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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Chuck Patton talks Justice League Detroit

I've had a long-standing fascination with the Detroit Era of the Justice League of America for the last two decades now. They were a bit of an oddity as far as Justice League rosters went; while the Justice League typically contained an all-star cast of well-established characters (ex: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, etc), this new iteration consisted of four unknown characters combined with a few lesser-known former Justice League members.

Looking back, it's hard to believe that the Detroit Era of the JLA ran for almost two and half years (from July 1984's JLA Annual #2 to April 1987's JLA #261). It's even more surprising how the team was disbanded -- not walking into the sunset with plans for reuniting someday when the world might need them again, but destroyed by a malevolent Justice League villain. To some extent, it was a very cruel ending to a team who were meant to bring a rejuvenated feel to the JLA.

We reached out to JLA artist and Justice League Detroit co-creator, Chuck Patton, with a few questions about his work on this era of the JLA and he was incredibly generous with his time and answered ALL of our questions in depth. We're very proud to publish this interview. Enjoy.

Introducing the new Justice League Detroit!
Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984). Cover illustrated by Chuck Patton and inked by Dick Giordano

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Justin: You had been illustrating Justice League of America for about a year prior to the Justice League Detroit 'revamp'. What was the discussion like with editorial that brought on Justice League Detroit? Who initially suggested a NEW Justice League team for the book?

Chuck Patton: I think it was Len Wein who ultimately decided that it was time for a change in the JLA, especially when all of the other major DC books started to crack under the weight of each other’s differing storylines and changes in continuity. Also, with [writer] Gerry Conway being unsure about continuing on the book, it left the door open for a new direction, except nobody rushed in to take the job. I believe Alan Gold didn’t come in as editor until after the decision to revamp JLA had begun, but I could be wrong.



The covers of Justice League of America v1 issues #233, 234, 235 and 236. Illustrated by Chuck Patton and Dick Giordano.


Justin: In the letter column of Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984), editor Alan Gold had specifically mentioned that 2 characters from the new Justice League Detroit roster were 100% yours: Vibe and Gypsy. How did that come about? Were Vibe and Gypsy created 'on the fly'? Or were both of these characters sitting around in your head for a while? Were they inspired by any real-life people you knew (celebrities or friends)?

I also just wanted to mention that the quartet covers (issues #233, 234, 235 and 236) was a brilliant idea, and I hadn't realized they were meant to be joined together until many many years after I'd owned them. (While 'joined comic book covers' were somewhat of an everyday occurrence in the nineties, it was still rather unheard of in the early eighties.)

Chuck: It was definitely a 50/50 collaboration. And we did do it on the fly—over a long lunch at a great lil’ French restaurant in Sherman Oaks. Gerry strongly felt that a new 'JLA' needed a younger, hipper roster to reflect the times, but most important, have little to no connection with the then-current DC roster and more freedom. I enthusiastically agreed with him, wanting to capture the same youthful spirit that made hits of X-Men and Teen Titans.

We threw ideas back and forth, but the most important one that stuck out for me was Gerry really wanted to tap into breakdancing, BIG TIME, lol. And all joking aside, he wasn’t wrong, the time was right, break dancing was all over the media, from music to movies and television. I wanted whomever we came up with to have a strong, urban ethnic, "Down to Earth" feel that would reflect my own background.

However, Gerry’s inspiration was definitely more 'West Coast' oriented, so he, tapped into the spirit of the movie Electric Boogaloo and our first hero came from out of the gang element of 80’s LA.


Just two of the MANY breakdancing theatrical films released in 1984. Images courtesy of IMDB.


Chuck: I went along to get along, because I really disliked that movie and was unsure about the West Side Story gang influence, lol. But I did like the potential, so I suggested that his powers would be from what all Angelenos feared most out here—earthquakes. We later changed them into super-vibrational waves he would project thru his dance moves, hence the name 'Vibe'.

Vibe in action.
Panels from Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984).
Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Dave Hunt.

Chuck: Gypsy came about in the same way except we wanted a ninja-like character but more exotic, and some how the subject of gypsies came up. Being from Detroit, I’ve seen encounters with a few Romany people (aka gypsies), who came into our neighborhood up from the South, and they always carried a certain cultural mystique I thought would be interesting to portray other then the usual cliché. So I suggested her powers were camouflage stealth abilities and Gerry liked that and dubbed her Gypsy.

Panels from Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984).
Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Dave Hunt.

Chuck: We decided to make Detroit instead of LA the team’s new base because it would better fit the series’ 'Down to Earth' approach and, personally, it was my way of paying respect back to my old hometown which had a very negative image, contrary to how I felt about it growing up. As for the neighborhood’s cast and Vibe’s family, most were inspired by youthful memories of folks I knew.

Now about those joined covers, I think they were all Len Wein’s idea. They were a challenge to conceive but I was so very proud of how it came out. It’s the only art piece that my mentor Dick Giordano and I have done which I still own.


Justin: As part of the Justice League Detroit creative team, did you get any input into the stories and character development (especially since two of the characters were created by you)? For instance, Gypsy being a runaway -- was that your idea or something Conway built on? Are there any elements of the Justice League Detroit you were particularly proud of?


Chuck: I did at first, on Annual #2 and the follow up four issues introducing the team and their new adversaries, the Cadre. I provided the rough backstory for Vibe and Gypsy, while Gerry already had Vixen’s and Hank/Commander Steel’s bios done. I came up with Dale Gunn on my own, as the team’s "Tony Stark" like tech support and Hank’s father figure.

