Tag Archives: John Byrne

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #133 (1980)

I just saw Logan, and it was amazing—a bit of a downer in some ways, but a fantastic, character-driven movie. So let’s look back at a much more upbeat comic from when creators were just beginning to realize Wolverine’s potential.

X-Men #133 is in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga, one of the all-time great comic storylines. The previous issue ended with the Hellfire Club capturing the X-Men after having seduced Jean Grey to the dark side. There was one X-Man they didn’t capture, though—one they assumed they managed to kill by sending him plummeting down through several floors and into the sewer. Silly villains.

But of course they didn’t kill Wolverine. They just made him mad, and in #133, the X-Man’s lone wolf has to fight his way through innumerable minions, without any scrupulous teammates to hold him back. It’s the sort of thing the comics medium conveys very well—awesome character being awesome as he tries to save his teammates.

And meanwhile, old-school villain Mastermind continues his mind games against the X-Men, particularly Cyclops and the brainwashed Phoenix. The whole issue is great, but it’s really Wolverine’s time to shine. He’s still largely a blank slate at this point in the character’s history, but a strong foundation is being laid.

So watch the excellent movie, and then look back at the character’s formative years that made that excellent movie possible.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Marvel Premiere #47-48 (1979)

marvel_premiere_vol_1_47When Hank Pym debuted as Ant-Man, his early stories were kind of lackluster compared to those of the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, and others. There were several reasons for that, but a big one was Pym’s lack of a clearly defined motivation.

But Marvel got it right in the second draft, when ex-con Scott Lang took over the role in Marvel Premiere #47 and 48. Like in the movie, Scott steals the Ant-Man suit from his predecessor, but the circumstances are different. His nine-year-old daughter is suffering from a life-threatening heart condition, and there’s one specialist who might be able to operate on her…if Scott can rescue this doctor from her kidnappers.

That’s a pretty compelling motivation driving the story, and it gives us a Marvel superhero different from most others at the time—a single dad who’s a reluctant thief. Importantly, he’s a thief who’s willing to turn himself in after his daughter is safe, but Pym lets him off the hook…perhaps a bit too easily. Then again, Pym lacking clear motivation for his actions brings us full circle in a way.

The action is solid throughout. The villain shares the name of the movie’s villain, Darren Cross, although here he’s a pink brutish Hulk sort with a much higher IQ. He, too, has a heart condition, and he’s willing to steal people’s hearts to replace his own. He’s a true monster inside and out and a formidable obstacle for the rookie superhero, who has to rely much more on ingenuity than brute strength.

Definitely a much more interesting Ant-Man all around.

Writer: David Michelinie

Artists: John Byrne and Bob Layton

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ant-Man Scott Lang (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #258 (1983)

fantastic_four_vol_1_258Since I reviewed John Byrne’s portrait of Lex Luthor yesterday, it seems appropriate to bookend it by reviewing Byrne’s portrait of the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy, Doctor Doom.

The FF don’t appear in Fantastic Four #258. This is Doom’s book, and he carries it so well 30you don’t even notice the absence of the title characters. While the issue sets the stage for the FF’s next threat, it spends ample time showing us a day in the life of Doctor Doom—how he rules over the country Latveria, sincerely believing himself to be a benevolent dictator to his people; how, in his own twisted way, he seems to genuinely care for his young ward Kristoff, even allowing the child to stand by his side as he tends to his monarchial duties; how constantly aware he is of people who plot against him; and how enraged he becomes if anyone or anything dares to question his supremacy.

Without ever explicitly telling us so, Byrne portrays Doom as a man who’s living in a constant state of fear. It never looks like fear, though—it looks like ego, suspicion, rage, and a desire to control or destroy all enemies. Doom has lots of power and resources, but no real human connections to draw strength from. And holding on to power, without support, takes considerable and constant effort. One slip-up, and it could all be gone—and he’d have nothing.

This issue shows us why Doom is the perfect foil to Marvel’s premier family (even if that family is taking the issue off).

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Superman #2 (1987)

superman_v-2_2Superman #2 sums up Lex Luthor perfectly. This was early in Superman’s late ‘80s reboot, so taking the time to clearly define the hero’s arch-nemesis was a wise move on writer/artist John Byrne’s part.

Luthor is the true protagonist of this particular issue, as he’s determined to learn the connection between Clark Kent and Superman. Along the way, we see him abuse and manipulate his employees, rip out Metallo’s kryptonite heart and not give a damn about any consequences, order the ransacking of the Kent farmhouse, torture Lana Lang (well, that’s off-panel, but we see the wounds), and enjoy a moment of triumph over the Man of Steel.

But then his fatal flaw slithers out on a brilliant last page, and his own arrogance robs him of what should have been a sweet victory. It’s a punchline that shows us the sharp contrast between Superman’s and Luthor’s respective worldviews.

