John Lindley Byrne (born July 6, 1950) is a British-born Canadian-American author and artist of comic books. Since the mid-1970s Byrne has worked on nearly every major American superhero. His best-known work has been on Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Fantastic Four and the 1986 relaunch of DC Comics’ Superman franchise. During the 1990s he produced a number of creator-owned works including Next Men and Danger Unlimited. He is sometimes considered a controversial figure due to opinions he has expressed regarding his experiences within the comics industry.
Cover to The Uncanny X-Men #135 (July 1980), by Byrne & Terry Austin.
Byrne was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England where along with his parents (Frank and Nelsie) he lived with his maternal grandmother. While living there, he was first exposed to the American superheroes that would dominate his professional life through reruns of American programs such as The Adventures of Superman. In Britain, he was able to read domestic comics such as Eagle as well as reprints of DC Comics. When he was eight years old he left England with his parents and moved to Canada. According to Byrne himself, he was not an academically gifted student.
Later he was married to photographer and actress Andrea Braun Byrne for 15 years.
His first encounter with Marvel Comics was in 1962 with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four #5. He later commented that "the book had an 'edge' like nothing DC was putting out at the time". Jack Kirby’s work in particular had a strong influence on Byrne and he has worked with many of the characters Kirby created or co-created. Besides Kirby, Byrne was also influenced by the naturalistic style of Neal Adams.
In 1970, Byrne enrolled at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. He created the superhero parody Gay Guy for the college newspaper, which poked fun at the campus stereotype of homosexuality among art students. Gay Guy is also notable for featuring a prototype of the Alpha Flight character Snowbird. While there, he also published his first comic book, ACA Comix #1, featuring "The Death’s Head Knight".
Byrne left the college in 1973 without graduating. He broke into comics illustrating a two-page story by writer Al Hewetson for Skywald Publications’ black-and-white horror magazine Nightmare #20 (August 1974). He then began freelancing for Charlton Comics, making his color-comics debut with the E-Man backup feature “Rog-2000,” starring a robot character he’d created in the mid-1970s that colleagues Roger Stern and Bob Layton named and began using for spot illustrations in their fanzine CPL (Contemporary Pictorial Literature). A Rog-2000 story written by Stern, with art by Byrne and Layton, had gotten the attention of Charlton Comics editor Nicola Cuti, who extended Byrne an invitation. Written by Cuti, "Rog-2000" became one of several alternating backup features in the Charlton Comics superhero series E-Man, starting with the eight-page "That Was No Lady" in issue #6 (Jan. 1975).
Byrne went on to work on the Charlton books Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Space: 1999, and Emergency!, and co-created with writer Joe Gill the post-apocalyptic science-fiction series Doomsday + 1. Byrne additionally drew a cover for the supernatural anthology The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #54 (Dec. 1975).
Byrne’s first story for Marvel Comics was "Dark Asylum" (written by David Anthony Kraft), published in Giant-Size Dracula #5 (June 1975). He began drawing Marvel’s lower-selling titles, including Iron Fist, The Champions, and Marvel Team-Up. For many issues, he was paired with writer Chris Claremont, with whom he also teamed up for some issues of the black-and-white Marvel magazine Star-Lord (inked by Terry Austin, who soon after teamed up with Claremont and Byrne on X-Men).
Byrne joined Claremont beginning with The X-Men #108 (Dec. 1977). Their work together (along with inker Terry Austin) would make them both fan favorites, and X-Men became one of the industry’s best-selling titles. Byrne has repeatedly compared his working relationship with Claremont to Gilbert and Sullivan, and has said that they were "almost constantly at war over who the characters were". Byrne became "increasingly unhappy" and left the title with issue #143 (Mar. 1981).
In the early 1980s, Byrne worked on a number of other Marvel books. His nine-issue run (#247–255, 1980–1981) with writer Roger Stern on Captain America included an issue (#250) in which the Captain was nominated for the U.S. presidency.