The Cadre, their powers, origins and looks all came from me too, except for the conception of the Overmaster’s origin, which was all Gerry’s.

Justice League Detroit battles The Cadre.
Double-page spread from Justice League of America #237 (1985).
Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Rick Magyar.

Chuck: I think at the start, we really had a lot of fun coming up with the dynamics of how the new team would interact with the veteran Leaguers. Where we really were in sync was in reintroducing Aquaman as a major league bad ass. Gerry was always adamant about making him the leader and I was an Aquaman fan from way back so was totally down for it. We hinted at his potential during the Beasts trilogy, but when he steps up and takes over the team, that became the shining moment that made me proudest of the book.


Justin: Justice League Detroit ran for about two and half years before the series became re-tooled to become Justice League (the Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis version). You left the book about two years into it. Was there any particular reason you left? What was going on in the background (editorially-speaking)?

Chuck: Justice League of America was my first regular series and, like Vibe and Gypsy, I was the incoming fresh-off-the-street newbie with Gerry’s venerable vet on a book that he had steered for a helluva long. I think he wanted to leave before I came in on the book but was going back and forth about whether to go or not.

Originally the Beasts trilogy was to be our first book together, which I had started penciling when suddenly Gerry stopped, went on hiatus, shelving that issue and I had to continue with multiple fill-in writers. It was rough going at first, as I had enjoyed the beginning of the trilogy and now I had to cruise until a direction for Justice League of America was figured out. But Len Wein kept me on course until Gerry decided to return and we restarted with Beasts again. By then I was feeling a little more confident about what I wanted to do visually and made suggestions on the Beasts script that I found rubbed Gerry wrong. But Len smoothed things over for us. He and Gerry were old friends plus he knew how to get the most out of us, so changes were made that was comfortable for both and somehow we got a much better product in the end. That opened the door to Gerry and I communicating a little better. I owe a lot of our creative synergy to Len. He really helped in encouraging my sense of storytelling, plotting and character development that went into collaborating with Gerry.


The first two issues of the Beasts trilogy. Covers by Chuck Patton and Dick Giordano.


Chuck: I believe [Len] was a huge part of the enthusiasm Gerry and I generated at the beginning of Justice League Detroit. But once he left the book, whatever cohesion Gerry and I started with came apart. Gerry went from talking over plots to just turning in full scripted stories that left me feeling disengaged from the process. I missed the Marvel-style plot outlines that allowed room for back and forth discussion and was told to stick with the art and he with the stories. So from there, I quickly grew very bored, disillusioned and dissatisfied with the series and my own work and wanted off. It was definitely a case of creative differences, and that sums it up neatly.

Without Len’s input, we lost his tremendous ability as a sounding board, arbitrator and BS detector, and the book seemed to rub everybody wrong. Nevertheless, I really missed the initial idea of what Justice League Detroit set out to do. For that time period of comics, a younger, newer Justice League of America made a lot of sense and I’m very grateful to Len and Gerry to have been a part of that.


Vibe's last stand.
Justice League of America #258 (1987). Cover by Luke Mc Donnell.

Justin: When J.M. DeMatteis took over Justice League of America, he needed to clear the roster for the newly aforementioned Justice League team. Ultimately, Vibe was killed off. Was this a unanimous decision? Or did you just find out 'after the fact'?

Chuck: I found out after the fact. I had done a few Justice League of America covers after giving up the book but when that obligation ended, I stopped looking at it and washed my hands of Vibe and Justice League Detroit. Even after I had moved on to Teen Titans then Vigilante, I’d read some vitrol over the series or Vibe in particular, from either a fan or pro who despised it for one thing or another. I did check out the last issue where everyone died. It didn’t make me feel any better, but it was not my watch anymore, so I turned away to other pursuits.

Jump to years and years later, and I’m finishing work on the Batman: Brave and the Bold animated series, when one of the directors, who was a big Vibe/JLD fan, talked me into doing a Vibe segment for WB’s DC Nation shorts. That was the first time I heard there was a "cult of popularity" around him, it truly surprised the hell out of me, lol! The short came off well and got everybody talking, suddenly Vibe becomes popular due to Geoff Jones’ support and then the CW swooped in and the rest is history.

Gave me a big big smile.


Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon (aka 'Vibe') in CW's The Flash. (2017)

Justin: What are your final thoughts on your Justice League Detroit run from 1984/1985? Any lessons learned? Things you would've done differently? Things you'd repeat in a heartbeat?

Chuck: Tough question! But as I stated earlier, I really believed in what we wanted to do initially, that a younger Justice League of America was a good idea so no regrets about that. However I really really wished we had avoided a lot of the gimmickry or played them a lot less clichéd from the jump.

I do share responsibility in my part of that, but I always felt uncomfortable with Vibe’s accent. It was meant to be a blind, something he hid behind to keep people from knowing he wasn’t that "streetwise", but it was handled clumsily and we took our lumps for it.

Panels from Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984).
Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Dave Hunt.

Art-wise, I felt I wasn’t as polished as I wanted to be, although it was a hard book to start your career on. It still taught me so much about group dynamics, and storytelling. Plus I was going through a revolving pool of inkers as well as writers, so it was very hard to settle in and hit a stride even after Justice League Detroit started. Then again, if that [had] not happened, I wouldn’t had been motivated to find what I was looking for elsewhere. As for things I would repeat in a heartbeat? Lol, honestly, I’m a big believer in things going the way they should have despite the ups and downs, and I’d had followed this same path anyway! Considering where I ended up, I am and have been very fortunate.

