Blind Byrne Worship

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John Byrne

Now we get to the part that made me want to declare a jihad.

We know from the previous volume that Comtois loves John Byrne. In this volume we discover just how much he REALLY loves Byrne. Comtois is not unique with this opinion—in fact there’s a veritable army of Byrne fanboys out there who would back this same viewpoint to the death. But they’re all dead wrong.

You may like John Byrne’s artwork—hell, I loved Byrne’s early illustrative efforts on X-Men and elsewhere—but his work as a writer is indefensible. He is not merely a poor writer; he is, in fact, the most destructive writer in the history of superhero comics. I know there are many who would agree to a point (like, say, if we were talking about just his Superman stuff), but would staunchly disagree when it came to his Fantastic Four run. There are a whole lot of fans that swear by this run, or at least the early part of it. And really, I hate to break it to them, but nearly all of it sucked, almost from the very beginning.

His first stab at both writing and penciling FF was issues 220-221. These stories couldn’t have been too offensive because I’d remember them if they were. His “real” run started with issue #232, a Diablo story that was fine. The three following issues were harmless fun. Then there’s #236, the extra-length “Liddleville” story celebrating the FF’s twentieth anniversary. It featured Dr. Doom and the Puppet Master and was very entertaining. From here things go south in a hurry.

The Frankie Raye stuff was dumb; Aunt Petunia was dumber; and restoring the Thing’s mushy look was fairly pointless (unless the point was that Byrne was tired of filling in all the details on the modern-look Thing). Then we get to Galactus and the return of Dr. Doom.

Comtois absolutely loves Byrne’s treatment of these two classic, archetypal characters. Now allow me to explain precisely how wrong he is & why Byrne’s portrayal of these characters is the worst thing in the history of the world. (DISCLAIMER: The last portion of the preceding statement might be hyperbole. Let the reader judge.)

Galactus

A three-part Galactus storyline began with Fantastic Four #242 (cover date May 1982). In this ish, Terrax (then-herald of Galactus) returns to Earth to cause trouble, with Galactus on his heels the following issue. But the space god is weak from starvation and actually ends up defeated at the hands of the FF, along with guest stars Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Dr. Strange. Then we get to the shock ending, where Reed dramatically reveals, “they have to save Galactus!” Why? Because as Captain America put it, despite the fact he’s “the greatest menace we’ve ever faced,” he’s still a “living being.”

Uh, yeah… a living being that EATS PLANETS and has thereby murdered (and would continue to murder, if he were to survive) other living beings by the friggin’ centillions. Are you kidding me?

Sadly no, as FF #244 comes and everybody pitches in to save Galactus. After big G is up on his feet again, he bestows the power cosmic upon Frankie Raye (after having stripped it from the nefarious Terrax the previous ish), making her his new herald. Then he’s off on his merry way to consume fresh worlds—he’s sparing Earth though, which apparently makes all of this okay.

[sarcasm]Wheee! What a happy ending![/sarcasm]

Before departing, Galactus observes: “Perhaps here, on this tiny, whirling mote alone in all the cosmos has Galactus truly found those he might dare name… friend.”

…You call this Galactus? Sounds more like Casper the Friendly Eater of Worlds.

Just over a year later, in FF #257 (Aug. 1983), we check back in with big G, who announces in the opening, full-page splash that he’s dying. Apparently he hasn’t eaten in a while because he’s been sparing worlds with intelligent life. Since when is this a problem for Galactus? Well, as he puts it, “Feelings I had thought long dead within me have stirred again.” The precise feeling causing the most consternation—again, in his own words—is “compassion.”

In the midst of this Hamletesque soliloquy, Death stops by for a chat. And who knew Death could be such a Chatty Cathy?

Emo Galactus

So there you go, Galactus & Death standing around, pissing and moaning like a couple of whiny emo kids. Galactus should certainly not be carrying on like this, and Death should never even speak at all—a fact Jim Starlin understood perfectly when he first introduced the “character” to the Marvel Universe (cheap plug).