Byrne’s most important post-X-Men body of work at Marvel was his six-year run on The Fantastic Four (#232-293, 1981-1986), considered by many to be a "second Golden Age" on that title. Byrne said his goal was to "turn the clock back . . . get back and see fresh what it was that made the book great at its inception". However, he also made a number of significant changes to the title: the Thing was replaced as a member of the quartet by the She-Hulk, while the Thing had adventures in his own comic (also written by Byrne), and his longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters left him for his teammate the Human Torch; the Invisible Girl was developed into the most powerful member with her heightened control of her refined powers and the self-confident assertiveness to use it epitomized by her name change to the Invisible Woman; and the Baxter Building, their headquarters, was destroyed and replaced with Four Freedoms Plaza. Byrne has cited multiple reasons for leaving the book, including “internal office politics” and that "it simply started to get old".
In 1983, Marvel persuaded Byrne to write and draw Alpha Flight, a Canadian superhero team who were first introduced “merely to survive a fight with the X-Men.” The book was popular (its first issue sold 500,000 copies, but Byrne has said the book "was never much fun", and that he considered the characters two-dimensional. One of those characters, Northstar, became Marvel's first openly gay superhero. Though intended by Byrne to be gay from the beginning, his homosexuality was only hinted at during Byrne's tenure on the book.
In 1985, after issue #28 of Alpha Flight, Byrne swapped books with Bill Mantlo, writer of The Incredible Hulk. According to Byrne, he discussed his ideas with editor-in-chief Jim Shooter ahead of time, but once Byrne was on the book, Shooter objected to them. Byrne only wrote and drew six issues (#314–319) of The Incredible Hulk.
Near the end of his time at Marvel he was hired by DC Comics to revamp its flagship character Superman. This was part of a company-wide restructuring of the history of the DC Universe and all of its characters following the miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths. Byrne’s reworking of Superman in particular gained widespread media coverage outside the comic book industry, including articles in Time and The New York Times.
The Man of Steel #1, July 1986.
At the time, Byrne said, "I’m taking Superman back to the basics ... It's basically Siegel and Shuster's Superman meets the Fleischer Superman in 1986.” Byrne significantly reduced Superman’s powers (though he was still one of the most powerful beings on Earth), eliminated the Fortress of Solitude, Krypto, and had his foster parents the Kents still alive while Superman was an adult to enjoy their adopted son’s triumphs as well as to provide him with support, grounding, and advice whenever he needed it.
Byrne also did away with the character’s childhood/teenage career as Superboy; in Byrne’s revamped history, Clark Kent does not put on a costume and become a super-hero until he's an adult. Byrne has since admitted this was a mistake, since it completely gutted the basic premise of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of super-powered teenagers existing a thousand years in the future, who were inspired by Superboy.
In the Superman mythos, Byrne wrote Clark Kent as having a more aggressive and extroverted personality than previously depicted, even making him a top high-school football player. Byrne also did his part to come up with explanations for how Superman’s disguise works, such as the public simply does not realize that he has a secret identity since he is unmasked, that Superman would vibrate his face via his super speed in order to blur his image to photographers, and having Kent keep a weight training set around to explain how the human and presumably weaker Kent could have a frame as massive as Superman’s. Byrne’s Superman felt that his deepest roots were on Earth, and that his home planet of "Krypton is anathema to him".
The new Superman debuted in the six-issue miniseries The Man of Steel, which described his origin and early career. Byrne wrote and drew two monthly Superman titles with the hero’s present-day adventures: a new Superman title beginning with issue #1 (January 1987) and Action Comics, in which, beginning with issue #584, Superman teamed up with another hero or group. The original Superman book was renamed Adventures of Superman starting with issue #424 and was initially written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Jerry Ordway, but the writing chores were taken over by Byrne after a year (from issues #436–442, and 444). As 1988 marked the 50th anniversary year of Superman’s creation, Byrne managed to do more Superman-related projects while working on the core Superman monthly titles at the same time: he wrote the prestige format graphic novel, Superman: The Earth Stealers, while also writing three separate four-issue mini-series: The World of Krypton, The World of Metropolis, and The World of Smallville. He also supplied the cover art for a Time magazine cover and interior spread which featured Superman, where his pencils were inked by Jerry Ordway. Around this time while working on the Superman titles, Byrne also penciled the 6-issue DC Universe crossover mini-series Legends in 1986-1987.
Byrne spent about two years on the Superman titles before leaving. He cited the lack of "conscious support" for his work from DC Comics and the fact that the version of Superman that the company licensed for merchandise was different from his version in the comic books as the reasons for his dissatisfaction.