Page from Teen Titans Spotlight #13 (1987).
Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Romeo Tanghal.

Justin: Any new projects you are working on or would like to talk about? I'm all ears.

Chuck: As we speak an animated series I directed just premiered on Netflix, called Kulipari Dreamwalker. It’s the second season of Kulipari Army of Frogs, that I worked on before, but now I’m at the helm, and excited to see it finally out there. The other thing I just completed is still a secret, but I can say this much, it’ll be my first comic book work I’ve done in many years and I’m very thrilled about it. So it’s been a quite an interesting time for me.




...and thus concludes our interview with the talented Chuck Patton. Back in 2009, Chuck was interviewed by our friends at the Aquaman Shrine about his time at DC comics, which you can read here. If you want to read more about the exploits of Justice League Detroit (and really, who doesn't?), I strongly encourage you to peruse the Justice League Detroit blog

An additional reminder that almost ALL of Justice League Detroit's adventures have been collected in the Justice League: The Detroit Era omnibus that can be purchased wherever better comic books are sold.

We're going to end this interview on a high note and leave you with a terrific 2-page spread of Vibe doing what he does best: breakin'! 

-Justin

From Justice League of America #233 (1984). Pencilled by Chuck Patton, inked by Bill Anderson.






Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The 1987 Dr Fate mini-series

Aesthetically speaking, ever since I first laid eyes upon his Super Power Collection action figure, Dr Fate was always one of my favorite DC characters. What's not to love? The yellow-and-blue color scheme. The ominous face-covering helmet. The big sweeping cape. He's pretty easy for an eight-year-old to draw. And the cherry on top: it's impossible to define his powers. What does he do? Just about anything. Can he beat Superman? Probably. Can he beat the Spectre? Maybe. Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman struck gold when they created this character back in 1940. I'm pretty elated to be re-reading the 1987 Dr Fate mini-series for this review.



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The year was 1987. DC was still trying to sort itself out with all the post-Crisis reboots and continuity conundrums. Dr Fate, who was now part of earth-one DCU thanks to Crisis On Infinite Earths, had been appearing in the new and very well-loved Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League ongoing series. It was an excellent time to revamp the character and get a new mini-series out there since interest in Dr Fate was at an all-time high. As an aside, for anyone who wasn't already familiar with Dr Fate from Roy Thomas' recent All-Star Squadron comics, you could've pick up The Immortal Doctor Fate three-issue deluxe reprint series that was released in 1985.

With a creative team of J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Keith Giffen (penciller) and Dave Hunt (inker), the house ad for this new Dr Fate mini-series... didn't really give anything away. I mean, it would appear that Dr Fate would be fighting some big monsters... but other than that, we had no clue that anything drastic would be happening in this mini.

House ad for 1987 Dr Fate mini-series

Needless to say, we were probably a little unprepared for the bombshells J.M DeMatteis and company would be dropping on us. True to the spirit of Dr Fate, it's a very odd story.

I'm telling you right now that this review is full of spoilers. If you want to stop reading this review, seek out this mini-series and read it on your own and be surprised, go ahead and do so. It's worth it.


I absolutely love this cover. Hell, I just love Keith Giffen art.

Kent Nelson is dying, or -- more specifically -- Nabu's host body is burning out. It's more or less revealed in the first issue of this mini-series that Kent is no longer in control when he wears the Dr Fate helmet and that Nabu is in the driver's seat. It's also revealed that Nabu is a Lord of Order. (I can't remember if this is the *first* instance of Dr Fate being named a Lord of Order, but either way, it's spelled out for the reader in this issue.) The Lords of Order want Nabu to cease his never-ending battle with the forces of Chaos since, according to the Yuga cycles, Chaos is just going to win anyways and then the cycle will restart... so why not just let this thing play itself out and they can restart the cycle from the beginning, and Order will come into power again?

panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

[It's probably worth mentioning that this 'Yuga cycles' stuff isn't fictional, and that DeMatteis is trying to educate us about Hinduism. Actually, a lot of DeMatteis' mystical writing is rooted in Hinduism, and now that you're aware of this you'll probably start to notice a lot of parallels you probably missed the first time.]

Despite the sage advice, Nabu decides that he needs to find a new host to keep on battling the Lords of Chaos. Enter: Eric Strauss. Eric is a 10-year-old boy who has always known he was destined for greater things. Kent Nelson goes out and abducts Eric from a playground so Nabu can begin training Eric to be the next Dr Fate host.

Dialogue between Kent Nelson and a young Eric Strauss. Note the close up of Inza Nelson's gravestone. panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Nabu then ages Eric Strauss from a 10-year-old boy to a 20-year-old man thanks to some unexplained magic:
A 20-year-old Eric Strauss. Hey, that's Kent Nelson in the background! Why does he have a mouth in his abdomen? page from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


We also can't forget Linda Strauss, who is also first introduced in the first issue of this mini-series. Linda is Eric's 28-year-old step-mother. I was really hoping to glaze over this, but it's so in-your-face that you just can't ignore it: Eric and Linda have a very *unusual* relationship. This will be prevalent throughout the mini-series:


panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Also introduced in the first issue: Dr Benjamin Stoner. Don't let the fact that he works at Arkham Asylum fool you: this is the first appearance of Dr Stoner (aka: he's not an already-established Batman villain) and he will re-appear at least once in the 1988 Dr Fate ongoing series. Dr Stoner takes his orders from Typhon, a Lord of Chaos, who also makes his first appearance in this mini-series.

