everyone as pulling in different directions, so the story literally could have gone almost anywhere until the very end.

Does the Dark Phoenix Saga take the Uncanny X-Men to the heights it attained without the ending of X-Men #137? Who knows? Byrne seems to think so. Shooter doesn’t.

T., as someone who was reading Spider-Man at the time, Peter went through a long grieving period after Gwen died, but no, I don’t think the book became darker (YMMV obviously). If they don’t touch on Gwen much now it’s because she’s ancient history–it’s like wondering if Bruce still nurses a broken heart over Julie Madison, his 1940s girlfriend. And I can’t see that it puts any sort of millstone around the franchise: movies and ‘toons can just ignore her or sideline her. She had a supporting role in one of the recent Spider-Man ‘toon series and I didn’t sit around expecting she was going to buy it–they’re no more bound by it than they’re bound to treat the villains the same way.

No single story has led to more terrible Spider-Man stories than Conway’s Death of Gwen Stacy, and his attempts to soften the blow with the original clone saga.

T. –

Now we’re talking adaptations? Okay. Spider-Man is the story of a guy that let his uncle die. It’s there in the very first issue. And it’s not the same as Gwen and Capt. Stacy, when Spidey did his best to save them. Uncle Ben died because Peter was selfish and arrogant. He really did get Uncle Ben “slaughtered”. That is a depressing elephant in the room right there. The poor kids watching the cartoon will have to get through that, anyway.

And the Magneto that John Byrne hates so much? The sympathetic version that is against what Stan and Jack did? THAT Magneto was a smashing hit in all the X-Men adaptations so far. Proof that not all alterations to the sacred status quo are damaging to a franchise. Audiences love the sympathetic Magneto that was a concentration camp survivor.

In the end of the day these characters are very durable. They will survive Byrne, me, and you. Whatever happened to Gwen Stacy in the comics hasn’t stopped any one of the Spider-Man movies from being hits. And probably won’t stop any future Spider-Man movies.

As for what John Byrne says about fans… what should fans do, etc. You know, when he was a young man, John Byrne was the champion of messing with the status quo (Superman, X-Men, Avengers West Coast, even in FF he said his plans included killing off Alicia and Franklin). Byrne made a name for himself, had his fun, etc. Now he is an old man and exiled from the big publishers, and he is a champion of mantaining the status quo.

Ain’t that convenient?

I don’t know if it’s King Solomon or Ecclesiastes, one of those Bible guys. Was a real party animal when he was young, was a glutton and a ladies’ man and everything. Then when he became an old man, and couldn’t get it up anymore, his teeth were gone, his power was gone, THEN he became a champion of austere behaviour. Not only for himself, but for everyone! Because he is the king, like John Byrne would be king.

Egocentric men always want the whole world to take its cue from them. Byrne doesn’t want other writers to have the same freedoms he once enjoyed when he was “caught in that mindset”.

And you noticed the year he cited as a good turning back point? 1976, because that was the last year HE, John Byrne, felt like a fan. How touching. That would be the same as if I said it would save comics if everything in Marvel was turned back to 1984-1985, because that was the last time I felt like a fan of Marvel U as a whole. And he has the gall to call some fans “selfish”. Unbelievable.

Mostly, I move on when I get bored with something. But not because John “King” Byrne tells me to. He doesn’t get to tell people anything.

And if we’re going to judge stories by future developments, then I’d say that Amazing Fantasy #15 was the story that led to all the terrible Spider-Man stories. Because without it none of them would have been published. It’s always silly to judge stories by their influence. None of us has a crystal ball to look into alternate realities to make sure that Spider-Man would be a more “robust” character if Gwen hadn’t been killed. Maybe JMS would have find another story to base SINS PAST on.

I also agree with Dean, that the reasons for the decline of readership lie outside of comics themselves. It isn’t a lack of jumping points or the convoluted storylines. Even so, you could have less convoluted storylines AND change, if you wanted, as long as the changes were gradual and careful.

Now we’re talking adaptations? Okay. Spider-Man is the story of a guy that let his uncle die. It’s there in the very first issue. And it’s not the same as Gwen and Capt. Stacy, when Spidey did his best to save them. Uncle Ben died because Peter was selfish and arrogant. He really did get Uncle Ben “slaughtered”. That is a depressing elephant in the room right there. The poor kids watching the cartoon will have to get through that, anyway.