In 1986, Marvel began publication of a new line of superhero titles created by then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, which took place in a continuum removed from the Marvel Universe proper, called the New Universe.
In 1987, the New Universe line saw a revamp under new Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco, and Byrne took over writing and art-breakdowns on the line's flagship title, Star Brand (renamed The Star Brand during Byrne’s term on the book). Byrne’s run started with issue #11 and continued until the series' cancellation eight issues later upon Marvel's discontinuation of the New Universe line.
In 1989, after leaving Superman, Byrne returned to work on a number of titles for Marvel Comics. His work on West Coast Avengers (issues 42–57, soon renamed Avengers West Coast) was contingent on his being allowed to do what he called “my Vision story.” The Vision was a long standing Marvel superhero and member of The Avengers, an android originally created by the villain Ultron constructed with the body of the original Human Torch. The Vision went on to join the team, marry his teammate the Scarlet Witch, and father two children by her. Byrne radically changed this, revealing that Ultron lied about the Vision’s creation. The android Human Torch was found and joined the WCA. The Vision was disassembled and stripped of his emotions. The couple’s twins were revealed to be pieces of the soul of the demon Master Pandemonium. In addition to these changes, Byrne’s run is remembered for the introduction of the Great Lakes Avengers, an eclectic group of new superheroes.
During She-Hulk’s tenure with the Fantastic Four, she appeared in Marvel Graphic Novel #18 in November 1985, titled The Sensational She-Hulk, which Byrne also wrote and illustrated.
On the request of editor Mark Gruenwald, Byrne wrote and drew a new series in 1989, The Sensational She-Hulk (maintaining the 1985 graphic novel’s title). Gruenwald directed that it be significantly different from the character’s 1970s series, The Savage She-Hulk. Byrne’s take was comedic and the She-Hulk, who was aware she was in a comic book, regularly broke the fourth wall. Byrne left the book after writing and drawing the first eight issues. Byrne was asked for input on writer Dwayne McDuffie’s She-Hulk: Ceremony graphic novel, and according to Byrne, most of his objections to the story and notations of errors were ignored, and his editor, Bobbie Chase, “was rewriting my stuff to bring it into line with” the story in Ceremony. Upon complaining to DeFalco, Byrne says he was fired from his series. He later returned to write and draw issues #31–50 under new editor Renée Witterstaetter.
Byrne took over writing Iron Man (#258–277), drawn by John Romita Jr. and later by Paul Ryan. Byrne launched a second “Armor Wars” story arc, restored the Mandarin as a major Iron Man nemesis, and featured the 1950s “pre-superhero Marvel” monster Fin Fang Foom.
Byrne also started a new series, Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Byrne’s take on the undersea antihero Namor cast him as the head of a surface company, Oracle, Inc., in order to help keep the ocean unpolluted, and had Namor involved in corporate intrigue. Byrne wrote and drew the book for 25 issues, until new artist Jae Lee inspired a sharp change in the series’ mood and plot of the book. Byrne wrote the book until #32.
In the early 1990s, Byrne began creating a series of original, creator-owned works for publisher Dark Horse Comics. This was during a general trend in the industry for established creators working for Marvel and DC to bring their original works to other publishers or create their own companies to publish the works themselves (one prominent example is Image Comics). A number of these creators, including Byrne, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Art Adams, banded together to form the Legend imprint at Dark Horse.
Byrne’s first title for Dark Horse was Next Men, (a kind of X-Men for mature readers), a work he considered darker and more realistic than his previous work. The Next Men were five young people who were the product of a secret government experiment. Byrne said, “I thought I would see what I could do with superheroes in the ‘real world’ ” and “xplore the impact their existence would have.” Byrne’s other Dark Horse titles were Babe (a kind of She-Hulk for mature readers) and Danger Unlimited, a kind of Fantastic Four for mature readers about team of heroes in the future fighting an alien occupation of Earth.
The Next Men lasted until issue 30 in 1994, when Byrne ended the series, intending to return “in no more than six months.” However, Byrne says he “did not count on...the virtual collapse of the whole comic book industry, which seemed to occur at just the time I put Next Men on the shelf...In the present, very depressed marketplace, I don’t feel Next Men would have much chance, so I leave the book hibernating until such time as the market improves.”