The menacing Dr Benjamin Stoner.
panels from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


...and finally, there's Kent Nelson -- the golden aged Dr Fate. He's looking pretty rough; that mouth coming out of his stomach is a dead giveaway. Also worth noting: Inza Nelson is dead. DeMatteis spends the first issue of this mini-series turning everything you thought you knew about Dr Fate on it's head. It's all very weird and intriguing and, as far as sheer entertainment value is concerned, I just can't help but want to read more.
Nabu, Kent Nelson and a young Eric Strauss.
panel from Dr Fate v1 #1 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


As the story progresses, DeMatteis really delves into the whole 'Nabu is a manipulative jerk' idea and has Kent Nelson lashing out about Nabu's wicked ways. A sub-theme of this mini is Kent Nelson coming to terms with the fact that Nabu robbed him of a happy life, and that Nabu is really no better than a Lord of Chaos in the end.

Kent Nelson reflects. panels from Dr Fate v1 #2 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


Meanwhile, in an inner monologue, Linda Strauss decides to blurt out what we've all been thinking:

This is how Linda feels about Eric -- and she's not even aware he's an adult now.
panels from Dr Fate v1 #2 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Coincidentally, Linda Strauss is twenty-eight-years old... and already feels a "connection" to this young boy. Hmmm. I wonder what's going to happen when Linda discovers that Eric has been suddenly aged to a twenty-year-old? Hmmm... I'm getting flashbacks of Hal Jordan and Arisia here.

panel from Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #1 (1981). Art by Joe Staton and Frank McLaughlin.


I've read enough four-issue minis' to know that in order to keep it interesting, at some point the antagonist needs to overpower the protagonist just so we can see how much damage and destruction would be caused if the protagonist gave up. This mini was no exception; Dr Stoner does, in fact, get possession of Dr Fate's mystical helmet and sacred amulet, he becomes a new Dr Fate (anti-Fate?) and plunges the world into chaos.

This appearance of Ronald Reagan here for no other reason than I collect images of Reagan from DC comics. panel from Dr Fate v1 #3 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.


The Justice League and the Phantom Stranger make a special appearance in issue #3. Actually, they take up half of the issue. Not that I'm complaining -- seeing Keith Giffen illustrate and Dave Hunt ink the Justice League is just one more reason to hunt down and purchase this mini-series.

panels from Dr Fate v1 #3 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

On the topic of the Justice League, after this mini-series, Dr Fate would appear in only ONE more issue of Justice League International (it was a Millennium cross-over, too) and that would be it.


The fourth issue of this mini is the big showdown: Eric Strauss, Linda Strauss, Nabu, and Kent Nelson versus Dr Stoner (aka: the Anti-Fate). The battle's not going too well for our heroes, when -- out of nowhere -- one more BIG bombshell is revealed:

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

...and we finally discover Linda Strauss' part in all of this:

page from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

The mini-series reveals that Dr Fate was always meant to be the aggregate of two human hosts. Kent and Inza Nelson were always meant to be merged into one, but Nabu put a stop to that... because he's a manipulative jerk. So that explains the whole Eric/Linda connection: she felt a 'connection' to him (easily confused for love) because they were meant to be the new Dr Fate! That explains it.

...but wait! There's more:

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

Well... so much for that theory.

So, this is the part where I try to defend the weird Eric Strauss/Linda Strauss relationship dynamic.

Keeping in mind that J.M. DeMatteis had a consciousness-altering experience when he was 17 years old that set him on a course towards the teachings of Meher Baba, it's safe to presume that the teachings of Meher Baba's most popular book, God Speaks, The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose, had a big impact on DeMatteis and his story-telling.

As it so happens, reincarnation is a central tenet of Meher Baba's teachings. Thus, I'm choosing to explain this away as reincarnation -- Eric and Linda were meant to be together, and were probably together in a previous lifetime... but it just so happened that Linda was reincarnated thirteen years sooner than Eric. There. Something that, at first glance, may appear to be confusing and creepy can now be explained away as mystical and slightly romantic.* Anyways, will Eric and Linda be able to sort this out? Well, not in this mini-series, so we'll need to wait for the ongoing series to see how this unfolds.

* J.M. DeMatteis even chimed in on this via twitter:

God bless you, social media!



Kent Nelson, who finally get the peace he's been longing for, is unceremoniously re-animated by Nabu to be his living vessel (again).

panels from Dr Fate v1 #4 (1987). Pencilled by Keith Giffen, inked by Dave Hunt.

So, how did I enjoy this mini-series? I loved it. It's the perfect storm of 'excellent storytelling about a character I've always been interested in' combined with 'art that I just can't get enough of'. Giffen does a great job with setting a dark and ominous tone to this mini-series; he includes lots of shadows and lots of things with sharp teeth.

This is my favorite kind of Keith Giffen art  -- it's bold and dramatic, it's heavy on contrasts, it's filled with vibrant colors and has a 'pop art' feel to it --  it's the same Keith Giffen art that had me take a look at Legion of Super-Heroes with a new set of eyes. You can find similar Giffen art in The Heckler and the Ambush Bug minis and specials. A major appearance by the Justice League was just the icing on the cake.



The big takeaway:

1) Dr Fate is now a composite of two people: Eric and Linda Strauss. I'm not sure how this is going to play out -- will it be a 'Firestorm thing' where, when they merge, Eric is the body while Linda is a voice in his head? I guess we'll need to wait for the ongoing series.