With this issue, Byrne successfully modernized a classic villain.

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #267 (1984)

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_267Not all comics have happy endings, and this one’s is absolutely tragic.

Fantastic Four #267 doesn’t initially seem like it will go that way. Sue is suffering from complications in her pregnancy, but Reed and friends have identified a potential solution, and a very comic booky solution at that. The leading expert on the radiation that afflicts Sue and their unborn child is none other than psychotic felon Doctor Octopus, of course, so Reed must appeal to the villain’s better nature and recruit his aid.

Naturally, a fight breaks out, and it’s a great one. The images of Mr. Fantastic’s elastic limbs fending off Doc Ock’s lengthy mechanical appendages are visually spectacular, but this isn’t a normal battle. Reed isn’t fighting to save the world or a bunch of strangers—he’s fighting to save his family. For the aloof scientist, the stakes have never been so personal. All he has to do is reason with this one unstable man, they’ll put their gifted brains to work solving the problem, and everything will turn out okay, right?

No.

Excuse me…got something in my eye…

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #137 (1980)

X-Men_Vol_1_137“The Dark Phoenix Saga” gets a lot of attention for two main reasons—it killed a major character at a time when that was seldom done, and it’s pretty darn good. This story climaxes in a death that feels organic and earned, not the result of an editor’s desire to shock readers. It’s the tragic consequence of an X-Man being unable to control her growing power, and it’s a death driven by character.

The extra-sized issue #137 is a great read throughout, with the X-Men fighting the Shi’ar’s Imperial Guard for Jean Grey’s life. This subverts the usual superheroic operating mode, in that the X-Men aren’t fighting to save the world—they’re fighting to save a loved one who actually is the real threat, thereby creating more shades of gray than typically seen in a comic book battle royale.

Though Jean Grey is the central figure, Chris Claremont and John Byrne neglect none of the other X-Men, giving each a turn in the spotlight and plenty to do. It’s an exceptionally well-crafted battle scene bolstered by the emotional stakes, with each X-Man motivated by their love of their friend.

It’s so well done that it’s easy to forget that the Imperial Guard was created as Marvel’s analogues for DC Comics’ Legion of Superheroes. This battle is basically the closest thing to an X-Men vs. Legion fight (even though the Imperial Guard begins to diverge into its own identity at this point).

In any case, this book deserves its status as a classic. No question.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (TPB); The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Avengers #165-166 (1977)

Avengers_Vol_1_165The Avengers vs. Superman! Well, okay—the Avengers vs. Count Nefaria with Superman-like powers!

The Avengers #165-166 feature all-out action against an immensely powerful foe who craves even more power, and defeating such a menace will require nothing less than the teamwork of Earth’s mightiest heroes. The problem—or another problem, rather—is the internal tension that puts the Avengers off their A-game. It wouldn’t be a proper Marvel comic without feuding heroes, now would it?

It’s nothing deep, but it sure is fun. The cliffhanger at the end of #165 really lets you know that action is about to hit full-throttle. The classic art by John Byrne doesn’t hurt either, nor does the good old-fashioned script by Jim Shooter. And being a classic comic, it’s great for kids!

Writer: Jim Shooter

Penciler: John Byrne

Inker: Pablo Marcos

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential Avengers vol. 8 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — X-Men #111 (1978)

x-men_111Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s collaboration on X-Men got off to a solid start several issues before this, but this is the point at which it became consistently great. The best was still to come, but in retrospect, as offbeat as it is, #111 feels like the start of something special indeed.

The story drops us right into the middle of a mystery and places us in the point of view of a character who has been out of the loop for a while—Hank McCoy, the Beast. He has been busy avenging with the Avengers and hasn’t gotten a chance to personally meet the new X-Men yet. So imagine his confusion when he finds people who look like dead ringers for Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus performing as carnival freaks. (Well, you don’t have to fully imagine—Byrne renders Beast’s bewilderment rather vividly on the opening splash panel.)

Three X-Men Hank does know—Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Banshee—are also part of this carnival, but they aren’t acting like themselves. Complications ensue as the Beast attempts to unravel this mystery, leading to a terrific final-page reveal that basically commands you to read the next issue.

And that was part of the trick Claremont and Byrne accomplished in this run—incredible storytelling momentum carried directly from issue to issue. Events happen, and they have consequences that don’t get tidied up within twenty pages, thereby setting up the next issue. But this isn’t just one long tease to leave readers salivating in anticipation of some eventual grand payoff. No, each issue provides its own payoff in one way or another. Serialized storytelling at its finest, and X-Men #111 serves as a great starting point.

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Marvel Unlimited; included in Essential X-Men vol. 1 and other collections

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up