In later years, Byrne has done titles for Marvel, DC, and other publishers, including the 1992 prestige format graphic novel Green Lantern: Ganthet’s Tale with science fiction author Larry Niven at DC. He also returned to the X-Men franchise at Marvel from 1991–1992, succeeding longtime writer Chris Claremont, who left after 17 years working on the various X-Men related titles. Byrne's return as the new writer was brief, as he only wrote Uncanny X-Men # 281-285 and 288 with artist Whilce Portacio, and X-Men (vol. 2) # 4-5 with artist Jim Lee. Like Claremont before him, Byrne left writing the X-Men titles due to editorial differences with then X-Men editor at the time, Bob Harras.
He also wrote and drew another of DC’s signature series, the long-running Wonder Woman title from 1995–1998. During that time he relegated the superheroine to the status of observer in a many issues, spotlighting supporting characters such as Queen Hippolyta in their own adventures. He additionally took over New Gods vol. 4 at the end of 1996, as writer-artist of issues #12–15, continuing with it as the series was rebooted with a new #1 as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. That ran 20 issues from 1997–1998. During his tenure on the New Gods, Byrne was also writer of the four-issue comic book mini-series crossover Genesis, a storyline published weekly by DC Comics in August 1997. The series was drawn by Ron Wagner and Joe Rubinstein. Byrne also wrote a Wonder Woman prose novel, Wonder Woman: Gods and Goddesses (1997, Prima Lifestyles, ISBN 0-7615-0483-4).
His late-1990s Marvel work has been controversial. In the series Spider-Man: Chapter One, Byrne sought to retell some of Spider-Man’s earliest adventures, changing some key aspects, and declaring that the new version had supplanted the original stories as official Spider-Man canon. In late 1998, Byrne also took over as writer of the flagship series, The Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of the series with issue #440, by which time Marvel had decided to relaunch the book. The "last" issue of Amazing Spider-Man was #441 (Nov. 1998), with Marvel initiating The Amazing Spider-Man with a new issue #1 (Jan. 1999) with Howard Mackie as writer and Byrne as penciler. Byrne penciled issues #1–18 (from 1999–2000) and wrote #13–14.
Marvel hired Byrne in 1999 for a second volume of the series featuring The Incredible Hulk, re-titled Hulk, with Ron Garney penciling. Byrne wrote of his plans for the first year, but as with his previous tenure on the character back in 1986, creative differences led to his abrupt departure before the year was over. Byrne wrote the first seven issues, as well as that series’ summer annual.
From 1999–2001, Byrne returned to the X-Men once again, as he wrote and drew the flashback series X-Men: The Hidden Years. The series lasted 22 issues. Despite being one of the lowest selling X-Men titles in history, Byrne maintained the comic was still profitable and believed the cancellation to be unexplained. This disagreement factored in his decision to no longer work for Marvel Comics.
Post-2000 works have involved characters and events in time periods mostly skipped over by other comics (Marvel: The Lost Generation), or alternate timelines (DC’s Superman & Batman: Generations); a common feature is to have characters who actually age during the course of the series, which is uncommon for characters in ongoing comics. His 2000s work has all been for DC Comics: JLA (#94–99, the “Tenth Circle” story arc), Doom Patrol, Blood of the Demon, and a brief return stint drawing Superman (with writer Gail Simone) in Action Comics #827–835. Afterward, Simone and Byrne reteamed to launch The All-New Atom series in 2006, with Byrne pencilling the first three issues. For publisher IDW, Byrne worked on the final issue of the miniseries Star Trek: Alien Spotlight (Feb. 2008); on the series FX, written by Wayne Osborne, starting with the March 2008 issue; and the self-described "professional fan fiction," Star Trek: Assignment Earth. For DC, he drew a five-issue arc of JLA Classified.
In early 2003, Byrne spent ten weeks as guest penciler on the syndicated newspaper strip Funky Winkerbean. Byrne did this as a favor for Winkerbean’s creator, Tom Batiuk, who was recovering from foot surgery.