2) Kent Nelson is back -- but he's actually Nabu. Yeah, that won't be confusing at all. To be honest, I just kinda feel bad for Kent... all he wants to do is rest and be with his late wife, Inza.

3) Dr Fate got his powers (of a sort) in Cairo, Egypt and his magic was always being represented with an ankh (a symbol of life used in ancient Egypt) -- so I'm pretty surprised to learn that there's some Hinduism mixed in there.


Coming up next: The 1988 Dr Fate ongoing series.


-Justin

Monday, September 10, 2018

John Byrne at FANEXPO 2018

The 2018 Toronto FANEXPO came and went last weekend -- August 30th to September 2nd -- and the BIG news this year was that John Byrne would be appearing, and that this would be Byrne's LAST convention appearance for the foreseeable future. This is especially enticing since I don't think Byrne has attended more than 8 comic conventions in the last 15 years. For an eighties comics fan site, this was a landmark moment indeed.

Unfortunately, our on-the-scene journalist was unable to get access to the John Byrne Q&A panels. Fortunately, Eric Anthony of the Cave of Solitude podcast was able to come through and provide audio for this event. When asked if we can transcribe the audio, Eric replied with "I figure all the comic fans should have a chance to hear Mr Byrne chat it up with the fans." Truly appreciated, Eric. The crew at the Cave of Solitude podcast are fan's fans and are based out of Toronto, ON. They do a lot of interviews with comic pros and discuss some very interesting comic book stuff -- go ahead and give them a listen.

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This is transcribed audio from two different John Byrne Q&A Panels held at the at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on September 1st and September 2nd, 2018. It was an hour of Byrne opening up the floor to fan's questions. No question was refused.

True to our namesake, we only transcribed the questions and answers that had anything to do with DC comics and the eighties. We omitted questions and answers about Byrne's work on Marvel comics (ex: Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, She-Hulk and X-Men) or Byrne's creative process -- unless it had something directly to do with DC comics.

(Please note: we have NO clue which attendees asked which questions. If we quoted one of your questions from the panel, feel free to take credit in the comments section of this article. Without further ado....)

Panel host Chis Ryall (on the left) and John Byrne (on the right). 2018.
Photo source: Eric Anthony of Cave of Solitude podcast

Q: "What were the circumstances in the 1990s that allowed for all the cross-overs between Marvel and DC? Do you think that it would happen again anytime soon? "

Byrne: "Well what happened was a lot of people were flowing back and forth, of course. Y'know... Marvel people were going to DC [comics], DC people were fleeing [Jim] Shooter and ending up at... y'know. I've often said -- and I'm going to go on a slight tangent here -- back in those days when you guys didn't know 3 months in advance what was coming, and the first time anybody found out about the Superman/Spider-Man book was when the house ads appeared in the comics, and I figure there was some kids who walked into the local drugstore and THERE IT WAS on the spinner rack... and they didn't know it was coming... and their heads must've exploded. THAT was, in many respects... the first Superman/Spider-Man... was the last gasp of old time comics. Because Ross Andru penciled it, except -- you may not know this -- it was given to Dick Giordano to ink, Dick took it up to the Continuity Offices where he worked with Neal [Adams], and Neal redrew all the Superman figures. Y'know? He erased Ross' and redrew it. He put it inside the profile that Ross had drawn it. But he redrew it. And then there was an editor who went in afterwards and put a white line around all the foreground figures to make them jump... all because people wanted it to be the best book that anybody had ever done. And today, well just what Neal did would make all the lawyers commit harakiri -- y'know... they'd just go out of their minds. And yet it produced this wonderful little moment of time."

cover of Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1976). Art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano

"Then, of course, they had to kind of run it into the ground. The moment that the cross-overs became an ongoing monthly series... what was that called... 'Amalgam'? Whatever that was. This is what we do in the business: we take something special and just run the wheels off it. So they kind of went away for a while. Luckily, in that span, I got to do Darkseid vs Galactus. That was fun, because  I was at a convention and George Perez was sitting next to me at our table, and this kid comes up and says "Why don't you do Darkseid versus Galactus?" and George and I just looked at each other and said "How come we don't think of stuff like that? Holy Crap" and of course I got to do one of my all-time all-time favorite jobs ever which was Batman/Captain America."

cover of Darkseid vs Galactus: The Hunger (1995). Art by John Byrne.

"Even as I was doing those, the whole thing was dying, and then just some nasty stuff between Marvel and DC. Politics. It's always about politics -- one of the reasons I left both of them was that there was just too much 'stuff'."



cover of The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.

Q: "How much creative freedom did you have when you reset Superman Man of Steel?"

Byrne: "When I was hired, or ASKED, to do Superman, they asked me to turn in a proposal. I turned in, I think it was, 20 points -- which I called 'my list of unreasonable demands'. Some of you may have seen the SYFY channel interview that I did, so you may have already heard this. Of all the things I wanted to do, the only thing that DC -- that Jenette Kahn -- pushed back on was...  well, as I tell it, I was sitting there going 'Well, Kryptonite can kill Superman. How do we know that? That's kind of a test of destruction, isn't it? How do we know Kryptonite can kill Superman? ' So I came up with the idea that it wasn't Kal-El who was sent from Krypton -- it was the pregnant Lara. (This was before I did the big change and all that stuff.) She arrives on Earth, the Kents find her and take her home. She has the baby, and then she finds a lump of Kryptonite and it kills her. So now we know Kryptonite can kill Kryptonians. Jenette didn't like that. She thought that, of all the stuff I wanted to do, that was too extreme."