Comtois praises Byrne for “redefining Galactus and restoring the space god to his proper place in the Marvel Universe” (p. 52), which I find utterly baffling. THIS is Galactus’s proper place? Complaining about the unfairness of life like your next-door neighbor every time his lawnmower won’t start?

Galactus should be utterly inscrutable and far, far past human ken—which is exactly how Stan & Jack approached the character. Byrne, however, turned him into a cuddly muppet that was suddenly all too happy to count the men of Earth as his “friends.” And Comtois actually thinks this is the best take on the character since Stan & Jack? (In fact, at several points Comtois suggests that Byrne’s take was better than Stan & Jack’s!) I’m sorry, but this is straight-up blasphemy. Not only is this depiction of Galactus not in keeping with Stan & Jack’s vision, it is the exact opposite of that vision.

For evidence, let’s go back to Galactus’s first full appearance in FF #49:

FF049_04

Now this sounds like a space god. Later this same issue, big G would proclaim, “I am supreme unto myself… I am Galactus!” Again, this is the real deal.

As for emotion, this panel from FF #50 tells us all we need to know:

FF050_14

Emotion is for lesser beings. Damn straight.

…Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah—FF #257. So after the crybaby session between Galactus and Death, Galactus’s new herald, Nova (the former Frankie Raye), leads big G to the Skrull throneworld for a snack. The Skrulls, of course, go nuts. More specifically, the empress can’t understand why the Skrull cloaking technology, after keeping them safe from Galactus for “uncounted millennia,” has suddenly failed. One of her tech guys observes that “the herald flew on as if she had star-charts marking our position!” We readers know that Nova did have access to such charts back when she was on Earth with the FF. Keep this in mind for later.

Then Galactus munches down on the Skrull throneworld, ending seven billion (this figure courtesy of FF #261) Skrull lives in the process. Couldn’t some have escaped? No, actually, because “every usable ship in this quadrant was in the armada” that was destroyed by Nova earlier in the proceedings.

With the pogrom complete, the issue moves on to some more casual interludes in the everyday lives of the FF, until we get to the end, when Reed Richards mysteriously disappears, apparently abducted by some strange, alien force.

(There was also a subplot introduced here that thankfully—to the best of my knowledge, at least—never went anywhere. That subplot being that Frankie/Nova thinks she’s falling in love with Galactus. Blecch.)

After being sidetracked for the next three issues, the team finally gets around to looking for their missing leader in issue #261, at which point they discover that he’s been seized by intergalactic forces that hold him responsible for the Skrull massacre. Which does kinda make sense, since he did insist on saving Galactus’s life back in issue #244. Eventually it is agreed that a trial must take place, with everybody’s favorite extra-terrestrial busybody, Lilandra, Majestrix of the Shi’ar, leading the prosecution.

In issue #262 we get the trial. And things are looking pretty grim until the Torch is able to bring in a surprise witness: All-Father Odin, ruler of Asgard. The old timer had some rather… interesting things to say in his testimony.

Did the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise All-Father Odin just try to justify a moral position by invoking... Darwinism? Short answer: Yep.
Did the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise All-Father Odin just try to justify a moral position by invoking… Darwinism? Short answer: Yep.

 

Of course, Galactus turns up at the end to offer his own testimony and support his “friend” (ugh) Reed Richards. Then Eternity itself (!) appears to testify. (Don’t these cosmic entities have more important things to do?) All of these heavy hitters basically argue that Galactus plays an important role in some form of planetary natural selection and thus he’s somehow an essential element in the very life cycle of the universe. Ultimately, Reed is let off the hook and everybody goes home. The End.

So first off, back in the pages of Thor 160-162, not only did Odin set Thor against Galactus, seeing big G as a menace that demanded addressing, he also intimated (if not flat-out stated) several times that there would one day be a reckoning between the forces of Asgard and Galactus. (Let me point out, for those not already in the know, these stories were done by Stan & Jack.) So Odin’s testifying on behalf of Galactus here directly contradicts this history. Stan & Jack’s Odin would never, ever come to the defense of Galactus.