Over the years, Byrne has gained a reputation as a controversial figure, and has noted this himself, stating that “as the people who have figured me out have said, I just don’t suffer fools gladly.” Gail Simone, who worked with Byrne on The All New Atom (2006), described Byrne as “very opinionated,” although she qualified her statement, noting Byrne’s talent and assessing his personality as integral to his abilities: “I think John Byrne is brilliant and his forceful personality is part of that.” Byrne’s opinions can lead to disputes, and commentators have noted disputes with Peter David, Jim Shooter, Joe Quesada, Mark Evanier, Marv Wolfman, and Erik Larsen. In 1982, during a panel discussion at the Dallas Fantasy Fair, Byrne made unflattering comments about longtime comics writer and one-time Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Roy Thomas. After a transcript of the panel was published in The Comics Journal #75 (Sept. 1982), Thomas threatened a libel suit if Byrne did not apologize. In a letter printed in The Comics Journal #82 (July 1983), Byrne retracted his statements, claiming he was only repeating information from Wolfman and Wein and wrote, “I acted only in the office of a parrot.”
In the 1980s, Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby lampooned him in Destroyer Duck, drawing him as a character called Cogburn, possessing a removable spine and existing only to serve as a cog in the mammoth corporation that owned him. Erik Larsen created a villain in the 1990s for his Savage Dragon and Freak Force series, Johnny Redbeard/The Creator, who also parodies Byrne; a massive cranium with atrophied appendages, he can bestow superpowers indiscriminately. However, Byrne is also regarded as an enthusiastic talker, and someone with a warm love of his chosen medium. Tony Isabella has commented upon Byrne’s approachability when at comic conventions, describing him as “friendly, funny, and well-received by those who attended the show.”
The magazine Heroplay examined Byrne’s alleged treatment of women in his comics and concluded, “As dynamic as his art can be, and as ambitious as his storylines are, he just seems to have an axe to grind with the female of the species,” and that he made women “either bitchy, flighty, or evil.”
Despite the subject matter of which he writes and draws, in real life he is a firm skeptic. In a letter to the editor in the May/June 2008 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, he wrote: "I don't believe in the supernatural in any way."
Byrne has referenced his alleged tendency to “predict” real-life events with his comic books, calling it the “Byrne Curse.” In a letter to Skeptic magazine, he noted a 1977 issue of Marvel Team-Up depicting a blackout in New York, with a real-life blackout occurring the month the issue went on sale, six months after he had drawn it; an issue of Uncanny X-Men depicting a major earthquake in Japan, which again occurred in real life the month the comic was released; and an issue of Wonder Woman in which the death of the superheroine, who is an Amazon princess named Diana, is presented on the cover as a newspaper front page with the headline “Princess Diana Dies.” The issue went on sale on a Wednesday, and Britain’s Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in an accident three days later.
Cover for Blood of the Demon #1, series written and drawn by Byrne for DC Comics.
Byrne has stated his major influences on his art style are Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, Neal Adams, and Jean Giraud (best known as Moebius), as well as British comics artists Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy and cartoonist Giles. He later described himself as “a Frank Miller sponge,” and told several interviewers of his desire to incorporate influences from Miller and Gene Colan into his style.
Byrne’s original work has been noted as being rough, with his drawings emphasizing curves over straight lines. Byrne has himself admitted to straight lines being “his least favorite artistic element.”
Ron Goulart has called Byrne’s artwork “an eminently acceptable mix of bravura, complexity and storytelling clarity.”
In Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics, Byrne is charted along with other comics artists in the “Big Triangle.” McCloud’s placement of Byrne within it identifies his style as similar to Gilbert Hernandez and Jim Lee, making the point that Byrne’s line style is naturalistic without being overly detailed.
Byrne is, in 2006, an accomplished comic book creator, and is capable of producing virtually all aspects of a book, although he does still produce work in collaboration. The one exception is coloring, since Byrne is color-blind. He has problems distinguishing between some shades of green and brown and pencilled Iron Fist for a year believing the costume was brown. While he experimented with his own hand-developed lettering fonts in the early 1980s, he now utilizes a computer font based on the handwriting of the letterer Jack Morelli.
Byrne’s artistic style, his layouts and his storytelling have been sources of instruction and inspiration to many comics artists, including George Pérez, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Bryan Hitch, and Marcos Martín.
As Byrne’s style has evolved over the years fan opinion has differed, a fact Byrne addressed in one of his “IMO” opinion columns.
Byrne has been the recipient of multiple comic book awards, including Favourite Comicbook Artist Eagle Awards in 1978 and 1979; a 1980 Inkpot Award; and the 1993 Squiddy Award for Favorite Penciller.