"And she [Jenette] said "What if the pressure is in the core that are going to cause the planet to explode are already creating Kryptonite? So people are dying of Kryptonite radiation on Krypton before it blows up?" and I said "I'll steal that! That's good! I'll take it!" So we did THAT instead, and that's how I got my "Out of the Green Dawn" title and all that stuff. That persuaded me to do the cold, anti-septic Krypton instead of the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers Krypton."

panels from The Man of Steel #1 (1986). Art by John Byrne.



Q: "To take you back to Superman with your 20 points there, you took him down several paces. Was that your idea?"

Byrne: "Oh yeah! I went into Superman saying "y'know, it's the 'Man' that's important. Not the 'Super'". Denny O'Neil once said to me, long before I got anywhere NEAR Superman, he once said "It's hard to write interesting stories about a character who is so POWERFUL that he can destroy entire alien races by listening hard." And I said "yeah!" Y'know? The Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve, the first one, which I saw 127 times in the theater. That is not an exaggeration, that is the number of times I saw it. It struck me that every time I saw it, he's doing all this super stuff -- y'know? Pushing over mountains, and whatnot -- but the moment the audience cheered, every SINGLE time, was when he tore the car door off to get to Lois. And I said "That's relatable!" Who among us hasn't had THAT moment? That's something we can all comprehend. I said "That's why he needs to be Superman, but not Superman Who Can Push the Earth Around". As a kid, I used to have problems with that image too, because I always think 'well, they draw it sideways', but he's standing on his hands, isn't he, to push the earth? Why doesn't he just bore into the earth? Y'know?"

"So I said "Let's bring down and let's make him comprehensible" and I also tried to introduce some science, so that his x-ray vision, for example, was NOT him firing x-rays out of his eyes. I said "That's not how x-rays work! If he was doing that, he'd have to fly around to the other side to intercept it." I said "He can see the WHOLE spectrum. He can SEE x-rays. Y'know? That's how he can see through stuff. He can probably see radio waves." I thought about getting rid of heat vision, because that wasn't a natural extension of what people can do -- but I found it useful."

panels from The Man of Steel #4 (1986). Art by John Byrne.


[Another fan asked a similar question on Sunday. Byrne elaborated on his answer a little more...]

Byrne: "When I went off-contract at Marvel, Dick Giordano called me immediately. He said "Okay, you've been bitching about Superman for years... put your money where your mouth is." Let me add parenthetically that I wish I had said "no", but I said "yes" and got together with Dick and Jenette [Kahn] and Paul Levitz and talked about stuff, and I came up with, what I called, my 'list of unreasonable demands'. It was about 20 points, and they accepted most of them.  They said "yeah, you can do this." "

"Superman is, once again, the sole survivor of the doomed planet Krypton. That's kind of important, I think. I wanted to make Ma and Pa Kent younger, so it was more reasonable that he was THEIR kid and didn't have to pretend that they got him from their cousin in Milwaukee or something. I wanted to emphasis that it is the MAN that is important, not the SUPER. I also wanted to make Clark Kent more dynamic. My favorite Clark Kent is George Reeves. I've often said that when you watch that and show Lois will come in and go "Oh Clark! Oh, something horrible is happening!" and he'll go "Oh, get off my case, Lois. I'm working!" And then she leaves and he just goes. He was such a dynamic... He was a very dynamic Clark. He wasn't a wimpy Clark."

George Reeves as Clark Kent (circa early 1950s)
Photo source: unknown

"Although I've said many times: Christopher Reeve convinced me that that disguise works. That you can part your hair on the other side, slouch, wear a pair of glasses, and look like a different guy. I'm sure you all remember the scene where he comes to Lois' apartment (after Superman has flown her around and Clark comes to take her out on a date) and he's standing there -- and she's gone into the bedroom to change, and he looks at the bedroom door and he takes off the glasses and stands up like another 6 inches, and then she comes out and he puts the glasses back on. But, he really convinced me that you could do it if you sold it properly. You could do it. So that was a lot of what I brought to it."

Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent (circa late 70s/early 80s)
photo source: unknown

"I also wanted Lois to NOT be a bitch. Margot Kidder made me understand why Superman would be smitten with Lois, because up until then I was like "Why?". I remember the Superman parody I did in What The?... it was Park Bench and Nosy Dame were their names. I also wanted Lana Lang to be a more important character. I felt she got a short shift. When Superboy was created, the character/the comic, the Superman editorial office ignored it for, like, 10 years. They just pretended the Superboy comic didn't exist. This whole thing was going on with Lana, and if you were reading that independently you'd go "Oh obviously he's going to grow up and marry Lana, right?", but for years in Superman [it was] "Oh obviously he's going to marry Lois, right?". So the first time they brought Lana into a Superman story, she was this cold, hard sort-of baby Katharine Hepburn-like character. She's Lana Turner with red hair. So yeah, I wanted to get into the history and the background and build the characters from the ground up with a more realistic approach."

cover of Superboy #93 (1961). Art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

Q: Have you any Superman stories left? Or did you tell them all?

Byrne: "Oh, I could tell some more Superman stories probably, but I really feel it's a case of 'been there, done that'. Once you do Superman, you almost feel like your career is over once you've done Superman. "Well, nothing left here." So, yeah, I don't think I'd ever go back."