That’s not an elephant in the room. It’s essential to the story. And he didn’t get his uncle killed. His uncle would have died anyway, regardless of whether he became Spider-Man. With Uncle Ben, he failed to prevent something that would have happened anyway. Thus, the message is that being Spider-Man and fighting crime is an action that makes the world better not only for others but for his loved ones.

In the end of the day these characters are very durable. They will survive Byrne, me, and you.

With shrinking, aging fanbases they will survive us but as shadows of their former selves.
With the Stacys, both of them die specifically because of him. Meaning, they would have both lived longer without the existence of Spider-Man. He caused something to happen to them that was not going to happen without his existence. Thus the message now becomes that being Spider-Man and fighting crime is an action that makes the world better but at the expense of his loved one.

Very different. Again, Peter failed to prevent the death of Uncle Ben but he didn’t cause it. With the Stacys he did cause both deaths.

And you noticed the year he cited as a good turning back point? 1976, because that was the last year HE, John Byrne, felt like a fan.

He admits that he’s being biased and also says later he would be cool with a date that predated that, like 1972. I personally think the most important thing to undo is Gwen Stacy’s death specifically, so for me that year would be my preferred date.

It seems like every generation has its Spider-Man controversial things-will-never-be-the-same moment that ends up an illusion of change moment:

1970s: Gwen Stacy dies
1980s: Black costume/ (or arguably the wedding to MJ, but this was when I was collecting and the costume struck me personally as the bigger deal when it happened)
1990s: Clone saga/Ben Reilly
2000s: Identity reveal/One more day stuff
2010s: Superior Spider-Man

Some of these had a greater impact, and some were handled better, but it seems like eventually things snap back to normal. Only with a slightly smaller buying public each time as the old fans jump ship and new fans, well, there are less and less new fans it seems…

@ T.

He admits that he’s being biased and also says later he would be cool with a date that predated that, like 1972. I personally think the most important thing to undo is Gwen Stacy’s death specifically, so for me that year would be my preferred date.

1972 is an interesting year from a Marvel standpoint.

From my standpoint, superheroes are essentially genre like Westerns. They have a given setting (various American cities, but mostly on the Eastern seaboard) and a given time period (roughly from the mid 1930s-mid 1980s). The stories they tell are mythologized versions of what was going on in those places during that time frame.

DC essentially tells the story of the first half of that period and Marvel the second. Using Strauss and Howe’s generational definition model, you have a Hero Generation (Superman, Barman, Wonder Woman …) that comes of age is dieselpunk context. A more nerotic Artist generation (Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary …) joins them in a center-ist institution. The rising generation (e.g. Teen Titans) is a Prophet one and the future generation (LoSH) is a Nomad one. The Heroic Age has sort of 1959 POV with a Crisis in the recent past (i.e. WW2) and the looming threat of an apocalypse (e.g The Great Disaster). As a result the heroes are conservative in attitude, if not politics. Non-white adults are Sidney Poitier-types, like John Stewart. Female characters fit themselves into culturally acceptable roles, even when they are awkward fits.

Marvel, by contrast, tells the story of the second half of that period. The heroic generation is now older and defined by teacher-mentor types, like Professor X. They are also notably villains and anti-heroes. The adults are nerotics who are more focused on their personal issues than public ones. The rising generation are Prophets (i.e. The X-Men), who are trying to provoke an awakening. Non-white adults are either disaffected with the mainstream (e.g. Luke Cage), or from a foreign cultural context (e.g. Black Panther). It is all very 1972.

Stan Lee’s women were traditionalist, silent generation types. Sue Storm, Wanda Maximoff and Janet Van Dyne were relatively content in highly traditional female roles. Where Marvel has struggled is to both move forward in time and incorporate women from younger generations. That is why they struggle so hard to find a viable A-list female character.

Narrative progression plus dated generational attitudes makes these characters seem increasingly old. As DC has discovered, re-booting them into younger generations doesn’t really work very well. It seems like a better idea to leave them in an increasingly fuzzy mid-20th century setting with a roughly fixed status quo.

I hope you realize that by pointing out how traditionalist Stan Lee’s women were, you’re dissing Abe Lincoln’s mother.

@ buttler:

Too funny.

In a way, the Dark Phoenix saga was a real shame. Jean Grey was one of the few female characters that Stan Lee created that was a Baby Boomer (and Gwen Stacy was another). Chris Claremont figured out that she (like Storm) was likely to have different, more contemporary attitudes. Those attitudes are better suited to an A-lister than the traditionalist women Lee created.

It makes you wonder had Jean Grey survived whether Phoenix would have been the female Marvel to break through into the A-list.

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