Second, the idea that Galactus’s purpose is to somehow “weed out” the universe is ridiculous. Because equating billions of intelligent lives to weeds is fairly disgusting, and moreso, justifying Galactus’s existence by claiming that mass murder is his “function” is simply outrageous. And even if you could somehow accept this argument, it still doesn’t hold up—not even by its own rules.

The Watcher closes out the issue saying, “Galactus will go on. The testing will continue, until that distant day he finds a world with power enough to stop him, to end for all time his cosmic hunger.” Well didn’t he find that world in Earth? He tried to consume Earth (several times, actually) and was always stopped. In the most recent instance (FF #243-244), he would have died had Reed not seen fit to interfere in this “natural” process.

After all this, if you still insist that Reed was somehow right, that Galactus “has” to exist and Reed was correct in helping revive him, this STILL does not excuse the specific destruction of the Skrull Throneworld. Because if not for Frankie Raye/Nova, Galactus never even finds the planet in question. So Nova is culpable for not only targeting the Skrulls (with at least some degree of malice), but also for destroying their armada, leaving them with no means of escape. And for providing Nova with the means to discover the Skrull planet, Reed has to be considered some kind of accessory after the fact, no?

This whole thing is a complete mess and an utter failure in every way.

NEXT: John Byrne & Dr. Doom

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2 thoughts on “Blind Byrne Worship”

  1. Fully agree with your take on Byrne. I loved his art on Iron Fist & X-Men and his other collaborations with Chris Claremont, but his writing tended to put me off and while I’d been collecting the FF regularly for about 10 years when his run on that title started, about a couple of years into it I stopped. Admittedly, by the mid-80s I’d stopped buying a lot of titles I’d been getting regularly since 1973. Simonson’s Thor I stuck with, even after he stopped drawing it, because I loved his stories and when Sal Buscema took over on the art he actually adopted a reasonably good approximation of Simonson’s style. But over on Byrne’s FF (and Alpha Flight), however good the art was and while I did like the “Terror in a Tiny Town” anniversary special, so many of his stories just felt wrong to me and I really didn’t like the reveal that Ben’s Aunt Petunia was a beautiful young woman who just happened to be married to his much older uncle. On reflection, it seems a bit of a replay of the MJ scenario over in early Spider-Man wherein Peter Parker thought she must be a dog from the way his Aunt May kept trying to set him up with her but even though Ditko never showed her face he did very much provide evidence that she was a very beautiful woman so that famous panel by Romita wherein Peter finally does meet MJ face to face was not a shocker to anyone paying attention except to Peter! There was never any indication by Lee or Kirby that Ben’s Aunt Petunia was anything but his elderly aunt who had a lot of whimsical sayings ingrained in Ben’s memory from when he was a young child. It just doesn’t work that she is a generation younger than he is and married to an uncle who is a generation older (and I’m speaking a 55 year old man with a 37 year old stepmother (she’s about 40 years younger than my dad). And the Galactus story???? After all the fuss about Phoenix having to be punished because when she was out of her mind due to the manipulations of Mastermind she destroyed one planet full of intelligent beings but now Galactus, who has destroyed numerous such planets must be saved? It is absolutely ridiculous and seems akin to the idiotic notion that Captain America, created to be a super-soldier to fight in World War II, never ever purposely killed anyone in combat under any circumstances, well, aside from the time he decapitated Baron Blood in a classic Stern/Byrne story. And as for re-establishing the status quo in Latveria with Dr. Doom in charge, I missed that particular story but it seems out of character that the FF would help Doom restore his absolute dictatorship or that Dr. Doom would even want or need their help to do so. I entirely missed Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers and have no regrets about that.

    1. “Admittedly, by the mid-80s I’d stopped buying a lot of titles I’d been getting regularly since 1973.” Sounds like you jumped ship at just the right time, Fred. I could weep when I think of all the money I wasted on crappy comics in the late 80s & 90s that were never read more than once– and I can’t get rid of them now because their resale value is literally zero. On the flip side, I find that I can re-read nearly all of my classic Bronze Age comics again and again without ever getting tired of ’em.

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