Q: "Back when you were doing Action Comics as a team-up book, is there anyone you didn't get to use that you wanted to use?"

Byrne: "Swamp Thing. They wouldn't let me. I went to the editor and said "I want to use Swamp Thing in Action Comics", and she said "No, no, we can't allow that to happen. Oh, by the way, we're using [Lex] Luthor." and I said "Well I don't want THAT to happen, because I haven't fully developed Luthor yet." She replied "Oh, it's already done." Oh, okay. That's how we're going to play THAT game, is it? Fine. So I didn't get to do Swamp Thing.

Spot Lex Luthor. panels from Swamp Thing #53 (1986). John Totleben art.


Q: "Any comments on the Superman/Big Barda sex tape?"

Byrne: "Are you familiar with an old story called 'The Lady or The Tiger'? Okay, the whole point of that story was this guy had fallen in love with a princess -- it's set in India --  and the King/Raja doesn't approve, so he condemns the man to be put into an arena... and there are two doors: behind one door is a beautiful lady -- a princess he will marry if he opens THAT door. And behind the other door is a tiger, and if he opens THAT door, he's dead. So the princess he's in love with is sitting above this, and she points at one of the doors. And that's where the story ends. So we don't know -- what did he choose? What did she tell him to choose? Did she tell him the lady... or the tiger? And that's what I wanted to do with Big Barda. Superman and Big Barda. We don't know. Did they have sex? I don't know. Let the reader think about that."

panels from Action Comics #593 (1987). Illustrated by John Byrne.


Q: "I have read somewhere that when you worked at DC you wanted to do something with Hawkman. but it never came about. I was wondering if that was true? And what your plans for Hawkman were?

Byrne: "Yeah. I've had a great love of Hawkman ever since the Joe Kubert days. I picked up the first Silver Age Hawkman [issue] from a magazine flat at the end of an aisle in a grocery store. The opening scene in the first Hawkman story with a little dog who turns into a bear scared the crap out of me. I was what? Nine, ten or eleven years old?"

panels from Brave and the Bold #34 (1961). Art by Joe Kubert.


"I've always wanted to do Hawkman. Hawkman was sooooo messed up when I was there and since. And I came up with this whole thing to 'fix' Hawkman. We were rolling along on it, and then DC said "No, we're going to have THIS guy do it." and I said "Ok. Fine. I can do something else." I kept asking for [Etrigan] The Demon, and it took them, like, 15 years to give me the Demon."

Blood of the Demon #1 (2005). Cover by John Byrne and Alex Bleyaert 


Q: "Mentioning [Jim] Shooter, how much control did you try to preserve on your part?"

Byrne: "All of it. Shooter had/has, what I call, the 'Whim of Iron'. It almost seemed, literally, like he'd come in on Monday morning with a new idea, and we all had to follow it until he forgot it next the week because he had ANOTHER new idea. I mean, one of the main reasons why Roger Stern and I quit Captain America was because Shooter came in one day and said "Everything has to be one issue stories." and we said "Okay. We're just starting a three-parter, but as soon as we're done, we'll do one-issue stories.", and he said "No. Now.". And I said "Well, I've drawn six pages of this first issue, we can't fit the next three issues into what's left of the book." So he got huffy and pulled it. And that was in the days when the fans still supported me when I quit. "He must've done it for a good reason", they said [about me]."

These panels from LEGENDS #5 (1987) inserted for NO REASON whatsoever. Art by John Byrne.


Q: "So for Fantastic Four, you came on five issues before the 20th anniversary, and then you left right before the 25th anniversary. What was the history there?"

Byrne: "Well, I was having fun working on the Fantastic Four. I was looking for a bit of a break. I'd been talking to John Romita Jr about drawing it while I wrote it. We were cruising towards that -- I think that would've been fun. And then I accepted the Superman gig, and in my innocence, I assumed that I would do Superman AND the Fantastic Four -- but as soon as Shooter found out about Superman, suddenly nothing I was doing on the Fantastic Four was any good... things kept getting changed and I had to do this and I had to do that. And I said to Mike Carlin, who was my editor then, "I'm gonna just leave. You shouldn't have to put up with the crap just because I'm going to do Superman." Mike Hobson, who was the publisher of Marvel in those days, he congratulated me on Superman and said "Anything that's good for DC will be good for Marvel -- it will be good for the whole industry." So I left, and then Shooter fired Carlin because it was 'his fault' I left.   "

[Editor's note: After Carlin was 'fired' by Marvel, he became an editor at DC comics and oversaw the Superman titles (among other things). He remained an editor at DC from 1986 to 2011. Not bad, not bad at all.]



Q:"You've done extensive work with both companies (Marvel and DC), what did you find were the differences in which you approach those characters and the rules you have to abide by with them?"

Byrne: "I'll tell you a funny story. When I left DC, and I went back to Marvel, and I was doing West Coast Avengers. I had an issue that opened with a scene of Hawkeye out on the practice range firing his arrows. I drew him standing there, firing his arrows, and I said "oh! come one!" and I put him on this whirligig machine that's throwing him around and he's firing and he's still getting bullseyes. That seemed more Marvel. I mentioned that to Walt Simonson and Walt said "That's what you should've been doing at DC!" "Yeah", I said. "There was a different mindset the minute I stepped through the door at DC -- everything went down a few hundred notches." Stan [Lee] used to say "In Marvel comics, people don't reach for the phone,... they REACH for the phone!" It's true. You don't 'come in' through the door, you COME IN through the door. So yeah, that was the biggest difference, it was mainly psychological. DC is.... calmer. As I often said, seriously now... setting aside which characters are your favorite and all that, which universe would you want to live in? Because the DC universe has Superman, and the Marvel universe has Galactus. I think I'd want to live in the DC universe, because it's SO much safer."

panels from Avengers West Coast #42 (1989). Art by John Byrne.


On his work with Jack Kirby's Fourth World series:

Byrne: "The first time I ever read New Gods (when it first came out), I had missed the first issue. So I started reading it at the second issue, and the second issue has that whole sequence "There came a time when the Old Gods died...", I read that and this double-page spread with armageddon and all that kinda crap, I read that and said "[expletive]! What was in the FIRST issue?!?". Which I ultimately tracked down, but that stuff just blew me away. That was one of those worlds that I just fell into and went 'wow'."

opening page from New Gods #2 (1971). Art by Jack Kirby and Vince Coletta.


"And then, how many years later, DC said "Do you want to do New Gods? We're going to do Fourth World and put all those books together." [And I replied] "So I can do the New Gods, and the Forever People, and Mister Miracle all in one book? I'm there! Present!" So that was a lot of fun, and y'know, Fourth World was a lot of fun, Wonder Woman was a lot of fun. I could've done a hundred issues of either one of those, but the editor told me one day that he was going to be leaving DC, and I was very close to the end of my contract. I said "Oh god, I could re-sign for a year and end up with some nazi as my new editor. Do I want to do that? Do I want to risk being trapped for a year on these books the I LOVE, but with some editor that doesn't 'get them'?" So I left, I left both the books. And then the editor DIDN'T leave DC. Thanks a lot. It was one of those things that I always felt that I'd still be doing the New Gods today if that hadn't happened."

panel from Jack Kirby's Fourth World #3 (1997). Illustrated by John Byrne.



It was revealed in Saturday's panel that Byrne's FAVORITE super villain costume design was Silver Banshee's.

Q: "Silver Banshee's costume... do you consider that to be actual flames?"

Byrne: "Yes. Silver flame. That was my attempt to do a Dave Cockrum costume. She's got the opera gloves and the thigh-high boots... which Dave did 500 times and every time he did it looked different. 'Oh! Storm has the SAME costume as Corsair!' "

Action Comics #595 (1987).  Cover by John Byrne.


Regarding changes to his characters by different creative teams:

Byrne: "I've had to train myself not to care, because when we let go, we have to let go. A somewhat recent example is what they had done to Cassie Sandsmark in Wonder Woman once I had left. I'd done this 'all elbows and knees' fourteen year old girl, and they turned her into Britney Spears. And that's because there's an awful lot of artists out there, sadly, male, who can ONLY draw Britney Spears. They can't understand, and there's an awful lot of fans who won't accept anything else. There were a lot of males saying how 'ugly' Cassie was, and I'd say "She's not ugly, she's ordinary. You guys are just used to seeing these cookie-cutter whatnots.""

Cassie as seen on the cover of 1996's Wonder Woman #105...

...Cassie as seen on the cover of Teen Titans #3 (2003)


Q: "Was the LEGEND imprint within Dark Horse a response to the Image movement?"

Byrne: "In many ways. We looked at Image and said "That's a good idea.", and then we built LEGEND, and, as Jo Duffy so aptly put it, "It sure didn't take long for LEGEND to become MYTH." Yeah, that was unfortunate.What can I say? Jim Lee had actually asked me to join Image, and I had just signed with Dark Horse to do Next Men. He said "well, what does that matter? Come do it for us." and years later I thought "Y'know... if I had done that, I'd be a multi-multi-multi-millionaire, but I would have to have all the mirrors taken out of my house." 

introducing LEGEND comics!
gatefold cover from Wizard Magazine #31 (1994)

Another fan asked about future plans on bringing back The Next Men:

Byrne: "No, that's finished. It's done. Stick a pin in it."

John Byrne's Next Men #1 (1992). Cover by John Byrne


On other 'greats of the industry' he respected:

Byrne: "I used to be really good buddies with Frank Miller -- I don't know what happened -- but while we were both doing our stuff (I was doing Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight, and he was doing Daredevil) we'd be talking to each other all the time, and being subversive in ways. Walt [Simonson] and I have always been good buddies."


A few other random factoids DC comics fans might be interested in:

-Byrne feels that his *best* technical comics work is 1991's OMAC: One Man Army Corps. I honestly cannot disagree with him on that one -- such a great mini-series.

-The comics work that he had the most fun with was 1997's Batman/Captain America. He'd like to go back and re-ink it.

-Laurie S. Sutton was once Frank Miller's girlfriend.

---

To hear John Byrne talk is much different that reading his words. Byrne will change his voice when he's quoting someone in a story, he uses a lot of inflection in his sentences, and he'll often stop a sentence in mid-stream and begin a new one. In short, we did the best we could to transcribe, but go ahead and listen to the ACTUAL audio if you get the chance.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Saturday Sept 1st 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.

If you'd like to hear the WHOLE audio broadcast of the Sunday Sept 2nd 2018 John Byrne Q&A panel, you can listen to it here.


-Justin

Eric Anthony (and by extension, the Cave of Solitude podcast) has our eternal gratitude for sharing this with us. In addition, we want to give shout outs to Martin Slam Duncan and the Fastball Special podcast, as well as Aaron Broverman and the Speech Bubble podcast  -- check 'em out for some great comic book coverage.